James Harden has 46 and Rockets beat Blazers 119-105

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — James Harden scored 46 points and the Houston Rockets overcame a 21-point, third-quarter deficit to beat the Trail Blazers 119-105 on Thursday night, snapping Portland’s six-game winning streak.

Dwight Howard added 19 points and 13 rebounds for Houston, which had lost four of five. But the Rockets proved resilient against the Blazers, rallying to tie it at 95 on Harden’s layup with 7:40 left, then taking the lead on Howard’s dunk.

The Rockets pushed with lead to 106-98 with 2:59 left and Portland couldn’t catch up. Harden’s layup and a pair of free throws stretched the lead to 112-102 and out of reach.

Damian Lillard had 23 points for the Blazers, who had won 15 of their last 18 to move into playoff position in the Western Conference. CJ McCollum added 20 points.

Lillard, who was showered with chants of “MVP! MVP!” every time he went to the free throw line earlier in the game, had scored 30 or more points in five consecutive games, equaling a team record set by Geoff Petrie in 1970-71, the franchise’s first season. But the Rockets consistently double-teamed him.

Houston’s last visit to Portland on Feb. 10 resulted in a 116-103 loss that prompted Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff to call his team “broken.”

Portland’s win in that game touched off the six-game winning streak, which included a surprising 137-105 rout of Golden State. The Blazers were coming off a 112-104 victory over Brooklyn on Tuesday night.

The Rockets were coming off a 117-114 overtime loss at Utah on Tuesday.

Maurice Harkless hit a 38-foot hurl at the buzzer to end the first quarter, putting Portland up 34-28. The Blazers stretched the lead to 57-39 on McCollum’s short jumper.

Portland was up 64-49 at the half, with Lillard at 12 points and McCollum at 11. Howard, Harden and Patrick Beverley were in double figures on Houston’s side.

McCollum’s 3-pointer early in the third quarter stretched the lead to 72-51. But Jason Terry‘s 3 for Houston closed the gap to 85-75 late in the period.

Harden hit consecutive 3-pointers that got the Rockets within 91-83, part of a run where he scored 14 straight points for the Rockets.

The Rockets were without center Clint Capela because of a sprained right foot that he hurt in practice on Wednesday.

TIP INS:

Rockets: Portland native Terrence Jones made his second appearance for the Rockets after a concussion sidelined him for five games. … Before the game, Rockets CEO Tad Brown met with team beat reporters and shot down reports that Harden had asked for former coach Kevin McHale’s firing, or that he had asked for Howard to be traded.

Trail Blazers: The Blazers head off on a six-game road trip. … The Blazers took their team photo before the game and coach Terry Stotts smiled. “I always smile – unless they tell me not to,” he said.

 

PBT Podcast: Lakers? Clippers? Jazz? Rockets? Breaking down race out West

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What are the odds that one of the teams from Los Angeles is in the NBA Finals?

Could the Utah Jazz surprise the Lakers and Clippers, returning to the Finals for the first time since Stockton and Malone?

Or is it Denver’s turn to step up? Maybe James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston’s turn? How about Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum?

The NBA’s Western Conference really is the Wild West this season where anything can happen, and Mark Medina of the USA Today joins me to break down the conference, who could come out and make the Finals, and how, in a very deep conference, there will be no easy path forward.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Knicks’ Julius Randle’s goals this season: First All-Stars, then playoffs

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Two seasons ago, Julius Randle broke out as a scorer with the Lakers when he stopped trying to be what everyone else wanted him to be and started just playing bully ball getting to the rim. Last season he took that to another level in New Orleans, while the Pelicans’ team fell apart around him he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

Now he’s got a two-year, $63 million contract in New York — and the Knicks are counting on him to be a leading scorer for them. While R.J. Barrett develops, the Knicks are banking on Randle and Dennis Smith Jr. to go get buckets.

Randle wants to get them and more — he wants to be an All-Star (the Knicks’ first since Carmelo Anthony), then lead the Knicks to the playoffs. That’s what he told Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“I just feel like situation and opportunity. Everything I’ve been through in the past, all the work I’ve put in in the past has prepared me for this opportunity now,” Randle said. “So [All-Stars] just a goal of mine. Eventually you feel like you have an opportunity. I feel like I do.”

“(The playoffs are) extremely important. I’m not going to sit here and talk about every day but it’s extremely important,” he said. “That’s what you work hard for. You talk about opportunity, this is my opportunity to be a real leader.

“So I just want to make sure everybody’s connected and we get better every day. I like our team compared to a lot of other teams. We do what we need to do every day to get better, that mental focus, lock in, stay connected, I like our team.”

Making the All-Star team could happen. Randle is going to put up numbers and get plenty of exposure in Madison Square Garden, and there’s space on the roster. Guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are All-Star locks, but the second tier of East frontcourt players — Blake Griffin, Khris Middleton, Nikola Vucevic — is one it feels like Randle could crack.

To do that, the Knicks need to find a way to win enough to make Randle look good compared to other guys trying to get in the All-Star club (Lauri Markkanen, for example).

Will that be enough wins to make the playoffs? Well… maybe just focus on the All-Star part first. To be fair, I wouldn’t want a player on my team who went into the season thinking his team had no shot at the postseason. Reality will hit Randle and the Knicks soon enough.

Before it does, at least Randle has set his goals high.

 

LeBron James says Daryl Morey was “not educated on the situation” with China Tweet

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When Stephen Curry was asked about how the NBA moves forward in its relationship with China, he gave an answer backing Commissioner Adam Silver’s second position and playing it straight down the middle.

LeBron James was a little more aggressive, saying he didn’t have the necessary information to comment, and suggesting Rockets GM Daryl Morey had no idea what he was getting into. Via Marc Spears of ESPN and Ben Golliver of the Washington Post.

LeBron’s comments quickly blew up on Twitter, and soon after he clarified what he meant, saying he was referring to the backlash from the Tweet.

This issue will not die.

Both the NBA and China would like it to, and both are working on relaxing tensions, including NBA preseason games being shown in China again. Both sides want to move on. It’s not good for the NBA’s bottom line, and in China the NBA is incredibly popular with younger generations.

But the questions about relations between the NBA and China are not going away, and issues are going to flare up again.

 

 

Rookie Tyler Herro scored 14 straight points for Heat Monday night (VIDEO)

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Tyler Herro is having himself an impressive preseason.

He already dropped 18 points in a preseason game last week and throughout the preseason has shown he’s ready to knock down shots at the NBA level.

Monday night he went 5-of-5 — 4-of-4 from three — to score 14 straight points for the Heat.

He’s also showing he can do more than just shoot, crowd him at the arc and he can put the ball on the court and make a play.

Herro’s fellow rookies voted him the best shooter in this draft class and he’s looked every bit of that. The No. 13 pick out of Kentucky started to show that in the Las Vegas Summer League, where he scored on catch-and-shoot chances, pull-ups, step-backs, running off screens, and he could get out in transition as well. Doing that in Summer League is one thing, doing in the NBA preseason is a step up from that — but the real test, the NBA season, is a whole different level.

In Miami, they love the production but what fans really like is Herro plays with swagger.

We’ll see how his rookie season goes, but put that shooting and hustle next to Jimmy Butler for stretches and Miami becomes a lot more interesting.