Kurt Helin

Trail Blazers’ C.J. McCollum wins Most Improved Player award


This was one of the locks during the NBA’s award season.

Portland’s C.J. McCollum was thrust into a much larger role with the Portland Trail Blazers — his minutes more than doubled, his usage rate leapt up (from near 20 to 27), and his scoring jumped from 6.8 to 20.8 points per game. What was most impressive was McCollum’s efficiency improved despite the increased load — his true shooting percentage went from a league average 53.4 percent last season to 54.4 percent this season.

That earned McCollum the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, securing 101 of the 130 first-place votes cast by selected media members. Some years this award can go to a guy who just got more minutes, but McCollum earned it.

Kemba Walker came in second, Giannis Antetokounmpo third, and Stephen Curry fourth in the voting (there had been a push from some in the media to give the MVP the MIP also).

Here’s a little video highlight package the Trail Blazers put together for the occasion.

Here is the complete voting order (with first place votes in parenthesis):

CJ McCollum, Portland (101)
Kemba Walker, Charlotte (7)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee (4)
Stephen Curry, Golden State (7)
Will Barton, Denver (1)
Jae Crowder, Boston (1)
Draymond Green, Golden State (2)
Isaiah Thomas, Boston (3)
Hassan Whiteside, Miami (1)
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio (1)
Andre Drummond, Detroit (1)
Gary Harris, Denver (1) — 1 6
Kent Bazemore, Atlanta
Evan Fournier, Orlando
Rodney Hood, Utah
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
Reggie Jackson, Detroit
Ian Mahinmi, Indiana
Zach LaVine, Minnesota
Kyle Lowry, Toronto

Dirk Nowitzki passes Wilt Chamberlain for on all-time playoff scoring list (VIDEO)


The greatest shooting big man the game has ever seen passed one arguably the greatest inside scorer the game has ever seen on Thursday.

With a little pull up jumper midway through the third quarter Thursday night, Dirk Nowitzki passed Wilt Chamberlain for 16th on the all-time playoff points list with what is now 3,612. Nowitzki should pass the great Elgin Baylor next game and move up to 15th on the list.

In case you’re curious, the top five are Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan.

Watch James Harden drop 35 on the Warriors

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James Harden was cooking.

He was draining threes, creating space with step backs, driving the lane, he was doing it all — Harden had 35 points on 26 shots to give the Rockets the win over Golden State. That included the game-winner with 2.7 seconds left that his teammates apparently didn’t want him to make.

The Warriors defense on Harden wasn’t sharp — 14 of his 26 shots were not contested, according to NBA.com, and he got to the left side of the court where he was hot at will — but he did what he does, hitting them and drawing contact when a guy was too close, getting to the line. It was a vintage Harden performance, and in this game he got some help from his teammates to earn the win.

Rockets bench reaction to Harden’s game winner was… underwhelming

Dwight Howard

James Harden hit the biggest shot of the Rockets’ season, driving the length of the court with 10.6 seconds left, spinning to the middle, pushing off on Andre Iguodala (no way that call is getting made, smart veteran play by Harden), and hitting the step-back 13 footer.

Ballgame. The Rocket bench erupted in… actually, it didn’t erupt.


Well, Clint Capela was pumped.

But Dwight Howard, Corey Brewer, Terrence Jones and the rest have the same look the rest of us get on our face when we hear the announcement “due to mechanical issues we’re going to have to sit here on the tarmac for a while.” They look like they just heard the IRS is auditing them. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Yes, maybe there are legitimate reasons for this reaction — they knew he would score and were concerned about getting the next stop has been the company line — but on a team with well-documented chemistry issues, it makes you wonder.

Rockets finally bring effort, James Harden drops 35, Rockets beat Warriors 97-96


This was almost going to be remembered as the Ian Clark game.

The lightly-used Golden State guard got a little run with Stephen Curry sidelined and put up nine points in the final quarter, including hitting a lay-up with 10.6 seconds left that capped a Warriors comeback and had them up one. It looked like the Warriors were going to steal one on the road where they were outplayed most of the night.

But James Harden had one last shot.

With no timeouts, he brought the ball up the court, drove left on Andre Iguodala, spun back to the middle while making the veteran (and never going to be called in this situation) push-off to create space, then nailed the game-winning step-back jumper. Ballgame. (Well, it was ballgame after Draymond Green dribbled the ball off his foot killing the Warriors’ chance at the last shot.)

Harden hit the biggest shot of the Rockets’ season, and the Rockets bench reaction was… underwhelming.


Moving on….

The Houston Rockets brought by far their best effort of the series and beat the Warriors 97-96 to make this a 2-1 series with Game 4 in Houston Sunday. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on Curry being back for that one.

That said, the Rockets have avoided a sweep and, to hear them tell it after the game, given themselves a chance in this series.

They did it with a gritty, ugly, high effort game — everything that had been missing from their first two losses in the Bay Area. The Rockets forced 14 turnovers and turned that into 20 points. Harden was finding Howard inside early, plus getting his own buckets — Harden finished with 35 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds. Houston stretched that lead out to 17 points in the second quarter and seemed to be in command. But it was not going to be that easy, the Warriors chipped away at the lead — then Clark went off in the fourth.

The Rockets went cold down the stretch and made some head-scratching plays — Trevor Ariza made three bad passes — but they were able to get enough stops when they needed it most. Then they got the Harden shot and the win.

The Rockets got points from the front line, with Donatas Motiejunas scoring 14 and Howard finishing with 13. Michael Beasley added a scoring punch with a dozen points off the bench, including some key free throws late.

Klay Thompson had 17 points but needed 20 shots to get there for Golden State. Marreese Speights led the Warriors with 22 points — a sign they were off their game.

The question is, can the Rockets replicate this energy (and, frankly play better if Curry does return)? All season the Rockets have been the poster children of inconsistency this past season, good efforts were followed by games where they looked like the zombies in The Walking Dead. Howard said postgame the Rockets need to treat Game 4 like a Game 7. He’s right. Because if they are down 3-1 heading back to Oracle, they can book their plane flights to Mexico for summer vacation.