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In Game 7 Rockets go frigid from three, massive Warriors third quarter sends them to Finals. Again.

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In the regular season, the Houston Rockets made an NBA-record 1,256 threes on a record 3,470 attempts — that’s 15.3 threes per game on 36.2 percent shooting. It was the lifeblood of their offense.

In Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets missed 27 threes in a row at one point.

For the game the Rockets were 7-of-44 from three (15.9 percent). With a trip to the Finals on the line, that’s not good enough.

“It’s like they say, it’s a make or miss league. They made them and we missed them,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said.

For the second straight game the Rockets gave a heroic effort in the first half on both ends to lead the Warriors by double digits, only to look tired and miss shots in the second half, miss defensive rotations, and just wear down.

And once again, as it has been all series, the third quarter is when the Warriors come alive — they outscored the Rockets 33-15 in the quarter, led by Stephen Curry’s 14 points. He was doing Curry-like things.

The result was a 101-92 Warriors victory on the road in Houston.

With the win, Golden State advances to its fourth straight NBA Finals. Those Finals start Thursday in Oakland, where the Warriors will be heavy favorites in the fourth straight matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For the second straight game, the Rockets showed amazing grit in the first half, playing physical defense and attacking the rim — the Rockets had 56 points in the paint on the night. They played like a contender. They forced the Warriors into mistakes, and they made a lot of them — 10 turnovers and 11 offensive rebounds given up in the first 24 minutes.

“I was thinking of resigning,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of his reaction to the first half. “I walked in at halftime and said I didn’t recognize this team.”

He did in the second half. The Warriors found another gear while the Rockets showed how much they missed Chris Paul. They missed CP3s defense, and they missed his stabilizing presence on the offensive end.

Not that the Rockets gave up, they make a 7-0 fourth-quarter run to keep it close, but it’s hard to make up ground when Kevin Duran is making contested shots like this.

Like most Game 7s, it wasn’t pretty.

It was a first quarter neither team could particularly like — Steve Kerr called it the “one of the worst quarters of basketball we’ve ever played” in his TV interview — the Rockets were up five and it felt like it should have been more. Neither team shot well, it felt like a Game 7 with guys intense but it’s sloppy.

The Rockets really brought that energy on defense. In the first quarter, with Thompson sidelined with foul trouble for 10 minutes, it put another non-shooter on the floor (Jordan Bell, Shaun Livingston, Draymond Green) that the Rockets could help off of. With that, the Rockets defense looked much sharper

In the second, that energy led to the Rockets being up by 15 thanks to turnovers and offensive rebounds. Houston grabbed the offensive rebound on 38 percent of their missed shots in the first half, and the Warriors turned the ball over on 21.7 percent of their of their possessions — that led to 11 more shot attempts. Not coincidentally the Rockets were up by 11, 54-43 at the half. The Rockets got 30 points on 27 shots combined from James Harden and Eric Gordon in the first half. They were making it work.

Then came the onslaught in the third. While Golden State played well, Houston shot 0-of-14 from three in the third.

At that point, it was just too much ground to make up.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob: We won’t tank

Former Warriors forward Harrison Barnes
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The Warriors are an NBA-worst 12-43. Stephen Curry will eventually get healthy. Klay Thompson will eventually get healthy.

This is Golden State’s best opportunity to secure a prime draft pick.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob, via Mark Medina of USA Today:

By the way, we’ll try to win every game. I’m not really about, ‘Let’s lose every game so we can get the best pick.’ You try to do that, you’re messing with the basketball gods. So we don’t believe in that.

Former Warriors executive Travis Schlenk (now Hawks general manager) admitted to tanking in 2012. Golden State had to convey its first-round pick if it didn’t land in the top seven. So, the Warriors traded their consensus top player, Monta Ellis, for an injured Andrew Bogut. Golden State lost 17 of its last 20 games, kept its pick and drafted Harrison Barnes.

The basketball gods were so mad, the Warriors went to the playoffs the next seven seasons and won three championships and two other conference titles.

Of course, Golden State will tank, which I define as any decision made – at least in part – to improve draft position through losing.

Management won’t instruct players not to give full effort. But tanking will show up in numerous other ways. The Warriors will be cautious with Curry’s and Thompson’s returns. Young players will get more minutes. If necessary, Steve Kerr might “experiment” with odd lineups not conducive to winning. Players often see these approaches, realize where the team is headed and lose focus late in lost seasons. That leads to even more losing.

Don’t get mad at Golden State for tanking. Hate the system that rewards it.

Though feel free to send a little animosity toward the Warriors for acting holier than though while tanking like everyone else does in a similar position.

Report: Kyrie Irving likely to miss an ‘extended period’ after shoulder procedure

Kyrie Irving
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Kyrie Irving injured his shoulder earlier this season, opted against surgery, missed 26 games, returned, injured his knee then aggravated his shoulder.

It might be time for that shoulder surgery.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends Irving’s season. The Nets are looking forward to pairing Irving and injured Kevin Durant next season.

This latest setback raises questions about Irving’s ability to stay healthy and productive. We shouldn’t assume Durant will ever return to his elite form, either. But at least Brooklyn has major upside with such talented players.

Even they don’t get an opportunity to take advantage this season, the Nets (25-28) will likely still make the playoffs. Spencer Dinwiddie will take charge at point guard, just as he did with Irving previously sidelined.

Brooklyn will visit Boston on March 3. Celtics fans were salty about Irving missing the Nets’ previous trip to Boston. I doubt that changes if Irving doesn’t face his former team in a couple weeks.

But Irving and Brooklyn are looking at the bigger picture after a significant injury like this.

Is Brandon Ingram worth a max contract? Will he get one?

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Brandon Ingram has made the leap to become an All-Star player this season. His jumper has become a weapon — another success story for Pelicans’ assistant coach Fred Vinson — and his ability to get to the bucket was never in question. Now he’s averaging 24.9 points per game and is shooting 40 percent from three (up from 33 percent the first three years of his career).

Will that get him a max contract this summer? Does he deserve one?

It depends on who you ask. From Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

Most executives believe Ingram isn’t worth a max contract, which makes his future difficult to predict.

“I wonder if [Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin] will hardball [Ingram] and say, ‘Get an offer,'” one executive asked. “Where is he getting it from?”

Another exec went the other way, suggesting Griffin could offer Ingram a full max to ensure he couldn’t take a short-term deal elsewhere, cementing him as the No. 2 option alongside Zion Williamson.

“Securing the extra year and not allowing him to sign a two-plus-one with someone is worth it,” the executive said. “Is the few million less you might save really worth the extra year?”

There are a number of struggling teams in need of talent that could step in and try to poach Ingram with a two-year max offer this summer: The Hawks, Hornets, Knicks, and Pistons all have the cap space and a fit.

Whether they will make that offer — possibly tying their hands in the 2021 free agent market — remains to be seen. Ingram is an All-Star averaging an efficient 24.9 points per game this season, he has real value, but max contract value? I’ve had sources this season tell me they expect he’d get the max but he wasn’t quite on that level.

Do the Pelicans see him as a max player?

They didn’t last summer. After the trade from the Lakers (which sent Anthony Davis to L.A.), Ingram didn’t get a max contract extension offer from New Orleans and told NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman he would “absolutely not” have signed for less. The Pelicans were hesitant to extend Ingram because he was coming off a season-ending injury — blood clots in his arm — that could linger, plus how well would he pair with Zion Williamson. Ingram had no hard feelings about it.

“I understood everything that went on with the contract and everything, because they wanted to know if I was going to be extremely healthy, if something was going to come back,” Ingram told NBC Sports. “Once I figured out the reason why they didn’t want to do the extension, we didn’t go any further with it. I knew it was not going to be the number we wanted.”

Ingram has stayed healthy, and the Pelicans are +7.3 points per 100 possessions when Ingram and Williamson are on the court together (small sample size alert). Ingram has more value to the up-and-coming Pelicans than he does any team trying to sign him away, meaning the Pelicans likely match any offer.

The question remains, will that offer be a max? Ingram expects it to be, but the rest of the league is undecided.

Nikola Jokic says he dropped 20-25 pounds during this season

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For November, Nikola Jokic averaged 15.8 points per game, with a below-league-average 51 true shooting percentage and hitting 23.6 percent from three.

In February, Jokic is averaging 27 points a game with a 66.3 true shooting percentage and is knocking down 35.3 percent of his shots from three.

The difference? He admitted he dropped 20-25 pounds during this season, thanks in large part to an improved diet. Look at what Jokic said to ESPN over the All-Star break.

“I think I didn’t shoot it that well in the first [part of the season], my shots were always off and short and I was a little bit overweight.”

He then went on to say he has dropped 20-25 pounds.

It was pretty obvious to observers that, despite playing for Serbia at the World Cup (where his team beat Team USA), he had shown up to Nuggets training camp heavy. Jokic is so skilled that even heavy he was a good player, but he was not the elite center the Nuggets need to be a threat.

He is back to being that Jokic now, looking like an All-NBA player who deserves some MVP ballot consideration — and the Nuggets need that version of him.

Denver comes out of the All-Star break as the two seed in the West, but only 3.5 games separate seeds 2-5. Denver has a tougher remaining schedule the rest of the way than any of the other teams in that mix, slip up a few games and the Nuggets could start the playoffs on the road.