Here’s what you need to know from a Thursday around the Association.
1) James Harden scores 46, wills Rockets to win and back into the playoff picture. Dan Feldman and I debated this a little in the last PBT Podcast: Will the Houston Rockets make the playoffs? They’re almost too talented not to. That said, they were playing worse than Utah, Portland, and everyone else they are battling for that final playoff spot.
Thursday night that talent won out. Specifically, Harden won out. For two-and-a-half quarters, the game followed the recent narrative of Portland playing hard and together behind a motivated Damian Lillard (23 points on the night), which was too much for a disjointed Rockets team to match (a Rockets team where the focus had been off the court all day). Then the script just flipped. Houston got hot and ended the game on a 44-16 run, coming from 21 back in the third to get the 119-105 win. Harden fueled it all, with 34 of his 46 points coming in the second half. There were others — Trevor Ariza played good defense on Lillard (6-of-20 shooting), and both Jason Terry and Corey Brewer stepped up for the much-maligned Rockets bench. This win, combined with a Utah loss to San Antonio, has the Rockets back as the eight seed in the West. For now.
2) Isaiah Thomas may have the assist of the year. The Celtics picked their ninth straight win at home, and the Bucks bench showed their frustration, but after the game all anyone wanted to talk about was Thomas’ pass to Jae Crowder for a key three. With good reason. You don’t see passes like that often.
3) Yawn. Another day, another 51 points and a new shooting record for Stephen Curry. Curry does the incredible so often that we’ve become desensitized to it. Thursday night in Orlando, on the second night of a back-to-back, Curry dropped 51 points and led the Warriors to a victory over a feisty Magic team. Along the way he hit 10 threes, making it an NBA record 128 consecutive games with a made three, passing Kyle Korver. Just another day at the office
Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke
MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.
In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”
“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.
It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.
Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.
Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.
Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.
At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.
One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games
That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).
Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.
A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.
Players have relayed the message that we need a min of 5 games to get ready for the season.. Will see what the NBA comes up with but, Adam Silver is a smart man he’s not goin to just throw us out there… https://t.co/Al4HTtnEXY
We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.
For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.