Three Things to Know: James Harden out weeks, Rockets’ Chris Paul’s now

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) James Harden out for a few weeks with a hamstring strain, Rocket now become Chris Paul’s team.
When reports started to come out of the Rockets’ locker room New Year’s Eve that James Harden was limping around with his hamstring injury, you knew it was bad. Houston announced Harden has a Grade 2 hamstring strain (which means a partial tear of the muscle), and while he will be re-evaluated in two weeks the reality is he is likely out a month or so (based on history with this injury). Hamstring injuries are not ones where it’s just matter of playing through the pain, the muscle needs to be allowed to heal completely or it is very easy to re-injure.

It’s a blow because Harden has been playing at an MVP level this season — 32.3 points per game, 9.1 assists, and shooting 39 percent from three (Harden’s injury appears to put LeBron James in the MVP lead at the halfway point of the season). The Rockets have been the second-best team in the NBA this season, and it’s because of Harden (and an improved defense).

Houston is Chris Paul’s team now — and the Rocket offense has been 7.9 points per 100 possessions better with CP3 on the court this season. However, most of Paul’s minutes are with Harden on the court too, no lineup has played more than 22 minutes with Paul but without Harden (via NBA.com). Houston’s defense, which has slipped of late (26th in the NBA over the last 10 games allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions) needs to be rejuvenated fast. The Houston offense should be fine when CP3 is on the court running the show, but Mike D’Antoni does not like to go deep into his bench and now needs to. He’s going to have to stagger Paul and Eric Gordon to keep more playmaking on the floor at all times, and guys such as Bobby Brown or just acquired Gerald Green are going to need to get run then step up.

Elite teams survive injuries, and the Rockets are an elite team, but they are going to take a step back without Harden, no doubt. Also, this Thursday’s showdown with Golden State lost a little luster.

2) DeMar DeRozan is a beast, drops Raptors-record 52 on Bucks. DeMar DeRozan still takes a lot of midrange jumpers — 61 percent of his shot attempts this season — but that number is down (from 71 percent last season) and he has replaced those with more threes and more shots at the rim.

We saw that in action Monday night when DeRozan dropped 52 on the Bucks — he was 5-of-9 from three, plus he attacked the rim more and shot 6-of-7 inside the restricted area (plus got to the line six times).

This game also showed why Toronto can be a threat to Boston and Cleveland in the playoffs because of the shifts in their offense. DeRozan had 21 points in the first quarter, so the Bucks adjusted their defense to focus on him, and that’s when he switched into a playmaker mode and set up teammates. He was moving the ball, and the Raptors kept on scoring. Combine that with an improved defense this season and this may be the best Raptors team we have seen in this recent run. They are a real threat to make the conference finals.

3) C.J. McCollum takes over the second half, leads Trail Blazers past the Bulls with 32 points. With Damian Lillard out injured (he is expected to return Tuesday in Cleveland) it has been the McCollum show for the Blazers.

Monday night he had 25 of his points after halftime, and he scored Portland’s final six points in overtime, to help his team steal a win from a hot Bulls team. He got some help, Al-Farouq Aminu had a couple of key threes late in regulation, but it was a big night from McCollum that got Portland a quality road win.

NBA world reacts to video of Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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“How did that video get leaked?”

That was the primary reaction of players on Twitter after TMZ got ahold of the practice video showing Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole during a Warriors practice. The video has gone viral in NBA circles and brought an issue the Warriors hoped was in the rearview mirror front and center again.

Trae Young played the instigator on Twitter with his response (although the rumor of Green wanting to join the Lakers if the Warriors don’t extend him has been floating around the league for a while).

While some other players talked about the incident, most players were focused on how something they consider private — a practice — became public.

Former Grizzlies executive John Hollinger posted the response of the 29 other teams.

Leaked video of Draymond Green punch of Jordan Poole means incident not just going away

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The Warriors thought they had the situation handled. Sure, Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole during practice but Green apologized to the team and discipline was being handled “internally.” Nothing to see here, move along.

Then TMZ got ahold of a leaked practice video that shows things being much uglier than most imagined.

It shows Green and Poole had their beef and were talking, Green walked up on Poole, then Poole pushed him away with two hands and Green came back with a vicious punch to the face that was a massive escalation.

The Warriors do not practice on Friday and nobody from the organization is scheduled to speak to the media. Green is expected to rejoin his teammates in practice on Saturday, coach Steve Kerr said previously.

The Warriors likely will say this changes nothing, they had already seen the video before settling on a punishment. Plus, punches have been thrown in NBA practices more times than anyone could count — including Kerr getting punched by Michael Jordan in a legendary Bulls practice.

But there was never video like this leaked before.

The Warriors reportedly are investigating the leak of the footage to TMZ.

The video being public increases the inherent tension around the situation, keeps the news cycle alive and gives fans (and media pundits) some context and facts to discuss whether the Warriors are letting Green off easy.

It will also bubble up the subtext to all this about the Warriors’ future spending, something NBC Sports Bay Area’s Dalton Johnson and I discussed on a PBT Podcast previewing the Warriors’ season. Co-owner Joe Lacob has said that the Warriors’ salary and tax limit will make it hard to extend all three of Andrew Wiggins, Poole and Green at the prices they expect. Poole, the youngest of the group and a bridge to the future, is going to get his money (probably a little more than Tyler Herro just got from the Heat). There’s been speculation that Green would be the odd man out, be forced to opt-in for less than he wants, or he can opt-out and be a free agent this summer.

The Warriors thought this fight was in the rearview mirror. Green and Poole would have to address it with the media at some point, but the Warriors wanted to move on and focus on the season and their upcoming ring ceremony.

The leaked video changes that dynamic. The controversy remains on the front page and the Warriors will have to deal with it.

The only thing that is certain in all this is that the Warriors will fire whoever leaked this video, if they can find out who it was.

 

Adam Silver hopes teams don’t tank for Wembanyama. Good luck with that.

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Victor Wembanyama came to Las Vegas this week and put the hype machine into overdrive: In two games against the G-League Ignite he scored 73 points with 15 rebounds, nine blocks, hit 9-of-18 3-pointers (and 22-of-44 overall). He is a 7’4″ freak that LeBron James called an “alien” and a “generational talent,” and Stephen Curry said he was a “2K create-a-player.”

Combine that with the play of the Ignite’s Scoot Henderson — who had scouts using a young Derrick Rose comparison because of his athleticism, body control and skill — and the reaction in NBA circles was clear: There will be a “race to the bottom” this season. With multiple franchise cornerstone players available (and a deep draft at the top beyond those two), tanking will be an epidemic in the NBA.

Adam Silver, speaking in the United Arab Emirates before an NBA preseason game between the Bucks and Hawks, does not want to see teams tanking for Wembanyama.

Good luck with that, Adam.

The league office hates tanking and even a discussion of it. They hate the idea of a fan base being told — or, worse yet, actively rooting for — their team to lose games. This season there will be an epidemic of it around the league. In a typical year, a front office may want to tank but their challenge is getting buy-in from ownership. Not this year — Wembanyama could add $500 million to the value of a franchise, one league executive told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It could make the NBA trade deadline in February wild as teams that started the season thinking playoffs but were out of the mix (due to injury or just not being good enough) pivot to tanking. For example, think Portland from last season after Damian Lillard had surgery. Of course, the Trail Blazers also can serve as a cautionary tale — they had the sixth-worst record in the league last season but fell to seventh in the draft. Tanking doesn’t always work.

There were already were teams clearly in rebuild mode and racing to the bottom this season — do you think it’s a coincidence Danny Ainge blew up the Jazz this past summer? — and some other teams with some promising young talent (Houston, Orlando) that are fine losing a lot of games while those guys learn on the job. But the bottom of the standings could get crowded.

The NBA flattened out the lottery odds a few years ago to discourage tanking: The teams with the three worst records have a 14% chance to get the top pick and the odds drop from there (fourth is 12.5%, fifth is 10.5%, and it keeps on going down). However, this year, because the prize at the top of the draft is so huge, more teams than ever could try to get into that top three, or at least do what they can to fatten their odds.

However, with the prize being Wembanyama this season, a lot of teams may be willing to take that risk.

Despite what Adam Silver wants.

 

Joel Embiid has Olympic-sized decision to make: France or USA

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
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HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Joel Embiid has two choices: the red, white and blue of the U.S., or the blue, white and red of France.

An Olympic medal might hinge on his decision.

France is still hopeful that Embiid – the reigning NBA scoring champion – will choose to wear its colors for the 2024 Paris Olympics even though he recently became an American citizen, national team coach Vincent Collet said Thursday.

Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers star, may choose to play internationally for the U.S. or France, but not both. It was widely presumed that he would play for France at the Paris Games and possibly even next year’s Basketball World Cup in the Philippines, until Embiid revealed last week that he now has American citizenship as well.

“Now he has both nationalities, and he has to choose one basketball nationality, which is not the same,” Collet told The Associated Press. “So, that is a choice. Nobody can do anything to change it.”

Embiid told AP last week that it’s too early to think about a decision. By rule, he will eventually have to declare a choice to FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, if he decides that he wants to play at the Olympics or World Cup.

France is the reigning Olympic silver medalist and is planning to have a team featuring Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum – and, quite likely, top NBA draft prospect Victor Wembanyama – at the Paris Games. France’s plan is to essentially take what will be its Olympic roster to the World Cup next year.

Without Embiid, that French core has been extremely formidable. On top of the 2021 silver in Tokyo, France won bronze at the 2019 World Cup and silver again at this year’s European championships.

With Embiid, that group would figure to be even better. Collet said Boris Diaw, the general manager of the French national team, has been in contact with Embiid to discuss options.

“I know he met some of our players to discuss,” Collet said. “I think he should play with us. But we will see. We will respect his decision whatever it is.”

Embiid was born in Cameroon and has held French citizenship. He has a Brazilian girlfriend – their son is American – went to high school in Florida and played college basketball at Kansas.

The five-time NBA All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection has spent his entire pro career with Philadelphia, averaging 26.0 points in his first six seasons and a career-best 30.6 points on his way to the scoring crown last season.