Three Things to Know: Rockets lost their swagger

Associated Press
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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.

Nets reportedly trade Kyrie Irving to Mavericks for Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, picks

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets
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Dallas desperately needed a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić.

They got one — Mark Cuban has always been willing to take risks to win. The question about how long this can last comes later.

The Nets are trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, their unprotected 2029 first-round pick their 2027 and 2029 second-round picks, according to multiple reports.

Irving is reportedly “ecstatic” to make the move to Dallas (the hard questions about a future contract will wait until after the season).

Brooklyn had several suitors to choose from but wanted in return players it could slot in around Kevin Durant now (or, once he is healthy and returns) so they could still have a puncher’s chance to win the East. Dinwiddie gives Brooklyn a point guard and shot creator who can play some off the ball — and he returns to Brooklyn, where he made a name for himself in the league. Finney-Smith is a coveted two-way wing who can step in right now. Plus, the Nets add some potentially valuable picks down the line.

That offer gave the Nets more win-now possibilities than they got out of the Lakers’ offer (two future first-rounders and Russell Westbrook) or what the Suns and Clippers put in the mix.

There are questions for Dallas, but ones they believe they can answer — elite talents figure out a way to make it work on the court. Off the court, it helps that both coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. That’s a start.

The pairing of Dončić and Irving should lead to games and stretches where they look brilliant, but the question is not the highs but the lows — how deep and how prolonged will those be? Irving works well off the ball (as he has done with Durant and LeBron James) and should be able to play off Dončić. However, can Dončić play well off the ball when Irving is hot? Do the Mavericks — with Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood, Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and the rest — have enough around their two stars to be a serious threat in the West? Off the court, can the very different personalities of Irving and Dončić mesh, or at least work well enough not to be a distraction?

The biggest question: Do Cuban and the Mavericks really want to re-sign Irving for the four-years, $198.5 million he demands at the end of the season? There are reports that Dallas (like every other front office in the league, including Brooklyn) is hesitant to do a long-term deal with Irving that gives him that kind of guaranteed money.

But that is a concern for the future — Dallas got its second star. It has vaulted itself into the upper echelons of the Western Conference and positioned itself to contend.

Reports: Stephen Curry out ‘weeks’ with leg injury, Warriors hope for return after All-Star Break

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
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This is bad news for the Warriors. How bad depends on how the word “weeks” is ultimately defined.

Stephen Curry has torn ligaments in his leg — in the shin area just below the knee — and while the team does not have an official timeline he will be out “weeks” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“Weeks” is a vague word, and for the Warriors the difference in Curry being out three weeks (with one of those being the All-Star Break) versus him being out six to eight weeks could be the difference in how long a playoff run the Warriors have.

The Warriors are hoping for a Curry return just after the All-Star break, reports Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Of short-term concern, this has Curry out for the All-Star Game where the fans voted him a starter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will bump one of the reserves up to a starting spot — likely Ja Morant, who was third in fan voting — and name an injury replacement for the team. The top candidates are Devin Booker (if he returns from injury this week as expected), De'Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards.

Longer term, the Warriors can’t afford to be without Curry for an extended period.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game, and the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 5.4 when he is off. With the team one game above .500 and struggling to avoid the play-in, an extended absence for Curry is trouble for a Warriors team that has never found its footing this season.

 

Nets reportedly going to sit Kyrie Irving until he is traded

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This time it looks like it’s going to happen, the Brooklyn Nets will trade Kyrie Irving (unlike this summer).

Just don’t expect to see Irving on the court for Brooklyn until he’s moved, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

That is at one time a combination of smart, the only real call to make, the Nets wanting to look like they have control over the situation because Irving’s camp already leaked that he was going to sit out the rest of the season if not traded.

Irving did not play Saturday night when the Nets went down by 20 in the first quarter but rallied behind 44 points from Cam Thomas to get a much-needed win.

Four primary suitors have stepped up for Irving: The Lakers (considered Irving’s preferred destination), Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. The question is what do the Nets want back in a trade? If, as most around the league expect, the goal is to remain in the championship picture around Kevin Durant, Brooklyn will prize quality players and depth over draft picks. That’s bad news for the Lakers (the core of their offer is two future first-round picks plus Russell Westbrook) and good for the team down the hall, the Clippers can offer good players — John Wall, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, plus young players such as Terance Mann — plus a pick if they need it.

The question for teams: Irving wants a max contract after this summer, similar to the four-year, $198.5 million fully guaranteed extension the Nets would not offer after Irving had 10 weeks or so of not being disruptive and focusing on basketball. Around the league, front offices are very hesitant to get into the Irving business for that long (most thought he would never get more than a two-year offer). Are the four teams above desperate enough for a bold move that ownership would sign off on four years with Irving? Will any of them? Or, like this summer, will Irving find the market not to his liking?

It’s going to be interesting until the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Watch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go off for 42, Thunder blow out Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder took what coach Mark Daigneault called a “bloodthirsty mentality” into Saturday’s rematch with the Houston Rockets.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 42 points to help the Thunder blow out Houston 153-121.

They were disappointed in losing at Houston on Wednesday and responded by setting an Oklahoma City record for points in a game, surpassing the 150 they scored in a win over the Boston Celtics last month.

“Just (wanted to) be the aggressors,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Play our style, our brand of basketball. I think we got away from that a little bit in Houston, and we just wanted to get back on track.”

Daigneault was most pleased that the approach was player-led.

“It wasn’t like I was giving motivational speeches,” he said. “But, you know, as a team, they kind of banded together and decided that they were going to come out and play the way they did. And they were impressive because of it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander set the tone by scoring 20 points in the first quarter.

“I thought tonight was, like, a pretty big leadership statement game for him,” Daigneault said. “I think when you need a response like we needed tonight coming out of the other night, you rely on your guys that are most experienced, who play the most minutes.”

Gilgeous-Alexander shot 7 for 23 from the field in the first matchup, but bounced back to make 14 of 23 field goals on Saturday, falling two points short of his career high. The first-time All-Star also made 14 of 15 free throws and had six assists for the Thunder, despite not playing in the fourth quarter because the Thunder led by 42 points at the end of the third.

Mike Muscala scored a season-high 19 points and Josh Giddey added 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for Oklahoma City.

“We’re a team that’s growing in confidence, and I think our habits are growing,” Daigneault said. “And I think a lot of things are moving in the right direction.”

Josh Christopher and TyTy Washington each scored 20 points and Tari Eason added 18 for the Rockets.

The Rockets were playing without Eric Gordon (sore right knee) and Jae'Sean Tate (right ankle injury).

Rockets coach Stephen Silas didn’t want to hear it.

“You’ve got to step up in these situations, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “We succumbed to back-to-back, three-in-four, no Eric, no Tate, all that stuff. … We succumbed to it. That’s not – we’re talking about winning habits. That’s not one.”

Oklahoma City led 79-53 at the break after shooting 55% from the field. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 28 points in the first two quarters, a career high for him in a first half.

The Thunder continued to roll in the third quarter, making 16 of 26 field goals in the period to go up 123-81 heading into the fourth.

Oklahoma City set the Thunder single-game scoring record on a 3-pointer by Darius Bazley that banked in during the final minute.