Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Desperate Rockets, James Harden get win over Thunder

Associated Press
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If you took Sunday to watch the first pitch of the MLB season — and see Long Beach State’s own Troy Tulowitzki hit the first home run of the season — we understand. Here’s what you need to know from the NBA Sunday.

1) James Harden drops 41, Rockets out-execute Thunder down the stretch to get a key win in playoff quest. There are a couple of ways to look at this game. There is the Rockets’ perspective, where a team a game out of the playoffs could not afford to fall further behind and played with real desperation. Their biggest star James Harden stepped up with 41 points, guys like Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley made plays down the stretch, and the Rockets got that needed win 108-100.

From the Thunder’s perspective, well, remember when everyone complained about the simplistic sets and poor execution of the Thunder in the clutch under Scott Brooks? Well, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Oklahoma City’s season-long problem holding leads reared it’s ugly head again Saturday: The Thunder were up midway through the fourth quarter when the Rockets went on a 16-2 run to take a lead they would never surrender. Harden was impressive, but what decided this game was execution with everything on the line. Houston was flat-out better at that Sunday. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were not making plays, Harden was.

2) The bad news for Houston: Dallas and Utah keep pace with wins; will Memphis fall out of postseason instead? If you believe prediction sites like fivethiryeight.com, the Houston Rockets and their favorable schedule have a 69 percent chance of making the postseason. That provides a little comfort, but the reality is Houston remains one game out of a playoff spot despite their impressive win because Dallas and Utah also won. Both had winnable games, and both took care of business: Dallas beat Minnesota 88-78 thanks to another big night from J.J. Barea with 21 points and six assists; while Utah handled struggling Phoenix 101-86, with Gordon Hayward scoring 22.

Here’s one increasingly interesting playoff scenario: Maybe all three of Houston, Dallas, and Utah make the playoffs because Memphis falls out. The incredibly banged up Grizzlies — no Mike Conley, no Marc Gasol, and on down the line — have lost six in a row after Orlando beat them Sunday. The Griz have lost 10-of-12, and while currently the five seed in the West they are just three games up on nine-seed Houston. It is possible the Grizzlies lose all five remaining games (two against record chasing Golden State), and if that happens they could fall out of the postseason altogether.

3) Golden State bounces back with a comfortable win. Seven previous times this season the Warriors lost, and each time they bounced back with a win. Usually an easy win. Make that eight — the Warriors got 39 points from Stephen Curry and pulled away in the second half to beat the Trail Blazers 136-111. Those eight bounce back wins by the Warriors have been by an average of 15 points. Damian Lillard tried to make it interesting scoring 38 of his own, but Curry has a much deeper and better team around him than Lillard, and it showed.

4) Blake Griffin is back, and Clippers win again. His hand is healed, his suspension is over, and while is quad is still an issue Griffin was back on the court Sunday. Which is good news for the Clippers. Griffin played 24 minutes, looked rusty as expected (2-of-7 shooting overall) but showed a few flashes in the Clippers win over the Wizards.Oh yeah, he also threw down an alley-oop from Chris Paul.

With the win Clippers clinched fourth at least in the West (to be honest they are locked in to the four seed, they are not catching OKC) and home court in the first round, likely against Portland unless Memphis starts winning suddenly.

5) Throwback Kobe Bryant drops 34 in throwback game against rival Celtcs (but Boston wins anyway).
“Two things crossed our staff’s minds,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “Number one is, as much as we enjoy watching him on TV, I’m glad that we never will (see him in person) again. Number two is, I can’t imagine what he was like 10 years ago because he looked like he was 29 out there.”

Kobe Bryant dropped 34 points on the Celtics for old times sake, hitting threes and contested jumpers all night long. You could tell he still has a little extra fire when it comes to playing Boston. The problem for Kobe’s Lakers is they still defend like the Lakers have all season, so when the Celtics executed well down the stretch that was too much (Boston won 107-100). But Kobe gave the fans at Staples what they came to see, a little trip down memory lane.