GEtty Images

Three things we learned on Tuesday: I, for one, welcome our new Russell Westbrook overlord

Leave a comment

You were too busy watching people dance in ’90s movies (and maybe trying out a few moves yourself) to watch the four NBA games on Tuesday, but we have you covered. Here’s what you need to know.

1) Russell Westbrook continues to dominate, be NBA’s best player this season, and he reminded us by shredding Miami. On paper, this was the kind of game the Thunder should win — they are a better team than the Heat, particularly defensively, and without Goran Dragic (back issues) Miami’s offense is lifeless. Plus, Steven Adams gives Hassan Whiteside trouble. And all of that did happen. The Thunder started to pull away with a 13-1 run late in the first quarter, led by 22 in the second, and cruised to a 106-94 win.

But the real difference in this game was Russell Westbrook. He was the best player on the court — just like he’s been the most dominant player in the NBA all season long. He controlled the entire game — not just with his scoring (29 points) but the way he carved up the Miami defense and left it in shreds on the floor. He penetrated, passed, and his relentless energy and attacks left the heat in tatters. Westbrook accounted for more than half of the Thunder’s points, via scoring or assist. He got his triple-double (17 rebounds, 11 assists, that makes 15 triple-doubles this season) and did so in just more than 23 minutes of court time (which is insane), but the numbers barely tell the story of how well he is playing.

Westbrook also got some help from a Thunder bench that has been improved of late. Plus, Adams was getting to the rim when he wanted, then hurting them.

The Thunder’s improved bench play, plus the fact Victor Oladipo is expected to return soon from his wrist injury, makes this team that much more dangerous. But it all starts with Westbrook, who continues to amaze. And dominate. I, for one, welcome our new Westbrook overlord.

2) Eight technicals, one ejection, and guys looking for fights postgame — Rockets/Mavericks had some bad blood. This is how tense things got: Trevor Ariza left the Rockets’ locker room and stood outside the Dallas locker room after the game, waiting for to have words — or more — with Dallas center Salah Mejri. Patrick Beverley and James Harden.joined him, and Dallas police were there as well to keep the peace. Ariza believed Mejri said something way out-of-bounds about him and his family (Ariza picked up two technicals and was thrown out when it happened), something Mejri denied according to ESPN. Security kept Mejri in the locker room, Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams talked down the angry Rockets, and eventually, Houston’s players boarded the bus and left without incident.

But that’s what spilled off the court from a physical, nasty game on the court that saw eight technical fouls and a couple of flagrant fouls. The big one happened midway through the second quarter, when Andrew Bogut set a down screen to free up Harrison Barnes, James Harden ran into that screen and went hard to the ground. It looked like Bogut wasn’t set, but slid and leaned into Harden on the play, and the officials called him on it.

The Rockets thought the Mavericks were playing dirty all game.

As Beverley noted, in the end, the Rockets made 17 threes and cruised to a 123-107 win behind 34 points and 11 assists from James Harden. Bogut and Dirk Nowitzki were on minute limits and did not play in the second half.

3) Joe Ingles drained a game-winning three for the Jazz, and the Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell couldn’t answer. Joe Ingles is shooting 47.8 percent from three this season — the Lakers’ scouting report was no doubt clear that he was not to be left alone at the arc, under any circumstances. Especially with the game on the line. That’s when Utah’s Quin Snyder borrowed from Steve Kerr (as noted by Nate Duncan on Twitter), running a standard Warriors play where the pick-and-roll out top is almost the distraction while a dangerous three-point shooter sets a down screen, then flares to the corner off another screen (Joe Johnson set it) and usually finds space. Ingles found that space and knocked down the game-winner.

The Lakers tried to answer — Julius Randle got to the line attacking right at Rudy Gobert (Randle did that impressively a couple of times late in the game), but in the end when they needed it D'Angelo Russell threw up an airball. This was one of those learning experience games for the Lakers, and the kind of game good teams like the Jazz find a way to win.

It’s worth watching the final three minutes of this game, it was the most dramatic of the night.

Toughest player to defend in NBA? Jonathan Isaac votes for James Harden

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac is turning heads this season. He has turned into the defensive backbone of the Magic, a long, switchable player who can protect the rim and make plays out on the perimeter.

In the past week, coach Steve Clifford asked Isaac to match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and LeBron James. So who was the toughest to guard? (Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.)

Harden dropped 54 on Orlando to lead Houston to the win. It was his second game in a row with 50+ points and hitting 10 threes.

Nobody should be arguing with Isaac here. For one thing, he’s the guy who had to guard them all this week, his opinion is informed. Harden has six points while Isaac was matched up on him Friday night, but the Rockets scored 14 others. Harden did most of his damage when Evan Fournierwas on him, scoring 18. (Via NBA.com matchup data.)

One could make the case that Antetokounmpo and LeBron contribute more on the defensive end and that makes them more valuable (a debate that will come up again at end-of-season awards time), but as a pure scorer there is nobody like Harden. Ever. He has ridiculous shooting range and the best stepback in the league, he’s physically strong and finishes through contact on drives, and he has turned drawing fouls into an art form. Defending James Harden is next to impossible (and incredibly frustrating for those tasked with it).

Houston has built its entire offense around Harden, and they are contenders because of it.

 

Kevin Knox with an high-flying putback dunk… into his own basket (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Give the Knicks credit, they have won two games in a row for the first time this season after knocking off the Kings. The return of Elfrid Payton at point guard — meaning they don’t have to play rookie R.J. Barrett out of position in that role — has given New York some floor balance and they look much better.

But there are still moments.

Such as this one from Kevin Knox, with the putback dunk — into his own net.

Mike Breen wanted to credit Buddy Hield there, and to be fair, Hield did come flying in and force the action. But that was Knox. (Hield got the bucket in the official scorebook).

Well, at least Knox is contributing something here.

Watch James Harden drop 54 to lead Houston past Orlando

Leave a comment

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — James Harden found his 3-point shooting touch — again.

Harden scored 54 points, matching the team record of 10 3-pointers he set in Houston’s last game in the Rockets’ 130-107 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

“I just want to win,” Harden said simply. “Whatever it takes.”

Harden scored 50 or more for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in his last seven games. The rest of the NBA has combined for only five such games this season.

Harden was 10 of 15 from long range and 19 of 31 overall from the field. He also had a seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes, receiving a loud ovation from the Orlando crowd when he headed to the bench in the final minutes.

“I feel like we lost against just him tonight,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “He’s the MVP for a reason. We talked about in pregame that he’ll take shots, and we’ll just live with the results. He did not miss tonight, period.”

Harden set the Houston record for 3-pointers with 10 in 18 attempts Wednesday night in a 55-point game in a victory at Cleveland.

“When he’s shooting over the top like that, I don’t know what you can do,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said.

Russell Westbrook added 23 points for Houston. The Rockets were 22 of 39 from 3-point range, setting a record for the most 3-pointers by any Magic opponent in franchise history.

“We just shot the ball extremely well,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When James is like that, it’s hard for anybody to really beat us … no matter what kind of defense you’re going to throw, we’ve got guys.”

The Rockets pulled away in the second quarter, with Harden scoring 18 points, including Houston’s last 11 for a 59-49 lead.

Fournier led Orlando with 27 points. Aaron Gordon added 21. The Magic have lost three straight after winning four in a row.

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard combine for 88 points in Clippers win

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s hard to stop Paul George. It’s hard to stop Kawhi Leonard. It’s really hard to stop both at the same time.

George and Leonard showed what the Los Angeles Clippers had in mind when they teamed up the superstar duo Friday night. George scored 46 points, Kawhi Leonard had 42 and the Clippers held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-117 for their fourth consecutive victory.

“It’s special, two guys offensively,” George said. “The thing about it is, we’re dishing, finding each other, feeding each other. And then when we have moments to be aggressive, we’re looking to get aggressive, attack, look for our shots. It’s great when both guys can get it going”

Leonard and George became the first set of teammates in Clippers’ history to each score 40 points. It was the 21st time in NBA history it has happened. The last time it was done, it also involved George. He and Russell Westbrook did it for Oklahoma City last season.

Leonard and George’s previous high this season came Dec. 1, when they combined for 65 points against Washington.

“It’s great that we can have somebody else out there to help scoring the ball, making the game easier for myself,” Leonard said. “We’re still trying to build our chemistry out there.”

Karl-Anthony Towns had 39 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota, which lost its seventh in a row. Towns had 14 points, including a 4-point play, in a 22-6 fourth-quarter run that trimmed a 21-point Los Angeles lead to five.

Andrew Wiggins added 34 points for the Timberwolves. His basket with 1:04 left cut the Clippers’ lead to 119-115. Minnesota didn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.

“Disappointed from the loss, but we fought back,” Wiggins said. “We were down big. Dug ourselves a hole. We fought back though. We went out swinging.”

Leonard and George set the tone early, combining to score the first 23 points for a Clippers team playing without Lou Williams, who sat out with a calf injury. In his absence, George and Leonard accounted for 54 of Los Angeles’ 65 first-half points. They became the first duo to each score 35 or more points through the first three quarters of a game in the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Leonard made a career-high 19 free throws. He was 19 for 19 from the line.

“That was great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We knew without Lou tonight, every play was basically for those two guys. And they came up big.”

The Timberwolves took a 51-50 lead in the second quarter with a 15-2 run, capped by a Towns 3-pointer. Leonard responded with seven consecutive points to give the Clippers the lead for good.

George started the third quarter with a 7-0 run of his own. He scored 16 in the third, when Los Angeles took control by outscoring Minnesota 37-23.

“Forty-six and forty-two, they make it very tough on you,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said.

Leonard’s 31 first-half points set a career high for points in a half. He tied a career high for points in a first quarter with 16.

“We got into our spots early, made shots,” Leonard said. “Paul carried us in that second half.”

Montrezl Harrell scored 18 points for the Clippers. Jeff Teague scored 22 for the Timberwolves.