Kurt Helin

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Rockets’ defend well, end Spurs’ 7-game streak with 88-84 win


HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets had their best defensive performance of the season in a victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

The key is keeping it up.

James Harden had 20 points and the Rockets slowed down the soaring Spurs with an 88-84 victory. The improved Houston defense held San Antonio to a season low in points and snapped the Spurs’ season-best seven-game winning streak.

This, Harden said, is how they should play defense all the time.

“We’re more than capable,” he said. “So we have to find ourselves. We’ve got to find that energy, that consistent defensive togetherness every single night.”

Houston used an 8-2 run to take a 78-71 lead with about 5 minutes left. Tim Duncan made a hook shot after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer. A layup by Duncan came next before Harden brought the crowd to its feet with an off-balance 3-pointer from the corner that made it 84-75.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich thought those two 3-pointers were the key to the game.

“One of them we weren’t up the way we should have been on a switch and he got a free one,” Popovich said. “The next one, he was deep and (Duncan) was all over him and he made a great shot. Those two 3s really changed it.”

The Spurs resorted to the Hack-A-Howard tactic soon after that, intentionally fouling Dwight Howard on two straight possessions. He missed all four free throws, and a basket by LaMarcus Aldridge got the Spurs to 86-81.

Kawhi Leonard made a 3-pointer after two free throws by Houston to allow San Antonio to cut the lead to four, but he missed a shot a few seconds later and Houston held on for the victory.

Leonard had 20 points to lead San Antonio. The Spurs struggled on long-range shooting, making just 5 of 19 3-pointers.

It was the first time the Rockets have hosted a game on Christmas since they moved to Houston. The last time the franchise hosted a Christmas game was in 1967 when the team was in San Diego.

The Rockets led by one after three and scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, powered by five points from Jason Terry, to make it 70-60 with about 10 minutes remaining.

San Antonio got its first points of the quarter soon after that on a 3-pointer by David West to start a 9-0 run that cut it to 70-69. Leonard highlighted that run with a running two-handed dunk.

A layup by Aldridge pushed San Antonio’s lead to seven points early in the third quarter before Houston used a 13-4 run to take a 51-49 lead with about seven minutes left in the quarter. Pat Beverley got that spurt going with a 3-pointer and Harden made the next six points in that span.

The Spurs had turnovers on four straight possessions near the end of Houston’s run.

A jump shot by Boris Diaw got San Antonio to 59-58 with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter. After that both teams struggled to score and missed their next seven shots combined.

It was Diaw who finally ended the drought when he made a layup with less than a minute remaining. Ty Lawson made Houston’s first field goal in almost 4 minutes after that to leave the Rockets up 61-60 entering the fourth quarter.

San Antonio scored the last seven points of the second quarter to take a 43-38 lead at halftime.


Spurs: Aldridge added 18 points and rebounds. … Duncan had 12 points and 11 rebounds. … Leonard made just 8 of 19 shots, and Aldridge was 9 of 17.

Rockets: Howard had 11 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double in the past five games. … The Rockets have won 18 straight games when holding an opponent to less than 90 points. … Houston’s bench outscored San Antonio’s 41-26.


Duncan on San Antonio’s struggles: “There were just too many mistakes down the stretch. A little bit of a sloppy game, we couldn’t get our rhythm and credit them for that. Defensively they were solid.”


Kobe Bryant leads way in first returns for All-Star voting

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 22: Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers gives high fives to fans after the game at the Pepsi Center on December 22, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 111-107.  (Photo by Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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Kobe Bryant is going to be a starter in his 17th and final All-Star appearance.

That’s not locked in stone, but it’s clearly what you the fans want — Kobe Bryant leads all vote-getters in the first returns for the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto. Stephen Curry is second overall, while LeBron James is the leading vote-getter in the Eastern Conference.

Fans vote in the starters for the 65th All-Star game, set for Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. A vote of coaches (or, to be honest, whomever they delegate the responsibility to) picks the reserves for each conference.

It’s an exhibition and if the fans want to see Kobe — even though on the court this season he has not been elite, scoring 17.4 points a game but on 34.4 percent shooting — then the fans should see Kobe. He has earned whatever accolades come his way after a remarkable 20-year NBA career.

It’s hard to argue with any of the starters — two guards, and three front court players — in either conference.

As it stands now, the starters in the East would be Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Paul George, Andre Drummond.

For the West, the current starters are Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin.

Traditionally, there is not a lot of shifting after the first vote; fans tend to stay pretty steady. It is possible in the East that Kyle Lowry of Toronto or Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks could climb into the starting group, but it’s going to take a push from their fans.

You can vote for the All-Stars a variety of ways: at NBA.com/vote; through the NBA App; on Twitter (use players’ name and hashtag #NBAVOTE); on Facebook (use players’ name and hashtag #NBAVOTE on your personal page); via Instagram (post an original photo and use the hashtag #NBAVOTE as well as the players’ name); and
you can text the player’s last name to 6-9-6-2-2 (“MYNBA”).

Here is the full list of NBA votes so far:

Eastern Conference

1 LeBron James (Cle) 357,937
2 Paul George (Ind) 283,785
3 Andre Drummond (Det) 148,278
4 Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 132,119
5 Pau Gasol (Chi) 109,585
6 Kevin Love (Cle) 92,177
7 Chris Bosh (Mia) 91,896
8 Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 85,606
9 Hassan Whiteside (Mia) 72,923
10 Giannis Antetokounmpo (Mil) 25,926
11 Jonas Valanciunas (Tor) 12,341
12 Joakim Noah (Chi) 10,808
13 Paul Millsap (Atl) 10,501
14 Marcin Gortat (Was) 9,443
15 DeMarre Carroll (Tor) 8,885


1 Dwyane Wade (Mia) 300,595
2 Kyrie Irving (Cle) 138,191
3 Kyle Lowry (Tor) 128,131
4 Jimmy Butler (Chi) 111,220
5 John Wall (Was) 103,094
6 Derrick Rose (Chi) 72,709
7 DeMar DeRozan (Tor) 69,042
8 Jeremy Lin (Cha) 61,832
9 Isaiah Thomas (Bos) 45,014
10 Nicolas Batum (Cha) 20,596

Western Conference

1 Kobe Bryant (LAL) 719,235
2 Kevin Durant (OKC) 349,473
3 Blake Griffin (LAC) 182,107
4 Kawhi Leonard (SA) 164,521
5 Draymond Green (GS) 160,350
6 Anthony Davis (NO) 156,161
7 Tim Duncan (SA) 127,543
8 DeMarcus Cousins (Sac) 101,930
9 Dwight Howard (Hou) 66,598
10 LaMarcus Aldridge (SA) 65,019
11 Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 56,377
12 DeAndre Jordan (LAC) 49,696
13 Enes Kanter (OKC) 47,806
14 Harrison Barnes (GS) 43,343
15 Kevin Garnett (Min) 42,285


1 Stephen Curry (GS) 510,202
2 Russell Westbrook (OKC) 267,699
3 Chris Paul (LAC) 146,335
4 Klay Thompson (GS) 138,587
5 James Harden (Hou) 135,531
6 Rajon Rondo (Sac) 66,164
7 Andre Iguodala (GS) 62,407
8 Damian Lillard (Por) 47,615
9 Manu Ginobili (SA) 42,413
10 Tony Parker (SA) 40,693

Looking back at Kobe Bryant’s Christmas Day exploits (VIDEO)

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This season will be Kobe Bryant‘s 16th and final Christmas Day game — that’s more than any other player in NBA history. He’s scored 383 points on Christmas, also an NBA record.

Before the Christmas Day games tip off for 2015, let’s take a stroll down memory lane with Kobe on Christmas. Including the time he dropped 42 on the Heat and Shaq (the year after Shaq was traded). Thanks to the people at the NBA for compiling this.

Enjoy, and remember Kobe will try to lift the Lakers past the Clippers (or, at least, make the game interesting), starting at 10:30 ET on ESPN. (For more breakdowns of the Christmas Day slate, you can read this or listen to the PBT Podcast.)

Players try to balance family, basketball on Christmas


LOS ANGELES — Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan played in a Christmas Day game in 1987, his one season in the NBA. He was a Knick, and they were taking on the Pistons at Madison Square Garden. What does Donovan remember about the experience?

“I remember catching the Long Island Railroad back out of Penn Station and going to my aunt’s house, where my whole family was for Christmas. I think we played an afternoon game that day,” Donovan said Wednesday, before the team he now coaches dismantled the Lakers.

Notice the memory is what we always associate with Christmas — family. Not the hoops. Donovan played seven minutes and had a bucket.

“I don’t even remember making a field goal,” Donovan laughed. “I, obviously, didn’t play a whole lot. I think playing on Christmas Day is always an exciting time. It’s also tough, too. A lot of guys have family, kids, and sometimes Christmas morning is a little bit different for families now when you are coaching and playing in the NBA. But also as I think it relates to playing on Christmas Day, it is an honor as well.”

For the players, that is the dichotomy of the NBA owning the sports calendar on Christmas Day.

On one hand, they would like to chill with their family, open gifts, eat too much, and joke around like the rest of us. But it doesn’t work that way. LeBron James will be quick to tell you that he and his family don’t have any real, set Christmas traditions because he is always working and often on the road (including this year, when the Cavaliers are in the Bay Area to take on the Warriors).

On the other hand, they know that they and their team are being put on one of the biggest stages the NBA has — it’s a privilege not to be taken lightly.

“I do like playing on Christmas,” Russell Westbrook said. “We’re playing early (2:30 ET vs. Chicago) so we can do gifts, go play some basketball, and then have the rest of the day…

“I think it’s a blessing (to play on Christmas). I think me, growing up, on Christmas I had the opportunity to watch other people play and now I’m the one people get the chance to watch. I think that’s a blessing in itself.”

That blessing comes with a sacrifice, but just playing in the NBA and being on the road comes with sacrifices for anyone who has a family. The players know that, they know they are well compensated for it. Still, if you’re facetiming with your young children on Christmas morning, it’s not the same.

The players don’t look at it that way — they know they are fortunate to be on the stage they occupy.

“It’s a privilege man,” Kevin Durant said of playing on Christmas. “It’s a blessing to play and inspire so many people. We’re just blessed we get to be at home for one. But to get to play the game on Christmas, you don’t ever want to take that for granted.”

LeBron, Cavaliers await Christmas rematch against Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — When LeBron James walks into Oracle Arena for the first time since Game 5 of last season’s NBA Finals, he knows it will trigger unpleasant thoughts about how his Cleveland Cavaliers lost the title to the Golden State Warriors.

James also knows that winning the rematch on Christmas Day will do little to ease the sting of the finals loss.

“The memories will come back as soon as we walk into the building, but also understand it’s one of 82 and I’m not going to put everything into this game,” James said.

This meeting is one of the more anticipated Christmas Day games in recent years. The seventh Christmas rematch of the previous season’s NBA Finals features a full-strength Cleveland squad against a Warriors team that has captured the attention of the basketball world.

Golden State won a record 24 straight games to start the season and brings a 27-1 mark into this game that is the best for a team at Christmas. The Warriors also have won 31 in a row at home in the regular season but none of those games has been as big as this one.

So what does it mean?

“We either finish that game 28-1 or 27-2,” Golden State forward Draymond Green said. “That’s about it.”

Not everyone is downplaying the rematch. Cavs guard Iman Shumpert said he was still “salty” about losing the finals to the Warriors. Golden State center Andrew Bogut also acknowledged that this would be a big game.

“We know it’s huge for them to come here,” Bogut said. “We’re undefeated at home, and with our record, they want to make a statement to us and we want to do the same. I anticipate it being one of the classics that we can all watch in 10 to 15 years.”

This game will be very different from the series in June for reasons besides the lower stakes.

The Cavaliers, who were without power forward Kevin Love for the entire finals and point guard Kyrie Irving for the last five games, are completely healthy for the first time this season.

Despite those key absences last spring, James almost single-handedly helped the Cavaliers win Games 2 and 3 to take a 2-1 series lead. Then came a lineup switch by coach Steve Kerr that sent center Andrew Bogut to the bench in place of small forward Andre Iguodala – the Warriors won the final three games by an average of 14 points.

“They’re a different team, we’re a different team,” Green said. “We’ve grown. I’m sure they’ve grown. We’re not going back to the Finals like, `Look at this, this is what they did.’ They’ve got 26 games that we can look at from this year.”

The Warriors will be the team that is short-handed this time. Starting forward Harrison Barnes is unlikely to play because of a sprained ankle and Kerr remains sidelined from complications from offseason back surgery.

Even with those absences there will be plenty of star power led by James and MVP Stephen Curry.

“Our guys love these type of games,” Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said. “It’s not an epic game. It’s a regular-season game. It should be entertaining. Obviously, a finals rematch with two of the best teams in the NBA going at it at prime time on Christmas Day. That’s enough to make it a very exciting game. But win or lose, it’s just another game on the column.”

Associated Press freelancers Steve Herrick and Michael Wagaman contributed to this report.