<span class="vcard">Kurt Helin</span>

Fans cheer after Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant sank a shot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 119-115. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Three Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Vintage Kobe returns for one night

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I know you were busy Tuesday teaching eagles to take out drones, so you didn’t get to follow the slate of NBA games for the night. We’ve got you covered, here’s what you need to know from around the Association:

1) Kobe Bryant gets sick of losing, turns back the clock and drops an efficient 38 points in Lakers’ win.
For a night, it felt like old times (when the regular season games for the Lakers were entertaining time killers while everyone waited for the playoffs). Kobe was draining threes (seven of them) and attacking. The other Lakers were giving him options and making plays when called upon. Jack Nicholson was sitting courtside. Everything seemed right. The Lakers needed all of it to hold off a charge by Andrew Wiggins and Minnesota, 119-115. Bryant had 14 of the Lakers final 18 points, including the dagger, and finished the game with 38 points — on just 21 shots.

The win snapped the Lakers’ 10-game losing streak — a loss Tuesday would have set another dubious franchise record. It was fun for a night with the Lakers, a chance to forget about all their troubles.

2) Earl Watson loses debut as Suns’ coach, which shouldn’t be a shock. There’s a new coach in Phoenix, but that was never going to change the myriad of roster issues with this team, or suddenly get guys healthy (in fact, the Suns lost T.J. Warren for the season Tuesday). The Suns are going to be a bad basketball team no matter who coaches them; the front office can thank themselves for that. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Earl Watson — who got bumped into the big chair after Jeff Hornacek was fired — lost his first game as coach, 104-97 at home to a good Toronto team. On the bright side,  Markieff Morris played like a man unchained — the forward had easily his best game of the season, scoring 30 points and adding 10 rebounds and six assists (that should help his trade value). But the Suns are not a good team right now, and the best Watson can do is hope to make them less bad as the season wears on. The chef can only cook with the ingredients in front of him, and the Suns are like a Chopped basket (and Watson can’t go to the pantry to round it out).

3) James Harden‘s 26 points, 14 assists get shorthanded Rockets win. No Dwight Howard, suspended for a game for contacting a referee. His backup Clint Capella was out with a thigh bruise. That meant Josh Smith was getting the start at center for Houston, which would have made normal people run out and bet on Miami in this one. But in the battle of erratic teams, James Harden stepped up with the big night — 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, he dished out 14 assists, the ball was moving, and the Rockets pulled away in the second half for a 115-102 win at home. Smith had 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting and was efficient for the night. Miami looked like they wore down physically, their shots would not fall after the first quarter, and the Rockets will take the needed victory.

Kyle Lowry, Raptors hold off Suns, spoil Watson’s coaching debut

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) shoots over Phoenix Suns'  Archie Goodwin (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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PHOENIX (AP) — The Toronto Raptors expected a spirited effort from the Phoenix Suns. That happens when a team changes coaches.

However, the Raptors had enough to hold on for a 104-97 victory Tuesday night, spoiling the debut of Suns interim coach Earl Watson.

Kyle Lowry scored 26 points, including five 3-pointers, and DeMar DeRozan added 22 for the Raptors, whose franchise-record 11-game winning streak ended Monday in Denver,

“We knew they would come out and play extremely hard and try to do their thing” Lowry said. “We kind of weathered the storm, paced ourselves though the whole game and found a way to win the game.”

The Raptors led the entire second half but had to hold on at the finish.

“The energy was there,” Watson said. “It’s not really physical with our team, it’s more mental and mental toughness is a fragile, unique path that you have to take.”

Markieff Morris had 30 points and 11 rebounds, both season highs, for the Suns, who fired coach Jeff Hornacek on Monday and promoted the 36-year-old Watson to the interim job.

Morris has had a difficult season, his playing time diminished after he said in the offseason he wanted traded after the Suns dealt his twin brother Marcus to Detroit.

But Watson considers Morris a major part of the team.

“I had a feeling if I gave him positive encouragement and let him know that no matter what, we love him no matter what happened beyond basketball,” Watson said, “and give him an opportunity to play and let him know he is going to play, he is going to get big minutes.”

MORRIS PRAISES HORNACEK

“Jeff was my guy,” Morris said. “Me and him were was here for three years together and he was a great coach. I really liked him a whole lot. It is just how the league goes. we are definitely going to miss him but coach told me before the game I was going to get my shots and I just got hot.”

Phoenix rookie Devin Booker added 27 points, matching his career best with six 3s. Archie Goodwin had 18 points and a career-best 12 assists for the Suns, who have lost five in a row and 20 of their last 22.

Terrence Ross scored 16 and Jonas Valanciunas 14 for Toronto in the Raptors’ second stop on a six-game road trip.

Morris scored 14 in the first quarter and Goodwin banked in a 35-footer at the buzzer to give Phoenix a 32-28 lead after one. It didn’t last long.

Ross scored five and Bismack Biyombo four in a 15-1 run that put the Raptors up 46-35 with 4:23 left in the half, and they never trailed again. The Suns scored the next eight to cut the lead to 46-43 but two late baskets by DeRozan gave Toronto a 52-45 lead at the break.

Phoenix almost caught the Raptors with an 8-0 spurt in the third quarter, Mirza Teletovic‘s 3-pointer cutting Toronto’s lead to 71-70 with 2:50 left in the period. But the Raptors outscored the Suns 7-1 the rest of the quarter.

Phoenix made it interesting late when Booker’s driving layup cut Toronto’s lead to 99-94 with 1:59 to play but DeRozan sank his only 3-pointer of the night with 51.9 seconds to play and the Raptors held on from there.

“They came out with a lot of enthusiasm, juice, energy, which we felt usually happens and comes after a coaching change,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “They played as well as they played for a while but we kept at it. We grinded it. (There were) some of the mental mistakes down the stretch we have to clean up. `’

TIP-INS

Raptors: Toronto improved to 7-8 in the second of back-to-back games. … James Johnson sat out the game after spraining his left ankle Monday night in Denver. … On Tuesday, Lowry and DeRozan were named Eastern Conference co-players of the month for January. … Lowry made four of his first five 3-point tries.

Suns: Goodwin’s previous career best in assists was six. … Newly hired assistant coach Bob Hill was on the bench. … T.J. Warren is out for the season with a broken right foot. … Phoenix opened a seven-game home stand. … At 36, Watson is the youngest coach in the NBA, three months younger than Houston interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

 

James Harden’s 26 points lead Rockets over Heat 115-102

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) goes in for a dunk as Washington Wizards' Jared Dudley watches during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden has long been known as a great scorer.

Lately. Houston’s star has been shining as a facilitator, too.

Harden scored 26 points and tied a career-high with 14 assists as the Rockets snapped a three-game skid with a 115-102 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.

It was the second time in eight games that Harden has had 14 assists and he’s had 10 or more in two other games in that stretch.

“He plays the game beautifully,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “His skillset I think is underappreciated by a lot of people. People see the scoring, scoring, scoring, but they don’t see that he makes plays for his teammates. They don’t see the passes he makes time and time again.”

Harden knows that it makes the Rockets much better when he’s able to get other people involved on offense.

“It means the defense has pressure on them,” Harden said. “Guys are making shot, guys are getting into a rhythm, getting comfortable and it’s easier for me.”

Houston had a double-digit lead for most of the second half and was up by 10 when Josh Smith scored all of the team’s points in a 7-2 run that pushed the advantage to 104-89 with about five minutes remaining.

The Rockets started Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward, at center with Dwight Howard serving a one-game suspension for making contact with an official this weekend and Clint Capela out with a thigh injury.

Smith scored a season-high 19 points in his second start this season and first since returning to Houston in a trade from the Clippers on Jan. 22.

He thinks the key to Tuesday’s win was the team’s defense.

“The defense has to be the cornerstone of what we do each and every night,” he said. “I think if we (assert) ourselves on the defensive end it will spark our offense.”

Luol Deng had 17 points for the Heat whose season-high four game winning streak ended.

“Houston clearly deserved to win this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They brought the necessary disposition. They imposed their will on the game and forced us into so many turnovers in the first half.”

The Rockets were up by seven entering the fourth quarter and scored the first six points of the period to make it 93-80 with about 10 1/2 minutes remaining.

A 3-pointer by Harden with just over three minutes remaining made it 110-93 and sent all Houston’s starters to the bench.

Houston led by 14 early in the third quarter before Miami used a 15-3 run to cut the lead to 74-72 with about five minutes left in the period. Dwyane Wade made four points in the span and the Heat made three consecutive 3-pointers to cap that run with two from Deng and one from Justise Winslow.

The Rockets got back on track after that, using a 9-2 spurt to extend the lead to 83-74 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Patrick Beverley and Marcus Thornton made 3s to get that run going and Terrence Jones finished it with a dunk after a no-look bounce pass from Harden.

The Rockets scored the final five points of the first half and the first eight points of the second half to turn a tie game into a 68-55 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Trevor Ariza started the third-quarter run with a 3-pointer and Smith scored the next five points.

Deng made a basket for the Heat before Smith sunk another 3-pointer to push Houston’s advantage to 71-57.

Harden made the last five points of the second quarter to give Houston a 60-55 lead at halftime.

QUOTABLE

Wade on Miami’s 17 turnovers: “I think early on we just weren’t mentally sharp. We came out and were losing the ball … and with a team like this who feeds off that you have to be very sharp and tight with the ball.”

TIP-INS

Heat: G Tyler Johnson missed his third straight game with a strained left shoulder. … Wade scored 16 points. … Amare Stoudemire had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Rockets: Bickerstaff was fined $10,000 Tuesday for public criticism of the officiating after Saturday’s game against Washington. … Rookie F Montrezl Harrell sat out with an illness. …Thornton scored 18 points.

Stan Van Gundy doesn’t like replay. Ever. In any sport.

Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy reacts to a call during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 104-101. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Associated Press
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If Stan Van Gundy had his way, when the officials miss a crucial call late in the Super Bowl Sunday, the incorrect call would just stand. No instant replay.

Van Gundy doesn’t like replay. Actually, that’s too kind a phrasing — he hates it. He doesn’t want it. Not at the end of NBA games. Not ever. He does not like it in a box, he does not like it with a fox. He does not like it here or there. He does not like it anywhere.

Here are Van Gundy’s comments from pregame Monday, via The Brooklyn Game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“If it were up to me, in all of sports, we’d get rid of all of it,” Van Gundy said in a candid pre-game interview before taking on the Brooklyn Nets Monday evening. “I sort of came to that in my two years out of coaching, sitting and watching games, college and pro.

“It’s infuriating watching the game and watching the last two minutes take 20 minutes and stuff. You know, going to the monitor four times in the last two minutes, it’s like, ‘damn, can we just play this basketball game?’ So I whipped through two years of just sitting there as a spectator and absolutely hated it….

“I know the rationale is we want to get it right, but that’s only partially true anyway. Because we’re not reviewing foul calls and non-foul calls, which are the most important calls. We don’t care about getting those right. So why are we going to worry about the rest of it? I don’t — I don’t get it. We’ve selected certain calls at certain times in the games that we want to get right. And for the other 46 minutes of the game, and for certain calls in the last two minutes, I guess we don’t care if we get it right.”

So SVG is good with one of those honest referee mistakes costing his team a game or two a season? I’m sure he would accept that with a Zen-like calmness.

Count me — and I think the majority of fans — on the other side of the argument. We want to see things be called correctly. The NBA has done a good job this season setting up the Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, which makes these calls faster and takes many of the calls out of the hands of the in-arena officials (who sometimes seem to have their egos on the line with these calls). Can it get a little annoying sometimes? Yes. Does it give the coaches of teams in close games a couple of free timeouts? Sure does.

But I’ll live with that to get the calls right. I’ll just buy Stan a Diet Pepsi to calm him down.

Rumor: Clippers would consider Blake Griffin for Kevin Durant swap this summer

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, center, is congratulated by Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, left, and forward Blake Griffin after the Thunder won of Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal NBA basketball playoff series, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Thunder won104-98, taking the series 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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On the list of things that Kevin Durant will do this summer — and the clear frontrunner at the top of that list is re-signing with the Thunder,  followed by going to the Warriors or anyone else — this is close to the bottom. Because Oklahoma City would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to this deal.

But for a Clippers team that wants to win a ring and may be losing faith this core can accomplish that, it’s intriguing.

The idea is a Blake Griffin for Durant sign-and-trade swap, and it’s something the Clippers would pitch, reports Adrian Wojnarowski for The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Outside of those well-known suitors – Washington, Houston and Miami – there’s another California team determined to make a bid for Durant, league sources tell The Vertical: The Los Angeles Clippers. If the opportunity comes to move Blake Griffin and replace him with Durant, the Clippers won’t hesitate, sources said.

Teams are calling on Griffin trades now, but Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers seems determined to play the year out with Griffin and see how far the team advances in the playoffs. Eventually, the Clippers will determine how intrigued Durant might be in becoming a Big Three with Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.

Again, the Thunder are working to retain Durant, not trade him this summer. And I’m with the crowd that thinks they will succeed, and Durant will re-sign with the Thunder on a two-year deal with an opt-out after one. That way Durant sees if the OKC core can get it done for one more season, he waits until the cap spikes to an estimated $108 million, he waits until he has 10 years in the league so his max salary jumps even more, and he becomes a free agent along with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka (they can make a group decision on whether to stay or go).

However, if Durant came to Thunder GM Sam Presti and said “I’m gone, you can do this deal or lose me for nothing” then Presti would have no choice but to seriously consider it. Griffin’s Oklahoma City ties make this interesting as well.

There is another side to the Clippers in this — Griffin is their guy. He is the face of the team’s marketing program in L.A., he is the last player introduced, and he is the fan favorite. Griffin was the draft pick the Clippers didn’t screw up, he’s the guy whose talent and work ethic forced an organizational change from laughing stock to putting on its big boy pants (something Mike Dunleavy Sr. started to push for back in the day). That is not easy to trade away.

Although for Kevin Durant, Clippers fans would get over it.

Doc Rivers has admitted that he has wondered if this Clipper core can climb the mountain, especially when the Warriors have turned that mountain into Everest. He knows might have to rethink the big picture.

It’s just not likely to happen in the summer of 2016. Now, the summer of 2017 if the Clippers are in the same boat, that could be another story.