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Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Even the Warriors have off days.

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What you missed from a strange Sunday around the NBA:

1) Warriors take a vacation in Los Angeles, fall to Lakers for sixth loss of season. First, we need to give the Lakers credit here — Julius Randle attacked and owned the glass early, the Lakers bigs played the pick-and-roll about as well as you can against GSW, D'Angelo Russell has played well of late and found that groove again, and Jordan Clarkson was hitting threes. The real sign it was there day is this — when Nick Young is hitting step-back threes under pressure, it’s just your day. That was as well as the Lakers can play, and it’s a sign of the strides they are making (I would say in spite of Byron Scott, but that’s another discussion).

That said, it was a one-off bad shooting day by Golden State. Yes, they miss Andre Iguodala (hamstring). Yes, they have been playing down to the competition more lately then getting bailed out that shooting. But at the end of the day, they went 4-of-30 from three — Stephen Curry went 1-of-10 — and many were shots they just usually knock down. It was just a bad shooting day. It happens to everyone. Steve Kerr tried to use this to send a message about showing up ready to play every night, and I pity what will happen to Orlando Monday because of it, but it still just felt like a one-off.

The Warriors need to go 18-3 the rest of the way to beat the ’96 Bulls record. If you are saying “the Warriors aren’t as good as the Bulls” because of this loss, remember those Bulls lost to an expansion Raptors team that year, and had a couple of other ugly losses. The Warriors have still not lost to the elite of the NBA, and that’s a bigger deal.

2) James Harden went off in the fourth, and the Rockets upset the Raptors. Saturday, Houston looked terrible in losing to the Bulls. Dwight Howard was a mess, the rest of the Rockets were not good enough. Sunday James Harden was not going to let that happen — he had 20 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Rockets to a win over a good Raptors team. In Toronto. Harden was pretty good in Chicago (except when Jimmy Butler covered him), but he got help in Toronto — Corey Brewer had five threes, Howard had 21 points and 11 boards. The Rockets have been up and down, but they needed this win to keep their hold on the eighth seed in the West.



3) LeBron James is becoming the king of cryptic tweets.
Last season LeBron James sent out a tweet he later admitted was aimed at Kevin Love trying to get him on the same page with the rest of the team. You can be sure LeBron is targeting someone on the roster again the last few days with these.

Maybe LeBron is just messing with the media (and fans), that is how he’ll spin it, but he’s too savvy in my mind to do this. He is sending a message. I’m not going to speculate from far away about whom that message is for, but he’s sending one.

4) Reggie Jackson deserved a high-five for his performance against Portland — and Stan Van Gundy left him hanging. Reggie Jackson and the Pistons need wins to make the playoffs but going up against the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum backcourt is a real challenge — and Jackson was up to it. He dropped 30 on them and controlled the game in a Detroit win. He was phenomenal. The man deserved a high-five and Stan Van Gundy left him hanging.

5) Giannis Antetokounmpo continued his run of great play, but it wasn’t enough against the Thunder. Oklahoma City was better than Milwaukee and deserved the win — they opened the game with a 22-4 run and never trailed, while Kevin Durant had 32 points. That said, the Greek Freak had 26 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and one dunk on Serge Ibaka. Antetokounmpo has played fantastic ball lately, and it’s a good sign for Bucks fans looking ahead to next season.

Team USA plays down loss to Australia: The real thing doesn’t start until China”

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It was the first time Team USA has lost an international game since 2006 — 78 straight wins. That seemed like a big deal.

It absolutely was huge for the 52,000 in attendance in Melbourne, where Australia was the one that upset the USA. This was validation for a strong basketball country and program — remember in the 2016 Olympics they lost by just 10 to a USA team with Kevin Durant, and it took a late push from Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony to secure that win — that has never quite gotten the huge win on the international stage.

But after the loss, members of Team USA chalked it up as a learning experience. Coach Gregg Popovich said that, and the players followed suit. Quotes via Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

Kemba Walker: “Teams lose. We are just going to take this loss and build from it, that’s all we can do is continue to try our best to get better. The real thing doesn’t start until China, so we’ve got one more game. We’re going to head to Sydney and focus on Canada and from that point out the real thing starts. That’s all we are worried about, just continuing to get better, continuing to learn each other.”

Donovan Mitchell: “To be honest, this game doesn’t mean anything. Obviously it hurts to lose, but I look at this and we look at this as more of a learning experience as opposed to we just lost. That’s the mindset. If you think of this as a loss, you start to get carried away with all that.”

Technically, all of that is true. If the USA goes on to win gold at the World Cup, this will be but a blip on the radar.

But the loss also showed just far Team USA is away from that goal and how much work there is to do. Watch the game and what stood out — besides Patty Mills getting red hot and dropping 30, with 13 of that in the fourth quarter — was the difference in cohesion and chemistry. The core of this Australian squad has been playing together for a decade, and with Andrew Bogut as the offensive fulcrum (and Joe Ingles playing that role some) guys were cutting, moving with purpose, and seemingly always in the right place to get an open look or layup.

The Americans are trying to build chemistry on the fly and it comes and goes. Particularly on the defensive end. Team USA members lose guys on cuts, don’t help the helper consistently, and for stretches look like a team just thrown together. Especially under pressure, when the ball movement stops and there is too much one-on-one on offense.

This American squad still has the talent to overwhelm and beat most of the world. However, with some of the USA’s top talent staying home, there are a handful of teams out there — Serbia, Spain, Australia, France — with the talent to hang, and then it becomes about chemistry and execution. Team USA was beaten badly in those hard-to-quantify categories by Australia. The American’s margin for error is much smaller in this World Cup.

Maybe the loss galvanizes Team USA in a way nothing else could. Maybe. And the players are right that things don’t really matter for the USA until the games in China.

But Team USA still has a lot to prove.

James Harden working on one-legged step-back three for next season

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As if James Harden wasn’t unstoppable enough.

Harden’s step-back three has become probably the most unstoppable shot in the NBA. Now video has gone viral in NBA circles of Harden working on a one-legged, step-back three. Think Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged jumper, but from three and with a little more side-to-side to it. (You can see the video above.) Harden talked to Tim MacMahon of ESPN about it.

“I’m not sure; it’s something that I work on,” Harden said when asked if he’ll use the one-legged, step-back 3 this season. “But you know how Mike [Jordan] has his fadeaway and Dirk [Nowitzki] has his one-leg and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] had the sky hook, I want my step-back to be one of those moves that last forever. So when I travel around the world and I see little kids that [say], ‘Hey James, I got a step-back!’ — I love to see that.

“It’s me being a creator and me being an innovator and paving the way in basketball in my own way, doing it how I want to do it, and that’s what it’s all about. As a little kid playing in these parks, that’s what I imagined, that’s what I dreamed of. Now it’s coming to reality, so it’s pretty cool.”

Harden is going to score a lot of points… or, maybe the better way to say that is he’s going to score even more points if he gets to a point he unleashes that in a game.

The challenge this season for Harden will be balance — he’s got to share the court and the ball with Russell Westbrook. Both of them are at their best with the ball in their hands, creating in isolation, but they need to be more than that. While coach Mike D’Antoni can do some things to help with that balance (staggering their minutes as much as possible) for the Rockets to become the contenders they want to be Harden and Westbrook have to be more than “your turn, now it’s my turn” on offense.

But when it’s Harden’s turn, that one-legged step back will be fun to watch.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.