Walker, Hornets beat Rockets 125-109 for 7th straight win

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kemba Walker said the Charlotte Hornets are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

He thinks they can be even better.

If that’s the case, watch out NBA.

Walker scored 17 of his 26 points in the second half, and the Hornets used a 17-2 run to open the fourth quarter and beat the Houston Rockets 125-109 Saturday night for their seventh straight victory in front of a sellout crowd.

Charlotte has won 13 of its last 15 games and pulled within a half-game of the Miami Heat for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets are hoping to open a playoff series at home, where they are 25-9.

“We’ve got to keep it rolling,” said Walker, who tallied his 34th game with at least 20 points.

Marvin Williams added 25 points, Jeremy Lin scored 16 and Al Jefferson had 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Hornets.

Corey Brewer had 21 points and Dwight Howard added 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Rockets. The Hornets kept James Harden in check most of the night, limiting the All-Star to 12 points on 2-of-14 shooting from the field. Harden had 10 assists.

The Hornets snapped a 10-game losing streak against the Rockets. Their last win against Houston game came on Nov. 26, 2010.

Led by Walker’s four 3-pointers, the Hornets made 15 of 31 shots from behind the arc.

The Rockets had won four of their previous five, but the Hornets blew open a tight game in the fourth quarter behind Walker and a solid transition game that led to easy baskets.

The Hornets entered the fourth quarter leading by three, but Walker began taking his game to a different level, hitting a 3-pointer and a pull-up jumper from 19 feet.

Then he scored on a fast-break layup off a dish from Lin and pulled up from the top of the key on another fast break and knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the game.

“They hit the gas they started making shots,” Brewer said. “We had a bad start. They went on a 7-0 run and that was the game basically.”

Courtney Lee added two more 3-pointers and Walker scored again to push the lead to 24.

“I thought our guys just took it to another level in terms of their energy,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.

It was Charlotte’s defense that led to the production on the offensive end.

“Once we limited them in what they wanted to do and tried to take away their first option, the second options, they kind of got stagnant and we were able to get stops, and get the rebound, and get out and run in transition,” Lee said. “Then guys were making great plays for each other and we knocked down some shots.”

The Hornets are 5-0 on their current seven-game homestand.

“Coming out they made some 3-pointers early and we missed some 3-pointers,” Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Those kinds of things change the tide. Our guys fought and they gave it what they had and I think tonight was one of those nights that they didn’t have it.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: Howard had his 32nd double-double of the season with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Hornets: Charlotte has scored 60-plus points in the first half of three straight games, a season-best streak. The team is 10-0 when doing so this season.

FAST STARTS

The Hornets have scored 39, 35 and 35 points in the first quarter of their last three games.

They led by as many as 19 in the first half behind Williams, who had 14 points in the first quarter. Charlotte repeatedly dumped the ball low to Jefferson, who found backdoor cutters for easy layups and dunks.

WILLIAMS FIRING

The Hornets are getting great play from Williams, who has scored 20-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“My teammates are doing a great job of getting me open,” Williams said. “I think we’re doing a good job of putting a lot of pressure on the defense. I’m definitely a beneficiary of playing with great players.”

UP NEXT

Rockets: Host Memphis on Monday night.

Hornets: Host Dallas on Monday night

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

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

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
Harry How/Getty Images
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.