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Salute to the Houston Rockets

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Ever since the Warriors signed Kevin Durant, they’ve been treated as invincible.

Bettors favored them over the field – a rare distinction in any sport. NBA teams tried to time their peaks not to coincide with Golden State’s.

And the way their first year with Durant went, who could blame anyone for assuming the Warriors would repeat? They eased their way to a 67-15 regular season and went a record 16-1 in the postseason, outscoring opponents by 13.5 points per game in the playoffs. It was arguably the greatest season of all-time, and it only reinforced existing perception.

Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson returned in their primes for this season. Golden State became even larger favorite to win the 2018 title before even wrapping up its 2017 championship.

But the Rockets refused to cede anything.

They traded for Chris Paul and signed P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. They implemented a switching defense. They pushed hard for the No. 1 seed.

And they never hid the reason: They wanted to beat the Warriors.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said he was “obsessed” with Golden State. Despite Houston coach Mike D’Antoni trying to manage expectations, his players followed Morey’s lead. Clint Capela said the Rockets are better than the Warriors. James Harden declared, “This is the year. For sure.” And Morey kept making known how closely he was watching watching the Warriors.

It reached the point Golden State wanted the Rockets in the playoffs just to shut them up.

The Warriors have ’em – heading into Game 7 of the Western Conference finals tonight.

Houston hasn’t been overwhelmed in this series. After getting spanked in Game 1, the Rockets gave Golden State its worst playoff loss since signing Durant. After losing home-court advantage, Houston won Game 4 in Oakland. And even after Chris Paul got hurt at the end of Game 5, the Rockets jumped out to a big early lead on the road in Game 6.

Though they blew that, I don’t expect them to crumble in Game 7.

Houston is full of tough, resilient players. Harden and Paul have been put through the ringer for their playoff failings. Role players like Trevor Ariza have seen it all.

This team looks primed.

That doesn’t meant the Rockets will win Game 7 tonight. Golden State is great, and Paul is banged up.

But win or lose, we should appreciate Houston’s fearlessness. There has been an organizational commitment to dethroning the Warriors, and the Rockets are on the brink of doing what – to many – seemed impossible.

Even the Cavaliers – who lost to Golden State in last year’s Finals and will return this year – hedged their bets. Cleveland traded Kyrie Irving for, in part, the Net’s first-round pick (which landed No. 8) rather than a player who could help this season. Though LeBron James‘ looming player option obviously factored, the Warriors’ perceived inevitability also surely drew consideration.

I never bought Golden State titles as a forgone conclusion. But if other teams cowered to them, the Warriors’ run to another title would have become closer to predestined.

Houston didn’t do that. If the Warriors repeat, they will have gone through an exceptionally strong foe.

The season and the playoffs have been better because because of the Rockets’ daring determination to beat Golden State. No matter how tonight turns out, Houston deserves commendation.

Anthony Davis’ “old-school, smash-mouth” 50 points leads Lakers past Wolves (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES — It almost seemed effortless.

Anthony Davis simply got wherever he wanted on the court Sunday night. And he wanted to be in the paint, right in front of the rim. Davis shot 11-of-11 at the rim and 17-of-23 in the paint on his way to what his coach described as an “old-school, smash-mouth way of getting 50.”

Yes, 50. Davis had his best offensive game as a Laker going right through the size of Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves, leading Los Angeles to a 142-125 win.

LeBron James did plenty — 32 points on 20 shots, plus 13 assists — but he battled foul trouble through the first half, and that’s when Davis put the team on his shoulders and carried them.

He carried then to the rim — Davis had 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting in the first half, and only one of those buckets from outside paint. Or, take a look at his shot chart for the game, it’s all about points in the paint.

“I was feeling very good tonight, very well rested, going against another great big man in Karl-Anthony Towns… you get up for those games, they’re a team that’s hungry,” Davis said.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each had 19 to lead a balanced Minnesota attack. The Timberwolves hung around the game because they were getting buckets against the Lakers. It gave them hope.

“I yelled at them for giving up 125, but I don’t think anyone heard me,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel joked after the game.

The Laker defense was not great, but the way they got buckets it didn’t have to be.

Gordon Hayward on his return, “Tomorrow’s a possibility”

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Boston’s depth was on display for the past month with Gordon Hayward sidelined following hand surgery — the Celtics went 9-4 with a +5.9 net rating — but the team’s offense slid back to middle-of-the-pack without his scoring and shot creation.

They are not going to be without him much longer, Hayward could return Monday night, he told reports Sunday, via Chris Forsberg at NBC Sports Boston.

“Bone has healed, probably stronger than my right hand. There’s a plate in there with screws. The bone is good,” Hayward said Sunday after going through the team’s off-day practice. Boston did not engage in any live 5-on-5 action but Hayward sounded open to returning Monday.

“Tomorrow’s a possibility,” he said. “See how I feel when I wake up, go through shootaround, see how it goes.”

As one should expect, coach Brad Stevens was more cautious but said Hayward will be back “sooner than later.”

Hayward was having a bounce-back year through his first eight games, averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. He’s been a critical playmaker for the Celtics next to Kemba Walker.

Hayward fractured his hand on a fluke play against the Spurs and required surgery to repair a fracture to his fourth metacarpal bone in his left hand (the bone that connects the wrist to the ring finger), the team announced Monday evening. Hayward has made a speedy recovery from that injury.

Boston hosts Cleveland on Monday then travels to Indiana on Wednesday.

LeBron James blows by Gorgui Dieng then puts him in poster

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LeBron James battled foul trouble in the first half against Minnesota, picking up four and only playing 12 minutes because of it.

When he was on the court, however, he was dominant — 16 points on 10 shots, with a couple of deep threes.

Then LeBron did this to Gorgui Dieng.

That’s just not fair.

In the video, watch the reaction of the Laker bench — that group is having fun.

The Lakers led 73-65 at halftime of this defensive struggle game in Los Angeles. Anthony Davis had 27 on 12-of-15 shooting in the first half.

Watch Heat rookie Tyler Herro drain game-winning three in OT, Miami beats Chicago

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Miami just finds guys. And develops them. Kendrick Nunn is at the top of that list for them this season, playing like someone who will get Rookie of the Year votes so far this season. Don’t leave Duncan Robinson off that list,  he has had some big games for the Heat lately.

Sunday it was Tyler Herro‘s turn. The rookie out of Kentucky scored 16 points through the fourth quarter and overtime against Chicago. That includes draining the game-winning three off an assist from Jimmy Butler.

That bucket held up as the final score, 108-105 Miami.

It also wasn’t Herro’s only big three in OT.

Miami improves to 17-6 on the season, and a part of that is they have rookies stepping up and contributing.