James Harden drops triple-double, leads Rockets to win over Wolves (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) — Instead of resting players with their playoff spot already set, the Houston Rockets approached their regular-season finale as a final tuneup for the postseason.

The result was the 22nd triple-double for James Harden and a 123-118 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

Harden had 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists to help Houston to its 55th victory.

All five of Houston’s regular starters started after coach Mike D’Antoni had given everyone but Harden time off in the last few games in preparation for the team’s first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City.

“I think we played well,” Harden said. “Our effort was there and we finally got everybody on the court tonight so that’s the good thing. And we’ll start Sunday.”

The MVP contender became the first player in NBA history to finish the regular season with at least 2,000 points (2,356), 900 assists (907) and 600 rebounds (659).

The Rockets had a 12-point lead after a 3-point play by Patrick Beverley with about nine minutes left. Minnesota cut into the lead with a 6-2 spurt before Houston got consecutive 3-pointers from Harden and Eric Gordon to extend the lead to 113-99 midway through the quarter.

Harden, who also had four steals and a block, found Clint Capela on an alley-oop dunk after that, before hitting another 3-pointer to make it 118-99 and spur Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout.

Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 28 points and 21 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who end the season with a six-game losing streak.

Thibodeau said ending the season the way they did is a good benchmark for what they need to do in the offseason.

“It tells us exactly where we are,” he said. “We don’t get fooled into thinking that it’s something that it’s not. It tells us exactly how hard we’re going to have to work to get where we want to go.”

Towns also made NBA history by becoming the only player to have at least 2,000 points (2,061), 1,000 rebounds (1,007) and 100 3-pointers (101) in a season.

Ryan Anderson made six 3-pointers for the Rockets and finished with 20 points and Capela had 22 points and 10 rebounds.

D’Antoni is happy with where Anderson is at in his fourth game back after missing six games with an ankle injury.

“I thought he looked really fresh and lively, and he really came out of the gate quick,” D’Antoni said. “He’s playing really well.”

Four straight points by the Timberwolves cut Houston’s lead to six points with about two minutes left in the third quarter. But Houston scored the lead eight points of the quarter, led by 3-pointers from Lou Williams and Harden, to extend the lead to 95-81 entering the fourth.

A 3-pointer by Towns got the Timberwolves within a point early in the third quarter before Houston used a 10-2 run to push the lead to 76-67 with about nine minutes left in the period. Ryan Anderson made consecutive 3-pointers to start that run and Capela capped it with back-to-back baskets.

The Rockets led by 13 early, but the Timberwolves had tied it at 60 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins finished with 21 points. … Shabazz Muhammad had 22 points. … Kris Dunn had 10 points with 16 assists.

Rockets: Houston had at least 60 points at halftime for the 39th time this season. … Anderson scored 20 points or more for the 14th time. … Trevor Ariza added 15 points.

THEY SAID IT

Thibodeau on Harden: “Obviously the individual part of it is unbelievable, but it is also what he has done for the team. To lift a team the way he has is an amazing feat. He not only brought out the best out of himself but he brought the best out of the team.”

RECORD-SETTING 3s

Houston finished the season with 1,081 3s to break the NBA record for 3-pointers in a season set by Golden State last season. The Rockets made 19 3-pointers on Wednesday to improve to 36-5 this season when making at least 15.

 

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.