Kurt Helin

James Harden

Houston players conduct players-only meeting hoping to stop slide

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As has been mentioned more than a couple of times at PBT recently, Houston is just terrible so far this young season. It’s not just the 4-7 record, or the terrible defense, or the unimpressive play of James Harden and Ty Lawson, watch their body language and it looks like there is something bigger going on with the Rockets.

Will a players-only meeting fix that?

The team had one on Tuesday, as reported by Calvin Watkins at ESPN and Jonathan Feigen at the Houston Chronicle.

While certain details of the meeting weren’t revealed, communication and getting everything off people’s chest were some of the talking points.

“What happens in the room, stays in the room,” center Dwight Howard said following practice. “It was good for us to sit down and talk but it’s a long season and you can’t get caught up in losing a couple of games and getting upset and so frustrated and feel like it’s the end of the world. It is embarrassing. We hate to lose but at the same time we have a long season and we can’t think negative when we lose. We have to try and find the positive in any situation. You keep thinking negative, then negative things will continue to happen to you. You got to stay positive and fight through it. All this stuff will build our character.”

“It was a good talk for us,” Harden said. “We hadn’t had an opportunity to communicate like that since the season had been going. It was good for us to communicate and each guy basically said what their role was and every single night they’re going to contribute to that role. After the talk we had a really good practice, guys communicated we worked hard and now it’s about carrying it over. It’s about doing it on the floor.”

We will see if this helps, players-only meetings rarely yield any long-term results of note.

Still, the Rockets players and coaches need to do something — Kevin McHale talked after Monday’s loss about potentially tweaking the Rockets’ starting lineup, specifically breaking up the Harden/Lawson starting backcourt. The Rockets are -7.7 per 48 minutes when those two are on the court together, with the problems mostly coming on the defensive end. However, until Patrick Beverley is ready to return from his sprained ankle McHale may not have many options.

The Rockets next face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

PBT Extra, power rankings edition: Is Miami second best in East?

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On Monday, this week’s edition of PBT’s NBA power rankings hit the streets, and in today’s PBT Extra Jenna Corrado has a couple questions about them.

For one, is No. 6 Miami the second best team in the East? I think they have been so far, although the question is can they sustain it.

Second, is No. 26 too low for the Houston Rockets, should we back away from the panic button. If the panic button means firing Kevin McHale then yes, it is too early. But make no mistake, this team is terrible right now and deserves that ranking — and in a short segment like PBT Extra I don’t have time to get into all their problems. They have the second-worst defense in the NBA, they are not putting out consistent effort, both James Harden and Ty Lawson have looked slow and performed way below expectations, and Dwight Howard has not been much of a force in the paint. Just watch them play, and you see body language that suggests there is something very wrong with that team right now.

Brett Brown on 76ers 27 turnovers: “I should just walk off the stage”

Brett Brown
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Could you blame Sixers coach Brett Brown if he just threw up his hands and walked off the stage at some point this season? Gregg Popovich wouldn’t.

Monday night against Dallas the Sixers rallied from 19 back to take a one-point lead in the fourth quarter, and it felt like the 0-10 Sixers could get their first win of the season. But the veteran Mavericks took care of the ball down the stretch and hit some shots, while Philly could do neither. At the end of the day it was the Sixers’ 27 turnovers — 26 percent of Philly’s possessions, one in four trips down the court, ended in a turnover — that did them in (Dallas won 92-86). Brown was asked about the turnovers after the game.

Here’s the rest of that quote, via John Finger at CSNPhilly.com.

“What else could I say? In my mature world, this is what I’d say we have to do a better job of executing down the stretch to close out a game,” Brown said. “We didn’t against San Antonio and we didn’t tonight. We need to. It’s part of growing up.”

The bottom line is the Sixers are 0-11 this season, 0-21 if you want to count the end of last season, too. The guard play that has the team coughing the ball up so much is a big part of the problem — Brown would love to play bubble NBA guys Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall in the backcourt, but they are injured. So it’s T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas getting the starts and Isaiah Canaan behind them. Not exactly a lineup anyone fears.

But it’s the one GM Sam Hinkie gave Brown, and what’s the coach supposed to do about it? Walk off the Stage?

Five Takeaways from an NBA Monday: Houston is just plain bad

Montrezl Harrell, Ty Lawson, Dwight Howard, James Harden
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This early in the season it’s easy to say anything you think you see is just a case of “small sample size theater.” Some teams that looked bad can turn it around — Memphis on Tuesday seemed like maybe they can. Houston may be a different story. In case you were engrossed in college basketball tipping off, here are five things you missed from the NBA Monday night.

1) Houston is a terrible basketball team right now, and it may not be getting better. Trevor Ariza all but called his team soft Monday, saying that the Houston Rockets simply do not play hard enough — then the team went out and proved his point. Houston played well in the first half and was up by two on Boston at the break (thanks to a nifty Ariza layup at the buzzer), but the Rockets came out flat in the third and were just steamrolled into another loss. In the third the Rockets were outscored 32-13, shot 5-of-17, had seven turnovers, gave up six offensive rebounds, and simply were out hustled at every turn. Boston ended the quarter on a 15-0 run and never looked back (winning 111-95).

It’s easy 11 games into the season to dismiss some problems as the result of small sample size — but you can’t do that with Houston any longer, the issues are serious. And beyond just a “flip the switch” mentality. The 4-7 Rockets possess the second worst defense in the NBA this season (they were sixth in the NBA defensively last season when they won 56 games and went to the Western Conference Finals). They are getting outscored by 8 points per 100 possessions on the season so far. James Harden is playing at a slower speed than last season (he hasn’t been nearly as explosive getting to the rim), Dwight Howard does not look like the guy who had the strong playoff performance, Ty Lawson seems slow and is not making his expected contributions (he’s shooting 31 percent on the season and struggling from three), they have been awful at the power forward position, and worst of all Ariza is right — this team just is getting out hustled nightly. There are real locker room/chemistry questions. These are the kind of thing that gets a coach fired, and already Kevin McHale is talking about tweaking his starting backcourt of Lawson and Harden to find some chemistry somewhere (Patrick Beverley is out with a sprained ankle). Maybe getting Donatas Motiejunas back from injury will help at the four, but the issues are bigger than that. This is simply a poor basketball team right now.

And looming over it all — Dwight Howard is a free agent next summer and could just bolt.

2) Memphis plays its best game of season wearing awesome ABA throwbacks. Coincidence? I think not. I loved the throwback Memphis Sounds jerseys:

Mike Conley, Mario Chalmers
Mike Conley, Mario Chalmers

Wearing them the Grizzlies hit 12-of-17 from three and put up 122 points in beating the Thunder. Sure, you could say the poor Thunder defense this season played a role. Or that there will be nights when even the worst shooting teams can knock down shots. Or that Mario Chalmers has been key to turning their offense around (he had 29 points on 13 shots off the bench). Or that you know it’s your night when Marc Gasol is hitting this shot:

But we all know the truth — it was the uniforms.

3)Brandon Knight just abused Marcelo Huertas, spun him all the way around. I feel sorry for Huertas, who used to give Team USA some trouble as the point guard for Brazil, a guy who had a superb career in Europe, only to decide at age 32 to give the NBA a shot — he’s not up to defending at this level anymore. And the result are things like this.

4) Jabari Parker injured again. At least it’s not serious this time, a sprain of his right foot, but he’s not with the Bucks on their current three-game road trip. He was clear and away the best rookie last season until he blew out his ACL and missed the last 57 games, and recovery from that injury bled over to the first four games of this season. He’d been back for five games, looked a little rusty but was finding a groove (he had his best game in the win over Cleveland Saturday), and now this. There is no surgery needed, just a little time off. Still, come on basketball gods, give the kid a chance. Let him stay on the court.

5) Jimmy Butler blocks Paul George to save Bulls win. Paul George had another monster game — 26 points on 20 shots — and with the Pacers down one 96-95 and inbounding the ball with 5.1 seconds left, you know who was going to get the last shot. That’s where Butler made the defensive play of the night.

George — and a lot of Pacers’ fans in my Twitter timeline — wanted the foul on that call, but no way you’re going to get that fading away on a contested shot with the game on the line. Any contact Rose made with George was incidental to the shot — even Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel said so after the game. That was just great defense to save a win.

Also in this game, Derrick Rose had to leave with a little over two minutes left due to a sprained ankle, and he did not return. However, Rose said after the game it was nothing serious, and he should be back soon.

Chalmers scores 29 to lead Grizzlies over Thunder 122-114

Mike Conley, Mario Chalmers
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mario Chalmers‘ transformation from one of the most despised figures in Memphis basketball history to fan favorite has taken all of three games.

His season-best scoring performance Monday night completed the transition.

Chalmers scored 16 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as the Memphis Grizzlies held on for a 122-114 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As Chalmers got going in the final quarter, Memphis fans were on their feet cheering the guard acquired last week in a trade with the Miami Heat. One fan hollered: “I never thought I would cheer for Mario Chalmers.”

Before the trade, Chalmers was known in Memphis as the guy whose 3-pointer sent the 2008 national championship game against the Memphis Tigers into overtime – a game eventually won by Chalmers’ Kansas Jayhawks.

On Monday, he converted 6 of 13 shots, including 4 of 7 from outside the arc, as five Grizzlies reached double figures. Mike Conley had 22, Jeff Green scored 20, while Marc Gasol added 17. Zach Randolph finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 40 points, 12 in the fourth quarter trying to bring Oklahoma City back from an 11-point deficit. Serge Ibaka had 18 and Enes Kanter scored 16. Steven Adams and Dion Waiters finished with 14 apiece.

Oklahoma City shot 51 percent, including 10 of 24 from outside the arc. But Memphis converted 12 of 17 3-pointers, much out of character for the Grizzlies, who entered the game ranked near the bottom in 3-point shooting at 29 percent.

“I’ve always been a big believer that when the three-point shot goes up, it’s dangerous,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, adding: “To their credit, they made them.”

Westbrook tried to bring the Thunder back in the fourth, fueling a 10-2 rally that pulled Oklahoma City within 108-105 with 1:26 left.

But 3-pointers by Conley and JaMychal Green put the game away for Memphis, which won its third straight.

“They made some big shots at the end of the game,” Westbrook said. “.They just made the last run and won the game.”

Chalmers said the reaction of the Memphis fans despite his role in the national championship game has been refreshing.

“It actually gave me more motivation,” Chalmers said of the cheers. “Just to come out and prove to the fans that I want to be here. I belong here.

“And hopefully they’ll forget about 2008,” he said with a laugh.