Kurt Helin

James Harden hits step-back game winner, Rockets upset Warriors

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Ian Clark hit the transition lay-up to put the Warriors up by one with 10.6 seconds left — yes, Ian Clark, he was fantastic, but that’s another story — and the Rockets were out of time outs.

But they had James Harden.

Harden brought the ball up the court, Andre Iguodala picked him up 30 feet out, Harden drove hard to his left, spun back to the middle and as he did push Iguodala to create space, then he stepped back and nailed the 13-foot jumper. Was that a foul by Harden? Technically, but there is zero chance any referee would call it in that situation, which is why you saw Michael Jordan (on Byron Russell most famously) and Kobe Bryant among others do the same thing. It’s a savvy veteran move by an elite scorer.

The Rockets were up 97-96 and won by that score when Draymond Green dribbled the ball off his foot out of bounds. The Warriors lead the series 2-1, and you can expect Stephen Curry to be back for Game 4, but the Rockets have opened the door in this series with their best game by far.

And Harden led the way.

Report: Hornets’ Nicolas Batum out for rest of first round due to foot strain

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 17: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets  looks on during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs  at American Airlines Arena on April 17, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Nicolas Batum sprained his ankle early in the fourth quarter of the Hornets’ Game 2 loss to the Heat Wednesday.

Now the starting small forward and key cog for Charlotte may be out for the rest of the first round (likely meaning the playoffs), reports Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The injury looked nasty when it happened.

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After Wednesday’s game, Hornets coach Steve Clifford had said it’s very unlikely Batum plays in Game 3 Saturday, but the extended absence would be bad news for an already struggling Hornets team down 2-0 to the Heat in the series. He’s a key defender on the wing, plus his ball-handling skills allow Kemba Walker to work off the ball at times. Through two games of this series, the Hornets were +4.7 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court.  Charlotte needs to sweep the next two games at home to have a real chance, something that just got a lot more difficult.

Batum will be a free agent this summer and is a player the casual fan may not know but is highly coveted by GMs around the league — he can defend the wing, hit threes, and plays a high IQ game. Batum is going to get PAID and it will not be cheap for the Hornets to retain his services.

A tribute to New York City, Syracuse star Pearl Washington

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NEW YORK (AP) — There wasn’t much space left to stand in the park when we got there. We were lucky to be standing behind a group of kids we had by five, six inches each. Everyone was there for the same reason: to see Pearl. No last name needed. Pearl was coming to play in a summer league game, and that meant a big crowd and few seats – only hot cement.

Dwayne “Pearl” Washington was the latest one-name neophyte in New York’s basketball circles. He was waiting to start his sophomore year at Boys & Girls High School in Brooklyn. You knew which one he was as soon as the layup lines started.

That was Pearl.

He passed away Wednesday at 52 after fighting cancer.

“The first year I coached we had a scrimmage against Boys and Pearl and it was ridiculous,” said Ron Naclerio, the coach at Cardozo High School who has amassed a city-public school record 748 victories. “The next year we thought we could hang with them. Pearl was one of the guys who kids were mesmerized to be with him on the court. There were other great guards in New York his senior year like Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith and Kenny Hutchinson. They didn’t have the fanfare and the following.”

Pearl became a high school legend in New York City. He starred in the PSAL and packed crowds were at most Kangaroos games.

“He had a fabled high school career and his nickname made him even bigger,”‘ said longtime New York high school basketball talent evaluator Tom Konchalski. “If I had to have a Mount Rushmore for Boys High School it would be Sihugo Green, Lenny Wilkens, Connie Hawkins and Pearl. There is no accomplishment that big. He was a mesmerizing, galvanizing presence on the court and he was better than those other bigtime guards because he was a national name.”

“He was ahead of his time. He was a legend by the time he was 14,” said St. John’s coach Chris Mullin, a Brooklyn contemporary of Pearl’s who had some great games against him in the Big East. “Even though he didn’t have a good shot in college you couldn’t stop him from scoring. He was electrifying and an even better guy. I got to know him and I saw him this year when we played them so we got to talk about old times. He was one of the best.”

Pearl ended a national recruiting war when he selected Syracuse. He wasn’t totaling leaving New York City. He would be back each year for the Big East Tournament and what became epic battles against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown and Mullin and St. John’s.

“That was the time of the one names,” longtime college basketball analyst Bill Raftery said. “There was Chris and Patrick and Pearl. He was so embraced by the university and the community. … With his personality he captured the country. Like Stephen Curry does today, he embraced basketball and he embraced life.”

“In my opinion it was those three – Patrick, Chris and Pearl – who made the Big East what it became,” former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said. “Pearl brought more excitement to the Big East and Madison Square Garden than any other single player.”

“I tell people all the time the most difficult player for us to defend was him and we were known for our defense,” former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr said. “We would pack it in and he would come to the back line and still get to the basket.

“There are players who entertain and play at the same time and there are a lot of players who think they entertain and play at the same time. He entertained and played at the same time. People came just to see him play. He was a special, special player. He was really one of the cornerstones of the Big East.”

In the 1986 Big East championship game between St. John’s and Syracuse, the Redmen went ahead in the final seconds on a side jumper by Ron Rowan. The Orange gave the ball to Pearl.

“He wanted that last shot. The great ones always do,” former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca said. “He wanted it. That was the big thing. He made sure the ball was in his hands.”

Pearl drove the length of the court and his shot was blocked by Walter Berry and St. John’s had the title. Syracuse fans had another Pearl memory, even if it was in a losing cause.

Pearl introduced himself to the Big East by hitting a half-court shot at the buzzer against Boston College for a win. He kept running after he made the shot and went directly to the locker room, leaving the fans delirious at what the freshman from Brooklyn had done. The rest of the conference knew it was time for worry and concern.

“He was a unique person. We’ve never had anyone quite like him. As exciting as he was he was just as humble,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He was huge. He could do so much. Tim Hardaway once told me he watched Pearl on the TV to see him do the crossover. That was who they watched, Pearl.

“There may have been better players but there was never one more exciting.”

Pearl was selected 13th overall in the NBA draft by the New Jersey Nets. He played two seasons with the Nets and another with the Miami Heat. What made him a star in high school and college didn’t translate to the NBA.

“I was really surprised that he didn’t make it in the NBA,” Thompson said. “The way he was able to penetrate should have made him a star.”

The Carrier Dome was a big reason Pearl decided to go to Syracuse. There were often crowds above 30,000 for his home games and there were rarely less than 25,000.

“When he took the court it was like a rock concert in there,” longtime TV analyst Dick Vitale said. “Pearl and The Cuse. Oh man he had it rocking in there. There haven’t been many with that kind of charisma.”

That was Pearl.

Report: Scott Brooks reaches deal to coach Washington Wizards

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 01:  Head coach Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder gives instructions during the game withthe Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 1, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Thunder won 108-101.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Scott Brooks and Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld had met for days out near Brooks’ home in California and with no news there seemed there was no progress. Was Brooks dragging his feet to talk to the Houston Rockets after their season ends (when J.B. Bickerstaff is expected to be let go)? Was he waiting to see what the Lakers were going to do with Byron Scott?

No.

Brooks has signed a five-year deal to coach John Wall and the Washington Wizards, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

David Aldridge of NBA.com and TNT added some details.

This is a good hire by the Wizards — players love Brooks, and he built a strong culture with a young team in Oklahoma City. He knows how to develop players and get them on the same page (something the Wizards need).

And oh yeah, Kevin Durant LOVES him. That doesn’t hurt. Even after an ugly season on the court, this could get the Wizards an interview with Durant after July 1, although it is a longshot he comes home to the nation’s capital. (That’s assuming KD decides to leave Oklahoma City, and even if he is leaving it’s no sure thing he wants to go home to play — a lot of players don’t want those added distractions and pressures.)

The Wizards are a team with talent, but one that has felt like a clash of styles. With Wall’s speed, a shooter like Bradley Beal, guys like Markeiff Morris and Otto Porter (and Jared Dudley) they should get out and run more. But they also had Marcin Gortat playing well as a traditional big, and an old-school coach in Randy Wittman.

The Wizards were one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA last season, missing the playoffs after making the second round the past couple seasons. Look for a few roster changes this summer and a bounce-back season starting in the fall. They just got themselves one of the better coaches on the market.

Report: Kings telling prospective coaches they will be backed if they discipline DeMarcus Cousins

Atlanta Hawks v Sacramento Kings
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The Sacramento Kings hate the perception that star center DeMarcus Cousins runs the franchise. That he can push back against coaches with impunity.

Meaning the Kings are are telling to potential coaches — Mark Jackson, Mike Woodson, Vinny Del Negro, Ettore Messina, Sam Mitchel, Luke Walton, and the list goes on and on in a very broad search — that if they feel the need to discipline Cousins next season, the franchise will have the coach’s back.

From Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.

The Kings should not hire a coach just because Cousins does or does not like a coach.

However, here’s a novel idea: get his input on the process. Vlade Divac should go to Cousins and say “here are the guys we’re sitting down with, are there guys here you like or don’t like? Why?” Make him feel listened to — and consider his advice. That’s what teams do with franchise players. Don’t make a decision based on it, but put it in the mix with all the other things that need to be considered when hiring a coach. The Kings expressly ignored Cousins’ distaste for George Karl, hired him anyway, and boy wasn’t that a fun season in Sacramento?

If you want to build an inclusive culture, be inclusive.

Then whoever the Kings hire — whatever style of play he intends to bring to the team — stick with it for three seasons. Continuity is a good thing.