Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: Dwight Howard who? All Houston needs is Harden.

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while applying for maybe the best job in journalism (except for having to live in Dallas)….

You don’t need Dwight Howard when you have James Harden. Well, at least in the regular season. The Rockets are 6-2 so far since Howard went down with this latest knee injury, and the reason is Harden is playing like an MVP. Tuesday night was a perfect example: Harden scored 20 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-10 shooting to lift Houston to a win over Phoenix. Then when the Rockets needed a couple daggers to kill off the Suns, it was Harden delivering them. Harden finished with 40 points on 23 shots plus grabbed 12 boards and had nine assists as Houston got another crucial win. In the eight games since Howard went down, Harden is averaging 29.9 points and 6.9 assists a game, plus is shooting 41 percent from three and has a .627 true shooting percentage. The Beard is on fire.

The sun seems to be setting on Phoenix’s playoff chances. The Suns are now just one game ahead of both New Orleans and hard-charging Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the West. The Suns lost five of their last six games before the All-Star break. In those six games, the issue has been the offense, which has averaged 97 points per 100 possessions (27th in the league in that stretch). They’ve been even worse on the road of late. Maybe a couple practices and more than a week off can shake them out of this funk. If not, they once again are going to win 46 or more games and miss the playoffs. They are the poster children for changing the playoff system.

The most interesting thing happening with the Lakers: Nick Young telling dolphin attack stories. On the court, the only interesting thing left in the Lakers’ season is watching Jordan Clarkson to see if he can develop into a point guard. Off the court…. Nick Young is a constant source of entertainment.

Mike Dunleavy’s back and the Bulls look good again. After missing 19 games due to an ankle injury, their glue guy is back. The Bulls are now 24-10 with him, he is key to their offensive spacing. He only had five points on five shots and looked understandably rusty, but he did play 24 minutes. Dunleavy could be off for a night because Tony Snell spaced the floor on the way to his 24 points. The good news: the Bulls are finally healthy… er wait. Jimmy Butler had to leave the game with shoulder injury and didn’t play the second half. At least the week off for the All-Star break is coming up.

Pistons keep taking steps toward playoffs. In a game they really needed, Greg Monroe continued to thrive — 23 points and 12 boards — and the Pistons easily handled the Hornets 106-78. That moves Detroit just 1.5 games back of Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the East. Anthony Tolliver has been a sneaky good pick up by the Pistons, and he had 16 points in the win. Charlotte made the trade to get Mo Williams to fortify their backcourt while Kemba Walker is down, it will not be easy for Detroit to catch them (or seven seed Miami, who is two games ahead of Detroit), but this is the kind of win the Pistons had to have to give themselves a real chance.

Lakers’ James to make home debut against Rockets tonight

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — LeBron James will make his regular-season home debut as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers when they host the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

James, a four-time NBA most valuable player, signed with the Lakers in July after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to four straight NBA Final appearances, including their first championship in 2016.

He has played in every NBA Finals since 2010, also winning titles in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat.

James had 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in his Los Angeles debut against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Thursday night, but the Lakers lost 128-119.

The Lakers will likely need a better start with their long-range shooting against the Rockets. Los Angeles missed its first 15 tries from 3-point range before finishing 7 for 30 (23.3 percent) against Portland.

James said he and his new teammates are still going through a feeling-out period.

“It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are,” he told reporters after his Lakers debut. “It’s going to take patience from our team, from all of us, to just figure out one another, figure out what we are good at, figure out what we are not so good at, how we can be better at it.”

The Rockets returned their core players from last season’s team that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, and they added 10-time NBA All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the mix. They seemed to run low on energy in their season opener against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, however.

After getting outscored by 17 points in the first half, the Rockets were unable to generate a push against the Pelicans and lost 131-112. New Orleans shot 53.1 percent from the floor.

“I thought they were tired,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached the Lakers for two seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14).

James Harden, who averaged an NBA-leading 30.4 points last season en route to winning NBA MVP honors, was held to 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

Anthony, who played the last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, scored nine points off the bench on 3-for-10 shooting.

Harden, a Los Angeles-area native, is averaging 30.3 points in 32 career games against the Lakers.

One of the bright spots for the Lakers in their season opener was the play of reserve shooting guard Josh Hart. The second-year player scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 3 for 5 from 3-point range.

Hart played 27 minutes, the same as starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. who was limited to five points on 1-for-3 shooting from the floor.

Hart didn’t want to talk about his offense afterward, but rather how he could improve on his defense after Portland reserve shooting guard Nik Stauskas scored 24 points and shot 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.

“Just got to make sure we get the adjustments down and get better on defense,” he told Spectrum SportsNet.

Raptors’ pregame video on Canadian broadcast is group therapy session for Toronto

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Raptors fans are pumped — and they should be, their team knocked off the Celtics Friday night with Kawhi Leonard dropping 31 points (and still showing some rust on the offensive end, he is going to get better). Toronto is positioned to be the one team in the East that is a genuine threat to the Celtics (sorry Philly, not just yet).

Yet Raptors fans as a whole expect the worst, they come with a grey cloud following them and an inferiority complex, Leonard is a free agent next summer, and there is a history of players leaving Toronto…

Which is why the Sportsnet Canada broadcast pregame video is remarkable — it’s a group therapy session for Toronto and all of Canada. To be clear, this was not shown in the arena before the game, it was on the national broadcast, but still, check it out.

Letting go of the past, not worrying about the future, and living in the moment is always good advice.

Leonard said the key to keeping him in Toronto is winning, and Friday night was a good first step down that road. Of course, there’s more to it than that and other teams are going to be in the mix (keep an eye on the Clippers), but sources around the league I talk to think the Raptors have a chance. Sort of like Paul George in Oklahoma City, if he has a very positive experience, it’s possible he opens his mind to staying. Plus, he can get five years, $190 million from the Raptors and four-years, $139 million from anyone else, for a guy coming off basically missing a season due to injury that security and guaranteed money may matter.

Nobody knows what will happen next summer — Leonard and his family/advisors have been unpredictable. Leonard likely doesn’t even know yet.

Which is why Raptors’ fans should let go of the past, live in the moment and savor this season — it could be the greatest one in Raptors’ history.

 

Watch highlights of Pelican’s franchise-record 149 point blowout of Kings

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We’re just two games into the season, but the New Orleans Pelicans have the best offense in the NBA, averaging 127.9 points per 100 possessions. In what has felt like a high scoring start to the season in general (it’s too early to draw conclusions), nobody has been blowing up like Anthony Davis (28.5 points per game) and the Pelicans.

Friday night they dropped a franchise record 149 points on the Sacramento Kings.

Nikola Mirotic had 36 leading eight Pelicans in double figures. Check out the highlights above. And light a candle for the Clippers and Nets, the next two teams up to try to stop the Pelicans freight train.

Report: Negotiations to drop one-and-done at standstill over pre-draft issues

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Eventually, the NBA will again open the door for high school players to jump directly to the league — this time around teams are far better prepared to deal with and develop young players than when this was thrust upon them in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Everyone is awaiting the change, because one-and-done has not been good for anyone.

However, talks between the NBA and the players’ union to open that door again in 2022 have hit gridlock and reached a standstill over pre-draft issues. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are struggling to reach an agreement on lowering the age limit to 18, differing on the league’s desire to attach two conditions to ending the one-and-done NBA draft era, league sources told ESPN.

Commissioner Adam Silver is pressing NBPA executive director Michele Roberts to require that player agents furnish all teams with medical information on prospective draft prospects, league sources said. The league also wants to mandate players attendance and some level of participation in the pre-draft combine, sources said…

“We’re investing millions of dollars into players who we’ll now have even less information about coming out of high school, and we should have the right to have all the information available on who we are selecting,” one general manager told ESPN.

From a team’s perspective, it’s easy to see why they want these conditions. As the anonymous GM above notes for teams this is an investment and if a player has a medical issue — such as the heart issues that have led to surgeries for Jeff Green, Ronny Turiaf, and others now including UCLA’s Shareef O’Neal (Shaq’s son) — teams believe they have a right to know in advance.

However, medical information is not freely shared now — agents often withhold it from (and keep their player from working out for) teams they do not want to draft their player all the time. This doesn’t always work, teams draft guys without workouts and medicals every year, but it’s a bit of leverage agents have now to try and get their player to what they see as a better fit (that can be about opportunity or market size).

According to Wojnarowski, 11 of the 65 players invited to the NBA Draft Combine last year did not take part in the medical exam portion (every team has access to that report). That’s about some agents trying to gain a little leverage in the process, for teams the risk is higher if they don’t have that information.

As for the combine, while more and more players are skipping the drills and games part of the event, going through the measurements and interview processes are basically universal.

The NBA drafting straight out of high school is going to happen again — and it should. If a young player is good enough, or on track to be good enough, and he’s a legal adult teams should have the right to bring him in. The NCAA should adapt to a system that keeps the players that do enter college there a little longer — at least two years — allowing for more consistency and a better product for them. (Of course, the NCAA is the protector of a feudal system of “amateurism” that needs to go, so lord knows what they will ultimately do, but bet on it being whatever they must to protect all that money flowing into their pockets.)

The earliest the draft of 18-year-olds would happen is 2022, both giving teams more time to scout what is the current high school freshman class that would graduate that year, and giving teams knowledge of what was coming down the line when trading draft picks.