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It was raining threes again and Rockets blow past Spurs 125-104, even series 2-2

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Coach Mike D’Antoni’s formula for Houston to win in this series is pretty simple: The pace has to be up, the threes have to fall, and the role players — particularly off the bench — have to step up with big games.

Game 4 saw the Houston back to running and gunning. The Rockets hit 19 threes on 44.2 percent shooting from deep, ( well above the 30.8 percent they shot in Game 3). All those threes falling forced the Spurs to extend their defense, then the Rockets started putting the ball on the floor and blowing by them in what felt like a layup line at points.

And the Rockets got help for James Harden. Ryan Anderson had 13 points (up from 2 in the previous game), and the Houston bench had 50 points, well ahead of the 10 last game. Eric Gordon led the way with 22.

The result of all this was a 125-104 win for the Rockets at home, evening the series at 2-2 heading back to San Antonio for Game 5 Tuesday.

“Several guys stepped up tonight,” James Harden said after a 28 point, 12 assist night (eight of the 12 dimes were for threes). “Ryan, Lou, Eric, Trevor, Pat, and if we’re going to have a chance at this series they’re going to have to make plays, and they did tonight.”

The Rockets did all this without Nene, who suffered a groin injury two minutes in and could not play. His status for the rest of the series is up in the air.

Patrick Beverley was the inspiration for Houston, on the day he lost his grandfather he played fantastic ball, scored 10 points and that included hitting the first three of the night.

“As always, he’s probably the heart and soul, the guy, he’s just incredible,” D’Antoni said postgame.

“So much adversity through his life that he’s had to go through to get to this point,” Harden added. “He’s just a fighter.”

The real story of this game was pace — the Rockets were running again, and the Spurs again got sucked into playing fast for stretches. They also didn’t slow the Rockets transition game.

“For us, our Bible begins with transition defense, and if it’s not there we’re just not ready to go,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “If you’d seen the clips of our transition D you would have traded all the players and fired me at the end of the game. It was that bad. But they were that intense, they were that focused and professional, and we were not.”

One key to the pace this series has been rebounding. The Rockets had been killed on the offensive glass the last couple games and that slowed down their attack. The Spurs grabbed the offensive board on 32.8 percent of their missed shots in Game 3, but in Game 4 that fell to 24 percent, which allowed the Rockets to get out and run more.

With that pace and space, the shots fell — the Rockets even shot 62 percent on the shots contested by the Spurs (according to NBA.com). In addition to Harden’s 28 points and Gordon’s 22, Trevor Ariza had 16, and Lou Williams pitched in 13 off the bench.

Jonathon Simmons led the Spurs 1ith 17 points off the bench and he played well. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 32 points on 27 shots. They will need to play better at home if the Spurs are to take control of this series again.

More importantly, the Spurs will need to control the pace of Game 5 to get that crucial win.

Kawhi Leonard out vs. Thunder Monday night, third straight game due to knee bruise

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This isn’t load management. This is a bruised knee.

The first Clipper game with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sharing the court will have to wait as Leonard is going to miss his third straight game with a knee contusion Monday night against the Thunder. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news.

The Clippers are going to be cautious with bringing Leonard back from this, thinking long term with his health, as they should. Los Angeles is playing for games in May and June, not games in November.

This means tonight the Clippers will be the Paul George show again — in two games he has scored 70 points in 44 minutes. This will be George’s first game against the Thunder since he demanded a trade out of the city last summer, landing him on the Clippers with Leonard.

Kevin Love tries to ignore trade rumors, ‘let the chips fall where they may’

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Cleveland Cavaliers GM said he has no interest in trading Kevin Love.

You can count the number of people around the league who believe him on one hand. There’s a good chance Love is still on the Cavaliers at the end of this season, but that’s more about him being in the first year of a four-year, $120 million contract extension than it is Cleveland’s willingness to trade him (or interest from other teams, if money was not an issue). The Cavaliers are rebuilding, and if they can get young players and picks for Love, they have to consider it.

With Portland off to a slow start, and Love growing up in the Pacific Northwest, that rumor has floated around. There are others. Love is just trying to ignore them and play ball, he told Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times.

“I know there’s talk about me possibly being the missing piece somewhere,” Love said. “There’s been constant chatter since I signed that I could be traded. It’s one of those things where I’m going to keep doing right by the team, by Cleveland and by the organization. If my number is called, so be it, but I’m going to stay true to my commitment and let the chips fall where they may.”

Love, who has been open in recent years about his struggles with anxiety and mental health, said dealing with the trade rumors that constantly swirl around him can be a challenge on that front.

“A big aspect of mental health is just staying in the present but it’s so hard,” he said. “You have to try to not get too far ahead of yourself or get worked up. You can get that anxious feeling or fear for the future, but you have to try to stay focused on getting better and let things work out the way they should.”

Kevin Love has played well to start the season, averaging 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds a game, shooting a respectable 34.7 percent from three. He could help a lot of teams, particularly ones in the West who want to be in the mix for a ring but who look at the Lakers and Clippers and think, “we have to get better fast.”

The rumors around Love are just going to get louder the closer and closer we get to the trade deadline. Love will have to do a lot of work to tune all that out.

 

Bulls big man Luke Kornet out following surgery on sinus obstruction

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Just before last Christmas, Luke Kornet broke his nose. Apparently, that never healed quite right.

Kornet underwent surgery to repair a sinus obstruction on Monday, the Chicago Bulls announced. There is no timetable for his return, although coach Jim Boylen suggested it could be less than two weeks.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen added this at practice, via NBC Sports Chicago.

“Kornet had sinus surgery this morning. He had blockage and some issues from a previous fracture from when he was in New York. We just felt it was time to go in there and clean that thing out. That happened this morning at 6 AM. He’s out. Surgery went well. We’ll have more to report as we go. Originally, it was a seven-ten-day thing where he’d be back. I think it’s one of those things they don’t know until they get in there how extreme it is. But he had blockage and it needed to be done.”

This does not impact the Bulls much on the court as Kornet has fallen out of the rotation in recent games (in part because of the sinus condition, in part because he just hasn’t played well). Kornet signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Bulls over the summer.

D’Angelo Russell says weather played ‘major part’ in picking Warriors over Timberwolves

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D'Angelo Russell wants to play with Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns’ Timberwolves were reportedly interested in Russell last summer.

Why did Russell join the Warriors instead of Minnesota?

Russell, via Chris Hine of the Minneapolis StarTribune:

“I thought the opportunity here was amazing … ” Russell said after Warriors shootaround Friday. “It was definitely something I was considering very strongly. But then when this opportunity came, the weather is way better, so that helped me.”

“I did my first winter in New York and that was tough,” Russell said. “So to get the opportunity to go somewhere where it’s warm again, I think that played a major part in my plan.”

I don’t blame him one bit.

Russell grew up in Kentucky then finished high school in Florida. He spent his first couple NBA seasons with the Lakers.

He also played collegiately at Ohio State and a a couple years for the Nets. In other words, he spent enough time in cold-weather locations to know how miserable they can be.

This is an issue that will always hinder teams like the Timberwolves. It doesn’t mean they can’t attract free agents. It’s just a disadvantage.

There will always be players who don’t have multiple max offers. Minnesota can separate itself with money, playing time and other considerations.

But good for Russell for playing himself out of that group and earning a max contract in the Bay Area.