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Three Things to Know: Rockets lost their swagger

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Rockets “lost our swagger,” build a brick house with shots on the way to a fourth straight loss. It’s far too early to panic. It’s far too early to panic. It’s far too early to panic.

The Rockets keep repeating the mantra, but they also know last season it was almost Christmas before they lost their fifth game (Dec. 20) and they had won 25 games by then. This year the fifth loss came before Halloween.

That fifth loss was ugly. Even without James Harden (he could be back this weekend from his sore hamstring), Tuesday night was a game Houston should have controlled. For Portland, this was supposed to be a “schedule makers’ loss” — second night of a road back-to-back (with travel across time zones), the third game in four days and the fourth in sixth. At that point, teams tend to look like they lost their legs a couple of flights ago and get steamrolled.

Except, after a lackluster first quarter by both teams, Portland played with more energy and passion than well-rested Houston. The result was a 104-85 Trail Blazers’ win, dropping the Rockets to 1-5 on the young season. After the game, coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Right now, we’re playing like crap… We lost our swagger. We’re on our heels.”

The Rockets found a new way to lose Tuesday. While their defense has been the bigger problem through the first five games, this time it was the offense. Harden or no, the Rockets still had elite bucket getters in Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and Carmelo Anthony on the roster — except they shot a combined 12-of-49 (24.5 percent). Off the bench, Gerald Green was 1-of-10. Houston shot 23.3 percent from three. Rather than list the ugly numbers, just look at the Rockets’ shot chart for the game.

Houston is a mess, a team that is bottom seven on offense and defense to start the season. Some excuses have some merit, the team has missed Chris Paul a couple of games (suspension) and Harden a couple now, but that doesn’t explain the depth of the troubles. Nor can all the woes be blamed on Carmelo Anthony. It’s both of those things and the loss of defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik and much more. However, the biggest thing is a consistently lackluster effort, especially when the team is challenged. The Rockets are playing with no heart.

Friday the Rockets head out on a five-game road trip that feels like it could help define the entire season. For good or bad will be the question.

2) Patrick Beverley crashes into Russell Westbrook’s knees. Again. And soon police were on the court. Before this season started, Russell Westbrook had “clean up” surgery on his left knee, his fourth surgery on that knee. The issues date back to the 2013 playoffs, when Patrick Beverley (then with Houston) went for a steal, took out Westbrook’s knee, which led to a meniscus tear and a couple of surgeries. Westbrook and Beverley have had a beef ever since then.

Tuesday night this happened and it felt like Deja’ Vu.

Westbrook was not injured — but he was hot. So were his Thunder teammates. So much so that the police came onto the court just to keep the peace.

Westbrook was given a technical foul for his reaction (and probably a few choice words). Doc Rivers may not have liked it, but Beverley was given a Flagrant 1 foul. If anything that was soft. Beverley was going for a loose ball (which Westbrook had already controlled) but was reckless with his body in a way that could have led to a serious injury. Fortunately, this time Westbrook wasn’t hurt.

The Thunder got the win 128-110. These teams meet up again Dec. 15, circle that one on the calendar.

3) Cavaliers win! Cavaliers win! They can’t hire a coach but Cavaliers Win! Larry Drew is 1-0 as the Cavaliers’ coach… except he’s not the coach. Drew is the voice of the head coach right now, whatever that means. Maybe there’s a puppet involved. Technically, the Cavaliers were without a coach.

Whatever. It worked.

Cleveland picked up its first win of the season in the first game since Tyronn Lue was fired, easily handling the Atlanta Hawks 136-114. Rodney Hood had 26 points to lead seven Cavaliers players in double figures in scoring. The Cavaliers hit 54 percent from three, which helped, as did the fact they attacked the rim and played fast. Neither team defended well, but the Hawks turned the ball over on 21.6 percent of their possessions and let the Cavaliers get the offensive rebound on 31.4 percent of their missed shots, and that was the difference.

It was a welcome respite for a team that has had nothing but bad news to start the season. The ugly coaching situation still looms, and the team has started shopping Kyle Korver again, but a win at least makes the optics a little better for all of it.

Karl-Anthony Towns shoots down trade rumors, and was that a dig at Jimmy Butler?

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Karl-Anthony Towns was back on the court for the first time in a month Friday night, dropping 27 on the Pacers and looking every bit one of the best big men in the game (even as he shook off a little rust).

Towns’ name was in the news while he was out, with reports about how the Knicks dream was to trade for him and Warriors were monitoring his situation. There has been zero Towns trade talk around the league — he is in the first year of a five-year contract extension and wants to give the new Timberwolves’ new management a chance to build around him — but that hasn’t squashed the speculation.

So Towns tried to do that after Friday night’s game — and takes a little dig at Jimmy Butler in the process. Via Chris Hine of the Star Tribune.

“I think you’ve been around me long enough to know I don’t go for all the s***,” Towns said. “I just do my job, go home and I know what the real story is. There’s a reason those stories are made because people need to sell papers, sell links and clicks, whatever the case may be. I’m here to be a Minnesota Timberwolf. Very fortunate I have a head coach like [Ryan Saunders], a President and friend like [Gersson Rosas]. I’m not worried about all that nonsense.

“Whatever we have to deal with in house, we’ll deal with in house, but this ain’t the circus like it used to be. This is something that’s going to be done as a family. If we have a problem or anything, we’ll deal with it internally. We won’t have any external forces here adding anything.”

The circus/family comments are clearly a little dig at Jimmy Butler.

The circus was at the start of the 2018-19 season, when Butler wanted out of Minnesota and went full diva to create a massive distraction and force then coach/GM Tom Thibodeau’s hand. Butler was traded to the Sixers, and then last summer left Philadelphia for Miami (where he has played at an All-NBA level). Butler may not have loved how he perceived Towns (and, more so, Andrew Wiggins) commitment to the game, but Towns was no fan of how Butler handled his business. Towns doesn’t like things dealt with that publicly.

Towns was playing at an All-NBA level himself this season before his injury, including shooting 41.5 percent on 8.5 threes a game — KAT has been an offensive force. Rosas, however, has a lot of work to do to build a quality team around Towns. Towns committed to Minnesota with this new contract and, while he may be frustrated with the losing this season, he’s not going Anthony Davis.

A couple of years from now… who knows? That’s a couple of lifetimes away in the NBA. Until then, teams will monitor Towns’ situation and mood, he will shoot down trade rumors, and the cycle will go on.

Somehow, Ja Morant highlights keep getting better (video)

Ja Morant
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Ja Morant is special.

He has already produced a few amazing plays during his rookie year. He has even taken over full games with his flashy play.

But the performance he put on during the Grizzlies’ win over the Cavaliers last night was something else.

Thrice, Morant elevated for show-stopping dunks. He scored only once. But each time, something incredible happened.

First, Morant way up to catch a lob from Jae Crowder, adjusted mid-air and found Jaren Jackson Jr. for a dunk:

Then, less than a minute later, Morant finished a lob from Crowder with a beautiful one-handed slam:

Finally, Morant leaped to posterize Larry Nance Jr., realized that wouldn’t work then threw a spinning behind-the-back pass to Jackson. Though Alfonzo McKinnie blocked Jackson, Morant’s move was dazzling:

If Morant is going to keep putting on shows like this during games, maybe we can forgive him for skipping the dunk contest.

Trae Young gets ankles absolutely destroyed by Dejounte Murray (video)

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The Hawks got Trae Young his desired help, trading for Jeff Teague.

Maybe Young will do his part and step up on defense.

That didn’t happen on this possession against Spurs guard Dejounte Murry.

At least Young continued his breakout season on the other end, scoring 31 points and dishing nine assists in Atlanta’s rare victory in San Antonio.

Tristan Thompson slaps Jae Crowder’s rear end, gets ejected (video)

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What is it about Cleveland athletes slapping butts and getting in trouble?

Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. faces a simple battery charge for slapping a police officer’s backside in LSU’s locker room after the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Last night, Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson got ejected for slapping Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder‘s behind.

Thompson and Crowder got double technical fouls earlier in the game. So, Thompson got ejected with a tech for this incident between free throws.

Though the two are former Cleveland teammates, Crowder didn’t look amused. Crowder doesn’t play.

The Cavs rallied without Thompson, but Memphis won, 113-109.