AP

James Harden scores 44 points as Rockets beat Wolves 104-101

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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden scored 44 points and powered a big fourth-quarter run that allowed the Houston Rockets to outlast the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-101 on Sunday night in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series.

Minnesota scored four straight points to get within 3 with about 30 seconds left. Chris Paul added two free throws after that for Houston, but a tip-in by Karl-Anthony Towns got Minnesota back within 3. After a bad pass by Paul gave the Timberwolves a chance to tie it with 1.5 seconds left, Jimmy Butler‘s shot was short.

The Timberwolves had a one-point lead with about seven minutes left when Houston used a 9-0 run, with the last seven points from Harden, to make it 94-86 with about four minutes to go. Harden, who also had a steal in that span, capped the run with a 3-pointer that prompted Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout.

Jeff Teague ended Minnesota’s scoring drought with two free throws after the timeout and added a 3-point play after a basket by Harden. Harden made another shot to give him 11 straight points for Houston before another basket by Teague.

Harden got Capela in on the scoring after that, finding him for an alley-oop that pushed the lead to 101-93 with less than three minutes left.

The top-seeded Rockets had their hands full with the No. 8 Timberwolves on a night where Houston made just 10 of 37 3-pointers. Harden made 7 of 12 3-pointers, but Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Paul combined to make just 3 of their 22 tries.

Houston kept All-Star big man Towns in check, limiting him to just eight points after he’d averaged 21.3 in leading the Wolves to their first playoff appearance since 2004. Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points to lead Minnesota.

The Wolves scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 56-54 lead. Tucker made a 3 for the Rockets after that, but Minnesota used a 6-1 spurt, with 3s from Wiggins and Teague, to go back on top 62-58.

The Rockets had managed just six points in the quarter when Gerald Green made a basket with to cut the lead to 1 with about five minutes left in the third. Derrick Rose added a bucket seconds later, but Houston scored six straight points after that to put Houston up 68-65. Harden got things going when he made a 3-pointer while being fouled by Rose and also made the free throw.

Minnesota led by a basket after a jump shot by Towns with about two minutes left in the quarter. Harden took over after that, scoring the last six points of the quarter to leave Houston up 76-72 entering the fourth.

Harden hit a 3-pointer before making a driving layup he was fouled on by Gorgui Dieng. Harden flexed each bicep twice while peering down at the muscles after the shot before making the free throw.

The Rockets swept the regular-season series 4-0, winning by an average of 15.8 points a game and it looked like this one might be another blowout early as the Rockets raced out to a 17-6 lead behind 10 early points from Clint Capela. But the Timberwolves got going after that and had tied it up by late in the first quarter.

The Rockets led 54-47 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Butler, who led the team by averaging 22.2 points in the regular season, finished with 13 points. … The Wolves made 8 of 23 3-point attempts. … Towns had 12 rebounds and two assists.

Rockets: Ryan Anderson missed the game with a sprained left ankle. Coach Mike D’Antoni said there was a chance he could return for Game 2, but that he would know more in the next couple of days. … Capela had 20 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, but was limited in the second half and added just four more points and two rebounds.

UP NEXT

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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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JR Smith finally says goodbye to LeBron 21 days after Lakers announcement

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Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith isn’t the most aware player on the court. We learned that the hard way during the NBA Finals.

But life in Cleveland will move on, and with Smith apparently still on the roster for the foreseeable future. Smith was at one point in time a favorite of LeBron James, who is now wearing a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.

Apparently, that fact has finally kicked in for Smith. On July 22nd, three weeks after James made it clear that he was heading to the Lakers, Smith decided to finally acknowledge the departure of The King.

Via Instagram:

Thanks bro @kingjames

A post shared by JR Smith (@teamswish) on

NBA players were not shy about sending out their reaction to James heading to the Lakers on social media the day it happened. No doubt actual teammates of LeBron would need to take some time to process it, but even guys like Cedi Osman were more punctual with their well wishes.

Some people bring out the worst in you, others bring out the best. And there are remarkably rare ones, who just bring out the most of everything that even you don't know that you have. They build you up. They make you feel alive. They make you feel strong. They make you feel indisputable. From the first moment we met, you’ve always been that rare one for me, King. I don’t believe in coincidences. I choose to believe my path crossed with you for a reason. And that reason will be uncovered as I continue to walk through. Please accept my highest gratitude for your support and appreciation for your inspiration. I’m truly blessed to have been surrounded by your charm. Bazı insanlar doğanızdaki kötü tarafları ortaya çıkarır; bazıları ise içinizdeki iyiyi katlayarak yansıtmanızı sağlar. Ama bazı özel insanlar vardır ki, onların sayısı çok azdır, sahip olduğunuzun farkında bile olmadığınız yönlerinizi parlatmanızı sağlar. Sizi geliştirir, yaşadığınızı hissettirir ve güçlü olduğunuzu hatırlatır. Kral, ilk buluşmamızdan itibaren benim için eşsiz biri oldun. Biliyorum ve inaniyorum ki seninle yolumuz özel bir nedenle kesişti. Bu özel neden, hayatım boyunca benimle olmaya devam edecek. Verdiğin tüm destek için sana kalpten teşekkür ediyorum. Seninle geçirdiğim her dakika için minnetarım. Yolun açık olsun…

A post shared by Cedi Osman (@cediosman) on

Los Angeles and Cleveland will be interesting teams to watch next year, and largely for the same reason. Each might end up being a complete tire fire, although they will attack things from different ends of the spectrum. How Smith operates in that void for the Cavaliers will be interesting to watch.

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DMV in Cleveland tapes a photo of LeBron to their camera to stop people smiling

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A trip to the DMV is never at the top of anyone’s list of ways to spend an afternoon. Still, it’s a necessary evil of adult life.

The DMV is a place for rules, one of the most common ones is that you are not allowed to smile in your picture for your driver’s license. In Cleveland, the DMV there has decided to make a small alteration to their camera setup to ensure that citizens follow this rule.

Specifically, they taped a photo of LeBron James in a Los Angeles Lakers jersey to the camera that takes the driver’s license photos.

Via Twitter:

At least for this year, putting a photo of LeBron on a camera at the DMV in the Cleveland should keep straight faces on people getting their photo taken. However, seeing as the Cavaliers probably won’t be very good moving forward, it might be just as easy to tape a photo of the team logo up there.

It appears that everyone is upset about Lebron leaving for the LA.

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DeMar DeRozan with classy goodbye to Toronto fans

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DeMar DeRozan did not want to be traded from the Raptors.

He will eventually warm to San Antonio and the Spurs, but for a franchise that has seen star after star push their way out of town — Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Damon Stoudamire, and on down the list — DeRozan was the one guy who embraced the city, repped it, and not only said he wanted to stay but did just that. DeRozan was all in on Toronto and loyal, and they shipped him out anyway. It may well have been the right basketball move, but it was cold. And a lot of Raptors fans were not happy about how it went down.

DeRozan, classy as always, thanked the Raptors fans in a heartfelt Instagram post.

Someday they will retire DeRozan’s jersey in Toronto. Deservedly so.