James Harden, Rockets attack paint, beat Clippers to force Game 6

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The Clippers looked like they wanted a break. They have played every other day since April 22 — while other teams have had some healthy rests during the playoffs — and Los Angeles was counting on some time off. All they had to do was close out their series against the Rockets Tuesday, and they would have almost a week off to rest Chris Paul’s hamstring.

Instead, the Clippers started their vacation early, playing like a team that expected their opponent to roll over.

Meanwhile, the Rockets came out and played with desperation and passion. From the start, the Rockets were pounding the ball inside and defending with energy. James Harden was playing like an MVP candidate again.

“We attacked,” Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale said after the game. “We finally, we got to the basket, we got our points in the paint, we tried to attack. We finally played more like we tried to play throughout the year. We finally played downhill.”

The result was a 124-103 Houston win. That makes the series 3-2 Clippers, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 6 Thursday night.

The changes the Clippers need to make are less about Xs and Os and more about attitude, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

“They just played harder, they were more focused,” Rivers said. “They played like they were the desperate team, we didn’t play very desperate tonight. So give them credit. I thought they took us out of all our stuff offensively.”

Harden was central to Houston’s attack, putting up 26 points (on 9-of-20 shooting), 11 rebounds, and 10 assists — a playoff triple-double. The Clippers tried to force the ball out of his hands, but he made the right read and hit passes to open guys all night.

All the Rockets were moving the ball and getting it inside, they shot 24-of-30 at the rim on the night and had 32 made shots in the paint on 68 percent shooting. They did a good job of getting the ball inside via the pass, not just dribble penetration. They also got DeAndre Jordan in early foul trouble, which helped open up the paint.

“We’re better when we play inside out, when we play downhill and attack,” McHale said. “We’re one of the better teams in the league at points in the paint and we just weren’t doing it.”

The Rockets came out as you’d expect from a team facing elimination, with the best energy and offense we had seen all series. Josh Smith was moved into the starting lineup in an effort to improve ball movement, and it worked. That said Clippers started 4-of-18 shooting and still were hanging around. The Rockets did a good job of getting the ball inside, they had 20 points in the paint in the first quarter, and Houston closed the quarter on 12-4 run. It was 27-22 Rockets after one.

In the second quarter the Clippers made their run and tied the game up at one point, and you started to wonder if this would turn out like the last couple games. However, the Rockets went on a 9-0 run to take a comfortable lead again before the half. The Rockets grabbed half of their missed shots as an offensive rebounds in the first half, and with the attacking style the Rockets were up 63-48.

This time around the Clippers were the team that could not get stops. Part of that was Jordan getting in foul trouble. With no Jordan to check him, Howard had 20 points and 15 rebounds on the night.

Houston had a much more balanced attack — Trevor Ariza had 22 points, Corey Brewer added 15. It seemed everyone was making plays.

Meanwhile, the Clippers were the two man show. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combined for 52 points on 56.8 percent shooting. The rest of the Clippers shot 31.8 percent. Part of that was good defense, part of that was Los Angeles just missing shots.

The Rockets played their best game of the series. The question is can they do it on the road in Game 6. Or will we see a more focused Clipper team looking to end the series and get a little rest.

Report: All-Star fourth quarter featured more than 15 minutes of gameplay

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One overlooked feature of the NBA’s new All-Star game format: It seemed designed to shorten the game.

Sure, the league wanted to add an interesting wrinkle to a game that had grown stale. The exact details were tweaked to honor Kobe Bryant.

But – in the era of load management – shaving a few minutes off the exhibition game should be taken as a feature, not a bug.

This year’s game ended when a team scored 24 more points than the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. The last time a team had scored 24 or fewer in All-Star quarter: 2010, when the East scored just 23 in the fourth quarter.  In the decade since – including the first three quarters Sunday – All-Star teams averaged 24 points every seven minutes.

But Sunday’s fourth quarter took a while longer than the standard 12 minutes for LeBron James‘ team to outscore Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s team, 33-22.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Defenses really turned up in the fourth quarter. Here’s how the teams’ shooting percentages changed from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter:

  • 2-pointers: 73% to 46%
  • 3-pointers: 34% to 23%

More shots being contested also led to more fouls. After attempting just 13 free throws in the first three quarters, the teams took 26 free throws in the fourth quarter.

In The Basketball Tournament, which first introduced the Elam Ending, the target score is eight more points than the leading team has at the first whistle inside four minutes. By turning off the game clock later, there’s less room for variance in gameplay length.

I suspect the NBA would have also turned off the clock later if not using the target score to honor Bryant. Because Bryant wore No. 24 last, the league has generally used that – not his other number, No. 8 – in tributes, including the All-Star jerseys.

With All-Star MVP now named for Bryant – a perfectly fitting lasting tribute – the league can alter the ending format next year.

The concept is sound. The exact execution just needs tweaking.

Bulls’ starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.

Rui Hachimura gets destroyed by kid in Pop-A-Shot-like game (video)

Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura
Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images
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Rui Hachimura got kicked so hard in the groin by a teammate, the Wizards rookie needed surgery.

That’s pretty awful. Yet, there’s still a new contender for the worst moment of Hachimura’s season.

At All-Star Weekend in Chicago for Rising Stars, Hachimura faced a kid in a Pop-A-Shot-like game. It didn’t go well for Hachimura.

Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News:

An NBA player losing to a kid is bad enough. Twice, we’re entering troubling territory.

But claiming the game is cheating, demanding to switch sides and still getting routed?

That’s a ROUGH look.

Orlando Magic to build new practice/health facility

AP Photo/John Raoux
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Last week, before the NBA world headed off to Chicago for the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend, the Orlando City Council voted to approve the sale of a plot of land to the Orlando Magic.

That land, located between the Amway Center (home of the Magic) and Exploria Stadium (home of Major League Soccer’s Orlando City Soccer Club) will become the site of the Magic’s new practice facility. The building will also house a community health center an orthopedic center. The Magic hope to have the facility ready in time for the 2021-22 NBA season.

When the Magic moved into the Amway Center in 2010, it was a state-of-the-art building. Not only is the Amway Center the home of the Magic for games, it’s the center of their entire basketball operation. The backside of the building is entirely dedicated to the Magic practice facility, including weight room, therapy and training space, and offices for the basketball staff.

The challenge with this setup is that there is little to no room to expand. For example, there is just one full court, as was seen during the Orlando Summer League, which ran from the building’s opening through 2017. In addition, there are two shorter courts, which run horizontally across the main court.

Magic CEO Alex Martins said the Magic and AdventHealth (who will run the community health center and orthopedic center) “will build a world-class practice and health facility”. Martins and Magic President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman, have toured other facilities around the NBA to gain insights and ideas in what Orlando should be looking for in a new facility.

The new building is expected to include at least two full courts, and likely additional baskets for drills and shooting work. In addition, as NBA teams invest more in health and physical science, the new facility will have space for equipment related to those advances as well. That type of addition to a facility allows a team to keep all of it basketball training and medical rehabilitation all under one roof.

When Kevin Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets, he commented that one reason was the Nets practice and training facility. Multiple players have commented that Brooklyn went all out when building the facility and regularly uses it as a recruitment tool in free agency. While facing a lengthy rehab from a torn Achilles’, Durant is able to work out and get treatment in the same building as his active teammates. In recent years, the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and others have upgraded their facilities.

NBA players desire simplicity when off the court. By keeping medical and practice facilities in the same building, it allows for them to go to one location. Where the Magic will build their new facility is right around the corner from the Amway Center, which allows players to commute to the same general vicinity as they do today.

The Orlando Magic already have some built in advantages when it comes to recruiting players. Central Florida has beautiful weather year-round, there is no state income tax, plus there are major players in the entertainment business and a growing technology sector in the Orlando area.

The Magic have used those benefits in the past to lure free agents like Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. Adding a shiny new practice facility to the list, just as a banner crop of free agents hits the market, is something Orlando hopes can get it back in the superstar mix once again.