Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Spurs overcome Harden’s triple-double, beat Rockets 106-100

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HOUSTON (AP) — Tony Parker showed why he is so valuable to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night.

Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 20 points in their 106-100 victory over Houston, but Parker’s court presence proved to be the biggest difference between this victory and Wednesday’s night’s 101-99 home loss to the Rockets without him.

“He’s a great point guard, very smart, knows where guys’ spots are on the floor, and he’s been here before,” Leonard said. “He knows what (Gregg Popovich) expects, and if one of us gets out of line or if we’re doing well, he tells us. He just makes us better.”

Parker missed three games with knee soreness last week, and the Spurs lost consecutive home games for the first time since December 2014. On Saturday night, he scored a season-high 16 points and played 27 minutes, his second-highest total of the season.

“He gets us organized,” Popovich said. “He hasn’t been with us so much this season. He’s just a stability factor, and that was a big help.”

Parker was not made available to reporters.

The Spurs improved to 5-0 on the road, where they have outscored opponents by an average of 12.8 points.

James Harden had a triple-double for a second straight game against the Spurs, finishing with 25 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, but also added seven costly turnovers. A deep 3-pointer by Eric Gordon cut the lead to four with 2 minutes remaining, but Houston struggled to make stops down the stretch.

“Just messed up coverages,” Harden said. “They’re a really good team. They make you mess up.”

Gordon scored 27 points off the bench, going 7 of 12 on 3-pointers. Houston attempted 47 3s in the game, making 15 (31.9 percent).

The Rockets have lost three of their last four home games against the Spurs in the I-10 rivalry after winning seven of the previous eight. With the Spurs up 16 early in the fourth, a loud “Go Spurs Go!” chant overtook the Toyota Center crowd.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points, Pau Gasol scored 15 and Manu Ginobili added 12 off the bench.

Harden hit a running 39-footer at the buzzer to cut San Antonio’s lead to 26-22 after one. Leonard tried a buzzer-beater of his own to end the second quarter with a deep 3, but it clanked off the front of the rim, and the Spurs led 49-40 at the half.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Danny Green returned to the starting lineup after resting for Friday night’s win over Detroit. Green scored five points in 27 minutes. … Houston native SF Jonathon Simmons scored six points in 16 minutes. … San Antonio entered Saturday’s game leading the league in free throw percentage (86.3 percent) and ranking second in 3-point percentage (39.6 percent) and finished 19 of 24 from the line and 5 of 18 from 3.

Rockets: Houston went scoreless for the first 3 minutes of the game, missing its first eight shots. … PG Patrick Beverley was inactive as he continues to recover from knee surgery but participated in pregame warmups and plans to play later this week. … Trevor Ariza had 15 points, and Clint Capela added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

HARDEN’S MINUTES

Harden entered Saturday ranking fifth in the league with 37.6 minutes per game and played 39 minutes on Saturday night. Coach Mike D’Antoni said reducing those minutes as much as possible is important in keeping Harden healthy down the stretch, and he believes getting Beverley back in the next few games will allow Harden some added rest.

“That’s just too many minutes,” D’Antoni said. “Pat will be able to alleviate a lot of that.”

ANOTHER ONE

Harden joined Elvin Hayes as the only players in franchise history to record consecutive triple-doubles. The Rockets fell to 9-2 in the 11 games where Harden has had a triple-double.

LIVE BY THE 3.

Houston forward Ryan Anderson said Leonard’s defense was a factor in holding him to 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.

“Obviously, their main goal is to get me off the 3-point line,” Anderson said. “They did a great job of taking away normal shots, but at the same time, I had a lot of open looks that I just missed and that’s on me.”

ALL TOGETHER NOW

With plenty of early season absences from Green, Parker and others, Saturday night was the first time this season where the Spurs had everyone in their usual rotation available in the game.

 

J.R. Smith wanted to give Obama a T-shirt of his tattoos, but idea nixed

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I so, so wish this would have happened.

The Cavaliers made the traditional White House visit of champions Thursday, and part of that tradition is giving the president a jersey with his name on it. Kevin Love had the honors and handed the jersey over — but not before a little hesitation. Why the slow start?

Because he thought J.R. Smith might head up with him to give the president something less traditional — a T-shirt of all Smith’s tattoos. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

Kevin Love said J.R. Smith originally planned to give President Barack Obama T-shirts depicting his tattoos when Love was presenting Obama with a Cavs jersey but the idea was nixed. “J.R had the Fresh Brewed Tees with the tattoos on it, so originally (LeBron James) had mentioned, ‘Kev why don’t you give him the jersey and Swish you hand him the shirts,'” Love said. “I never knew they weren’t going to let Swish do the shirts. When I heard my name called and Bron was like, ‘Kev go hand him the jersey.’ I was like, ‘What about Swish?’ It was fun. I didn’t know I was going to have to say a few words and go up there, but that was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that I got. Got down there as quick as I could, handed him the jersey and made for a great photo op. It was a cool, organic moment.”

Obama joked during the ceremony he was glad Smith wore a shirt to the White House, “I wasn’t sure if it was going to make an appearance today. I’m glad you came. You’re a very nice shirt.”

I have no idea how Obama would have reacted being handed a shirt of Smith’s ink, but I would have paid to see his face.

Would LeBron James visit Trump White House as champion? “I don’t know”

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It’s a problem LeBron James would love to have.

As the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers followed the tradition and went to the White House Thursday — joking with President Barack Obama and taking on the mannequin challenge with First Lade Michelle ObamaRichard Jefferson said the Cavs could be the last team to do this for a while. That’s how strong the anti-Donald Trump feeling is around the NBA.

Friday, at shootaround before the Cavaliers took on the struggling Wizards, LeBron was asked if he would go to a Trump White House, as reported by Chase Hughes of CSNMidAtlantic.com.

“I don’t know. That’s something that we’ll cross. We’ll have to cross that road if we get to it. We’ll see. I would hope to have to cross that road,” James said.

My guess — and it’s just that — is that the tradition of the team attending the White House will continue, but some players (in every major sport) will beg out. How many depends on a lot of factors. Would a player with a big international brand that sells a lot of shoes — LeBron, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, etc. — be willing to take the backlash that would come with sitting it out?

James — who endorsed Hillary Clinton and campaigned for her in Ohio (where she lost) — went on to expand his thoughts on the election beyond just a potential White House visit.

“It was difficult watching it. Me and my wife didn’t go to bed until 4 o’clock in the morning. It was very difficult seeing what happened not only in our state but in our country.”

“He’s our president. No matter if you agree with it or disagree with it, he’s the guy, and we all have to figure a way to make America as great as it can be. We all have to do our part,” James said.

“Our nation has never been built on one guy, anyways. It’s been built on multiple guys, multiple people in power, multiple people having a dream and making it become a reality by giving back to the community, by giving back to the youth, doing so many great things. We always have a guy that has the most power, and that’s the President of the United States. But it’s never been built on one guy. We all have to figure out a way we can better our country. We all know, we all feel, that this is the best country in the world. We have to all do our part. It’s not about him. It’s not about him at all, especially not for me and what I do.”

Rumor: Sacramento open to trading Willie Cauley-Stein

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When Sacramento drafted Willie Cauley-Stein out of Kentucky with the No. 6, the dream was he could play next to DeMarcus Cousins to form an athletic, formidable front line.

That hasn’t worked. The two have played 17 minutes together this season, and in those minutes the team has been strong on offense but destroyed on defense. While that’s a small sample size, it correlates with last season, when the two played 596 minutes together, allowed 108 points per 100 possessions when paired, and opponents outscored them by 3.7 points per 48 minutes. While Cauley-Stein has all the tools to be a great defender, it hasn’t translated to good team defense yet, and while he can fly above the rim and finish on offense outside five feet he’s not able to provide much. That said, this is a second-year player who has time to grow.

New Kings coach Dave Joerger has reduced Cauley-Stein’s role (less than 15 minutes a game), which could lead to a trade, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Keep an eye on Kings’ big man Willie Cauley-Stein. Word is Sacramento is open to moving the second-year big man, who wants more of a role than he has under new Kings coach Dave Joerger.

You get the sense there are conversations that go a lot like, “Hey, we were calling about DeMarcus,” “Have you seen our barely used Cauley-Stein?”

For the right price, a few teams might be willing to take a gamble on Cauley-Stein as a rim-protecting big, especially since he’s still on his rookie contract for a couple more seasons. However, the Kings would not get much in return, despite him being a No. 6 pick.

The other issue for Sacramento is this: If they are not going to be able to keep Cousins (whose contract is up in 2018), do they want to trade Cauley-Stein, or keep him to step into a larger role? Sacramento doesn’t want to think that way, they want to keep Cousins, but they need to have contingencies.

NBA D-League set to open 16th season with record 22 teams

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There was a time when the NBA Development League was just hanging on, a fledgling operation viewed as an outpost to be avoided at all costs.

As the D-League prepares to open its 16th season of operation on Friday, it does so having grown dramatically in recent years, and with the handful of remaining NBA teams who have yet to start their own affiliates clamoring to get in the door.

“We’ve already grown very quickly in a short period of time,” president Malcolm Turner told The Associated Press.

Three expansion teams – in Charlotte, Chicago and Brooklyn – begin play this season, bringing the league’s total to a high of 22 clubs. Every one of them has a one-to-one affiliation with an NBA organization, with the big franchises growing more and more comfortable using the minor league to develop young players, cultivate coaches and allow veterans to rehab an injury.

What started as an eight-team league in 2001, dipped to six teams in 2003 and hovered at 16 teams for five seasons between 2008 and 2013 has gradually evolved to become a part of the NBA’s ecosystem. The Atlanta Hawks announced on Thursday they will start a team in 2019, leaving just seven NBA franchises without a D-League affiliate of their own.

“We’re in active conversations with all of them about joining the league,” Turner said. “Knock on wood, we hope to have additional announcements sooner than later.”

Being on the outside looking in suddenly is becoming a competitive disadvantage.

“From a basketball perspective, this is critical to our growth,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said at the unveiling of plans for a 3,500-seat arena in the Atlanta suburb of College Park.

And it’s not just the teams that are growing. Fifteen coaches who worked in the D-League last season are on NBA benches this year, just under 50 percent of the players drafted in 2015 spent some time in the D-League and 40 percent of players on NBA rosters at season’s end had some D-League experience, according to Turner.

Miami center Hassan Whiteside became the first former D-League player to sign a max contract this summer and there have been conversations between NBA owners and the players’ union about including a clause in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows for two-way contracts that would only increase the usage of the minor league.

“The numbers are already there,” Turner said. “Those are meaningful numbers in terms of D-League experience in the NBA, and that’s just on the players’ side. I think ecosystem and fabric are key terminology for us. It’s not aspirational for us. It’s actually happening.”

Turner said the league is exploring possible international ventures, seizing on the NBA’s global reach. Big league general managers have told D-League representatives they plan to use the league more going forward to help veterans play their way back into shape after long injury hiatuses.

Season No. 16 begins on Friday night with four games: Canton at Grand Rapids; Long Island at Windy City; Maine at Oklahoma City; and Iowa at Los Angeles.

“We don’t disclose our financials publicly, but I would tell you, both at the league level and with our teams, we are trending in the right direction as it relates to not only revenue growth but more importantly profitability as well,” Turner said.

AP National Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.