Kurt Helin

James Harden

Harden scores 46, Rockets hang on to beat Clippers 109-105

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Seven games into the season, the Houston Rockets have already experienced more ups and downs than most teams. They lost their first three games and have turned things around to win four in a row.

Much of it is due to James Harden, who scored a season-high 46 points in his second straight game over 40 to help the Rockets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 109-105 Saturday night.

Harden made 13 of 14 free throws and was 5 of 10 from 3-point range a night after he scored 43 in a 116-110 win at Sacramento.

“We got some open shots and I was just being aggressive,” Harden said. “These last couple games when we have been playing well, our defense has led to easy buckets in transition for our offense, so that’s what we have to hang our hat on.”

Blake Griffin had 35 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers, who played without Chris Paul. The star point guard sat out with a sore right groin as Los Angeles lost at home for the first time in four games.

“We needed to make things tougher for James,” Griffin said. “We needed to make him drive, but he’s good at that just like he’s a good shooter. He had it going and we need to do a better job by committee.”

Marcus Thornton added 16 points, and Dwight Howard had 20 points and 20 rebounds for the Rockets.

With Thornton and Harden hitting 3-pointers, Houston led by 11 midway through the fourth.

The Clippers responded by outscoring the Rockets 17-6, tying it at 105 on a 3-pointer from the left corner by Paul Pierce with 41 seconds to go.

J.J. Redick fouled Harden, who made both to put Houston ahead 107-105.

After a timeout, Griffin put the ball up and it hit the rim and bounced away, with the Clippers arguing Howard should have been called for goaltending. Paul, dressed in street clothes, came on the court during a timeout to make a case with one of the referees.

“That’s textbook goaltending,” Griffin said. “The review really didn’t help us.”

After a video review, the ball was awarded to Houston with 17 seconds to go. Ty Lawson made two free throws for a four-point lead before Jamal Crawford‘s 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.

“I thought our entire team played like they had cement boots on the first three games,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “We were just slow. When you watch the film we just looked sickly. We were able to turn the corner and get downhill.”

Redick added 19 points and DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Clippers.


Rockets: Harden just missed his career best of 51 points set against Sacramento on April 1. … The Rockets outscored the Clippers 22-10 in fast-break points. … They improved to 2-0 in the second game of back-to-backs. … They have won four straight for the first time since March 23-29 of last season. … Houston has won three straight against the Clippers for the first time since March 28-Dec. 22, 2009.

Clippers: Austin Rivers started his first game of the season in place of Paul, who is averaging 17 points and 8.2 assists. The coach’s son had 10 points in 31 minutes. … Without Paul, the Clippers still had a season-high 29 assists.


Rockets: Host Brooklyn on Wednesday night.

Clippers: Host Memphis on Monday night.

Byron Scott’s comments show what’s wrong with Lakers’ development

Byron Scott

Developing young players means pain — you have to put them out there in situations where they will struggle, watch them fail a few times, and help guide them to make better decisions the next time that situation arises. It takes time. It means some losses.

Which is why this comment from Lakers’ coach Byron Scott, via Baxter Holmes at ESPN, from before the Lakers beat the hapless Nets on Friday makes no sense to me. Scott talks about benching his young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson to teach them a lesson.

“I think when you make a mistake over and over again, sometimes that wood has a good way of talking to your butt a little bit, too,” Scott said Friday before the Lakers’ 104-98 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. “Getting a couple splinters here and there, sometimes that has a great way of communicating how important it is to play on that [defensive] end of the floor.”

The Lakers have the second-worst defense in the NBA this young season, allowing 109.3 points per 100 possessions — they do need to focus more on that end of the floor. And after the game, Scott admitted Russell and company need minutes.

But if you’ve watched the Lakers this season, you’ve seen Scott coaching like someone looking to win games now. Which is why Lou Williams is closing out games and not Russell (and a hundred other little decisions that show they do not want a repeat of last season’s win total).

That’s backwards. The clear top priority for this team is not to win games now, it’s to develop players who can be a core part of a team that wins a lot of games a few years from now. This is not a playoff team, not anywhere close to it. (Not that I suggest tanking, their pick is just top three protected or it goes to Philly, that’s not when you tank. It’s a question of priorities.)

Threatening a rookie’s minutes is a thing Scott does, this is not the first time this has happened, last preseason Scott threatened Randle’s minutes with Carlos Boozer. It’s a pattern. And it’s not one you see in Utah or Milwaukee right now, or back in the day with OKC, or with other franchises that have shown to be adept at developing young players. You live with the mistakes and teach from the lessons.

The Lakers organization has never had to develop talent in this way before. They have had a good young players — Kobe Bryant, young Andrew Bynum, etc. — but they were always surrounded by veterans who could guide them along. The Lakers never had to rebuild like this. More often they let other teams do the development work (Shaq, Pau Gasol, the list goes on) then swooped in and grabbed them fully formed. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (plus the power of social media to market a brand outside a major market) have changed the rules, and the Lakers are still adapting. They are going to have to get a development program in place that can build a base elite free agents want to play with (think Greg Monroe going to Milwaukee over larger markets).

Byron Scott has yet to show he is the guy to build that program. He’s run players into the ground with old-school training camps two years in a row. He instituted an old-school offense. He has yet to show he can coach a good defense; this team will make five of his in a row in the bottom 10 in the league. Now he’s calling out young players in the media. Phil Jackson would send messages to veterans that way, but it’s different with young stars, and if you’re trying to recruit free agents next summer things like this get noticed.

Scott was put in a difficult spot, anyone who took this job knew the first few years were going to be tough. The question becomes is he doing enough to make the next few years better?

That said, I don’t expect the Lakers to let Scott go, at least not in season. There’s a sense he’s a Laker teaching the Laker way. I’d say that is magical thinking, but it will keep his job safe for now.

Watch James Harden drop 43 on Sacramento

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The Sacramento Kings are not nearly the same team without DeMarcus Cousins (sore Achilles). The Rockets were heavy favorites to win Friday night’s matchup between these teams and even their record on the young season (3-3).

James Harden took full advantage and had a monster night — 43 points on 23 shots, plus he dished out 13 assists. He looked like the Harden of last season again.

The Rockets got the win 116-110. Cousins is expected to return and try to get the Kings back on track Monday.

Kobe Bryant: “I’m a Laker for life”


One of the popular “Kobe Bryant leaves the Lakers” theories out there is that next summer Kobe will sign with the New York Knicks to reunite with Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher for a triangle offense reunion tour. Because Kobe is going to leave a struggling, rebuilding team on one coast for a struggling, rebuilding team on another coast. Whatever, that’s one of the theories out there.

Kobe and the Lakers were in Brooklyn picking up their first win of the season Friday night when he was asked about Jackson’s previous comments Kobe would play beyond this season, and he took the chance once again to shoot down the idea he would leave the Lakers, as reported by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

“I’ve said it so many times. I’m here, I’m a Laker for life,” Bryant said Friday night after his team’s 104-98 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. “I’m not playing anywhere else, no matter what. It’s just not going to happen. I bleed purple and gold, and that’s just how it’s going to be.”

I don’t know if Kobe is going to retire after this season or come back for another tour of duty, but I believe him when he says he wouldn’t leave the Lakers. It’s simply about branding — part of Kobe’s brand is being one of the greatest Lakers of all time. Kobe learned from the Michael Jordan Wizards years; he doesn’t want to repeat that.

This was also Kobe trying to cut off this discussion — and the Knicks talk — before the Lakers head to Madison Square Garden for a game Sunday.

So far this season Kobe is averaging 16.2 points per game but is shooting just 32.1 percent doing it. He doesn’t have the same elevation when he shoots, he’s not getting the same separation from defenders — which is to be expected for a 37-year-old coming off knee and Achilles surgeries. Kobe just hasn’t adjusted his game to those new realities, and he’s been frustrated. All of which has me still in the camp that he retires at the end of this season, but Kobe doesn’t even know yet what he is going to do come April when the Lakers’ season ends, so all the rest of us can do is just speculate.

Warriors stay unbeaten behind another big night from Curry

Stephen Curry

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry led the way once more with 34 points and 10 assists, his supporting cast did plenty to take the pressure off, and the defending champion Golden State Warriors beat the Denver Nuggets 119-104 on Friday night to stay unbeaten.

Harrison Barnes scored 21 points for Golden State and Festus Ezeli had a career-high 16 points to go with seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

At 6-0, Golden State is off to the franchise’s best start in its West Coast era dating to 1962-63. The Warriors are three victories from tying the Philadelphia team’s 9-0 start in 1960-61.

Klay Thompson added 18 points, six rebounds and five assists and Draymond Green added 12 points, nine rebounds and eight assists as Golden State extended its franchise-record home unbeaten streak to 22 games.

Danilo Gallinari led Denver with 25 points, nine on free throws in the Nuggets’ third straight loss at Golden State and sixth in nine games.

Jameer Nelson‘s jumper with 3:44 left pulled Denver within 10 points after the Warriors had led by as many as 32.

Ezeli, filling in for the injured Andrew Bogut, dunked on two straight second-quarter possessions with a blocked shot in between and the Warriors’ 28 first-half assists were a franchise record for any half.

This team has been tested just once so far, in Wednesday’s 112-108 win against the Clippers – and certainly looks like a group poised for another special season even if this one’s not even two weeks old.

NBA MVP Curry has 30 points in five of his first six games, the first Warriors player to do so since Hall of Famer Rick Barry in 1974-75. Hall of Famer Chris Mullin was the last player with 25 in each of the season’s first six games (1990-91).

Curry made a 3-pointer in his 79th straight game, matching Michael Adams for the third-longest streak in NBA history.

Curry knocked down 8 of 15 3-pointers for Golden State, which had opened defense of its title with five straight games against Western Conference playoff teams from last season.

Denver beat Golden State at Oracle Arena 114-103 in the preseason on Oct. 13, but the Nuggets lost their fourth in five under former Warriors assistant and first-year coach Michael Malone.


Interim coach Luke Walton figures it won’t always be going quite this smoothly for the reigning champs.

Golden State showed that in the second half.

“It’s just natural to have a letdown, and I’m sure at some point throughout this long season we’ll have one,” Walton said. “It’s up to the staff to help prepare the guys for everything and it’s up to the players to want it just as bad as they did last year. From my view, they do right now. They talk about it all the time, they want more championships. They’re not happy with just the one that we have.”