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Rockets sound divided on offensive solutions

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The Rockets’ biggest problem was defense in their Game 1 loss to the Warriors.

But Houston’s offense wasn’t performing at peak levels, either.

Running an isolation-heavy attack, James Harden scored 41 points (9-of-15 on 2-pointers, 5-of-9 on 3-pointers, 8-of-10 on free throws). But the Rockets scored just 102.7 points per 100 possessions.

What should they do about that? Depends whom you ask.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni:

Q. You’re not worried at all about the iso ball wearing him down both ways?
MIKE D’ANTONI: I don’t think so. I mean, that was the best thing we had. I don’t know why it’s bad. Perception is not reality. Reality are numbers. Numbers are, that’s good. Numbers are, yeah, we had a couple 24-second violations and everybody goes, oh, and everybody goes crazy and our guys do sometimes. We can’t do that. We can’t do that. Yeah, it’s going to happen. We’re not going to be perfect. But the numbers show it’s pretty good.
Now, having said that, we’ve got to get into transition. We’ve got to get Trevor [Ariza] and those guys shots. We’ve got to get the ball moved up a little bit quicker, and we can do that. We control that.

Q. Are there things you can shore up offensively that will help you defensively?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Yeah. Well, one thing we can shore up is be sure to keep all the noise out. We talked about that. There are just too many, and rightfully so, I’m not complaining — but we play the way we play. When we’ve played that way, we’re pretty good. Again, we get a little upset on offense, as we did on defense, because we weren’t as good on offense. So we have to be able to understand where we have to do this a little bit longer, a little bit better, and up the ante a little bit.
Our pace has got to be up a little bit. There are things that we can do and we will do. That’s why I just expect us to be a lot better on Wednesday.
Q. What noise are you talking about?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Just everybody. I mean, just from ourselves. Like, oh, my gosh the iso, that’s all we do. No, it isn’t. That’s what we do best. We scored like 60 percent of the time on that. Oh, really? Oh, they don’t pass, everybody’s standing. Really? Have you watched us for 82 games? That’s what we do. We are who we are, and we’re pretty good at it. We can’t get off who we are. Embrace it. Just be better of who we are and don’t worry if somebody else solves the puzzle a different way. Fine, that’s how they solve it. We solve our puzzle this way. We’ve got to play at our strengths. We know our strengths and we’ve just got to do it better.

Q. There were questions afterward for James about kind of the comfort level of some of the guys on the offensive end. There were people asking questions about Eric Gordon and other players. Do you agree there were times that they looked a little uncomfortable? What you have to do to get the rest, not James and Chris, going and feeling good about what you’re doing offensively?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Like I said, this is how we play. It’s how we played all year. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be comfortable. Wee got some shots up there. I don’t know how many layups we just missed and they turned them into fast breaks. You just take that away, make the layups and defend a little bit better. We’ve just got to get in transition and we’ve got to defend better. A lot of things — up the ante.
But like I said, how are we going to get comfortable? We can put some blankets out there or something, but that’s not happening. You know what? Play through it. So be it. This just comes down to a dogfight. It doesn’t come down to feeling comfortable. Everybody’s feeling uncomfortable. Your hair should be on fire, and you should be playing and spitting blood out there.
This is hard stuff to overcome, one of the better teams ever in the history of the NBA. They’ve got to embrace the situation.

Eric Gordon, via Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

“I definitely would like to get the ball more for me to be aggressive and get good looks,” said Gordon, who took 13 shots. “Offensively with everybody, we really don’t get real good looks. … We can’t isolate as much against a good defensive team. I don’t care who you are. We have some of the best isolation players out there. But against a team like that, it’s going to be too tough.”

Clint Capela, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“We’re just out here waiting on (Harden and Chris Paul) to make the decisions,” Capela said. “This is what they do. This is what they’ve been doing all season long, so it’s something that is harder to do right now. Maybe we’re going to have to be more aware on the weak side, maybe (use) flares to get guys open, to get more movement, so all the focus won’t be on the guys on the weak side.”

In Game 1, the Rockets played the offensive style they used all season. They can’t simply overhaul their identity in two days.

That there’s even talk of them doing so speaks to the Warriors’ hegemony. Golden State instills panic in its opponents.

The Rockets shouldn’t panic, but they should make tweaks.

Attack in isolation quicker, so if the initial plan stalls, they can get into another action with more time before the shot clock expires. Use Chris Paul more in isolation with an eye toward Harden saving energy for defense. Play Clint Capela more than 30 minutes, because his lob-finishing ability limits the Warriors’ ability to rotate a rim protector toward the Houston isolationist.

That might not be enough. The Warriors are great.

But the Rockets’ best bet is sticking with what got them here and hoping to execute better.

Jayson Tatum’s NBA 2K19 rating is pretty eye-popping

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Boston Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum had an excellent first season in the NBA. Here at PBT, we talked about how if the Celtics wanted to challenge in the East early on — especially without Gordon Hayward — they would need their young wing rotation to step up in a big way. They did, and Tatum was a big part of the reason the Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals this year.

Now it appears that he is being rewarded by the folks over at 2K Games.

The people over at 2K Games release some of their ratings today, and Tatum came in at a whopping 87. If you aren’t familiar with the structure of the game, or what that means, the total score is out of a possible 99, making Tatum an excellent player.

Via Twitter:

Of course players like Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James scored a 98, so Tatum still has some room above him. As a general observation very good players rate somewhere between 79-85 during their rookie seasons.

Now the wait is on to see how fellow Rookie of the Year candidates Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons score when 2K Games releases their ratings.

Dallas’ Liz Cambage sets WNBA single-game scoring record with 53-point game (VIDEO)

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When you score more than half your team’s points, you’ve owned the game.

Dallas Wings’ center Liz Cambage scored a WNBA single-game record 53 points — on just 22 shots — in the Wings’ 104-87 win over the Liberty Tuesday. The previous record had been Riquna Williams with 51 points in 2013. Cambage hit 17–of–22 from the field including 4–of–5 from three (she was 5-of-23 from three in her NBA career before today), and knocked down 15-of-16 from the free throw line. She also had 10 rebounds and blocked five shots.

It was a monster performance. How big:

Cambage, an Australian native, had two interesting seasons with Tulsa in the WNBA back in 2011 and 2013 — she was an All-Star in 2011 but did not return to the NBA after the 2012 Olympics. She had a strong 2013 season, but then walked away from the WNBA (she had said when drafted she didn’t want to be in Tulsa).

She sat out of the WNBA for five years, until returning this season and is putting up big numbers in Dallas — 19.9 points per game on 57 percent shooting plus pulling down 9.1 rebounds per game. She’s a 6’8″ physical force in the league that few if any teams have an answer for.

But nobody saw this huge breakout game coming.

What a great showcase for the WNBA, especially leading up to the league’s All-Star Game July 28.

Lakers’ Josh Hart wins Summer League MVP

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The Lakers wanted to test Josh Hart this summer: What would happen if they gave him a more substantial role? He was solid as a backup point guard last season (a good showing for a rookie), averaging 7.9 points per game and shooting 39.6 percent from three, but with Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo in the fold point guard minutes will be hard to come by next season.

What happened if they put the ball in Hart’s hands and made him the leader of a team on and off the court?

Hart responded by winning the NBA Las Vega Summer League MVP, averaging 24.2 points a game and leading the Lakers to the championship game. He dropped 37 on the Cavaliers and Collin Sexton in the semi-finals.

The award was announced Tuesday, in advance of the title contest between Hart and his Lakers vs. the Portland Trail Blazers.

Hart is the second Laker in a row to win the award, last year Lonzo Ball won it in leading the Lakers to a Summer League crown.

It’s an honor, but don’t assume Summer League MVP means NBA success. Sure, Damian Lillard won the award, but he was co-MVP with Josh Shelby. Glen Rice III won the award. The MVP list includes Kyle Anderson and Tyus Jones and other good but not All-Star players.

Hart also made the All-NBA Summer League first team. (Both the MVP award and All-NBA Summer League teams were voted on by a select media pannel.)

Here are the Las Vegas All Summer League teams:

All-NBA Summer League First Team

Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago)
Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers)
Kevin Knox (New York)
Collin Sexton (Cleveland)
Christian Wood (Milwaukee)

MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League Second Team

Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)
Wade Baldwin IV (Portland)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis)
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Los Angeles Lakers)
Trae Young (Atlanta)

Report: Jahlil Okafor, still trying to land contract, works out for four teams in Vegas

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Jahlil Okafor was never going to find a new home early in free agency. Once the big names — and second tier, and third tier— names shook out, then some team was expected to step forward with a minimum contract and see if the former No. 3 pick could find a role on their team. Something he could not do with the Nets last year.

He’s still waiting.

Okafor did work out for teams in Las Vegas, to show that he is healthy and can contribute, reports Sean Deveny of The Sporting News.

According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall.

Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game as a rookie in Philadelphia in 2015-16. He has spent the last few months working out in Miami with trainers David Alexander and Idan Ravin, fueling speculation that he could land with the Heat, especially if Miami finds a trading partner for Hassan Whiteside.

First things first, it’s unlikely the Heat will find someone to take on Whiteside right now, and any team that does is going to want a treasure chest of sweeteners the Heat may not want to surrender.

In addition to the Heat, the Bulls and Pacers have been rumored to have some interest, although both of those should be taken with a serious grain of salt.

How much is any team interested? Enough to even offer a fully guaranteed contract for next season?

Maybe not. Okafor — with his old-school, below the rim, back-to-the-basket offensive game, not to mention a serious lack of defense — does not fit the direction the NBA is trending with bigs. He may need to accept a non-guaranteed invite to training camp somewhere and prove he deserves a roster spot. Humbling, to be sure, but reality.

At some point, some team will give him a shot. Probably. But Okafor has a lot of work to do to find a role in the modern NBA.