Associated Press

James Harden’s 41 lead Rockets past Thunder 118-110

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 41 points with nine assists to help the Houston Rockets improve their playoff chances with a 118-110 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

With 30 seconds left, Harden stole a pass from Kevin Durant and found Patrick Beverley for a transition dunk to give Houston an eight-point lead and the Rockets held on for an important victory.

The Thunder led by six early in the fourth until Harden hit back-to-back 3s to tie the game at 93.

The inconsistent Rockets have alternated wins and losses for six straight games as they desperately chase a trip to the postseason.

Oklahoma City lost for just the second time in the past three weeks and had won nine of its previous 10 entering Sunday.

Durant had 33 points and eight rebounds for the Thunder.

After posting seven triple-doubles in the month of March, Russell Westbrook had 23 points, 13 rebounds and fell one assist shy of picking up his 17th triple-double of the season.

Houston closes out the season with games against Dallas, Phoenix, the Lakers and Sacramento.

Both teams started off slow. They missed a combined 10 of their first 12 shot attempts and committed a total of 15 first-half turnovers. The Rockets got going with hustle around the rim.

On a second-quarter possession, Houston missed six shots and gathered offensive rebounds every time until Dwight Howard ended it with a dunk to put the Rockets up 33-30.

Houston held a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter after Jason Terry hit a 3-pointer with one second remaining.

The Thunder finished the second quarter on a 7-0 run, capped by a layup from Westbrook that put Oklahoma City up 53-52 at the half.

Oklahoma City built its largest lead of the game midway through the third quarter, going up 12. Houston briefly regained the lead until Durant closed out the quarter with three consecutive free throws to give the Thunder an 82-80 lead entering the fourth.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City had 21 turnovers, Houston had 10. … Enes Kanter scored 16 points off the bench for Oklahoma City in just 18 minutes. . For the sixth time in the past seven games, Nick Collison did not play.

Rockets: SG K.J. McDaniels played a season-high 18 minutes and scored 10 points. … Andrew Goudeluck played for the first time since March 14, picking up two points and two steals in nine minutes. . PF Terrence Jones was the only active Rocket who didn’t play in the game, as he has been out since Feb. 29.

 

Report: Players argued to Adam Silver they would’ve been punished for tweet as costly as Daryl Morey’s

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league is suffering “fairly dramatic consequences” economically from Daryl Morey’s tweet, which supported Hong Kong protestors (who are trying to maintain and expands their freedoms) and angered many in China.

Silver also said the Rockets general manager won’t face punishment from the league.

ESPN:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a tense meeting with players from the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers last week when he arrived in Shanghai, sources told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

During the meeting with the players, sources said, Silver was directly asked whether anything would happen to Morey, as several players said they believed that if a player had cost the NBA millions of dollars because of a tweet, there would be repercussions.

We already knew LeBron James spoke up in this meeting and later criticized Morey for sending the tweet when/how he did. Good luck convincing anyone LeBron wasn’t among the players who said a player would’ve been treated differently.

Are they right?

We can’t know, but I don’t think so. The financial damage in China likely would’ve been similar, but it would have been an even bigger public-relations mess in the United States to censor a player. Players are far more familiar and have bigger fan bases than general managers. The domestic backlash against the league would’ve been even stronger, deeper.

Management sometimes gets a pass that labor doesn’t, and the players’ suspicions are understandable. Again, we can never know what statements would’ve followed a player’s pro-Hong Kong tweet. But I think Silver meant what he said in his third remarks on the issue:

However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.

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 three-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.