PBT’s Wednesday NBA Winners/Losers: The Golden State train keeps a rollin’

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while flipping out over those extra $4 the Chinese restaurant charged you

source:  Golden State Warriors. And the train kept a rollin’… that is 14 in a row. If you were trying to knock the Warriors during this run you’d say that they haven’t played a lot of the West’s best in this stretch, but they got a quality win over the Rockets 105-93. Quality because the Rockets have still been rolling teams this season without Dwight Howard and they could have done it again with the way James Harden was playing. Harden had 35 points and he was getting into the paint and knocking down contested threes. Basically he was the full Harden but the Warriors absorbed that and won anyway. Second, the Warriors did it without Andrew Bogut — they missed his defense in the paint, they missed his passing, how he moved the ball from strong to weak. But they got 20 points on 9 shots from Harrison Barnes and a balanced scoring night (despite a rough start where they couldn’t buy a three in the first half).

source:  Andre Miller, Bradley Beal. It was the shot of the night, the game-winning tip in as the clock expired that gave Washington a big win on the road in Orlando. Beal rightfully gets a lot of credit for an athletic play at the rim (and he got a nice pick from Paul Pierce to create that space). But to me what makes this play is a perfect lob from Andre Miller — the professor threw the perfect pass.

source:  Derrick Rose. That was the attacking, aggressive Rose we have been waiting to see again. The one Tom Thibodeau has been asking to see. Rose was 5-of-6 in the paint, but also 3-of-7 from beyond the arc on his way to a a team best 23 in a Bulls win over Brooklyn. Rose was getting into the lane when he wanted, and he was putting pressure on the Nets defense, which is what he does best. It’s been a process with Rose getting back to being his old self, but when he plays like this the Bulls are so much more dangerous.

source:  Cory Jefferson’s jump shot. That was not the Bulls’ defense. Jefferson in his limited minutes as a rookie had taken just four three pointers this season. He might want to work on that a little before he breaks it out in a game again.

source:  Al Jefferson. The Hornets need some wins and Jefferson got them one against the Celtics Wednesday, putting up 23 points overall and getting 11 of them in the fourth quarter to secure the victory. What Jefferson — and Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker — seemed to do more was attack the rim. Jefferson was getting the ball on the left block where he likes it and is nearly impossible to stop. That and stretches of good defense from the starters were what Charlotte needs more of to turn this thing around.

source:  Portland Trail Blazers. What. Was. That. The Timberwolves were the more physical team. The Blazers seemed disinterested early and never were able to get out of that funk. And when you shoot 10-of-35 from three (28.6 percent) you can’t just shoot your way out of it. Minnesota picked up the win 9–82. The Blazers had won five in a row coming in, we’ll consider this a one-off. But in the brutal West you can’t have many of these nights without hurting your seeding.

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.