Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: James Harden reminds Thunder he’s good

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while you were calling 9-1-1 then asking police to bring you some cigarettes….

Lakers 113, Celtics 99: Dwight Howard played maybe his best game as a Laker and was a force on defense, Steve Nash was carving up the defense and making passes and shots, Kobe Bryant was leading — for a night at least the Lakers would have made Jerry Buss proud. Our own Brett Pollakoff broke the game down in more detail.

Rockets 122, Thunder 119: James Harden scored a career-high 46 points against his former team, and it took him just 19 shots to get there. That’s because he knocked down 14 of those attempts, including going 7-8 from three-point distance and 11-12 from the free throw line.

The Thunder actually held a 14-point lead with seven minutes remaining in this one, before the Rockets battled back on the strength of their defense. Harden and Jeremy Lin hit big three-pointers late to take this one home, capping a 29-12 Rockets run to end the game.

Kevin Durant had a rare off night offensively, but finished with a triple-double line of 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists, despite his 4-13 shooting.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 125, Knicks 91: This was simply a game where the Knicks didn’t show up, and the Pacers were ready to lay the wood to a team sitting ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

New York managed just 18 first quarter points, and allowed the Pacers to shoot better than 61 percent in the opening period to take control from the very start. Indiana put up a ridiculous 74 points in the first half to lead by 30 at the break, and the game was never in doubt in the final two periods, where the Pacers built the lead as high as 39 points before it was all said and done.
—Brett Pollakoff

Nets 97, Bucks 94: Milwaukee led most of the way, then starting just before the start of the fourth quarter the Nets went on a 31-8 run and that propelled them to the win. The Bucks shot 2-of-18 during that stretch while Deron Williams was leading his team, on his way to 23 points.

It got interesting in the final 100 seconds — the Nets led by a dozen when a Larry Sanders dunk sparked a 9-0 run that brought the Bucks back. Monta Ellis was fouled taking a three with 2.4 seconds left and the Bucks down three. But he missed the first two free throws throw and the Bucks chances bounced off the rim with it. Brandon Jennings did have 31 points and 11 assists for Milwaukee, which falls below .500 now.

Heat 103, Hawks 90: It was a rough day for Josh Smith. After hearing his name in trade rumors all afternoon he got to go head-to-head with LeBron James at night. And LeBron torched him, scoring 19 points in the first half and keeping the Heat in the game while Chris Bosh played about as well as he did in the All-Star Game. At the other end Smith was 5-of-13 shooting and clanking his shots outside the pain but destroying the rim with dunks inside. Al Horford had 27 points (and looked far more All-Star worthy than Bosh).

Atlanta led by 10 entering the fourth quarter, but LeBron dished eight assists in the final 12 minutes and the Heat outscored the Hawks 40-17 in the final period to win. The Hawks finished the game with 21 turnovers and that is death against the Heat, who have won 8 in a row.

Grizzlies 88, Raptors 82: Rudy Gay returned to the Grindhouse and got a taste of what it’s like to be on the other side against the Memphis defense — Toronto shot just 25.7 percent in the first half, scoring just 32 points. But they were down just 11 because it was a brick house in Memphis. Early in the fourth quarter the Raptors went on a 17-7 run and we were tied up at 77-77 and we had a ballgame. But it wasn’t to be for the Raptors as Memphis’ Mike Conley sank the dagger with a three with less than two minutes to go to seal the win. Zach Randolph had 17 points and 17 boards because he’s really good.

Timberwolves 94, Sixers 87: This was a game the Sixers could have used Andrew Bynum, as the Timberwolves just owned the paint. Nikola Pekovic was the man for Minnesota with 27 points and 18 rebounds. Derrick Williams looked like the kind of guy you might want to trade for with 17 points. Philadelphia got the lead down to four a couple times in the final minutes, but Pekovic drew a foul once and got an offensive rebound the next to set up a Ricky Rubio three.

Pistons 105, Bobcats 99: Pistons fans got the win, but should be a little concerned about Brandon Knight, who tweaked his knee in the third quarter when Kemba Walker fell into him. He left the game of his own power, came back in, but eventually had to go to the locker room and there will be an MRI Thursday.

Charlotte was pesky in this one. Early in the fourth quarter Rodney Stuckey was attacking on the drive (he had 7 points in the fourth) and that helped he Pistons create a little space. Then Byron Mullens made consecutive threes and it was close again. Like 98-97 Pistons inside two minutes to go close.

The Piston passing was impressive much of those final two minutes. Greg Monroe found a cutting Jose Calderon who was fouled and hit is free throws. Later Monroe got the ball back on a pretty pick-and-roll with Will Bynum and Monroe scored two of his 10 fourth quarter points on the play (19 points, 7 boards for the game). Kemba Walker kept it close with some free throws (he finished with 24 points), but Calderon hit his free throws them made a steal after pressure was put on Walker and he turned it over late. He and Monroe were key at the end.

Warriors 108, Suns 98: Nothing helps stop a six game losing streak like playing Phoenix. Just ask he Warriors. Golden State had an early 7-0 run and pretty much led the entire way, although never really by that much (12 was the max). Golden State got big games from its stars — Klay Thompson had 28 points, Stephen Curry 20 points and 11 assists, and David Lee had 19 points and 11 rebounds. The Suns made runs late, led by Goran Dragic who had 20 points and 10 assists, but it was Curry who took control of the offense late and led a 10-2 Warriors run with a couple threes to seal the win.

Cavaliers 105, Hornets 100: This was a tight game throughout, until Kyrie Irving decided it was time to put it in the win column for his Cavaliers.

Irving finished with 35 points, but scored 20 of those in the fourth quarter while playing just over seven minutes. We’ve seen him do it a few times this season, and it’s getting to the point where as long as Cleveland keeps it tight heading into the final period, the team can expect some late-game heroics from Irving to make sure they come away with the victory.
—Brett Pollakoff

Mavericks 111, Magic 96: This was a close game through the second half until a 17-0 run in the fourth quarter sealed it up for Dallas. Brandan Wright scored six points in that run, It was a really balanced Dallas attack all night with six guys in double figures, but Shawn Marion and Elton Brand led the way with 17 a piece. It didn’t feel like it would be close at all after Dallas put up 42 points in the first quarter on 64 percent shooting, but they returned to earth with 17 points on 23.8 percent shooting in the second quarter. And we had a ballgame. Until the fourth. Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 21.

Report: Knicks will roll over cap space if they don’t sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard

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The Knicks are chasing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. New York will reportedly get a meeting with Kawhi Leonard.

But Irving appears headed to the Nets, and Durant might follow. Leonard appears to favor the Raptors in a two-team race with the Clippers.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

New York still believes it’s in the hunt for Kawhi Leonard, Irving and Durant. But, according to a source, the Knicks will punt their $70 million-plus in cap space if they can’t land one of those Tier A free agents.

This plan would require patience Knicks owner James Dolan has rarely shown. The Knicks have missed the playoffs six straight years. Twice during that span – including last season – they posted their worst record in franchise history (17-65). Dolan publicly proclaimed confidence New York would sign major free agents this summer.

He’d really allow the Knicks to delay winning even further?

New York is positioned to wait until 2020 free agency (though Joakim Noah‘s cap hit will remain on the books after an avoidable error). R.J. Barrett and Kevin Knox will still be on relatively cheap rookie-scale contracts. As a second-round pick, Mitchell Robinson is even lower-paid. If they sign players to only one-year contracts this offseason, the Knicks will once again have massive cap room.

But good players generally want multi-year deals. So, New York would be choosing among a far more limited pool of free agents. Another gloomy season would likely await.

And then the 2020 free-agent class looks weak. Especially with Anthony Davis already on the Lakers, there probably won’t be an attainable superstar for the Knicks. There might not even be an attainable star.

Then what? Sacrifice the 2020-21 season to gear up for 2021 free agency? Maybe Barrett, Knox and Robinson develop and send New York on a different track, but that’s far from assured.

The genius of this plan is it allows Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to keep their jobs while the team continues to stink. There would be no expectations of winning anytime soon – as long as Dolan abides.

Report: Kyrie Irving doesn’t like living in Boston

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Has Kyrie Irving been in contact with the Boston Celtics about his free agency? We have reports that say that Irving has “ghosted” the Celtics… and of course we have counter reports that say just the opposite.

It’s hard to believe anything that swirls around Irving, one of the more enigmatic and tiring personalities in the NBA. At the very least, Irving has appeared to send signals that he is looking to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Chief among them being that Irving recently fired his longtime representation and signed with Roc Nation, which has a close partnership with the Brooklyn front office.

Boston has had a hard time getting free agents to come to play for the franchise, and that’s before they had a standing beef with Klutch Sports. According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, one of our Irving’s problems with the Celtics was that he simply didn’t like living in Boston.

Via ESPN:

“Kyrie Irving didn’t like Boston. I’ve been told this by many people. He didn’t like living in Boston — he just didn’t. By the end he had issues with Brad, by the end he had issues with Danny… by the end he had issues with pretty much all of us.”

We have heard rumors that things started to go wrong in the Celtics locker room when coach Brad Stevens seemed to openly favor injured star Gordon Hayward a bit too heavily (Hayward played for Stevens at Butler in college).

Meanwhile, Danny Ainge has the propensity to rub folks the wrong way. He makes whatever decision he thinks is the best from a basketball perspective, relationships be damned. We learned that with the Isaiah Thomas trade.

At this juncture it seems unlikely that Irving will return to the Celtics. Meanwhile, we will probably continue to get stories like this out of Boston.

Chris Paul: “I never asked for a trade” and says he’s happy to be in Houston

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With Golden State laid low by injuries (and maybe a defection), Houston should be the team stepping to the front of the line saying “it’s our turn” in the West.

Instead, the Rockets two stars — James Harden and Chris Paul — are feuding, ownership is turning coach Mike D’Antoni into a lame duck, and everyone without a fantastic beard hears their name in trade rumors.

The Harden/Paul feud is real, but Paul tried to downplay it at a charity event in Los Angeles over the weekend, denying a trade request and saying he was happy to be in Houston, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“I never asked for a trade,” Paul said. “I never demanded a trade.”

“I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”

The report goes on to note Paul was asked if he had to work things out with Harden and he kind of danced around that question but said the issues were around a season-ending loss. Certainly, two straight years of being bounced by the Warriors has the Rockets frustrated. However, there is also a style issue: Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul can’t be as efficient that way anymore and prefers a more fluid offense (and more pick-and-roll for him). Coach D’Antoni gives a lot of leeway to Harden.

Harden and Paul need to work their issues out because Paul is nearly untradable (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener with a pick or young player). Paul still has value on the court — a master floor general he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. There simply are not teams interested in trading for Paul.

Houston could head into next season the favorites in the West. Part of that depends on how things shake out in free agency (does Kawhi Leonard come West, for example), but a lot of it is just the Rockets getting their act together. I expect Paul and Harden to figure things out, at least well enough to make it work. Mostly because they don’t have a choice. Paul isn’t going anywhere, whether he asked to leave or not.

 

Zion Williamson on Pelicans: ‘I’m ready to stay here’ (VIDEO)

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Zion Williamson is finally, officially a New Orleans Pelican. David Griffin and the Pelicans front office selected Williamson No. 1 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft on Thursday.

Now, we just have to wait for the Anthony Davis trade to be official and we can put this whole thing behind us.

Meanwhile, Williamson has been celebrating. According to TMZ, he had a big pizza party with his friends after the draft in New York. Williamson has since reported to the team in Louisiana, where he’s already saying all the right things to the media.

Speaking during a team event, Williamson said that something just hit him and that it was a gut feeling that he was glad to be in New Orleans.

“This is my home,” said Williamson. “I’m ready to stay here.”

Via Twitter:

Williamson could also be seen getting recommendations for the excellent cuisine in the Bayou.

As No. 1 overall picks and future franchise cornerstones go, Williamson already seems to have the temperament of a guy who’s willing to take over from the last one in Davis.