Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: Good luck slowing James Harden down

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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 dying from an uppercut from Batman

1) James Harden is a force of nature. The Houston Rockets are now 8-4 with Dwight Howard sidelined getting his knee healthy; winning two-thirds of their games has been enough to hold on to the third seed in the West. The Rockets can thank James Harden for that; he has been a force of nature in this stretch. Monday night he started out slowly (he shot 0-of-7 to start the game) against the Timberwolves but by the time it was over Harden had put up 31 points on 20 shots, pulled down 11 boards and dished out 10 assists to record a triple double. He was why the Rockets held off the Timberwolves comeback and won. And he just abused Ricky Rubio on this play at the end of the third quarter.

2) Derrick Rose’s shooting woes are raising some eyebrows. Derrick Rose made his first shot Monday night, a three from the wing. He missed his next 12 shots. He is now 8-of-34 (23.5 percent) in his last three games. Rose had said after his rough shooting night last Friday he doesn’t worry about the missed shots, it’s the quality of shots he gets. I would suggest that when your shot chart looks  this you should start to be a little worried.

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To be fair, Rose has had some impressive stretches of play this season, but he is in a slump right now. One that has people wondering what is going on.

3) Isaiah Thomas stuck the dagger in his old team in Phoenix. You know he loved this. Isaiah Thomas has felt underappreciated at his first two NBA stops. In Sacramento they kept bringing in point guards to take his place, so he eventually bolted for Phoenix last Summer. But there the three-guard rotation (with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe) didn’t work so the Suns sent him off to cold and rebuilding Boston. So when the Celtics faced the Suns Thomas was looking for revenge — he scored 21 points and  dished out seven assists. More importantly, he had nine points in the final six minutes of the game to seal the Celtic win, which included this four-point play (and the dagger a couple possessions later).

4) On his 20th birthday Andrew Wiggins showed how he is developing into a star. Minnesota fell to Houston Monday, and while The Beard stole the show Andrew Wiggins put on one of his own. He was attacking (he shot 7-of-11 at the rim), was knocking down the midrange jumper (4-of-7) and finished with 30 points. His jump shot has developed quickly this season. He’s already a pretty good defender (although he was asked to corral James Harden most of Tuesday night, and that has been a struggle for everyone this season). His athleticism is off the chart. He’s going to win Rookie of the Year going away — in part because he’s the only guy still standing, but also he’s looking like a real star in the making. The kind of guy Cleveland may regret trading in a couple years (we’ll see how the Kevin Love thing plays out).

5) We said it yesterday, we’ll say it again: Don’t sleep on the Grizzlies. Memphis just beat Portland and the LA Clippers on both ends of a back-to-back. Two nights in a row they ground down two of the top teams in the West, completely controlled the tempo and got the win because it was their kind of game. You knew the Clippers game was going to be played in the Grizzlies’ style when the teams were 0-of-11 shooting combined to start the game. Memphis remains the two seed in the West and while we talk about Golden State and an up-and-coming Oklahoma City team as contenders in the West, do not sleep on Memphis. They can knock off anyone.

Raptors drop Kawhi Leonard tribute video

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Wednesday night, Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto for the first time since leaving the team last summer to head to Los Angeles.

Unlike most returns in recent years, there will not be boos — Toronto will welcome Leonard back with open arms. He won them a ring, there are no hard feelings.

The Raptors already dropped a tribute video on Twitter.

Well done, Raptors.

It’s going to be fun to see his return, which will be a celebration — and should be a good game.

Ja Morant admits he was thinking about cameras on baseline during return to court

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Monday night, Grizzlies star rookie Ja Morant returned to the court after missing four games with what was officially called “back spasms,” but in reality was him recovering from his back hitting a courtside cameraman after a fall.

Morant scored 26 to lead the Warriors to a win in Golden State, but he admitted to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that when he drove the lane and went up he thought about his landing spot and those cameramen.

Following the contest, Morant acknowledged that instead of solely focusing on being the best version of himself, he occasionally found himself thinking about the proximity of camera operators while driving in the paint.

“It’s tough because I know I just have to do more controlled jumps now,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “But at the same time, I’m just trying not to think about it and still try to play my game. It’s just a tough situation all the way around, honestly….

“I just think player safety should be first and foremost. How I play and where I end up, [cameramen] are right there. Personally, I like to attack the rack, and I feel like that injury came from me attacking the rack and it was just nowhere to land for me.”

Morant echoes the concern of a lot of players and coaches.

The NBA is aware of the issue, back in 2014 they reduced the number of cameramen on the baseline by half (down to 10 per side) and created a four-foot-wide “runway” on either side of the stanchion that players can run up if they have a full head of steam.

That’s not close to eliminating the problem. The NBA is not going to remove those cameras — the NBA is in the entertainment business, and those cameras provide some of the best video angles and still shots to show fans — but expect it to take another look and review its process here.

What we don’t want to happen is the game loses a promising young player like Morant for a lot more than four games after a run-in with a cameraman.

Bulls’ Otto Porter out at least one more month with fractured foot

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The Chicago Bulls miss Otto Porter. He was a starter on the wing for nine games, scoring 11.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent of his threes, playing solid defense, and the Bulls offense was 8.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he was on the court. He’s a steadying influence as a veteran.

However, he has been out the last 16 games with a foot injury, and he’s going to miss at least another month, the Bulls announced Tuesday. The Bulls said Porter saw a specialist and he “confirmed the bone injury and healing response in Porter’s left foot consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

What that means for Porter is another month in a boot.

Chandler Hutchison‘s bruised shoulder has him in street clothes, too, which means Kris Dunn will remain the starter for now. Denzel Valentine has used a bump in minutes to show some growth in his game, play fairly well, and make a push for even more run of late.

But without Porter, the Bulls are not the same.

 

 

Report: Kevin Love would prefer to play for Portland if traded

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are listening to trade offers for Kevin Love.

Love’s reaction to this is essentially “whatevs.” He’s been in the middle of trade rumors for four years now, it’s as constant and annoying in his life as taxes.

However, if he is going to get traded, he’d prefer to go home to Oregon and play for Portland, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries….

The Blazers have the salaries to make a deal work with the expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) or Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million).

There were previous reports Love just wants to go to a contender. That said, there is logic to him wanting to go home, and there is a good fit in Portland, a team that needed help at the four before injuries rocked the roster. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game.

Making a trade work is trickier. Bazemore has to play a much larger role after Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, his availability is up for debate.

Hassan Whiteside can make the trade numbers work with his expiring contract, and Whiteside won’t be missed once Jusuf Nurkic (and even Zach Collins) returns from injury. However, the Cavaliers are going to want draft picks or young players to help with their rebuild to make this trade. Would the Blazers throw in a protected first to make this happen?

There also is this question any team trading for Love has to ask itself: Do we want to take on the three-plus years remaining on his four-year, $120 million contract? That’s a lot of money and years for an All-Star player who is productive but aging, and also has a lengthy injury history.

Portland can also try to trade for Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract with the Thunder, which has a lot less risk involved.

Love, however, would be popular in Portland, and he would help the team.