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Three Things to Know: Rockets drain record 26 threes, have turned season around… kinda

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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) Houston knocks down NBA record 26 three-pointers in fifth straight win. They have turned things around… kinda. Wednesday night’s win against Washington in a lot of ways looked like the last four games for Houston: James Harden went off (35 points), the Rockets defense was good enough, and that meant a win.

What was different: Houston set an NBA single-game record hitting 26 threes (on 55 shot attempts).

Washington’s defense was atrocious. The Rockets took 85 total shots in the game, 60 of them were uncontested (using the NBA’s Second Spectrum data, which is imperfect but validates the point about the Wizards’ defensive effort). That doesn’t invalidate what the Rockets did, just pointing out that Washington made it all possible.

Not every fan will love that Houston took 64.7 percent of their shots from three, but that’s what the Rockets should do if Washington isn’t going to run them off the line. Which the Wizards did not.

That’s five straight wins for the Rockets, who are now 16-14 and would be the seven seed if the playoffs started today.

Have the Rockets turned their season around? Well, kinda. They have fought their way back into playoff positioning and the combination we’ve seen in this win streak — MVP-level play from James Harden sparking an elite offense, with the defense being average and that’s good enough — can keep them in the playoffs in the West. But that was not the goal in Houston — the Rockets want to be contenders. This is a team that was up on the Warriors at halftime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season, they want to be a team that can take that next step. They want to be a threat to win it all, and even this improved Rockets team is not that yet. The defense is better but not good enough. They lack the depth needed on the wing (GM Daryl Morey is trying to fix that heading into the trade deadline).

So yes, the Rockets are better. But they are not where they wanted to be this season, not even close.

2) Foreshadowing? Shorthanded Raptors show mettle in comeback win against Pacers, while Celtics lose to Suns. The conventional wisdom around the league about the East right now is that it will come down to Toronto and Boston. Maybe the Bucks can crack into that group (they are right there, but there are defensive questions in a playoff matchup), and after those three it’s half a step back to the Sixers (as currently constructed without enough depth) and the Pacers.

Boston has work to do to live up to that faith in them.

The Celtics had racked up eight wins in a row against a softer part of the schedule but now has dropped two straight, one to the Pistons and one Wednesday night at home to the lowly Suns. A game where the hated-in-Boston Kelly Oubre returned, was booed, then stuck a dagger in the Celtics and blew kisses to the crowd.

Was that Celtics’ win streak a mirage? We’ll get a good measuring stick in the next week: Friday they host the Bucks, Christmas Day they host the Sixers, then the Celtics hit the road to take on the Rockets and Grizzlies. The schedule is getting tougher, is Boston up to it?

Toronto, on the other hand, is doing what elite teams do — finding ways to win, even key players out.

No Kyle Lowry. No Serge Ibaka. And the Pacers were in control, up 17 (77-60) with five minutes to go in the third. Then Kawhi Leonard led the way (scoring 11 of his 28 on the night in this stretch) and the Raptors closed out the game on a 39-19 run over the final 17 minutes to get the win. Fred VanVleet knocked down the shot that gave Toronto the lead for good.

I hear you Pacers fans: That was a bad call at the end of the game. The Pacers needed a three to tie, got the ball to Bojan Bogdanovic beyond the arc and OG Anunoby reached in and fouled him as Bogdanovic started to go up. Unquestionably. But that’s not why the Pacers lost the game — blow a 17 point lead in the final 17 minutes and you don’t get to put the blame on the officials for one call. The Pacers deserved to lose that game the way they played down the stretch.

3) Derrick Rose is back and fun to watch. Savor this. I’ll admit it: I thought he was washed. So many seasons of watching Derrick Rose struggle after his knee injuries, watching his struggle with the craft of his game once he was robbed of his explosiveness, had me thinking he was done.

Rose is back — averaging 19 points a game, knocking down threes better than he ever has (46.9 percent on 3.3 attempts per game), getting to the rim, managing games, being efficient (his 58 true shooting percentage would be a career high), and he’s just flat-out fun to watch right now.

Monday night he dropped 33 for the Timberwolves in an eventual loss to the Pistons.

Rose is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate this season and he is all the way back. At age 30, he’s not the same player he was in his early 20s in Chicago, he’s something else entirely. Rose has reinvented himself, and it’s beautiful to watch.

Savor this while we can. Rose is having a redemptive season, showing how hard work and belief in yourself can pay off, and it is one of the best stories in the NBA this season.

Complete list of 2019 NBA draft early entrants

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Who’s the best senior in the 2019 NBA draft?

Washington’s Matisse Thybulle? North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson? Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield? Villanova’s Eric Paschall? Belmont’s Dylan Windler?

They’re all only borderline first-round picks. Though I think at least one will get picked in the opening round, this could be the first NBA draft without a senior selected in the first round.

Like most drafts in this era, the top prospects are largely underclassmen. They had to declare for the draft by Sunday. Some will definitely stay in. Others will withdraw by the NBA’s deadline (June 10) or, more importantly, the NCAA’s deadline to retain eligibility (May 29). Unlike previous years, players can hire agents while retaining college eligibility. But they had to enter the pool by now to stay in.

Here are all 2019 early entrants, players who came through the American system followed by international players:

Player Team Height Status
Milan Acquaah California Baptist 6-3 Sophomore
Bryce Aiken Harvard 6-0 Junior
Nickeil Alexander-Walker Virginia Tech 6-5 Sophomore
Al-Wajid Aminu North Florida 6-7 Junior
Desmond Bane TCU 6-5 Junior
RJ Barrett Duke 6-7 Freshman
Charles Bassey Western Kentucky 6-11 Freshman
Tyus Battle Syracuse 6-6 Junior
Troy Baxter Jr. FGCU 6-8 Sophomore
Darius Bazley Princeton HS (OH) 6-9 Post-Graduate
Kerry Blackshear Jr. Virginia Tech 6-10 Junior
Phil Bledsoe Glenville State (WV) 6-6 Junior
Bol Bol Oregon 7-2 Freshman
Marques Bolden Duke 6-11 Junior
Jordan Bone Tennessee 6-3 Junior
Ky Bowman Boston College 6-1 Junior
DaQuan Bracey Louisiana Tech 5-11 Junior
Keith Braxton St. Francis (PA) 6-4 Junior
Ignas Brazdeikis Michigan 6-7 Freshman
Oshae Brissett Syracuse 6-8 Sophomore
Armoni Brooks Houston 6-3 Junior
Charlie Brown Jr. St. Joseph’s 6-7 Sophomore
Moses Brown UCLA 7-1 Freshman
Nico Carvacho Colorado State 6-11 Junior
Yoeli Childs BYU 6-8 Junior
Brandon Clarke Gonzaga 6-8 Junior
Nicolas Claxton Georgia 6-11 Sophomore
Amir Coffey Minnesota 6-8 Junior
RJ Cole Howard 6-1 Sophomore
Tyler Cook Iowa 6-9 Junior
Anthony Cowan Jr. Maryland 6-0 Junior
Jarrett Culver Texas Tech 6-5 Sophomore
Jarron Cumberland Cincinnati 6-5 Junior
Tulio Da Silva Missouri State 6-8 Junior
Caleb Daniels Tulane 6-4 Sophomore
Aubrey Dawkins UCF 6-6 Junior
Silvio De Sousa Kansas 6-9 Sophomore
Javin DeLaurier Duke 6-10 Junior
Mamadi Diakite Virginia 6-9 Junior
Alpha Diallo Providence 6-7 Junior
James Dickey UNCG 6-10 Junior
David DiLeo Central Michigan 6-7 Junior
Davon Dillard Shaw (NC) 6-5 Junior
Luguentz Dort Arizona State 6-4 Freshman
Devon Dotson Kansas 6-2 Freshman
Jason Draggs Lee College (TX) 6-9 Freshman
Aljami Durham Indiana 6-4 Sophomore
Carsen Edwards Purdue 6-1 Junior
CJ Elleby Washington State 6-6 Freshman
Steven Enoch Louisville 6-10 Junior
Bruno Fernando Maryland 6-10 Sophomore
Jaylen Fisher TCU 6-2 Junior
Savion Flagg Texas A&M 6-7 Sophomore
Daniel Gafford Arkansas 6-11 Sophomore
Darius Garland Vanderbilt 6-2 Freshman
Eugene German Northern Illinois 6-0 Junior
TJ Gibbs Notre Dame 6-3 Junior
Quentin Goodin Xavier 6-4 Junior
Tony Goodwin II Redemption Christian Acad. (MA) 6-6 Post-Graduate
Kellan Grady Davidson 6-5 Sophomore
Devonte Green Indiana 6-3 Junior
Quentin Grimes Kansas 6-5 Freshman
Jon Axel Gudmundsson Davidson 6-4 Junior
Kyle Guy Virginia 6-2 Junior
Rui Hachimura Gonzaga 6-8 Junior
Jaylen Hands UCLA 6-3 Sophomore
Jerrick Harding Weber State 6-1 Junior
Jared Harper Auburn 5-11 Junior
Kevon Harris Stephen F. Austin 6-6 Junior
Jaxson Hayes Texas 6-11 Freshman
Dewan Hernandez Miami 6-11 Junior
Tyler Herro Kentucky 6-5 Freshman
Amir Hinton Shaw (NC) 6-5 Junior
Jaylen Hoard Wake Forest 6-8 Freshman
Daulton Hommes Point Loma Nazarene (CA) 6-8 Junior
Talen Horton-Tucker Iowa State 6-4 Freshman
De’Andre Hunter Virginia 6-7 Sophomore
Ty Jerome Virginia 6-5 Junior
Markell Johnson North Carolina State 6-1 Junior
Keldon Johnson Kentucky 6-6 Freshman
Jayce Johnson Utah 7-0 Junior
Tyrique Jones Xavier 6-9 Junior
Mfiondu Kabengele Florida State 6-10 Sophomore
Sacha Killeya-Jones NC State 6-11 Junior
Louis King Oregon 6-9 Freshman
V.J. King Louisville 6-6 Junior
Nathan Knight William & Mary 6-10 Junior
Sagaba Konate West Virginia 6-8 Junior
Martin Krampelj Creighton 6-9 Junior
Romeo Langford Indiana 6-6 Freshman
Cameron Lard Iowa State 6-9 Sophomore
Dedric Lawson Kansas 6-9 Junior
A.J. Lawson South Carolina 6-6 Freshman
Jalen Lecque Brewster Academy (NH) 6-3 Post-Graduate
Jacob Ledoux Texas-Permian Basin 6-3 Junior
Nassir Little North Carolina 6-6 Freshman
Tevin Mack Alabama 6-6 Junior
Malik Maitland Bethune-Cookman 5-9 Guard
Trevor Manuel Olivet (MI) 6-9 Junior
Jermaine Marrow Hampton 6-0 Junior
Naji Marshall Xavier 6-7 Sophomore
Charles Matthews Michigan 6-6 Junior
Skylar Mays LSU 6-4 Junior
Jalen McDaniels San Diego State 6-10 Sophomore
Davion Mintz Creighton 6-3 Junior
EJ Montgomery Kentucky 6-10 Freshman
Ja Morant Murray State 6-3 Sophomore
Andrew Nembhard Florida 6-5 Freshman
Kouat Noi TCU 6-7 Sophomore
Zach Norvell Jr. Gonzaga 6-5 Sophomore
Jaylen Nowell Washington 6-4 Sophomore
Joel Ntambwe UNLV 6-9 Freshman
Jordan Nwora Louisville 6-8 Sophomore
Chuma Okeke Auburn 6-8 Sophomore
KZ Okpala Stanford 6-9 Sophomore
Miye Oni Yale 6-6 Junior
Devonte Patterson Prairie View A&M 6-7 Junior
Reggie Perry Mississippi State 6-10 Freshman
Lamar Peters Mississippi State 6-0 Junior
Filip Petrusev Gonzaga 6-11 Freshman
Jalen Pickett Siena 6-4 Freshman
Shamorie Ponds St. John’s 6-1 Junior
Jordan Poole Michigan 6-5 Sophomore
Cletrell Pope Bethune-Cookman 6-9 Junior
Nik Popovic Boston College 6-11 Junior
Kevin Porter Jr. USC 6-6 Freshman
Jontay Porter Missouri 6-11 Sophomore
Myles Powell Seton Hall 6-2 Junior
Payton Pritchard Oregon 6-2 Junior
Neemias Queta Utah State 6-11 Freshman
Brandon Randolph Arizona 6-6 Sophomore
Cam Reddish Duke 6-8 Freshman
Isaiah Reese Canisius 6-5 Junior
Naz Reid LSU 6-10 Freshman
Nick Richards Kentucky 6-11 Sophomore
LaQuincy Rideau South Florida 6-1 Junior
Austin Robinson Kentucky Christian 6-2 Sophomore
Isaiah Roby Nebraska 6-8 Junior
Ayinde Russell Morehouse 6-3 Junior
Kevin Samuel TCU 6-11 Freshman
Paul Scruggs Xavier 6-3 Sophomore
Samir Sehic Tulane 6-9 Junior
Josh Sharkey Samford 5-10 Junior
Simisola Shittu Vanderbilt 6-10 Freshman
Nike Sibande Miami (OH) 6-4 Sophomore
Justin Simon St. John’s 6-5 Junior
D’Marcus Simonds Georgia State 6-3 Junior
Ja’Vonte Smart LSU 6-4 Freshman
Justin Smith Indiana 6-7 Sophomore
Derrik Smits Valparaiso 7-1 Junior
Lamar Stevens Penn State 6-8 Junior
Jalen Sykes St. Clair College (Canada) 6-5 Junior
Marlon Taylor LSU 6-6 Junior
Ethan Thompson Oregon State 6-5 Sophomore
Killian Tillie Gonzaga 6-10 Junior
Donnie Tillman Utah 6-7 Sophomore
Tres Tinkle Oregon State 6-8 Junior
Obi Toppin Dayton 6-9 Freshman
Rayjon Tucker Arkansas-Little Rock 6-5 Junior
Justin Turner Bowling Green 6-4 Sophomore
Nick Ward Michigan State 6-8 Junior
PJ Washington Jr. Kentucky 6-8 Sophomore
Tremont Waters LSU 5-11 Sophomore
Kaleb Wesson Ohio State 6-9 Sophomore
Coby White North Carolina 6-5 Freshman
Jimmy Whitt Jr. SMU 6-3 Junior
Joe Wieskamp Iowa 6-6 Freshman
Lindell Wigginton Iowa State 6-2 Sophomore
Kris Wilkes UCLA 6-8 Sophomore
Charles Williams Howard 6-6 Junior
Emmitt Williams LSU 6-7 Freshman
Grant Williams Tennessee 6-7 Junior
Zion Williamson Duke 6-7 Freshman
Holland Woods II Portland State 6-0 Sophomore
Kenny Wooten Oregon 6-9 Sophomore
Dikembe Andre Paulistano (Brazil) 6-9 1999 DOB
Felipe Dos Anjos Melilla (Spain) 7-2 1998 DOB
Darko Bajo Cedevita (Croatia) 6-10 1999 DOB
Aleksander Balcerowski Gran Canaria (Spain) 7-1 2000 DOB
Goga Bitadze Buducnost (Montenegro) 7-0 1999 DOB
Vrenz Bleijenbergh Antwerp (Belgium) 6-9 2000 DOB
Adrian Bogucki Radom (Poland) 7-1 1999 DOB
Leandro Bolmaro Barcelona (Spain) 6-6 2000 DOB
Ognjen Carapic Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-4 1998 DOB
Leo Cizmic Girona (Spain) 6-8 1998 DOB
Digue Diawara Pau Orthez (France) 6-9 1998 DOB
Nenad Dimitrijevic Joventut (Spain) 6-1 1998 DOB
Sekou Doumbouya Limoges (France) 6-8 2000 DOB
Henri Drell Baunach (Germany) 6-9 2000 DOB
Paul Eboua Roseto (Italy) 6-8 2000 DOB
Osas Ehigiator Fuenlabrada (Spain) 6-10 1999 DOB
Biram Faye Avila (Spain) 6-9 2000 DOB
Ivan Fevrier Levallois (France) 6-9 1999 DOB
Aleix Font Barcelona (Spain) 6-4 1998 DOB
Philipp Herkenhoff Vechta (Germany) 6-10 1999 DOB
Dalibor Ilic Igokea (Bosnia) 6-8 2000 DOB
Matas Jogela Dzukija (Lithuania) 6-6 1998 DOB
Panagiotis Kalaitzakis Holargos (Greece) 6-6 1999 DOB
Mate Kalajzic Split (Croatia) 6-2 1998 DOB
Lukasz Kolenda Trefl Sopot (Poland) 6-5 1999 DOB
Marcos Louzada Silva Franca (Brazil) 6-5 1999 DOB
Andrija Marjanovic Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-8 1999 DOB
Gytis Masiulis Neptunas (Lithuania) 6-9 1998 DOB
Jonas Mattisseck Alba Berlin (Germany) 6-5 2000 DOB
William McDowell-White Baunach (Germany) 6-5 1998 DOB
Nikita Mikhailovskii Avtodor (Russia) 6-6 2000 DOB
Nikola Miskovic Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-10 1999 DOB
Adam Mokoka Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-5 1998 DOB
Muhaymin Mustafa Tofas (Turkey) 6-5 1999 DOB
Abdoulaye N’Doye Cholet (France) 6-7 1998 DOB
Toni Nakic Sibenik (Croatia) 6-8 1999 DOB
Tanor Ngom Ryerson (Canada) 7-2 1998 DOB
Joshua Obiesie Wurzburg (Germany) 6-6 2000 DOB
David Okeke Fiat Torino (Italy) 6-8 1998 DOB
Louis Olinde Brose Baskets (Germany) 6-9 1998 DOB
Zoran Paunovic FMP (Serbia) 6-7 2000 DOB
Dino Radoncic Murcia (Spain) 6-8 1999 DOB
Sander Raieste Baskonia (Spain) 6-8 1999 DOB
Neal Sako Levallois (France) 6-10 1998 DOB
Luka Samanic Olimpija (Slovenia) 6-10 2000 DOB
Yago Dos Santos Paulistano (Brazil) 5-10 1999 DOB
Tadas Sedekerskis Baskonia (Spain) 6-8 1998 DOB
Njegos Sikiras Tormes (Spain) 6-9 1999 DOB
Borisa Simanic Crvena Zvezda (Serbia) 6-11 1998 DOB
Deividas Sirvydis Rytas (Lithuania) 6-7 2000 DOB
Khadim Sow ASVEL (France) 6-11 1999 DOB
Filip Stanic Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-10 1998 DOB
Michael Uchendu Coruna (Spain) 6-10 1998 DOB
Bastien Vautier Nancy (France) 6-11 1998 DOB
Arnas Velicka Tartu Ulikool (Estonia) 6-4 1999 DOB
Warren Woghiren Cholet (France) 6-10 1998 DOB
Arturs Zagars Joventut (Spain) 6-3 2000 DOB
Yovel Zoosman Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) 6-7 1998 DOB

LeBron James denies that Lakers must repair relationship with him

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Lakers president Magic Johnson reportedly planned to fire coach Luke Walton and wanted to fire general manager Rob Pelinka. Instead, Johnson resigned with a stunning public announcement without first telling owner Jeanie Buss. Pelinka, who has many detractors throughout the league, is now in charge of the front office. The Lakers reportedly offered to keep Walton, but he bolted for the Kings. The Lakers have no coach. They do have a roster LeBron James described as “[fart noise].” Johnson will reportedly help the team recruit free agents.

Nearly one year after signing LeBron James, the Lakers are a mess.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

I think it’s very precarious right now. I think the trust that LeBron James has in the Lakers organization has been damaged – maybe irrevocably. I’m not saying it can’t be repaired. But right now, there’s a tough bridge that has fallen that’s going to be need to be put back together. And that’s going to have to be a proving ground for Jeanie Buss, for Rob Pelinka, for Kurt Rambis, for Linda Rambis – whoever else is involved in this process now. And there’s going to be an initial thing proven with whoever is hired as the coach and then this summer.

LeBron, via Instagram:

Even if LeBron has lost confidence in the Lakers, his denial is important. It means he doesn’t want to escalate this issue.

LeBron, for good reason, holds extreme confidence in himself. I’m sure he believes, as long the Lakers have him, they’ll be alright.

But he can’t do everything, and he knows that, too. He often held the Cavaliers’ feet to the fire. He signed a series of short-term contracts, creating the threat of departure. He demanded Dan Gilbert spend more. He, often passive-aggressively, called on executives, coaches and teammates to perform better.

LeBron hasn’t shown that same urgency in Los Angeles, starting with locking in for three years – longer than any contract in his return to Cleveland.

Maybe this is an older and more mature LeBron trying to present steadiness amid chaos.

Or maybe this is yet another sign LeBron went to Los Angeles with priorities other than winning. After all, the Lakers’ shoddy operation won’t prevent him from enjoying his L.A. lifestyle and Hollywood proximity.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts makes Russell Westbrook ‘next question’ jokes (video)

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Damian Lillard took a well-deserved victory lap after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer sunk Russell Westbrook – who seemingly took a shot at Lillard last year – and the Thunder.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts had fun at Westbrook’s expense, too.

Westbrook has repeatedly answered questions from Berry Tramel of The Oklahoma with, “Next question.” Though Westbrook shifted to variants of “not sure” after the last couple games of the series, he still didn’t meaningfully answer Tramel’s questions.

Stotts interjected himself into Westbrook’s feud with Tramel before Game 3.

Clay Horning of The Norman Transcript:

Also, when former Sooner standout Terry Stotts, who is head coach of the Trail Blazers, entered the pregame interview room on Friday, the first thing he said was, “Go ahead, I’ll answer your question, Berry.”

Then, Stotts really laid it on thick after Game 5 last night, as shown in the above video. He specifically called on Tramel to ask a question then joked how badly he wanted to answer with “next question.”

Stotts landed on the hot seat after Portland got swept in the first round last year. He kept his job and did a fantastic work with the Trail Blazers this year. It’s great to see him enjoying himself.

I also can’t help but wonder how Westbrook feels about Stotts.

Kyle Lowry’s ring finger “popped out” during Game 5, he will be ready for Game 1 vs. 76ers

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In the second quarter of the Raptors’ close-out win against the Magic, Kyle Lowry injured his finger, apparently dislocating the ring finger on his right hand, his shooting hand.

However, it’s the playoffs, he was back in the game quickly and he will certainly be ready to go Saturday when Toronto begins a second-round showdown against Philadelphia. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN has the details.

Lowry jammed the finger while deflecting a ball in the second quarter. During the subsequent timeout, the Raptors’ medical staff attended to Lowry’s hand on the bench. He returned to play but went back to the locker room with 2:41 remaining in the first half.

Lowry, who was wearing a splint on the finger during the postgame news conference, started the second half for the Raptors and finished with 14 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“It popped out, but it’s fine,” Lowry said. “I popped it back in. Got a couple days to get it back and recover, and hopefully it will be better by Game 1. Well, it will be better by Game 1.”

It needs to be because the Raptors can’t have another 0-of-7 shooting start from him, which is what they got in an ugly Game 1 loss to Orlando. The 76ers are not the Magic, Toronto can’t have another dreadful start in Game 1 and dig themselves a hole at home.

Lowry’s shooting and playmaking will be a big part of that next series.