Teams are adjusting, now James Harden must adjust, too

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For a couple games, nobody knew what to expect of James Harden in a Houston Rockets uniform. We knew he could play — Sixth Man of the Year, Olympic gold medalist — but the setting with him as the man and not a playmaking third option was going to be very different.

The result was a 37- then 45-point game to open the season. James Harden had arrived.

Then, NBA defenses adjusted. Harden was 5-of-15 Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets who stuck Andre Iguodala — one of the league’s best perimeter defenders — on him then brought help (often Kenneth Faried). The result was 15 points and two assists to six turnovers. It’s not unlike what Portland did in the Rockets previous game with Nicolas Batum, and the result was 24 Harden points but on 24 shots. He has shot 33.3 percent in the last two games.

Harden’s freedom to attack is gone and both he and the Rockets will need to adapt now. He has to grow into the role as the No. 1 option, his teammates need to see how to work better with him, coach Kevin McHale needs to run plays that put him in a position to succeed.

The first adaptation falls to Harden: He can’t hesitate. After watching Harden’s shots again from his last two games (on Synergy Sports), you notice that his natural inclination was to catch the ball and survey the land then shoot or attack, but with the long and athletic defenders he faced that just gave them time to close on him and contest jumpers, to limit his options. He needs a plan and to attack more quickly. He started to do that more near the end of the Nuggets game.

Harden is still very effective in transition (64.7 percent shooting in that situation). The Rockets are running at a pretty fair clip this season but more transition is good, as is more Harden cutting and working off the ball.

His bread and butter is still the ball handler on the pick-and-roll and you can see the Rockets are still trying to figure things out. That’s something Harden admitted to Fran Blinebury of NBA.com.

“Even though we didn’t play well, it’s still just our fourth game together,” Harden said. “As the games go on, we’ll get better and it’s just the fact that we haven’t played together, we haven’t had a training camp or have time to really put in some sets, so we’re kind of figuring things out as we go.”

Harden is figuring things out, too. He has not had to be in this role and had to have elite defenders and double teams coming at him whenever he steps on the court. And things do not get easier for him with Memphis and Tony Allen plus Miami and LeBron James coming up in the next week for the Rockets.

It’s a process. One that is just getting started in Houston.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.