Associated Press

James Harden’s 26 points lead Rockets over Heat 115-102

Leave a comment

HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden has long been known as a great scorer.

Lately. Houston’s star has been shining as a facilitator, too.

Harden scored 26 points and tied a career-high with 14 assists as the Rockets snapped a three-game skid with a 115-102 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.

It was the second time in eight games that Harden has had 14 assists and he’s had 10 or more in two other games in that stretch.

“He plays the game beautifully,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “His skillset I think is underappreciated by a lot of people. People see the scoring, scoring, scoring, but they don’t see that he makes plays for his teammates. They don’t see the passes he makes time and time again.”

Harden knows that it makes the Rockets much better when he’s able to get other people involved on offense.

“It means the defense has pressure on them,” Harden said. “Guys are making shot, guys are getting into a rhythm, getting comfortable and it’s easier for me.”

Houston had a double-digit lead for most of the second half and was up by 10 when Josh Smith scored all of the team’s points in a 7-2 run that pushed the advantage to 104-89 with about five minutes remaining.

The Rockets started Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward, at center with Dwight Howard serving a one-game suspension for making contact with an official this weekend and Clint Capela out with a thigh injury.

Smith scored a season-high 19 points in his second start this season and first since returning to Houston in a trade from the Clippers on Jan. 22.

He thinks the key to Tuesday’s win was the team’s defense.

“The defense has to be the cornerstone of what we do each and every night,” he said. “I think if we (assert) ourselves on the defensive end it will spark our offense.”

Luol Deng had 17 points for the Heat whose season-high four game winning streak ended.

“Houston clearly deserved to win this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They brought the necessary disposition. They imposed their will on the game and forced us into so many turnovers in the first half.”

The Rockets were up by seven entering the fourth quarter and scored the first six points of the period to make it 93-80 with about 10 1/2 minutes remaining.

A 3-pointer by Harden with just over three minutes remaining made it 110-93 and sent all Houston’s starters to the bench.

Houston led by 14 early in the third quarter before Miami used a 15-3 run to cut the lead to 74-72 with about five minutes left in the period. Dwyane Wade made four points in the span and the Heat made three consecutive 3-pointers to cap that run with two from Deng and one from Justise Winslow.

The Rockets got back on track after that, using a 9-2 spurt to extend the lead to 83-74 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Patrick Beverley and Marcus Thornton made 3s to get that run going and Terrence Jones finished it with a dunk after a no-look bounce pass from Harden.

The Rockets scored the final five points of the first half and the first eight points of the second half to turn a tie game into a 68-55 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Trevor Ariza started the third-quarter run with a 3-pointer and Smith scored the next five points.

Deng made a basket for the Heat before Smith sunk another 3-pointer to push Houston’s advantage to 71-57.

Harden made the last five points of the second quarter to give Houston a 60-55 lead at halftime.

QUOTABLE

Wade on Miami’s 17 turnovers: “I think early on we just weren’t mentally sharp. We came out and were losing the ball … and with a team like this who feeds off that you have to be very sharp and tight with the ball.”

TIP-INS

Heat: G Tyler Johnson missed his third straight game with a strained left shoulder. … Wade scored 16 points. … Amare Stoudemire had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Rockets: Bickerstaff was fined $10,000 Tuesday for public criticism of the officiating after Saturday’s game against Washington. … Rookie F Montrezl Harrell sat out with an illness. …Thornton scored 18 points.

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

Leave a comment

The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

Leave a comment

The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.

Spurs playoffs hopes remain alive with 123-105 win over Rockets

Spurs playoffs
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Spurs aren’t out of it yet.

Keldon Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and San Antonio kept alive its chances of becoming the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances with a 123-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

San Antonio has won three straight and five out of seven since arriving in the Florida bubble.

DeMar DeRozan added 23 points. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Johnson said his mindset since the season restarted has been to fill in whatever role is asked of him.

“Whether it’s hustling, running the floor – just doing whatever I need to do to help us win,” he said. “Help from my teammates has definitely helped the game slow down for me.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Johnson is playing with the confidence they saw when they drafted him 29th overall last year.

“That’s what he does,” Popovich said. “He’s a high-energy guy. He’s very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable. He’s just a winner.”

The Western Conference is guaranteed to have a play-in for its final playoff spot, with Memphis beginning the day with just a half-game over Portland and one game ahead of Phoenix and San Antonio.

The Spurs will need help to be one of the teams playing this weekend for the final spot in the Western Conference, but made sure they couldn’t be eliminated Tuesday with their win.

Russell Westbrook had 20 points and seven turnovers in his first game back in the lineup for Houston after missing two games with a bruised right quadriceps. Jeff Green had 17 points. Ben McLemore added 16.

The Rockets played without guards James Harden (rest) and Eric Gordon (ankle).

The Spurs took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 35-24. San Antonio led by as many as 29 points.

San Antonio built a 19-point lead in the first half. DeRozan set the tone with 15 points in the opening 24 minutes, with Lonnie Waker IV, Poeltl and Johnson each scoring 10.

Regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs or not, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is proud of how his young players have stepped up in during their time in the bubble.

“Part of it is you have to be realistic,” Popovich said. “I don’t think our chances of winning the championship were great at the beginning of this, nor are they now. If that’s a fact, then you need to do everything you can to develop and be prepared for next season.

“The development has been off the charts. We’re thrilled with it. So it’s a win-win no matter what.”

Popovich said it would be “thrilling” to get some help and have a chance to extend their season, but he’s not using it as a measuring stick for the season.

“We’ve already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing, that’s what’s important. If we got in now it would be icing on the cake.”