Getty Images

Rockets’ defend well, end Spurs’ 7-game streak with 88-84 win

3 Comments

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets had their best defensive performance of the season in a victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

The key is keeping it up.

James Harden had 20 points and the Rockets slowed down the soaring Spurs with an 88-84 victory. The improved Houston defense held San Antonio to a season low in points and snapped the Spurs’ season-best seven-game winning streak.

This, Harden said, is how they should play defense all the time.

“We’re more than capable,” he said. “So we have to find ourselves. We’ve got to find that energy, that consistent defensive togetherness every single night.”

Houston used an 8-2 run to take a 78-71 lead with about 5 minutes left. Tim Duncan made a hook shot after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer. A layup by Duncan came next before Harden brought the crowd to its feet with an off-balance 3-pointer from the corner that made it 84-75.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich thought those two 3-pointers were the key to the game.

“One of them we weren’t up the way we should have been on a switch and he got a free one,” Popovich said. “The next one, he was deep and (Duncan) was all over him and he made a great shot. Those two 3s really changed it.”

The Spurs resorted to the Hack-A-Howard tactic soon after that, intentionally fouling Dwight Howard on two straight possessions. He missed all four free throws, and a basket by LaMarcus Aldridge got the Spurs to 86-81.

Kawhi Leonard made a 3-pointer after two free throws by Houston to allow San Antonio to cut the lead to four, but he missed a shot a few seconds later and Houston held on for the victory.

Leonard had 20 points to lead San Antonio. The Spurs struggled on long-range shooting, making just 5 of 19 3-pointers.

It was the first time the Rockets have hosted a game on Christmas since they moved to Houston. The last time the franchise hosted a Christmas game was in 1967 when the team was in San Diego.

The Rockets led by one after three and scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, powered by five points from Jason Terry, to make it 70-60 with about 10 minutes remaining.

San Antonio got its first points of the quarter soon after that on a 3-pointer by David West to start a 9-0 run that cut it to 70-69. Leonard highlighted that run with a running two-handed dunk.

A layup by Aldridge pushed San Antonio’s lead to seven points early in the third quarter before Houston used a 13-4 run to take a 51-49 lead with about seven minutes left in the quarter. Pat Beverley got that spurt going with a 3-pointer and Harden made the next six points in that span.

The Spurs had turnovers on four straight possessions near the end of Houston’s run.

A jump shot by Boris Diaw got San Antonio to 59-58 with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter. After that both teams struggled to score and missed their next seven shots combined.

It was Diaw who finally ended the drought when he made a layup with less than a minute remaining. Ty Lawson made Houston’s first field goal in almost 4 minutes after that to leave the Rockets up 61-60 entering the fourth quarter.

San Antonio scored the last seven points of the second quarter to take a 43-38 lead at halftime.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Aldridge added 18 points and rebounds. … Duncan had 12 points and 11 rebounds. … Leonard made just 8 of 19 shots, and Aldridge was 9 of 17.

Rockets: Howard had 11 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double in the past five games. … The Rockets have won 18 straight games when holding an opponent to less than 90 points. … Houston’s bench outscored San Antonio’s 41-26.

QUOTABLE

Duncan on San Antonio’s struggles: “There were just too many mistakes down the stretch. A little bit of a sloppy game, we couldn’t get our rhythm and credit them for that. Defensively they were solid.”

 

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

Tim Warner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
3 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.

 

Just a reminder, after draft and free agency Wizards have still not named official GM

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM back in April — to the joy of Wizards fans everywhere — it was expected they would have a new head of basketball operations in place by the draft.

Nope.

So by the start of free agency, to guide the Wizards through this tumultuous summer?

Nope.

Tommy Sheppard has been doing the job on an interim basis, and as Jeff Zillgit of the USA Today points out a lot of league talk in Las Vegas was about why Leonsis just hasn’t given Shepard the job.

Team executive after executive had the same question when the Washington Wizards’ unresolved top front-office job opening came up. “Why not just give Tommy the job?”

Tommy is Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ longtime exec, who has been running basketball operations since owner Ted Leonsis decided not to bring Ernie Grunfeld back. Sheppard ran the draft, free agency and the Wizards’ Summer League team, but he doesn’t have the full-time job.

A couple of more prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at points. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

At this point, after Sheppard has built the team for this coming season, is Leonsis really going to bring in someone else?

The Wizards have decisions to make. This is a young roster not ready to be a threat in the East, but with Bradley Beal and the injured John Wall (likely out for the season after tearing his Achilles), they also are capped out. So far they have turned away calls from other teams about a Beal trade (nobody is calling about a Wall trade with his max contract extension just kicking in).

Come July 26 the Wizards can offer Beal a three-year, $111 million extension, both sides are talking and the offer is expected to be made. That’s when the big decision comes — if Beal doesn’t sign that offer the Wizards have to look at trading him. Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards, but there was plenty of informed league speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and may not sign the extension, essentially forcing his way out. It’s something to watch in the coming weeks.

It probably would be nice to have a locked-in head of basketball operations by then, but who knows what Leonsis will do.