Kurt Helin

Montrezl Harrell, Ty Lawson, Dwight Howard, James Harden

Five Takeaways from an NBA Monday: Houston is just plain bad

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This early in the season it’s easy to say anything you think you see is just a case of “small sample size theater.” Some teams that looked bad can turn it around — Memphis on Tuesday seemed like maybe they can. Houston may be a different story. In case you were engrossed in college basketball tipping off, here are five things you missed from the NBA Monday night.

1) Houston is a terrible basketball team right now, and it may not be getting better. Trevor Ariza all but called his team soft Monday, saying that the Houston Rockets simply do not play hard enough — then the team went out and proved his point. Houston played well in the first half and was up by two on Boston at the break (thanks to a nifty Ariza layup at the buzzer), but the Rockets came out flat in the third and were just steamrolled into another loss. In the third the Rockets were outscored 32-13, shot 5-of-17, had seven turnovers, gave up six offensive rebounds, and simply were out hustled at every turn. Boston ended the quarter on a 15-0 run and never looked back (winning 111-95).

It’s easy 11 games into the season to dismiss some problems as the result of small sample size — but you can’t do that with Houston any longer, the issues are serious. And beyond just a “flip the switch” mentality. The 4-7 Rockets possess the second worst defense in the NBA this season (they were sixth in the NBA defensively last season when they won 56 games and went to the Western Conference Finals). They are getting outscored by 8 points per 100 possessions on the season so far. James Harden is playing at a slower speed than last season (he hasn’t been nearly as explosive getting to the rim), Dwight Howard does not look like the guy who had the strong playoff performance, Ty Lawson seems slow and is not making his expected contributions (he’s shooting 31 percent on the season and struggling from three), they have been awful at the power forward position, and worst of all Ariza is right — this team just is getting out hustled nightly. There are real locker room/chemistry questions. These are the kind of thing that gets a coach fired, and already Kevin McHale is talking about tweaking his starting backcourt of Lawson and Harden to find some chemistry somewhere (Patrick Beverley is out with a sprained ankle). Maybe getting Donatas Motiejunas back from injury will help at the four, but the issues are bigger than that. This is simply a poor basketball team right now.

And looming over it all — Dwight Howard is a free agent next summer and could just bolt.

2) Memphis plays its best game of season wearing awesome ABA throwbacks. Coincidence? I think not. I loved the throwback Memphis Sounds jerseys:

Mike Conley, Mario Chalmers
Mike Conley, Mario Chalmers

Wearing them the Grizzlies hit 12-of-17 from three and put up 122 points in beating the Thunder. Sure, you could say the poor Thunder defense this season played a role. Or that there will be nights when even the worst shooting teams can knock down shots. Or that Mario Chalmers has been key to turning their offense around (he had 29 points on 13 shots off the bench). Or that you know it’s your night when Marc Gasol is hitting this shot:

But we all know the truth — it was the uniforms.

3)Brandon Knight just abused Marcelo Huertas, spun him all the way around. I feel sorry for Huertas, who used to give Team USA some trouble as the point guard for Brazil, a guy who had a superb career in Europe, only to decide at age 32 to give the NBA a shot — he’s not up to defending at this level anymore. And the result are things like this.

4) Jabari Parker injured again. At least it’s not serious this time, a sprain of his right foot, but he’s not with the Bucks on their current three-game road trip. He was clear and away the best rookie last season until he blew out his ACL and missed the last 57 games, and recovery from that injury bled over to the first four games of this season. He’d been back for five games, looked a little rusty but was finding a groove (he had his best game in the win over Cleveland Saturday), and now this. There is no surgery needed, just a little time off. Still, come on basketball gods, give the kid a chance. Let him stay on the court.

5) Jimmy Butler blocks Paul George to save Bulls win. Paul George had another monster game — 26 points on 20 shots — and with the Pacers down one 96-95 and inbounding the ball with 5.1 seconds left, you know who was going to get the last shot. That’s where Butler made the defensive play of the night.

George — and a lot of Pacers’ fans in my Twitter timeline — wanted the foul on that call, but no way you’re going to get that fading away on a contested shot with the game on the line. Any contact Rose made with George was incidental to the shot — even Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel said so after the game. That was just great defense to save a win.

Also in this game, Derrick Rose had to leave with a little over two minutes left due to a sprained ankle, and he did not return. However, Rose said after the game it was nothing serious, and he should be back soon.

Chalmers scores 29 to lead Grizzlies over Thunder 122-114

Mike Conley, Mario Chalmers
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mario Chalmers‘ transformation from one of the most despised figures in Memphis basketball history to fan favorite has taken all of three games.

His season-best scoring performance Monday night completed the transition.

Chalmers scored 16 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as the Memphis Grizzlies held on for a 122-114 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As Chalmers got going in the final quarter, Memphis fans were on their feet cheering the guard acquired last week in a trade with the Miami Heat. One fan hollered: “I never thought I would cheer for Mario Chalmers.”

Before the trade, Chalmers was known in Memphis as the guy whose 3-pointer sent the 2008 national championship game against the Memphis Tigers into overtime – a game eventually won by Chalmers’ Kansas Jayhawks.

On Monday, he converted 6 of 13 shots, including 4 of 7 from outside the arc, as five Grizzlies reached double figures. Mike Conley had 22, Jeff Green scored 20, while Marc Gasol added 17. Zach Randolph finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 40 points, 12 in the fourth quarter trying to bring Oklahoma City back from an 11-point deficit. Serge Ibaka had 18 and Enes Kanter scored 16. Steven Adams and Dion Waiters finished with 14 apiece.

Oklahoma City shot 51 percent, including 10 of 24 from outside the arc. But Memphis converted 12 of 17 3-pointers, much out of character for the Grizzlies, who entered the game ranked near the bottom in 3-point shooting at 29 percent.

“I’ve always been a big believer that when the three-point shot goes up, it’s dangerous,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, adding: “To their credit, they made them.”

Westbrook tried to bring the Thunder back in the fourth, fueling a 10-2 rally that pulled Oklahoma City within 108-105 with 1:26 left.

But 3-pointers by Conley and JaMychal Green put the game away for Memphis, which won its third straight.

“They made some big shots at the end of the game,” Westbrook said. “.They just made the last run and won the game.”

Chalmers said the reaction of the Memphis fans despite his role in the national championship game has been refreshing.

“It actually gave me more motivation,” Chalmers said of the cheers. “Just to come out and prove to the fans that I want to be here. I belong here.

“And hopefully they’ll forget about 2008,” he said with a laugh.

 

Nowitzki, Mavericks send 76ers to 11th loss to start season

Dirk Nowitzki
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — It was no surprise to see Dirk Nowitzki come up big late in the game for the Dallas Mavericks.

Nowitzki scored 21 points, including seven during a pivotal stretch late in the fourth quarter, to lead Dallas to a 92-86 victory over the winless Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.

Jahlil Okafor had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the 76ers, who have lost all 11 games this season and 21 in a row dating back to last season. Philadelphia’s last win was March 25 at Denver, and the 76ers are within five defeats of matching the franchise’s all-time record for consecutive losses.

Chandler Parsons added 20 points – all in the first half – for the Mavericks, who needed a late push to hold off Philadelphia.

The 76ers trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half but battled back to take an 82-81 lead with 4 minutes, 23 seconds remaining on a free throw by Nerlens Noel before Nowitzki took over.

The 13-time All-Star had seven of nine Dallas points during a 9-2 Mavericks run over the next 2:36, ending with a 3-pointer that made it 90-84 with 1:47 left.

“That was the killer shot for the game,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was huge. Hey look, he’s been doing that for almost two decades. You’re never shocked when it happens.”

The six-point margin was too much for Philadelphia to overcome.

Nowitzki returned to the lineup after sitting out, along with fellow starters Wesley Matthews and Parsons, to rest during the Mavericks’ 110-98 victory at Houston on Saturday night. Matthews had seven points.

“They kept staying in the game, clawing and scratching and they’re obviously desperate to get their first win,” Nowitzki said. “We had to dig deep and grind it out.”

Noel had 12 points and 12 rebounds for Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s 0-11 start is six losses shy of tying the franchise mark, set last season, for most defeats to start a season.

“We’ve got to do a better job executing down the stretch to close out a game,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “That’s part of growing up.”

Philadelphia bumbled its way to 15 points in a forgettable first quarter that ended with the Mavericks up 28-15. The typically small crowd rained down boos on the home team during one sequence midway through the period following consecutive turnovers by Nik Stauskas and Jerami Grant. The 76ers ended the quarter with eight turnovers, which led to 11 Dallas points.

They finished with 27 turnovers for the game.

“You’re not going to win any basketball games with 27 turnovers,” Brown said.

The 76ers were down by as many as 19 points in the second quarter before reeling off 25 of the final 36 first-half points to enter the locker room down just five, 49-44.

MORE MINUTES PLEASE

Parsons had his best game of the season, Carlisle said, while continuing to face restricted minutes following offseason knee surgery.

“It’s frustrating, especially in a close game like that when I have it going,” he said of watching from the bench. “You definitely want to play more. At the same time, they know what they’re doing and it’s a process.”

PHYSICAL TEAM

While praising the 76ers for their effort, Carlisle said Philadelphia is a team that gets rough with opponents.

“They’re playing on a go-hard basis,” he said. “If guys aren’t playing hard, they sit down. They have young, motivated guys on small contracts. . They try to rat up the game and try to get you to retaliate. Our guys did a great job with their composure in the second half.”

 

Suns’ Brandon Knight puts Marcelo Huertas in the blender, spins him

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Marcelo Huertas was a quality point guard from Brazil who spent most of his career as one of the better point guards in Europe. On the backside of his career, at age 32, he decided to come to the Lakers and give the NBA a shot this season.

It’s been a rough transition, especially on defense. But what the Suns’ Brandon Knight did to him Monday night was especially nasty. And it’s going to land him on a lot of highlight shows.

Knight picked up his first career triple-double in this game.

Spurs Kawhi Leonard skies, throws it down on Mason Plumlee

Kawhi Leonard, Mason Plumlee
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Kawhi Leonard is a bad man.

He’s been the Spurs best player this season, and he gave the home crowd a bit of a show on Monday night with one of the better dunks from a Spur this season (it’s not the longest list). That is vicious, and there was nothing Mason Plumlee could do about it, save to end up in the highlight.