Kurt Helin

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) goes in for a dunk as Washington Wizards' Jared Dudley watches during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Associated Press

James Harden’s 26 points lead Rockets over Heat 115-102

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden has long been known as a great scorer.

Lately. Houston’s star has been shining as a facilitator, too.

Harden scored 26 points and tied a career-high with 14 assists as the Rockets snapped a three-game skid with a 115-102 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.

It was the second time in eight games that Harden has had 14 assists and he’s had 10 or more in two other games in that stretch.

“He plays the game beautifully,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “His skillset I think is underappreciated by a lot of people. People see the scoring, scoring, scoring, but they don’t see that he makes plays for his teammates. They don’t see the passes he makes time and time again.”

Harden knows that it makes the Rockets much better when he’s able to get other people involved on offense.

“It means the defense has pressure on them,” Harden said. “Guys are making shot, guys are getting into a rhythm, getting comfortable and it’s easier for me.”

Houston had a double-digit lead for most of the second half and was up by 10 when Josh Smith scored all of the team’s points in a 7-2 run that pushed the advantage to 104-89 with about five minutes remaining.

The Rockets started Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward, at center with Dwight Howard serving a one-game suspension for making contact with an official this weekend and Clint Capela out with a thigh injury.

Smith scored a season-high 19 points in his second start this season and first since returning to Houston in a trade from the Clippers on Jan. 22.

He thinks the key to Tuesday’s win was the team’s defense.

“The defense has to be the cornerstone of what we do each and every night,” he said. “I think if we (assert) ourselves on the defensive end it will spark our offense.”

Luol Deng had 17 points for the Heat whose season-high four game winning streak ended.

“Houston clearly deserved to win this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They brought the necessary disposition. They imposed their will on the game and forced us into so many turnovers in the first half.”

The Rockets were up by seven entering the fourth quarter and scored the first six points of the period to make it 93-80 with about 10 1/2 minutes remaining.

A 3-pointer by Harden with just over three minutes remaining made it 110-93 and sent all Houston’s starters to the bench.

Houston led by 14 early in the third quarter before Miami used a 15-3 run to cut the lead to 74-72 with about five minutes left in the period. Dwyane Wade made four points in the span and the Heat made three consecutive 3-pointers to cap that run with two from Deng and one from Justise Winslow.

The Rockets got back on track after that, using a 9-2 spurt to extend the lead to 83-74 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Patrick Beverley and Marcus Thornton made 3s to get that run going and Terrence Jones finished it with a dunk after a no-look bounce pass from Harden.

The Rockets scored the final five points of the first half and the first eight points of the second half to turn a tie game into a 68-55 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Trevor Ariza started the third-quarter run with a 3-pointer and Smith scored the next five points.

Deng made a basket for the Heat before Smith sunk another 3-pointer to push Houston’s advantage to 71-57.

Harden made the last five points of the second quarter to give Houston a 60-55 lead at halftime.

QUOTABLE

Wade on Miami’s 17 turnovers: “I think early on we just weren’t mentally sharp. We came out and were losing the ball … and with a team like this who feeds off that you have to be very sharp and tight with the ball.”

TIP-INS

Heat: G Tyler Johnson missed his third straight game with a strained left shoulder. … Wade scored 16 points. … Amare Stoudemire had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Rockets: Bickerstaff was fined $10,000 Tuesday for public criticism of the officiating after Saturday’s game against Washington. … Rookie F Montrezl Harrell sat out with an illness. …Thornton scored 18 points.

Stan Van Gundy doesn’t like replay. Ever. In any sport.

Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy reacts to a call during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 104-101. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Associated Press
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If Stan Van Gundy had his way, when the officials miss a crucial call late in the Super Bowl Sunday, the incorrect call would just stand. No instant replay.

Van Gundy doesn’t like replay. Actually, that’s too kind a phrasing — he hates it. He doesn’t want it. Not at the end of NBA games. Not ever. He does not like it in a box, he does not like it with a fox. He does not like it here or there. He does not like it anywhere.

Here are Van Gundy’s comments from pregame Monday, via The Brooklyn Game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“If it were up to me, in all of sports, we’d get rid of all of it,” Van Gundy said in a candid pre-game interview before taking on the Brooklyn Nets Monday evening. “I sort of came to that in my two years out of coaching, sitting and watching games, college and pro.

“It’s infuriating watching the game and watching the last two minutes take 20 minutes and stuff. You know, going to the monitor four times in the last two minutes, it’s like, ‘damn, can we just play this basketball game?’ So I whipped through two years of just sitting there as a spectator and absolutely hated it….

“I know the rationale is we want to get it right, but that’s only partially true anyway. Because we’re not reviewing foul calls and non-foul calls, which are the most important calls. We don’t care about getting those right. So why are we going to worry about the rest of it? I don’t — I don’t get it. We’ve selected certain calls at certain times in the games that we want to get right. And for the other 46 minutes of the game, and for certain calls in the last two minutes, I guess we don’t care if we get it right.”

So SVG is good with one of those honest referee mistakes costing his team a game or two a season? I’m sure he would accept that with a Zen-like calmness.

Count me — and I think the majority of fans — on the other side of the argument. We want to see things be called correctly. The NBA has done a good job this season setting up the Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, which makes these calls faster and takes many of the calls out of the hands of the in-arena officials (who sometimes seem to have their egos on the line with these calls). Can it get a little annoying sometimes? Yes. Does it give the coaches of teams in close games a couple of free timeouts? Sure does.

But I’ll live with that to get the calls right. I’ll just buy Stan a Diet Pepsi to calm him down.

Rumor: Clippers would consider Blake Griffin for Kevin Durant swap this summer

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, center, is congratulated by Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, left, and forward Blake Griffin after the Thunder won of Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal NBA basketball playoff series, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Thunder won104-98, taking the series 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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On the list of things that Kevin Durant will do this summer — and the clear frontrunner at the top of that list is re-signing with the Thunder,  followed by going to the Warriors or anyone else — this is close to the bottom. Because Oklahoma City would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to this deal.

But for a Clippers team that wants to win a ring and may be losing faith this core can accomplish that, it’s intriguing.

The idea is a Blake Griffin for Durant sign-and-trade swap, and it’s something the Clippers would pitch, reports Adrian Wojnarowski for The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Outside of those well-known suitors – Washington, Houston and Miami – there’s another California team determined to make a bid for Durant, league sources tell The Vertical: The Los Angeles Clippers. If the opportunity comes to move Blake Griffin and replace him with Durant, the Clippers won’t hesitate, sources said.

Teams are calling on Griffin trades now, but Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers seems determined to play the year out with Griffin and see how far the team advances in the playoffs. Eventually, the Clippers will determine how intrigued Durant might be in becoming a Big Three with Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.

Again, the Thunder are working to retain Durant, not trade him this summer. And I’m with the crowd that thinks they will succeed, and Durant will re-sign with the Thunder on a two-year deal with an opt-out after one. That way Durant sees if the OKC core can get it done for one more season, he waits until the cap spikes to an estimated $108 million, he waits until he has 10 years in the league so his max salary jumps even more, and he becomes a free agent along with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka (they can make a group decision on whether to stay or go).

However, if Durant came to Thunder GM Sam Presti and said “I’m gone, you can do this deal or lose me for nothing” then Presti would have no choice but to seriously consider it. Griffin’s Oklahoma City ties make this interesting as well.

There is another side to the Clippers in this — Griffin is their guy. He is the face of the team’s marketing program in L.A., he is the last player introduced, and he is the fan favorite. Griffin was the draft pick the Clippers didn’t screw up, he’s the guy whose talent and work ethic forced an organizational change from laughing stock to putting on its big boy pants (something Mike Dunleavy Sr. started to push for back in the day). That is not easy to trade away.

Although for Kevin Durant, Clippers fans would get over it.

Doc Rivers has admitted that he has wondered if this Clipper core can climb the mountain, especially when the Warriors have turned that mountain into Everest. He knows might have to rethink the big picture.

It’s just not likely to happen in the summer of 2016. Now, the summer of 2017 if the Clippers are in the same boat, that could be another story.

Report: If Kevin Durant leaves Thunder, Warriors leading candidate

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Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson — and Kevin Durant?

It sounds like a daily fantasy sports roster, or something you try to pull together with NBA 2K trades. However, it’s something the Warriors have been thinking about for some time as a possibility.

The smart money is still on Durant staying put with the Thunder when he becomes a free agent this summer (at least on a short deal). But if he changes his mind, the Warriors are at the front of a very long line, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The truth is that (the Warriors are) the most intriguing destination to him. If Durant leaves the Thunder, the Warriors are the significant frontrunners to sign him, league sources told The Vertical…

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said – but the real threats on the summer market are beginning to reveal themselves. Durant is determined to win – to be an immediate championship contender at 27 years old – and that keeps bringing him back to the Warriors should he make the decision to leave Oklahoma City.

Durant has said he hasn’t even thought seriously about this summer, he’s focused on winning this season. No doubt there’s truth to that. But other teams have to start their planning now. And KD knows where he stands as of today.

Durant is at the legacy point in his career — he knows he needs rings to be thought of among the game’s all-time greats. It’s part of what lured LeBron James to Miami.

That need to win now makes the pitch from teams that would get an interview such as the Lakers and Knicks a hard sell. The Lakers, even with Durant, are a few years away from winning at best, plus there will be a coaching change and other organizational questions, and finally the Warriors and Spurs are still in that conference. The Knicks have a better foundation of players (with Kristaps Porzingis and Durant’s friend Carmelo Anthony), and they are in the East, but are they really in a better spot to win than the Thunder? Does that move get KD closer to a title? The same question is true for Washington, Houston, Miami, and every other suitor.

Except Golden State.

My guess is that this summer Durant signs a two-year extension with the Thunder that has an opt-out after one season — he stays put for one more season to see if OKC can win with this core, he also becomes a free agent in 2017 when the salary cap will be even higher (an estimated $108 million) and by the Durant will have 10 years in the league, so his max salary goes up. Durant makes a lot more money that way.

But a move to the Warriors this summer is possible. Not likely, but possible.

The Warriors would have a lot of salary cap dancing to do make this happen, as former Nets executive Bobby Marks lays out in another article at The Vertical. It involves trading Andre Iguodala, letting Harrison Barnes walk for nothing, and using the stretch provision to release Andrew Bogut, but it can be done.

If you’re Golden State — and especially if you win another title this June — you have to ask yourselves if breaking up this team after back-to-back titles is a smart move? It’s not a simple question.

But if the answer is Kevin Durant, the Warriors will make the moves.

 

Joe Johnson will not ask Nets for trade, unsure about buyout

Dallas Mavericks' Wesley Matthews (23) defends as Brooklyn Nets' Joe Johnson (7) drives to the basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Associated Press
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Come Feb. 19, the day after the NBA trade deadline, the smart money is on Joe Johnson still being a member of the Brooklyn Nets. Mainly because as of right now they don’t even have a general manager in place to set up and approve a trade. But even if they did, moving Johnson’s $24.9 million salary for a rental player (he’s a free agent after this season) is going to be next to impossible.

Johnson would love to be on a winning team — which is not the Brooklyn Nets, his current home — but don’t expect him to go pushing for a trade, he told Andy Vasquez of the Bergen Record.

Of course, if Johnson publicly said he wanted to be traded, fines and the wrath of the NBA would rain down on him, so he will not say that publicly. If he pushed for a trade, it would be a back channel communication, but one that would be clear to the Nets. Of course, this brings us back to the Nets not having a GM.

If he doesn’t get moved, what about a buyout? He takes less of his money owed and is released as a free agent, where there would be a demand for his services from contending teams (just not at his current price).

A buyout is a possibility if Johnson and his agent get word that a playoff bound team (a high level one) would snap him up. And if Johnson was willing to take less cash to get out of Brooklyn. None of that is certain.

What is certain is Johnson doesn’t want to walk away from the game.

Johnson is averaging 11.3 points a game and shooting 39 percent from three, his skills are declining, but he still has value. As a veteran role player off the bench, he could help a quality team, he’s going to get offers. Just at $20 million or so less than he made this season.

Johnson becomes a guy to watch after the trade deadline. If the Nets get a GM.