Kurt Helin

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Despite 60-loss season, Nets not looking to rush the rebuild

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets own two first-round draft picks, though not the one that has a 25 percent chance of being No. 1 overall.

They have money to spend in free agency, if they want to go that route.

So there are ways to upgrade the worst team in the NBA.

They just won’t rush it.

“Listen, I know we have big strides to make and 20 wins, not enough. It’s not good enough for any of us, but I do think we’re going to reap the benefits of going through this struggle,” coach Kenny Atkinson said Monday.

The Nets finished 20-62 in their first season under Atkinson, getting most of those victories during the final two months of the season. It was expected to be a rough season and it was, as they undertake a rebuilding process under general manager Sean Marks after years of sometimes reckless spending that never brought them close to a championship.

They won’t get near one anytime soon, either. Marks used the work “strategically” about a half-dozen times Monday in his season-ending news conference to describe the way he will build the team.

The easiest chance for an immediate score in a promising draft is long gone, because the Nets have to swap picks with Boston as they continuing paying for the trade that landed them Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. So the Celtics will have no worse than the No. 4 pick in the draft.

But the Nets do have the Celtics’ pick and acquired Washington’s during the season, giving them two selections later in the first round.

“I like having two picks, that’s for sure,” Marks said. “I think it just gives us another swing at it.”

Beyond that, the Nets could try to sign a veteran star to become the headliner of the team, but that doesn’t sound like the plan.

“I think we’ve got to really evaluate the roster and if you go after one of the top-tier guys, you obviously would hope to get them – you hope to get all your targets that you go for – but does that really make you better? Does it get you to 30 wins, 35 wins?” Marks said.

“The objective here is for us to be in the playoffs. When that comes, we’ll have to wait and see, but you don’t want to go and sign free agents and next thing your payroll is capped out and so forth and you’re a 25-win team.”

Nets executives are bound this week for Europe, where they will meet with Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov and do some scouting. The makeup of the roster for next season seems wide open beyond point guard Jeremy Lin, with center Brook Lopez perennial trade bait even as he adapted his game well this season to fit Atkinson’s offense.

Prokhorov, who once longed to win a championship within five years, now seems on board with a gradual rebuild.

It took time to get the Nets into the situation they’re in, and they’re prepared to take time to get out.

“Obviously the losses weren’t easy but I did understand, I think we understood what we’re getting into and I know in the long run that the adversity that we had to face, it’s almost like you deserve to face that,” Atkinson said.

“So I kind of like that process and looking back on it, having to fight through some tough times, I think that’s going to make us better in the long run. But I know it’s one foot in front of the other.”

Check out Jimmy Butler’s 30 (23 in second half) dropped on Celtics (VIDEO)

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The eighth seed Bulls went into Boston Garden and took Game 1 from the Celtics Sunday.

There were a few reasons for this. Rebounding, for one — the Bulls grabbed the offensive board on 38.5 percent of their missed shots (scoring 23 second chance points). Second, during the regular season, the Celtics just outwork teams, but come the playoffs everyone is trying and that advantage is gone.

But the biggest reason — the Bulls had the best player on the court Sunday in the form of Jimmy Butler. He scored 30 points and added nine rebounds, plus a timely block on Isaiah Thomas. Check out Butler’s highlights above.

Paul Millsap on loss to Wizards: “we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA”

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Welcome to the NBA playoffs, when the officials swallow their whistles and let the players play. (That isn’t universally true, but certainly a number of officiating teams let the game ramp up.)

The Washington Wizards took advantage of that in a 114-107 Game 1 win over Atlanta Sunday. John Wall, with his 32 points and 14 assists, stole the headlines after carving up the Hawks’ defense, but part of the Wizards’ win was they were the more physical team by far.

Paul Millsap apparently didn’t like that. Here’s what he said postgame, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“The difference in the game was we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA,” Millsap told reporters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They were physical. When the game is like that, we have to match their physicality. But again, we’ve got to go get some moves and bring them back to the court.”

This was clearly a message aimed for the next officiating crew. Millsap and the Hawks would like it all called a little tighter. He thought the officials let the Wizards — particularly Markieff Morris, who was on Millsap for chunks of the game — get away with too much.

Maybe, but welcome to the playoffs. If the officials are letting it get physical, the Hawks have to match it. That starts with Dwight Howard in the paint, but it means everyone out there. Millsap had 19 points on just eight shots, but he and the rest of the Atlanta starters were outplayed in this game and that has to change by Wednesday.

Did Billy Donovan tell Mo Cheeks he “can’t play Kanter?” Sure looks like it.

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Enes Kanter came off the bench for the Thunder Sunday and played 16:29 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds. That’s five minutes, six points and almost four rebounds off his average.

Kanter is a good offensive big man, but it’s no secret he gets exposed when he has to move his feet and make decisions on defense. Which is exactly what the Rockets started to do to him in the second half of Game 1. Not coincidentally, he was -7 in the half and played when the Thunder began to pull away.

It culminated in the play below — Kanter was yanked 17 seconds later — but check out Thunder coach Billy Donovan’s reaction and words to Mo Cheeks next to him.

Sure looks like he said, “I can’t play Kanter.”

To be fair, we can’t be 100 percent certain what Donovan said (you can be sure he’ll deny it). Also, he could have been referring to this specific bench matchup.

However, what he said is pretty accurate — Kanter’s defensive liabilities are the kinds of things teams hone in on in the playoffs. If Kanter is in, Houston is going to drag him into a pick-and-roll nearly every time down and make him defend it. And when he can’t Donovan will have to find another option, and he doesn’t have a good one.

Billy Donovan has an ace in this series in Russell Westbrook, but Mike D’Antoni has been dealt a much better hand to play. The Rockets have James Harden, but they also have real depth and versatility. They will use that to go at Kanter all series.

James Harden has 37 points; Rockets rout Thunder, Westbrook 118-87

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HOUSTON (AP) — Although James Harden is Houston’s undisputed star, he can’t top Russell Westbrook entirely on his own.

As is so often the case, Patrick Beverley was there for support Sunday night.

Harden scored 37 points to outshine Westbrook, and the Rockets pulled away in the third quarter and coasted to a 118-87 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

Harden had nine assists and seven rebounds, and Beverley, who had the unenviable task of guarding Westbrook, had a playoff career-best 21 points along with 10 rebounds.

Beverley’s performance was nothing new to Harden, who has had a front row seat to his work for years.

“That’s the reason we’re in the position we’re in,” Harden said. “He brings it every game. Whether his shot is falling or not, he brings that intensity, that resolve. He was just Pat tonight.”

The best-of-seven Western Conference series continues Wednesday night in Houston.

The third-seeded Rockets were up by 20 when Harden came off the bench with about seven minutes remaining. He went right to work – making two 3-pointers to power a 10-0 run and push the lead to 110-80 with 4 1/2 minutes left. Harden, who along with Westbrook is a front-runner for MVP, went to the bench, and both teams cleared their benches soon after that.

Westbrook had 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, but made just 6 of 23 shots and had nine turnovers for the sixth-seeded Thunder.

“We’ve got to do a better job starting with myself – got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball and making some shots,” Westbrook said.

Beverley refused to take credit for slowing Westbrook down.

“It was a team effort in just trying to show him a lot of bodies,” he said. “He’s one of the most explosive guards in this league, so we were just trying to make it tough on him.”

The Thunder trailed by 15 entering the fourth quarter, and six straight points by the Rockets extended the lead to 100-78 with about 7 1/2 minutes remaining. Lou Williams scored the first four points in that span, and Beverley found Clint Capela on an alley-oop dunk.

The Rockets scored the first five points of the second half to push their lead to 10 early in the third quarter. After a timeout, Oklahoma City scored the next eight points with 3s from Westbrook and Andre Roberson to cut it to 64-62 with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Houston scored the next nine points, capped by consecutive 3-pointers by Beverley to make it 73-64 midway through the period.

Beverley went to the bench soon after that to a huge ovation and a high five from Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, who watched the game from a courtside seat.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan raved about Beverley.

“He played a very, very good game,” Donavan said. “I thought he impacted the game way, way more with his energy, his effort, his hustle, his loose balls, his offensive rebounding, keeping balls alive. That’s where he really did a great job.”

Westbrook ended a scoring drought of almost 3 1/2 minutes for the Thunder with a layup, but Houston used an 8-2 spurt – highlighted by a 3 from Eric Gordon – to push the lead to 81-68 with just more than three minutes remaining in the third.

Harden made a pair of free throws to cap the third quarter and leave Houston up 89-74 entering the fourth.

For Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, it’s the first postseason win since April 27, 2008, with Phoenix. D’Antoni’s teams were swept in the first round in his last two trips to the playoffs in 2011 with the Knicks and 2013 with the Lakers.

Houston’s victory comes after the team went 3-1 in the regular season against the Thunder.

The Rockets led 59-54 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Roberson added 18 points with seven rebounds. … Oklahoma City, which led the NBA in rebounding in the regular season, was outrebounded 56-41. … Jerami Grant had 10 points.

Rockets: Capela missed a few minutes in the second quarter to receive three stitches in his lip. He had 14 points and seven rebounds. … Nene had 15 points. … Houston had 31 second-chance points to just four by the Thunder.

THEY SAID IT

Thunder center Steven Adams on Oklahoma City’s performance: “We were just trash on the reads, on the pick-and-rolls. We were just absolutely garbage. We just have to go back to the drawing board and figure it out before Game 2.”

PUTTING THE WIN IN PERSPECTIVE

D’Antoni wants to make sure that his team realizes it still has a lot of work to do despite its big win.

“All we did is defend our home court, and that’s what we’re supposed to do,” he said. “It’s nice to play well and get the win because you have to, but this is just one little step … in the big scheme of things. I’m sure they’ll bounce back, and we’ve got to be ready to go.”