Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Heat continue streaking, Harden hits the game-winner to beat the Spurs

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching FGCU celebrate their trip to the Sweet 16 a thousand times.

Nets 102, Suns 100: The Nets were without Joe Johnson in this one, but early in the third quarter, when Brooklyn had increased its lead to 16 points, it seemed like it wouldn’t matter.

The Nets lost focus, however, and the Suns got high-energy performances from Goran Dragic, Wesley Johnson, and P.J. Tucker the entire second half, and were able to lead at the end of three and battle throughout the fourth to ensure the game came down to the final possession.

Wes Johnson had a 17-point third quarter that included hitting four straight from three-point distance, and Dragic finished a point shy of his career-high and just one rebound short of a triple-double, with 31 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists. The Suns had more offensive rebounds in the game than they had on the defensive end (25 against 23), which was 10 more than the Nets hauled down from the offensive glass.

But the energy and hustle only went so far. C.J. Watson scored 12 big points off the bench for Brooklyn in the fourth quarter, and Kris Humphries had an interesting night that included three air balls and a missed dunk, yet his 17 points and eight rebounds overall were important contributions to the Nets’ sluggish victory.

Heat 109, Bobcats 77: Dwyane Wade sat this one out to rest a sore knee, but even then — and even when Charlotte raced out to a 19-8 lead — this game never felt in doubt. In part because these kind of comebacks are becoming the norm for Miami, in part because LeBron James was playing (32 points, 10 assists, 8 rebound). We broke this game down in more detail, if you like to read about routs. — Kurt Helin

Rockets 96, Spurs 95: Coming into this game Houston was 1-7 against the top four teams in the West and they wanted to prove they could play with the big boys. For their own psyche heading into the playoffs. Maybe they got that.

The Rockets were running, James Harden was gunning — he finished the game with 29 points on just 16 shots — and the Rockets were up double digits in the fourth quarter. Then Tony Parker happened. He went on a personal 10-0 run and scored 12 Spurs points in a row to lead them to a 93-89 lead with 1:45 remaining. The Spurs looked like they could put it away with a steal and Danny Green heading in for a layup, but Patrick Beverly blocked the shot, Harden got the ball in transition, found Chandler Parsons for a three and it was a new game. Parsons finished with 20.

Parker and Harden traded some free throws. When the Rockets needed a final shot you knew Harden was going to get the look first, and he was able to get to just above the free throw line, try to sell the foul call he wasn’t going to get, then hit the game winning jumper. Tim Duncan had a final chance for San Antonio but missed an elbow jumper.  It’s a good win for Houston, a team that is building confidence right now. — Kurt Helin

Mavericks 113, Jazz 108: Utah is a team that is supposed to be making a playoff push, but with this game they have lost four in a row and 9-of-11. They are now two games back of the Lakers in the loss column and they are toast without a winning streak.

This game was close until near the end of the third quarter, when the Mavericks went on a 20-2 run that spanned the quarters. It looked like Dallas would coast in but Utah made a desperation run late that got the lead all the way down to three. But that’s as close as it got. Mike James had 19 points and led seven Mavericks in double figures. — Kurt Helin

Sixers 117, Kings 103: The outcome was secondary to Kings fans — this was another “Here We Buy Night” where the fans filled the building to show they still support the team (just not so much the old owners). As part of that, they booed Spencer Hawes plenty (the Seattle native and former University of Washington player said he hoped the Kings were moved back to his home town).

The Sixers got some big nights — Jrue Holiday had 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists; Dorell Wright added 22 points; and Lavoy Allen had 20 off the bench. The Kings were much better when DeMarcus Cousins was on the floor, but he struggled with foul trouble and when he sat midway through the third quarter the Sixers pulled away and never looked back. — Kurt Helin

Thunder 103, Trail Blazers 83: Oklahoma City has won eight straight over teams that would miss the playoffs if the season ended today and lost three straight to would-be playoff teams. The Thunder won’t get a chance to prove themselves against the league’s best quite yet – they host Washington on Wednesday and play at Minnesota on Friday – but in the meantime, they’re finding ways to motivate themselves. They went on a 10-2 run after Scott Brooks’ third-quarter technical foul Sunday, and Serge Ibaka (zero points, one block and three fouls in the first half; 16 points, four blocks and zero fouls in the second half) apparently challenged himself to make his halves as polarizing as possible.

The Trail Blazers were plagued by the same issue that has done them in all season – their lack of a bench. The starters played too much (36 minutes per starter), and the reserves did too little (a combined 21 points and two rebounds among six players). — Dan Feldman

Hawks 104, Bucks 99: Milwaukee is now two games behind No. 7 seed Boston with 13 games left and running out of time to escape the No. 8 seed and a first-round matchup with the Heat. That’s because the Bucks allowed a game-ending 7-0 run by the Hawks, who are hanging onto the No. 5 seed.

Al Horford (24 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals) and Josh Smith (23 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) scored crucial points during the deciding run, but Anthony Tolliver made a key contribution by offensively rebounding a teammate’s missed free throw – a play Tolliver called before it happened. — Dan Feldman

Bulls 104, Timberwolves 97: With Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah out, Chicago showed off its long-possessed and under-appreciated supporting cast. Credit Tom Thibodeau for putting players like Nate Robinson (22 points and 10 assists), Jimmy Butler (20 points, nine assists and three steals) and Nazr Mohammed (10 rebounds in 22 minutes) in positions to succeed. And it wasn’t just Mohammed cleaning the glass. Chicago nearly had as many offensive rebounds (20) as the Timberwolves had defensive rebounds (26), and the Bulls smoked Minnesota on the other end, 32-6.

Derrick Williams (28 points) was a bright spot for the Timberwolves, looking less like the player who had a combined 24 points on 9-of-30 shooting in his last three games and more like the guy who averaged 19 points per game in his previous dozen. — Dan Feldman

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

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The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

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James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

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Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.