Kurt Helin

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) has his shot-attempt blocked by Oklahoma City Thunder's forward Kevin Durant (35) during an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)
Associated Press

James Harden’s 41 lead Rockets past Thunder 118-110

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 41 points with nine assists to help the Houston Rockets improve their playoff chances with a 118-110 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

With 30 seconds left, Harden stole a pass from Kevin Durant and found Patrick Beverley for a transition dunk to give Houston an eight-point lead and the Rockets held on for an important victory.

The Thunder led by six early in the fourth until Harden hit back-to-back 3s to tie the game at 93.

The inconsistent Rockets have alternated wins and losses for six straight games as they desperately chase a trip to the postseason.

Oklahoma City lost for just the second time in the past three weeks and had won nine of its previous 10 entering Sunday.

Durant had 33 points and eight rebounds for the Thunder.

After posting seven triple-doubles in the month of March, Russell Westbrook had 23 points, 13 rebounds and fell one assist shy of picking up his 17th triple-double of the season.

Houston closes out the season with games against Dallas, Phoenix, the Lakers and Sacramento.

Both teams started off slow. They missed a combined 10 of their first 12 shot attempts and committed a total of 15 first-half turnovers. The Rockets got going with hustle around the rim.

On a second-quarter possession, Houston missed six shots and gathered offensive rebounds every time until Dwight Howard ended it with a dunk to put the Rockets up 33-30.

Houston held a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter after Jason Terry hit a 3-pointer with one second remaining.

The Thunder finished the second quarter on a 7-0 run, capped by a layup from Westbrook that put Oklahoma City up 53-52 at the half.

Oklahoma City built its largest lead of the game midway through the third quarter, going up 12. Houston briefly regained the lead until Durant closed out the quarter with three consecutive free throws to give the Thunder an 82-80 lead entering the fourth.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City had 21 turnovers, Houston had 10. … Enes Kanter scored 16 points off the bench for Oklahoma City in just 18 minutes. . For the sixth time in the past seven games, Nick Collison did not play.

Rockets: SG K.J. McDaniels played a season-high 18 minutes and scored 10 points. … Andrew Goudeluck played for the first time since March 14, picking up two points and two steals in nine minutes. . PF Terrence Jones was the only active Rocket who didn’t play in the game, as he has been out since Feb. 29.

 

Blake Griffin is back for Clippers, shows Lob City has not lost step with alley-oop

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Blake Griffin is back.

He played 24 minutes, and while he showed some rust (2-of-7 shooting overall), he had a nice spin move for a bucket, made a steal, and oh yeah, threw down an alley-oop from Chris Paul. Griffin finished with six points, five rebounds, but was a team best +22 on the day. He’s going to need a few games to find his rhythm again, but he showed flashes of what he can do.

The Clippers got the win 114-109.

Jazz hope to get Alec Burks back this week, in time for playoff push

Denver Nuggets v Utah Jazz
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The Utah Jazz are currently tied for the last two playoff slots in the Western Conference, the 7/8 seeds, with the Dallas Mavericks (both teams are 38-38). Both are one game ahead of the Houston Rockets.

While playoff prediction sites like the Jazz’s chances — fivethirtyeight.com has them at 89 percent to make the playoffs because of an easier schedule than their competitors — Utah could use any boost it can get.

Like maybe getting guard Alec Burks back from a broken leg sooner than expected. He could be back this week, reports the Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones.

Barring a setback, injured Utah Jazz shooting guard Alec Burks will make his return to the lineup as early as Tuesday night against the San Antonio Spurs, league sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune….

The Jazz have been cautious with his return, wanting to make sure he is 100 percent healthy and that there is no risk of re-injury. He’s been slowly doing more from a basketball standpoint, and recently has been playing full contact 3-on-3 in a half-court setting.

My man, Jody Genessy of the Deseret News (check out our podcast), was a little more cautious.

Burks will be on a minutes limit at first when he does return, but any minutes he can give Utah at the guard spot would be good ones — this is a team that traded for Atlanta’s third-string point guard Shelvin Mack and then started him and gave him heavy minutes because they are so banged up in the backcourt. Before he got injured Burks averaged 14.3 points a contest (third on the team) and was shooting 38.7 percent from three.

If the Jazz can get Burks back this week, it would be a boost, both on the court and emotionally for the young team trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

 

Video evidence Tim Duncan does joke around, has sense of humor

SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs sits on the bench before their game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on February 24, 2016 in Sacramento, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Gregg Popovich has said he and Tin Duncan joke around sometimes, that Duncan has a sense of humor.

However, that surfaces about as often as a giant squid. There are the HEB commercials and other odd moments, but Duncan’s prankster side remains hidden from the world.

However, there was a sighting on Saturday.

That’s Duncan messing with former teammate and current Spurs color analyst Sean Elliot. Enjoy watching it; we don’t know if or when Duncan’s humor might surface again.

Nets to shut down Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young for remainder of season

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 16:  Brook Lopez #11 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates his shot in the first half against the Miami Heat at Barclays Center on December 16, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of  New York City.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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Brooklyn Nets are playing out the string, losers of four straight and seven of their last nine, long removed from playoff consideration.

They have been intermittently resting their two veteran stars, Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, and now they have decided to shut them down for the final six games of the season despite the pair being healthy. This according to interim coach Tony Brown, via Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.

The Nets say they want to look at some of their other players more closely down the stretch.

If your first thought is “they’re tanking for better lottery odds” you must be a Celtics’ fan, because the Nets’ first-round pick belongs to Boston unprotected, as part of the Kevin Garnett deal a few years back. The Nets have the fourth-worst record in the NBA (and it’s possible Phoenix could pass them now).

The Nets made one smart move this year, hiring Sean Marks as GM and giving him power — and hopefully time and patience — to rework the team in arguably the worst position of any in the NBA. Not only are the Nets already one of the worst teams, but they also don’t control their first-round pick until 2019, and have few trade assets.

Lopez and Young may be their best trade pieces, expect their names to come up in rumors this off-season. But don’t expect Marks to move them just to move them, he’s going to wait for a good deal that can help his rebuilding efforts.