Kurt Helin

James Harden

Five Takeaways from an NBA Monday: What struggles? Harden leads Rockets past Thunder

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The NBA had a full slate of games Monday — highlighted by the undefeated Thunder at the winless Rockets — but if you were too busy Monday night noticing that http://www.fox.com/gothamGotham has gotten much better this season, here are five things you need to know out of the night around the NBA.

1) How James Harden and the Rockets got their groove back. Maybe it took James Harden going against his former team for him to find his step back jumper. Maybe it took Patrick Beverley going against Russell Westbrook to light a fire under the Rockets’ defense. Maybe it just took three embarrassing losses by the Rockets to shake them out of their malaise. Whatever motivated them, the Rockets played Monday night with an urgency we had not seen in the first three games, the kind we saw from them last season. Houston went small in this game, playing Trevor Ariza at the four for extended periods, and that seemed to both energize them and throw off Oklahoma City (which stayed big most of the game).

Harden finished with 36 points on 26 shots; he wasn’t particularly hot shooting, but he knocked down 4-of-12 threes and got to the line 11 times — he was attacking and drawing fouls again. The entire Rockets team was not settling for jumpers, and that got Westbrook in foul trouble, he sat most of the third quarter and was out when Houston went on a 14-2 run to make this a game by the time it got to the fourth. Ty Lawson had his best game as a Rocket by far and added seven points in that tight fourth quarter. Dwight Howard wasn’t moving terribly well but he finished a few alley-oops, played defense at the rim, and he ended the night with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Oklahoma City still has Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and with those two they will be contenders, but their defense remains a work in progress under Billy Donovan. They allowed 103 points per 100 possessions against Houston and through four games are surrendering 101.7 per 100, which is 20th in the NBA. Part of it is the Thunder are forcing turnovers on just 12 percent of opponent possessions, and then opposing teams are shooting 48.8 percent against them. The Thunder defense needs to improve if they are going to challenge the Warriors, Clippers, and Spurs come the playoffs.

2) LeBron James becomes the youngest player ever to reach 25,000 career points. LeBron became the 24th player in NBA history to score 25,000 points in a career — and nobody got there at a younger age 30 years, 307 days). Classy move by the Sixers fans to give LeBron a warm round of applause for reaching that milestone. And those fan got a little show because when LeBron crossed that threshold he did it with some flare.

3) How do the Trail Blazers win games? A whole lot of Damian Lillard. Portland is going to win most of its games this season by simply overwhelming the other team with offense — on Monday night it was Daminan Lillard’s turn to do that against the Timberwolves. Lillard put up 34 points (15 in the third), the Trail Blazers got the breaks down the stretch, and they handed the young Timberwolves their first loss of the season.

4) Warriors off to hottest four-game start in NBA history. This stat is mind blowing: Through four games, the Golden State Warriors have beaten their opponents by a total of 100 points — the largest margin of victory through the first four games of the season ever. Monday night Golden State absolutely throttled a good Memphis team 119-69, holding Memphis to 27 points on 18 percent shooting in the second and third quarters combined. Stephen Curry had 30 points on the night, 21 points in the second alone. However, the bigger stars may have been Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, as the Warriors front line owned the Memphis front line that is their cornerstone.

It’s very early, but the Warriors again have the best offense and the second best defense in the NBA so far, outscoring teams by 26.6 points per 100 possessions. They are on a tear. And the showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday will be must-watch.

5) Minnesota had a touching tribute to Flip Saunders. Monday was Minnesota’s first home game of the season, and the night opened with a tribute to the team’s late coach and GM Flip Saunders. That included this moving video with comments from people around the league, including former and current players, about how he touched their lives.

Harden leads Rockets to first win, 110-105 over Thunder

James Harden, Kyle Singler
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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 37 points, and the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 110-105 on Monday night for their first win of the season.

It was the first loss for the Thunder, who won their first three games while the Rockets dropped their first three.

An 8-1 run by the Rockets made it 107-100 with about two minutes left. Harden capped that key stretch with a 3, knocking it down with Russell Westbrook right in his face.

Westbrook made a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left to cut the lead to 108-105, and Harden missed a 3 on the other end. But Westbrook and Kevin Durant both missed 3-pointers on the next possession and Dwight Howard made a pair of free throws with 5.7 seconds left to secure the victory.

Durant led the Thunder with 29 points, and Westbrook added 25 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists.

Harden was 12 of 26 from the field after a tough start to the season. He shot below 30 percent in each of the first three games.

He scored five straight points to put the Rockets on top 97-93 midway through the fourth, but consecutive baskets by Durant and Westbrook tied it back up less than a minute later.

It was just the second game of the season for Howard, who missed the opener because he was suspended for flagrant fouls in the postseason, and also rested on Sunday. Howard missed seven of eight preseason games with a stiff back. He finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.

The teams exchanged the lead several times early in the fourth quarter, once when a 3-pointer by Patrick Beverley gave Houston a 90-89 advantage with less than nine minutes remaining. He beat his chest and mouthed to Westbrook after the score.

Westbrook’s layup put Oklahoma City up 93-92, and the jawing continued, earning both players a technical foul.

A free throw by D.J. Augustin extended Oklahoma City’s lead to four late in the third quarter. But the Rockets scored the last seven points of the period, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Beverley that made it 82-79, putting them on top for the first time since the first quarter.

Oklahoma City led by 10 points midway through the third after a tip-in by Serge Ibaka. The Rockets then found their offense, scoring the next eight points thanks to 3-pointers by Marcus Thornton and Harden to get within 75-73 a couple

Raptors, Terrence Ross reach three-year, $33 million contract extension

Nik Stauskas, Terrence Ross
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Raptors coach Dwyane Casey is hoping Terrence Ross can develop into a sixth man, and now the franchise is betting on him that to happen.

At the last minute going up against the Monday at midnight (Eastern) deadline, the Raptors and Ross reached a deal on a three-year contract extension. Ross himself confirmed it (he counts this year as a fourth).

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports broke the story and had the details.

Toronto Raptors forward Terrence Ross has agreed to a three-year, nearly $33 million contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Raptors avoid letting Ross become a free agent next summer when the league salary cap makes a steep rise. Toronto could’ve been forced to match a more expensive offer sheet. The extension begins in the 2016-17 season.

While $11 million is a lot per year, in a couple of years once the television money fully kicks in spiking the NBA salary cap close to $110 million, that will be about sixth man money. The question is will Ross live up to those expectations, but the Raptors wanted to lock him up now rather than let the cash-rich marketplace set his dollar figure come July.

The Ross extension is also insurance should DeMar DeRozan leave as a free agent next summer.

Ross is plenty athletic but has never taken full advantage of that, at least on a consistent basis (remember he did have a 51-point game but he has been up and down for three years). Despite being a former Dunk Contest winner (2013), he’s not the best finisher at the rim. However, he can shoot the three (46.2 percent on the young season), and he’s good in a spot-up role. What the Raptors need out of him is better defense — he is inconsistent on that end as well, seeming just to space out at times.

The potential is there, and the Raptors are betting on it.

Kristaps Porzingis with putback dunk over LaMarcus Aldridge (VIDEO)

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Kristaps Porzingis is showing flashes of what he can be.

He had 13 points and 14 rebounds against the Spurs on Monday night, making a few big plays like the putback dunk over LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s not exactly efficient — 5-of-15 shooting — and his defense needs work still, but you can see the potential.

It wasn’t near enough — Aldridge had 19 points, and the Spurs handled the Knicks at Madison Square Garden 94-84.

Late in the game, in a scramble for a ball under the basket, Porzingis went to the ground and Carmelo Anthony came down on top of him. Porzingis stayed on the ground in pain then went directly to the locker room. However, X-rays were negative, and it was described as a soft tissue injury. So, strain. His status is day-to-day, but this is nothing serious, fortunately.

Watch Timberwolves moving video tribute to Flip Saunders

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Monday night was the Timberwolves first home game this season, and the evening started with a tribute to the Timberwolves icon and coach Flip Saunders.

Above is the video tribute, with seemingly everyone around the league talking about how they were impressed with Saunders the coach, and more importantly just liked being around and speaking with Saunders the person. There also are touching comments from the current Timberwolves players.

RIP Flip.

The Timberwolves were playing the Trail Blazers Monday, and CSNNW.com had some video from in the arena of the tribute.