James Harden has 38 in Rockets’ 130-114 win over the Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — James Harden easily exposed Portland’s struggles on defense.

Harden had 38 points and 10 assists for his seventh consecutive double-double, and the Houston Rockets beat the Trail Blazers 130-114 on Sunday night. It was his 14th double-double this season.

His mentality?

“Make the right play, that’s all,” he said.

“As a point guard I’m going to see a lot of defenses, so I’ve just got to figure out what they’re doing and how to attack it and just go from there.”

Eric Gordon added 26 points including six 3-pointers for the Rockets, who have made at least 10 3-pointers in 16 straight games to match the NBA record set by the Warriors and Cavaliers last season. They finished the night with 17.

Gordon’s 3-pointer gave the Rockets a 104-95 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Damian Lillard‘s 3-pointer and Mason Plumlee‘s reverse layup closed the gap to 104-100, but the Blazers couldn’t get closer and Trevor Ariza hit a 3 from the corner to put the Rockets up 111-100.

CJ McCollum scored 28 points and Lillard had 27 for the Blazers, who have lost six of their last eight games. Portland gave up 30 or more points to the Rockets in each quarter.

“They’re a difficult team to guard,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I think James does a great job of playing the game and figuring out what needs to be done.”

The Rockets attempted an NBA-record 50 3-pointers and made 21 in a 117-104 victory at Sacramento on Friday night to open a five-game road trip. Harden had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

First-year Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said he feels like the Rockets are finding a groove in his system.

“I think they’re getting more comfortable with how we’re doing things. They’re moving the ball a little better,” D’Antoni said. “We can still do better.”

The Blazers beat New Orleans 119-104 at home on Friday night after struggling on a 1-4 road trip. Portland is missing starting forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a calf injury. Ed Davis started in his place against the Rockets.

Lillard and McCollum combined for 20 points as the teams finished the first quarter knotted at 35. The Rockets went on a 9-0 run late in the second and led 65-62 at the half, paced by Harden’s 21 points.

Ryan Anderson hit a 3-pointer that made it 83-75 for the Rockets, who led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter. The Blazers pressured, coming within 94-93 late after Lillard made a pair of free throws.

Harden finished with five 3-pointers.

“Right now we’re not getting it done on the defensive end,” Lillard said. “I think that’s what it comes down to. You look at the Cleveland game, we scored 120-something points and we lose. That’s a lot of points to score and not win the game. Tonight we had 114 and we lose. Obviously we’re capable of scoring, we’re going to put points on the board, but we’ve got to find a way to come up with more stops and be more consistent.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: Rookie Kyle Wiltjer has been traveling with the Rockets, although he hasn’t played. Wiltjer, who went undrafted out of Gonzaga, is a Portland native and played for Jesuit High School, helping the team to three straight Oregon state championships.

Trail Blazers: Through its first 19 games, Portland has made more than 200 3-pointers, more than any Blazers team in franchise history. The Blazers have 209 total.

SCORING IS NOT THE ISSUE

Portland has scored at least 100 points in 17 of 19 games this season.

GORDON’S GAME

Gordon was just one off his season high for points.

“I just got off to a great start,” he said. “I know when I get off to a great start everything comes easier and more comfortable We just played well as a team, we moved the ball and did everything we needed to do to win.”

 

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.