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Three Things We Learned Sunday: James Harden is good, but so is Rockets’ defense in win

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If you haven’t seen the best video of the year — a professor’s BBC interview crashed by his two children, and his wife’s desperate attempts to get them out of the room — go do it now. Then come back and check out our takeaways from the night around the NBA. But go watch the video first. It’s classic.

1) James Harden’s triple-double and (shhh, don’t tell anyone) Rockets good defense best Cavaliers.
This is what you expected out of Sunday when the Rockets beat the Cavaliers 117-112 (in a very entertaining regular season game): James Harden helped make his MVP case with 38 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. That’s 16 triple-doubles this season for Harden and 31 games where he scored 30 or more.

Here’s what you didn’t expect: Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets are playing good defense, and that was the other big key to this win.

The Cavaliers shot 63.4 percent in the first half, but when the Rockets cranked up the defense that fell to 41 percent in the second half. And this is not an anomaly: since Jan. 1 the Rockets are 11th in the NBA in defense (based on points allowed per possession). Even Harden is getting in on the act.

If the Rockets can carry an above average defense into the playoffs, they are a much bigger threat.

For the Cavaliers, they had 30 points from LeBron James and 28 from Kyrie Irving, but they blew a 14-point third quarter lead on their way to their fourth loss in five games. They are now just two games up on Boston (who won Sunday, keep on reading below) and Washington, and basked on ease of schedule fivethirtyeight.com has the Celtics with a 43 percent chance of getting the No. 1 seed in the West and Cleveland at 42 percent (Washington has the other 15 percent).

It still feels like Cleveland will win enough games, LeBron won’t let his team lose home court, but this team is not defending and playing like a contender of late. Maybe they can get healthy and flip the switch come the playoffs, but only a handful of teams have really been able to do that (the 2001 Lakers come to mind, also a defending champ who battled injuries).

2) Celtics get home after West Coast road swing and thrash struggling Bulls. Boston needed a confidence booster. Some team they could just crush and pick up an easy win after a tough five-game road trip out west where they went 2-3.

Enter the Chicago Bulls.

Boston played one of its best defensive games of the season and held the Bulls’ stars in check: Jimmy Butler shot 2-of-11 for five points, Dwyane Wade was 4-of-11 for eight. Chicago shot 38.7 percent as a team and started the game shooting 0-of-12.

Meanwhile Isaiah Thomas led the way with 22 points and Avery Bradley added 17 for Boston. However, it was Jaylen Brown with the shot of the game.

With the win the Celtics moved within two games of the Cavaliers for the best record in the East, and fivethirtyeight.com says it’s basically a coin flip between the teams for the No. 1 seed (the struggling Cavaliers have a much tougher schedule down the stretch.

As for Chicago, after the game Wade was throwing shade about the lack of direction for the team, which says its wants to make a playoff push but traded Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott away.

3) Sixers Dario Saric scores 29, extends streak of 19+ point games to 11… is he the Rookie of the Year? If the vote for Rookie of the Year happened today, smart money is on Joel Embiid winning it despite the fact he only played in 31 games. No player had close to Embiid’s level of impact on the game when he did play.

But the fact it’s just 31 games has voters open to alternatives. Enter Embiid’s teammate Dario Saric, who dropped a career-high 29 Sunday night. Sure, it was against the Lakers’ “defense,” but it still counts and he was the Sixer who often had the ball in his hands down the stretch.

This makes 11 straight games Saric has had at least 19 points. Does that put him in the ROY running? None other than Embiid himself crashed Saric’s postgame interview to call him the Rookie of the Year.

Check out some Saric highlights from this run.

Report: Tobias Harris turned down $80 million extension from Clippers

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Is $80 million enough for Tobias Harris? Tobias Harris certainly doesn’t think so.

The lengthy Los Angeles Clippers forward is just 26 years old, and is in line for not one but probably two more significant contracts. That being said, according to a report from TNT’s David Aldridge, Harris recently turned down an extension offer from the Clippers in the area of four years, $80 million.

That reported number would have been a significant increase over the contract Harris signed with the Orlando Magic back in 2015. That deal was for four years and $64 million, but it appears that Harris is biding his time and waiting for the summer of 2019 when more teams have cap space.

Via Twitter:

Harris turning down this extension sort of leans into something I’ve been mentioning lately, and that is that some of these mid-range or cusp-level stars might end up taking less than they expect while waiting for 2019.

Yes, there is cap space to be had next summer. But there’s not an unlimited amount, and I believe that many GMs will be reticent to spend money the way they did a couple of years ago after the cap spiked. Teams handed out some crazy contracts in 2016, and several GMs will have learned their lesson.

Eighty million dollars is completely reasonable for Harris, so it seems he is either wanting more cash or perhaps he wants a change of scenery. What LAC reportedly offered Harris was an extension, and now it appears he will head straight into unrestricted free agency.

Harris is still young, and he is a good 3-point shooter. He shot 41.4 percent from deep for the Clippers last season, and he has the ability to play several positions. It’s possible that a team who wants to move into the modern, small ball type of play we’ve seen over the last couple years steps up with a big offer.

The question is who that might be.

James Harden on adding Carmelo Anthony: ‘It would be a great acquisition for us’

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Carmelo Anthony is all but a Houston Rocket at this point. The veteran forward secured his buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder this week, and the favorite to land him are the Rockets.

We are still waiting for everything to be official, but it seems that Anthony’s potential future teammates are excited about having him on board.

Speaking to media this week, NBA MVP James Harden said that he felt like Anthony was a good pick up for the team that gave the Golden State Warriors a run in the Western Conference Finals before losing Chris Paul to injury.

Via Chron.com:

“It would be a great acquisition for us,” said Harden, who did run into Anthony at Paris Fashion Week last month when Harden was making the rounds with teammate P.J. Tucker. “Melo’s a proven vet. He just wants to win at this point, so it would be great for him to be on our team. The current roster we have now, we’ve got good guys back and we keep making forward progress.”

It’s not clear how Carmelo will integrate into Houston’s offense just yet. The Rockets lost Trevor Ariza to the Phoenix Suns this summer, and we’ll need more 3-point shooting outside of Eric Gordon. Anthony shot 35.7% from 3-point range last season, which is just about league average.

Even in an offense with a lot of isolation sets, Carmelo isn’t a home run. People make the mistake of thinking that the Rockets simply dribble the ball down the floor then go one-on-one. That’s not really the case.

The Rockets were 13th in the NBA in pace last year, and scored a league-leading 1.2 points per possession in transition. Their isolation sets were additive to their transition offense, and even then a lot of their iso ball sets were designed to create assists on mismatches.

Anthony has shown the ability to be a good passer over his time in the NBA, although last season with the Thunder he recorded a career-low two assists per 100 possessions. Many of his isolation plays are geared toward Anthony getting a shot up for himself, so whether Mike D’Antoni can convince him to work within the system is a big question moving forward.

Anthony could be useful for the Rockets, there’s no doubt about it. But what seems more likely is that he might gunk up the works for Houston, especially come playoff time. The Rockets need to do something — or at least they feel they do — to get past the Warriors this time around.

Will Anthony be the answer there?

Drew Hanlen is rumored to have fixed Markelle Fultz’s jumper

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All aboard the Markelle Fultz PR train. Last stop is the Eastern Conference Finals.

On Sunday, two rumors surfaced about the embattled Philadelphia 76ers point guard’s jumper. The first came from former teammate Richaun Holmes‘s mother, Dr. Lydecia Holmes.

Speaking on The Burner podcast, Lydecia said that Fultz has had his jumper rebuilt and that he should be a much better shooter for the Sixers in 2018-19.

Via The Burner Podcast, h/t Sixer Sense:

“Markelle is going to be very, very surprising this season. You’re going to be very pleased with Markelle. He is going to show you something this year… on and off the court.”

Fultz had his jump shot mysteriously disappear last year. It was supposed to have been something having to do with a shoulder issue, but over time the public opinion gradually shifted to Fultz perhaps having the yips.

The Sixers point guard has been working out with jump shot expert Drew Hanlen, and many have high hopes for Fultz’S new stroke for the upcoming season.

According to Yahoo’s Jordan Schultz, Fultz is coming along nicely as we move through the summer.

Via Twitter:

Getting Fultz back would be a huge boost for the 76ers. They failed to land Kawhi Leonard in a trade this year, and having the No. 1 overall pick from a season ago will bolster their guard rotation if he shows flashes of what he did during his one season playing for the Washington Huskies.

Then again, this could all be to prop up Fultz given the idea that much of his issue was mental. Either way, there is hope that Philadelphia will get him back from one of the oddest injury lapses in recent NBA memory outside of Leonard himself.

We don’t need to see a million videos of Fultz and his in-progress jumper from practice like we did last season. I’m hoping we can wait and see it as a finished product sometime as we approach the fall.

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Rumor: People close to Kawhi Leonard think he’ll re-sign with Raptors

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Kawhi Leonard has made it known that he wants to play in Los Angeles. Specifically with the Lakers, although playing for the Clippers reportedly has become more of an option as of late for Leonard.

Still, for the meantime the former San Antonio Spurs star will be playing with the Toronto Raptors, at least to start the season. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri leveraged his goodwill from the city as well as the future of his team by trading DeMar DeRozan to get Leonard. Now, the question is whether Leonard will be healthy enough to play, or whether he will prove difficult much in the way he was last season in Texas.

Rumors are already swirling in Ontario about whether or not Leonard will prefer to stay with the Raptors after this season when he can opt out of his current deal. According to at least one rumor, some close to Leonard think he will stay with Toronto.

Via The San Diego Union-Tribune:

Here’s what someone who knows Leonard as well as anybody told me privately: “He’s going to fall in love with Toronto – it’s going to happen. He’s not going to leave, I’m telling you.”

We have to treat this as hearsay at this point, as a lot of the recent talk from people rumored to be close to Leonard has turned out to be inaccurate.

Even further, Leonard’s wants and actions have been hard to predict. Two years ago, Leonard changed agents and with the help of his uncle, has taken a new direction with his business management. It’s been staunch, and conservative, and stubborn. On paper, forcing his way away from the best-run franchise in the NBA is a real head-scratcher.

That’s also why you can’t necessarily dismiss the idea of Leonard staying in Ontario. His wants and needs seem to shift, and what will affect him one day to the next seems hard to gather. It’s entirely possible that he ends up liking playing in Toronto, and the city itself, which is magnificent.

Yes, we all saw the rumor that Leonard doesn’t like the cold, but that contradicts with the idea that Leonard is “all about basketball”. It’s not as though the basketball situation in Los Angeles is better than the basketball situation in Toronto. And despite their playoff failures, you could say that management installed in Canada is better than those acting in Southern California.

We will see whether Leonard even plays a significant amount of games for the Raptors. We all thought it was impossible that he would sit out an entire season for San Antonio last year, and now we can’t dismiss that possibility moving forward. Getting him on the floor and in a Raptors jersey is first.

Then we can talk about him re-signing in Toronto.

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