Love puts up a big line, but balanced Rockets keep rolling to sixth straight win

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Just before the All-Star break and a celebration of the game’s biggest names we bring you this reminder:

Basketball is still a team game.

The Timberwolves’ Kevin Love was the best scorer on the floor Monday night when Houston came to Minnesota. With no Kevin Martin (thumb) and no Nikola Pekovic it puts a lot more on Love’s plate and he was trying, knocking down midrange jumpers (5-of-8 from there), attacking and getting to the line (12-of-12 from there) and he ended up with 31 points.

However the Rockets were the better team — all five starters had at least 14 points and at least 11 shots (a sign of balance). They were moving the ball which led to hitting Patrick Beverly for open threes (4-of-8) or Dwight Howard as he was rim running. The result was an eFG% of 54.3 percent for the Rockets compared to 39 percent for the Timberwolves. Another reminder: if you shoot the ball better you usually win.

The Rockets did win, 107-89, their sixth straight victory. This was the Timberwolves fourth straight loss.

Houston had made this recent run thanks to their offense, which had averaged 114 points per 100 possessions in the previous five wins, and they had a good but not as great 107.2 points per 100 Monday night.

But they used some timely defense and bad shooting by Minnesota to hold the Timberwolves to 91.5. The problem for the Timberwolves was the missed shots, their poor floor balance off those misses, and a few turnovers led to some easy buckets for the Rockets going the other way. Minnesota could never make up that ground.

Minnesota was packing it in early on Dwight Howard but the Rockets still had 18 more points in the paint. Houston would have actually likely blown this game open in the second quarter had it not been for the fact they had turnovers on 19 percent of their possessions on the night — the sloppy turnovers killed their runs and kept Minnesota hanging around.

Until the start of the fourth, when the Rockets went on an 11-0 run to pull away for good. They got eight points from Chandler Parsons in that quarter, he finished with a team high 20, and Howard had four of his 18 points in the final frame (he finished with 15 rebounds, too). Patrick Beverly brought some defensive energy and that helped launch team fourth quarter, making a couple blocks on Alexey Shved, which became transition buckets for the Rockets.

These are two teams headed in opposite directions right now, and for a Minnesota team now 7 games out of the playoffs in the West it should lead to a little soul searching.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.

Report: Hornets rookie Miles Bridges to compete in dunk contest

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Want to see more dunks like this and this?

Watch the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Miles Bridges, the No. 12 pick in last year’s draft, has quickly proven himself as belonging in the Hornets’ rotation. He’s active, capable of getting to the rim and picks up defensive concepts quickly.

But like most rookies picked in the middle of the first round, he hasn’t yet earned a national profile.

The dunk contest will be his opportunity to change that.

Bulls’ Wendell Carter reportedly out 8-12 weeks following thumb surgery

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Wendell Carter Jr. has had a strong rookie season in Chicago: 10.3 points a game, 7 rebounds, showing real strength and touch inside and getting 67 percent of his shot attempts in the paint. The advanced stats like him: He’s got an above average PER and Value over Replacement Player, something very rare for a rookie. He looks like a key part of the future in Chicago.

And he’s out for the next two-to-three months.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune first reported that Carter might have ligament damage in his left thumb requiring surgery, and that coach Jim Boylen said Carter was seeing a specialist. Shams Charania of The Athletic took it to the next step.

That’s a blow to his development but doesn’t really change the trajectory of a Bulls team that will pick high in next June’s draft.

This does not change the Bulls’ plans heading into the trade deadline — big man Robin Lopez is still available (but likely will end up a buyout candidate) reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Bobby Portis will get more run with Carter out.

The young Bulls have been hit hard by injuries this season.  Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Portis have all missed time, and Denzel Valentine has yet to play a game for Chicago this season.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis: ‘We will never, ever tank’

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Before the season, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis stated his goals: 50 wins and the conference finals.

Washington is 19-26 and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

Time to shift priorities?

NBC Sports Washington:

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards are too talented to tank right now. Led by Bradley Beal, they have a roster of capable veterans. They just traded for Trevor Ariza, making that even more true.

As bad as they’ve been, the Wizards are just 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position. They will likely miss the postseason, but there’s no alternative better than trying to get there. They’re too far down the road toward winning now to simply pivot into a rebuilding.

But what about if the Wizards get eliminated from playoff contention with games left in the season? They won’t tank down the stretch to improve their draft position? What’s the point of that?

And what about future seasons? Washington will have a tough time building a satisfactory winner after signing John Wall to a super-max extension that kicks in next season. That difficult-to-move contract almost mandates the Wizards prioritize the present. A healthy Wall is good enough to ensure Washington can’t bottom out – for now.

Wall be 32 in the final year of that deal. The Wizards could be in ruins by then. Taking the option to tank off the table would be a mistake.

To be fair, I’m not totally sure Leonsis is doing that. Owners almost never admit to tanking. Most deny it.

But this goes a level beyond. This is far more forceful than Leonsis had to be, which makes me believe it’s actually his plan.

That’s fine right now. Eventually, it could make a futile situation far worse.