Kurt Helin

George Karl, Rajon Rondo

Oddsmakers say George Karl, Lionel Hollins coaches on hottest seats

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It’s inevitable. Some team is going to get off to a slow start, ownership/top management will be looking for a scapegoat, and a coach will get fired in the middle of the season. Even though the guys swinging the axe are more likely at fault for the team’s problems than the guy on the receiving end.

But who’s it going to be?

The oddsmakers at Bovada have put a number on it.

George Karl (SAC) 14/5
Lionel Hollins (BRK) 3/1
Derek Fisher (NYK) 4/1
Byron Scott (LAL) 4/1
Randy Wittman (WAS) 5/1
Steve Clifford (CHA) 7/1
David Blatt (CLE) 8/1
Dwane Casey (TOR) 10/1

If I were you, I would not bet on Karl. Despite all the volatile personalities in Sacramento and the early issues between Karl and DeMarcus Cousins, things are pretty stable, and everyone’s on the same page right now. The Kings are playing fairly well; they’ve just had a rough schedule to start the season (the Clippers twice). Now Cousins is going to miss a couple of games, and the losses will put some strain on the team, but I don’t see Karl going away in the short-term. Unless Vivek Ranadive has decided it’s time to install another new system in Sacramento (they have stuck with this one for six months now).

Also, Wittman isn’t going anywhere in Washington because owner Ted Leonsis isn’t one to pay two coaches at a time. Things are going well in Cleveland and Toronto, their coaches are safe right now.

After that, however, there are some names on that list where the seat has to already feel warm.

PBT Extra: Previewing undefeated showdown, Clippers vs. Warriors

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Golden State is destroying everyone in their path — playoff teams such as the Pelicans and Grizzlies have been brushed aside. Through Warriors are +100 this season, the fastest start in NBA history through four games.

The Clippers are undefeated too, and Doc Rivers says 4-0 is 4-0 and that the teams are equal. I’m not sure that is true. However, one thing I didn’t have time to get into in this PBT Extra with Jenna Corado is that the small sample size skews things — the Pelicans are banged up and playing poorly, the Clippers have two closer wins over the Kings, but right now the Kings are a better team than the Pelicans.

The Clippers will not be the Grizzlies — Memphis plays big and slow, but Los Angeles with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are big and very athletic. Griffin can punish a smaller defender inside, and he has the handles and shooting range to make plays on the perimeter (Stephen Curry has everybody talking, but Griffin may be the second best player through four games).

With the long history between these teams, this will be heated, and it is going to be close, but I’ll still bet on Golden State.

Hornets do not pick up team option on P.J. Hairston

PJ Hairston
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P.J. Hairston has started all three Charlotte Hornets games this season, but the team has not been impressed. They could have kept him around next season for just $1.25 million, but decided they would rather just let him walk.

In what is a rare move around the league, the Hornets did not pick up the team option on Hairston’s rookie-scale contract for next season, something Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reported would happen and did just as he said. This means Hairston will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

The Hornets did pick up the option on Cody Zeller, he will stay with the team.

Hairston has been making bad decisions on and off the court since he was drafted and it ended up being too much for Charlotte. Off it he got in an altercation with a high school player at a pickup game before he got to Hornets camp, then twice was suspended for a game by coach Steve Clifford due to behavior issues. Don’t forget he had the flop of the year. This summer he was cited for driving without a license. And remember, this is a guy that was forced to leave North Carolina during college and went to the D-League before being drafted.

On the court, his decision making is not much better. While his defense has been good, he’s not provided the three-point shooting he is supposed to bring to the table (16.7 percent this year). His shot selection and other choices can be head-scratching. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out Clifford has given Hairston a chance as a starter, and after watching him for a few games the Hornets decided they didn’t want him even at a rookie-scale price.

He’s got the rest of this season as an audition for the other NBA teams.

Five Takeaways from an NBA Monday: What struggles? Harden leads Rockets past Thunder

James Harden
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The NBA had a full slate of games Monday — highlighted by the undefeated Thunder at the winless Rockets — but if you were too busy Monday night noticing that http://www.fox.com/gothamGotham has gotten much better this season, here are five things you need to know out of the night around the NBA.

1) How James Harden and the Rockets got their groove back. Maybe it took James Harden going against his former team for him to find his step back jumper. Maybe it took Patrick Beverley going against Russell Westbrook to light a fire under the Rockets’ defense. Maybe it just took three embarrassing losses by the Rockets to shake them out of their malaise. Whatever motivated them, the Rockets played Monday night with an urgency we had not seen in the first three games, the kind we saw from them last season. Houston went small in this game, playing Trevor Ariza at the four for extended periods, and that seemed to both energize them and throw off Oklahoma City (which stayed big most of the game).

Harden finished with 36 points on 26 shots; he wasn’t particularly hot shooting, but he knocked down 4-of-12 threes and got to the line 11 times — he was attacking and drawing fouls again. The entire Rockets team was not settling for jumpers, and that got Westbrook in foul trouble, he sat most of the third quarter and was out when Houston went on a 14-2 run to make this a game by the time it got to the fourth. Ty Lawson had his best game as a Rocket by far and added seven points in that tight fourth quarter. Dwight Howard wasn’t moving terribly well but he finished a few alley-oops, played defense at the rim, and he ended the night with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Oklahoma City still has Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and with those two they will be contenders, but their defense remains a work in progress under Billy Donovan. They allowed 103 points per 100 possessions against Houston and through four games are surrendering 101.7 per 100, which is 20th in the NBA. Part of it is the Thunder are forcing turnovers on just 12 percent of opponent possessions, and then opposing teams are shooting 48.8 percent against them. The Thunder defense needs to improve if they are going to challenge the Warriors, Clippers, and Spurs come the playoffs.

2) LeBron James becomes the youngest player ever to reach 25,000 career points. LeBron became the 24th player in NBA history to score 25,000 points in a career — and nobody got there at a younger age 30 years, 307 days). Classy move by the Sixers fans to give LeBron a warm round of applause for reaching that milestone. And those fan got a little show because when LeBron crossed that threshold he did it with some flare.

3) How do the Trail Blazers win games? A whole lot of Damian Lillard. Portland is going to win most of its games this season by simply overwhelming the other team with offense — on Monday night it was Daminan Lillard’s turn to do that against the Timberwolves. Lillard put up 34 points (15 in the third), the Trail Blazers got the breaks down the stretch, and they handed the young Timberwolves their first loss of the season.

4) Warriors off to hottest four-game start in NBA history. This stat is mind blowing: Through four games, the Golden State Warriors have beaten their opponents by a total of 100 points — the largest margin of victory through the first four games of the season ever. Monday night Golden State absolutely throttled a good Memphis team 119-69, holding Memphis to 27 points on 18 percent shooting in the second and third quarters combined. Stephen Curry had 30 points on the night, 21 points in the second alone. However, the bigger stars may have been Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, as the Warriors front line owned the Memphis front line that is their cornerstone.

It’s very early, but the Warriors again have the best offense and the second best defense in the NBA so far, outscoring teams by 26.6 points per 100 possessions. They are on a tear. And the showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday will be must-watch.

5) Minnesota had a touching tribute to Flip Saunders. Monday was Minnesota’s first home game of the season, and the night opened with a tribute to the team’s late coach and GM Flip Saunders. That included this moving video with comments from people around the league, including former and current players, about how he touched their lives.

Harden leads Rockets to first win, 110-105 over Thunder

James Harden, Kyle Singler
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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 37 points, and the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 110-105 on Monday night for their first win of the season.

It was the first loss for the Thunder, who won their first three games while the Rockets dropped their first three.

An 8-1 run by the Rockets made it 107-100 with about two minutes left. Harden capped that key stretch with a 3, knocking it down with Russell Westbrook right in his face.

Westbrook made a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left to cut the lead to 108-105, and Harden missed a 3 on the other end. But Westbrook and Kevin Durant both missed 3-pointers on the next possession and Dwight Howard made a pair of free throws with 5.7 seconds left to secure the victory.

Durant led the Thunder with 29 points, and Westbrook added 25 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists.

Harden was 12 of 26 from the field after a tough start to the season. He shot below 30 percent in each of the first three games.

He scored five straight points to put the Rockets on top 97-93 midway through the fourth, but consecutive baskets by Durant and Westbrook tied it back up less than a minute later.

It was just the second game of the season for Howard, who missed the opener because he was suspended for flagrant fouls in the postseason, and also rested on Sunday. Howard missed seven of eight preseason games with a stiff back. He finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.

The teams exchanged the lead several times early in the fourth quarter, once when a 3-pointer by Patrick Beverley gave Houston a 90-89 advantage with less than nine minutes remaining. He beat his chest and mouthed to Westbrook after the score.

Westbrook’s layup put Oklahoma City up 93-92, and the jawing continued, earning both players a technical foul.

A free throw by D.J. Augustin extended Oklahoma City’s lead to four late in the third quarter. But the Rockets scored the last seven points of the period, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Beverley that made it 82-79, putting them on top for the first time since the first quarter.

Oklahoma City led by 10 points midway through the third after a tip-in by Serge Ibaka. The Rockets then found their offense, scoring the next eight points thanks to 3-pointers by Marcus Thornton and Harden to get within 75-73 a couple