Kurt Helin

Sacramento Kings v Houston Rockets

Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: James Harden drops 51, stirs pot on MVP race

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while being thankful you weren’t in the wrong place at this auto race

1) James Harden drops 51 reasons he should be MVP. More and more it feels like the MVP race is down to two men (although Russell Westbrook keeps making his case, keep on reading this post). Tuesday night Stephen Curry put on a show and sent a vine viral (and created a Chris Paul meme). Wednesday night it was the James Harden show as he scored a career-high 51 points, going 8-of-9 from three to get there. It was vintage efficient Harden — he only took 25 shots, but he hit his threes and got to the free throw line 13 times. He had 16 points in the first quarter, 17 in the third and 10 in the fourth to help hold off a feisty Sacramento team that had DeMarcus Cousins going off (keep reading).

We’ve got to acknowledge Cousins, who took advantage of Dwight Howard being out (resting half a back-to-back) and scored 24 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and dished out 10 assists on a monster night. That’s just a second career triple-double for Cousins.

2) Chris Paul takes over, drops 41, may have earned Clippers home court in the first round. This was maybe the Clippers best win of the season — second night of a back-to-back on the road, having just lost to Golden State, and needing this game to both maintain their playoff seed and keep home court in the playoffs. The Clippers were down by as many as 19 in the second quarter, but Los Angeles went on a 25-7 fourth quarter run — something partially inspired by Chris Kaman shoving Chris Paul to the ground — to take the lead and get the 126-122 win. The Clippers didn’t do it with defense, they did it with an unstoppable offense, and that was led by CP3 in point god mode, scoring 41 and dishing out 17 assists.

3) Russell Westbrook scores his 10th triple-double of the season, but Dallas wins a 1980s throwback game, 134-131. Up tempo, high scoring, not a ton of good defense? It must have been 1980s throwback night in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder playing the role of Doug Moe’s Nuggets. Westbrook did his best, giving us another triple-double with 31 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It wasn’t efficient — he shot just 31.3 percent — but Westbrook put up the numbers that kept OKC in the game and spark a comeback that had the Thunder ahead in the fourth. They just couldn’t stop Chandler Parsons, who had 13 in the fourth quarter for Dallas.

4) Evan Turner records triple-double, and Boston wins…. but so do the Nets thanks to Brook Lopez. Almost lost in all the other big performances Wednesday night, Evan Turner recorded a triple-double for Boston — 13 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds. Boston easily beat the fading Pacers, 100-87. The problem for the Celtics is the Nets got a put-back bucket from Brook Lopez with two seconds left to lift Brooklyn past New York 100-98. The Nets/Celtics/Heat race for the final couple playoff slots in the East remains fascinating — Brooklyn and Miami are tied for the seven and eight seeds at 34-40 (with eight games left) while Boston is half-a-game back at 34-41. This could go any way the last couple weeks of the season.

5) Nowitzki reaches 28,000 points. Congratulations to the greatest European player ever in the NBA, and the best shooting big man ever. Only seven players have reached the 28,000 point plateau, and Dirk Nowitzki is one of them.

Portland’s Chris Kaman shoves Chris Paul to ground, starts altercation (VIDEO)

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers
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This all happened just as the Clippers were starting their comeback that would eventually turn into a high scoring win for Los Angeles, 126-122, behind 41 points from Chris Paul. In fact, this helped fuel that comeback.

Just as the third quarter was winding down, Portland’s Chris Kaman pulled down an offensive rebound only to have Chris Paul take it away from him, and in the process Kaman got an inadvertent shot to the family jewels.

In frustration, Kaman shoved Paul out of bounds. That earned Kaman a flagrant one foul and also will earn him a healthy fine (maybe a suspension, although not likely, it’s just hard to predict the league’s justice system). The regular foul and flagrant turned this into a four-point swing for the Clippers.

The other part of this that the referees looked at was LaMarcus Aldridge knocking “Big Baby” Glen Davis down, but this was a good no call by the refs. Davis started to go after Kaman after the shove; Aldridge was trying to step in between and keep him away, Davis was a little off balance and went down pretty easily. This wasn’t a shove or an escalation.

In the end, the Clippers will take the win because it improves their chances of having home-court advantage in the first round.

For fun, listen to the difference in how this was called by the two announcing teams. Above is the Clipper call, here is the Trail Blazers’ call.

Report: Murray State guard Cameron Payne could enter draft

Cameron Payne
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When Cameron Payne came out of high school in Memphis he had options, he led a well-respected AAU team, and in the end he chose a well respected mid-major program at Murray State.

Now after a couple years there, the point guard who led the Racers to being a bubble team to make the tournament this year is thinking of entering the NBA draft. That’s what Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports wrote about recently.

Murray State sophomore guard Cameron Payne is leaning toward entering the 2015 NBA draft, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Although Payne has yet to formalize his decision, indications are strong that he’s played his final game in college, sources said. Payne, 20, and his family are hosting presentations from several major NBA agents in their hometown of Memphis, Tenn., this week, sources said.

Payne is considered a bubble first/second round pick if he comes out. If it’s about the NBA he needs to think about this — second round picks do not have guarateed contracts. He could be cut during or before training camp. However, if he’s comfortable with time in the D-League or overseas then this may be the right call.

Here is what Rob Dauster of our sisters site CollegeBasketballTalk said about Payne as a prospect:

“At 6-2, Payne doesn’t have great size for the one. He’ll need to add some strength as well, and those expecting a freak athlete the likes of Damian Lillard or Russell Westbrook will be disappointed. But Payne has an elite feel for the game. He knows how to use change of pace to get into the lane, and he can find open teammates when he draws help. He’s got three point range and he’s gotten better at finishing in the lane with floaters and short jumpers, but he doesn’t have the vertical explosiveness to finish at the rim. He might be able to work his way into the back end of the first round, but likely projects as a backup point guard at the next level.”

Heat’s Shabazz Napier out for season after sports hernia surgery

Sacramento Kings v Miami Heat
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Shabazz Napier’s up-and-down rookie season has come to an end.

The rookie point guard who appeared in 51 games, but had seen few minutes as of late, is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia, the team announced Wednesday.

Napier, the Heat’s first round pick last draft, averaged 5.1 points, 2.5 assists, 2.2 rebounds a game this season. He was given a larger role backing up Goran Dragic after the trade deadline, but quickly fell out of favor and had appeared once in the Heat’s last dozen games (he battled what was termed a hip injury in that time as well).

Napier was the Heat’s first round pick — remember he is the guy LeBron James said he wanted. So they got him. And LeBron left anyway.

Injuries have decimated the Heat this season. Their max contract player Chris Bosh is out for the season. Thier biggest free agent acquisition Josh McRoberts is out for the season. And now their first-round draft pick.

Miami is battling to hold on to one of the final two playoff slots in the East, it is the current seven seed but is just one game up on the nine seed. The loss of Napier will not impact that push much at all. However, down the line he could develop into a point guard that would fit in a quality rotation.

Report: Kings to sign Sim Bhullar to 10-day contract, would be first Indian descent in NBA

2015 NBA D-Leage Showcase
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We need to start here: Sim Bhullar is a massive human being.

Even among the other guys who won the genetic lottery to be in the NBA the 7’5”, 360-pound center stands out as huge. He would be in the huddles for the Sacramento Kings’ Summer League team and just be head and shoulders above everyone.

Now it appears he’s going to be head and shoulders above everyone in the NBA — and make history as the first player of Indian descent in the league, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Bhullar has spent the entire season with the Reno Bighorns, Sacramento’s affiliate in the NBA Development League, after going to training camp with the Kings.

Conditioning has been a question mark in terms of Bhullar establishing a legitimate NBA future. But he has a major supporter in Kings owner Vivek Ranadive — one of India’s most celebrated businessmen — and Bhullar has shed more than 30 pounds over the course of his rookie campaign after weighing in at more than 400 pounds during summer league play with Sacramento last July.

This is a big step for history — the first player whose family is from one of the world’s most populous nations. It’s a good thing to add diversity to the mix. Bhullar was raised in Toronto by Indian parents, then played his college ball at New Mexico. He was undrafted and signed by the Kings.

This order almost certainly came from Ranadive, because the Bhullar I saw at Summer League needed a lot of work to be NBA ready. He was a project.

While conditioning was certainly an issue, so were fundamentals — his footwork, his touch, his sense of the game, his defense all needed a lot of work. Maybe a season in the D-League moved him along that road but I’m not sure he could be ready yet for the speed and athleticism of the NBA game yet. That said, he has averaged 10.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.9 blocks a game for Reno this season.

The bottom line is this, the owner wants it, so we’re going to get see just how ready he is for the NBA.