James Harden and Dwight Howard show Mavericks what they’re missing in Rockets’ Game 1 win


This is why the Mavericks wanted James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Dallas was linked to Harden’s restricted free agency that never was and strongly pursued Howard as an unrestricted free agent.

But the Rockets landed both, trading for and extending Harden in 2012 and signing Howard outright in 2013.

The result: A 118-108 Houston win over Dallas in Game 1 Saturday. The Rockets outscored the Mavericks by 14 in 10 minutes with Harden and Howard sharing the court and got outscored by four in the game’s other 38 minutes.

For much of the season, Harden built his MVP case as a one-man team – an assessment the Rockets embraced – with Howard injured. But Game 1’s result really shouldn’t be too surprising. Houston outscored opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions with Harden and Howard on the floor this season – which would lead the NBA most years.

Tonight, Howard looked more explosive than he has in quite a while – and showed it immediately. He blocked as many shots in the first five minutes as he did in any other 2015 game, and he continued to protect the rim and punish the Mavericks on the other end with quick finishes at the rim if they helped off him. The center finished with 11 points, five rebounds and five blocks in just 17 foul-limited minutes.

Harden (24 points, making 15-of-17 free throws) played his usual role as the offensive focal point, but he mixed in a bit more passing than usual. He dished 11 assists, setting up Terrence Jones (19 points, nine rebounds and six assists) more than anyone.

In a matchup that featured plenty of back and forth before the postseason even began, the Rockets have their first series lead since 2009. Of course, 1-0 means only so much, and you can bet it will remain tight between these closely linked Texas teams

Jason Terry (16 points on 4-of-7 3-point shooting) and Corey Brewer (15 points on 3-of-4 3-point shooting), both of won a championship with Dallas in 2011, made several key plays for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza (pursued by the Mavericks in free agency last summer) and Josh Smith (pursued by Mavericks after getting bought out by the Pistons in December) had their moments for Houston, too.

On the flip side, Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki – once offered a max contract by Houston – had 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting and eight rebounds, but the Rockets exposed his defensive shortcomings. Chandler Parsons – plucked from Houston as the Mavericks’ prized offseason acquisition – was uneven and went to the locker room at one point with knee troubles that sidelined him late in the regular season. Rajon Rondo – pursued – pursued by the Rockets via trade before Dallas landed him – had a big second quarter to get the Mavericks back in the game, but his fit issues remain overwhelming.

There’s so much overlap between these teams, but here’s the key difference: The Rockets looked much better entering the series, and they were much better in Game 1. Where will Dallas go from here? As the Mavericks know all too well, James Harden and Dwight Howard aren’t walking through that door for them.

Devin Booker not a fan of being doubled during pick-up run (VIDEO)

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This is going to turn into a thing. It shouldn’t, but it’s the NBA offseason and people are looking for something to talk about, so this — which is really not much of anything — will become a thing. And it’s going to suck for Devin Booker.

Booker was taking part in some summer run, got a pass in the corner, decided to hold the ball and hold the ball, then the double team came. Booker was no fan of the double.

We just do not have enough context from this video to say much. It’s some guys jawing during open gym — if you’ve played five minutes of pickup ball anywhere you know this is how it goes.

But, Booker comes off in this clip as a bit whiny. So for some it will become a thing. Even though it shouldn’t.

It’s going to be interesting to see how different Devin Booker’s game looks next season next to a quality NBA point guard in Ricky Rubio. It could lead to another step forward for the young guard, but like this video we will need to see more before commenting.

Tacko Fall’s agent confident if Celtics don’t keep him on roster another team will

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Tacko Fall was arguably the most popular player at Las Vegas Summer League (especially since Zion Williamson only played nine minutes). Fans chanted for him to get in games and then chanted “M-V-P” once he was in. Fall averaged 7.2 points a game on 77 percent shooting at Summer League and every play he made became a viral highlight.

But that was Summer League.

Now things are getting real and Fall is trying to make the Celtics’ roster. Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics, which is essentially a training camp invite.

It’s a longshot Fall makes the Celtics’ regular season roster for two reasons. First, Fall needs a lot more development to be NBA ready, both physically and in terms of understanding and reacting to the game and how fast it moves. That was evident in Las Vegas. Second, the Celtics have Enes Kanter starting at center with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams behind him, it’s unlikely they keep a fourth traditional center on the roster. Both of Boston’s two-way contracts are already filled.

If the Celtics cut Fall and he signs with Boston’s G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, Fall gets a $50,000 bonus.

However, Fall’s agent Justin Haynes says if Boston cuts Fall he believes another team will sign him, something Haynes told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.

“If the Celtics release him, I don’t think he goes unclaimed,” said Haynes, Fall’s agent. “I think somebody will take a shot on him because he’s done enough to show he can find a place in the NBA. I’m really hopeful that it’s Boston. I hope they find a way, and they do have a vision for him.”

I could see another team giving Fall one of their two-way contracts, but he needs a lot more development and time on the court. He needs time in the G-League. Maybe a team gives him a roster spot and develops him there, but that seems unlikely. Fall has the potential to be an NBA player, but it’s going to take a lot of work for him to get there.

Work that this year likely will take place in the G-League.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.