Pacers’ playoff-best offense disintegrates in Atlanta

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Devin Harris needed just 4.5 seconds to slice through the Pacers’ defense for a layup late in the first half, leaving only 1.8 seconds for the Pacers. George Hill launched a desperation heave that obviously missed, but the look was only marginally better than the shots Indiana got most of the game.

The Hawks’ offense came easy enough, and the Pacers forced quick shots to make their offense difficult enough, and now, Indiana’s series lead is suddenly a dicey 2-1 after a 90-69 Game 3 loss today. Since early in the second quarter, Atlanta’s lead fluctuated between 18 and 28 points

The Pacers, despite playing a top-10 regular-season defense, entered the game an NBA-best 117.8 points per 100 possessions. Today, their offensive rating sunk to 70.2.

I suppose the Hawks deserve some credit, making this series as close a series can be through three games, but Indiana just played bad. Despite their well-deserved reputation as a tough team, the Pacers have the worst road record (19-21) of any top-five seed in either conference, and they’ve lost 12 straight in Atlanta. The last time Indiana won there, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington led the team in scoring.

These new-look Pacers have more talent, but they shot just 27 percent from the field and 16 percent on 3-pointers. Indiana’s backcourt was particularly bad, with guards George Hill, Lance Stephenson, D.J. Augustin, Orlando Johnson and Ben Hansbrough combining to shoot 2-for-25. But the Pacers’ problems weren’t isolated to those five. Indiana finished with as many field goals as turnovers (22).

The Hawks didn’t play great – they shot below 43 percent from the field, below 27 percent on 3-pointers and below 58 percent on free three throws – but they stopped doing all the things wrong that plagued them in the series’ first two games. Al Horford had 26 points, 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, which is what he can do when Larry Drew doesn’t foolishly sit him for picking up early fouls.

Ivan Johnson replaced Kyle Korver in the starting lineup, and although Johnson played OK (six points and four rebounds in 14 minutes), the Hawks probably picked the wrong physical player in a switch to a bigger lineup. Petro was the only Atlanta player with a negative plus-minus (-3). The Hawks played much better with Ivan Johnson, who had seven points and seven rebounds and a +21 rating. They were better with even displaced-starter Korver, who was +14.

Atlanta made adjustments and played better, but that wasn’t the story of Game 3. Really, this was about the Pacers just falling apart in a tough environment.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.