The big news in the NBA on Wednesday afternoon was the Rockets’ firing coach Kevin McHale 11 games into the season, hoping to shake up the team and finally get a strong effort. The big question Wednesday night would be would the move pay off? In case you were challenging your friends to fights with Klingon weapons, here are five things to know from a Wednesday night around the NBA:
1) Would you look at that: Rockets players’ can play all out after all. If you just looked at the box score, you’d see James Harden went off for 45 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists the day after his coach was fired and teammates called out his effort. From there you could draw the conclusion, “Harden finally played like his old self.” Not really, his jumper was a mess most of the night, but to his credit he started to attack the rim and made some critical plays down the stretch. In that sense, he was more his old self. More importantly, he was trying. Harden said after the game something needed to change, apparently McHale losing his job qualifies. Harden was giving a legitimate effort — and so was the entire team. They played harder on defense, and they got back in transition, they did not give up.
All that said, the reality is the Rockets were more lucky that good to get an overtime win against Portland — Houston was down 15 in the fourth quarter, and nine points with three minutes left. They needed this miracle from Corey Brewer to even get to OT.
In his first game, J.B. Bickerstaff did some smart things — such as making Ty Lawson come off the bench, then when he was an ice-cold 1-of-8 shooting, keeping Lawson out the entire fourth quarter. Bickerstaff got the win and you should expect to see more of that, even though that’s more about timing than coaching. Bickerstaff was given the keys to the team right now for a reason — the Rockets’ schedule gets soft, in addition to Portland they face Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and plenty of other teams still under .500 the next few weeks. Even if they had kept McHale, the Rockets would have won a bunch of those games. But the Rockets made the change, and it worked for a night. And it lit a fire under Harden (which was part of the goal).
2) Sixers become first franchise ever to start 0-12 in consecutive years. The Indiana Pacers took charge of the contest in the second quarter with a 16-4 run and never looked back, picking up the 112-85 win. Philadelphia had zero answers for Paul George, save for trying to play six guys at a time at one point (which remains against the rules and led to a technical.) Then there were the 31 Sixer turnovers on the night (watch them all here):
Trust the process. This loss dropped the Sixers to 0-12 on the season — Philly is now the only franchise in NBA history to start back-to-back seasons with o-12 records or worse (they were 0-14 last season). Trust the process. There are some fans and some minority owners frustrated with the volume of losing, but the only voices that matter are still on board with the process. The thing is right now they have to trust the process — the Sixers very possibly could have two top-five picks next June (their own plus the Lakers’ pick if it is outside the top three), not to mention a couple of others in the first round come June (depending on where teams finish and the protections on the picks). Right now the Sixers need to remain committed to making their picks high ones. But the frustration with losing — 22 in a row if you go back to last season — is mounting in some quarters.
3) Orlando’s Evan Fournier drains game winner to beat Minnesota. Scott Skiles was hired in Orlando to start winning games — and if that means benching young players Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja, and Aaron Gordon for the entire second half, so be it. This isn’t about player development, it’s about wins. And Fournier — who has had an impressive start to the season — gave the Magic a dramatic victory with this shot.
4) Dunking on Rudy Gobert? That’s impressive DeMar DeRozan. This is not fair to Gobert — he had five blocks in this game and was key to Utah getting the win, plus he got the best of DeRozan on most of their encounters in this game. Gobert was the better player. But this still is the highlight everyone will see, and maybe the dunk of the year so far.
5) Russell Westbrook is a beast. I feel like that headline could be a permanent part of the five takeaways every night the Thunder play. Wednesday Westbrook had 43 points on just 25 shots, nine rebounds and eight assists to spark a Thunder victory over a struggling Pelicans squad. Enjoy the highlights, because he is a beast.