Associated Press

Rockets destroy LeBron James, disconnected Cavs 120-88

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Chris Paul had 22 points and 11 assists, Ryan Anderson added 21 points and the Houston Rockets became the latest team to thump Cleveland on national TV, beating the disconnected Cavaliers 120-88 on Saturday night.

James Harden only scored 16 — 15 below his league-leading average — but Houston rolled to its fourth straight win and improved to 11-2 since Jan. 8.

Meanwhile, the Cavs’ downward spiral accelerated.

Since losing at Golden State on Christmas, LeBron James and his teammates are 0-8 in network broadcasts and have been embarrassed in several matchups against quality teams. They lost by 28 at Minnesota, 34 in Toronto, 24 at home to Oklahoma City and 32 to the Rockets, who toyed with the defending Eastern Conference champs.

James finished with just 11 points and didn’t play in the fourth quarter as the Rockets were too far ahead. Isaiah Thomas scored 12 for Cleveland.

The Cavs played their second game without injured All-Star forward Kevin Love, who could be out two months with a broken left hand suffered earlier this week.

Love’s injury hurts, obviously, but there are far bigger issues with a Cleveland team that has lost 12 of 18 and appears to be tearing apart at the seams.

With the Rockets up 35 in the third quarter, the Cavs didn’t even bother to huddle during a timeout. Thomas and J.R. Smith sat at the middle of the scorer’s table while James and other players wandered near the bench area as coach Tyronn Lue and his staff tried to figure what to do next.

The Cavs actually did a decent job on Harden, who recorded the first 60-point triple-double earlier in the week against Orlando. Harden went just 5 of 14 from the field.

Down 26 at halftime, James and the Cavs walked off the floor hearing boos from Cleveland fans who have grown tired of their lack of defense, chemistry and commitment.

With the trade deadline on Thursday, Cleveland might need to make a major move to have any chance of getting back to its fourth straight Finals. This group isn’t getting it done.

Lue said it would be a “team challenge” to slow down Harden.

“‘You have to show him different looks,” Lue said before the game. “I just don’t think you can let a great player get comfortable showing him the same kind of defensive schemes. You’ve got to mix it up to keep him off balance, just try to make him make field goals and not free throws.”

Early on, Cleveland tried several players on Harden, but Paul did the damage. He made three 3-pointers in the first quarter, helping ignite the Rockets and push them to a 14-point lead.

Houston opened the second quarter with three more 3s – the Rockets started 8 of 12 behind the arc – and when Anderson drained another 3-pointer, the Rockets’ lead had swelled to 48-23.

 

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.