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Three Things to Know: Chris Paul goes down with hamstring injury, then Rockets fall down

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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) Tell me if this sounds familiar: Chris Paul goes down with hamstring injury, then Rockets go down with a loss. Last season Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games due to injury, however, more importantly, he missed Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors with a strained hamstring, two games the Rockets led at the half but could not close out. That transitioned into a whole lot of “if only” cries in Houston.

Which is why there was an uncomfortable sense of deja vu when Paul went back to the locker room during the second quarter Thursday night’s game in Miami with what was later determined to be a hamstring injury. One that could sideline him for “a while.”

The Rockets are 0-5 in games Paul has sat this season.

It’s 0-6 if you count this one. With CP3 out of the picture, Miami took the lead when they opened the third quarter on a 17-4 run. James Harden — nine of his 35 came in the fourth quarter — led a comeback that had the Rockets briefly take the lead, but Miami answered with a 6-0 run of its own and some key buckets from Tyler Johnson down the stretch. When an Eric Gordon attempt from three missed in the final seconds, Miami got the 101-99 win.

It wasn’t a pretty game — the Heat were the better shooting team on the night and still made just 38.7 percent overall and hit 9-of-39 from three. But that kind of grinding game seems to work for the Heat. Miami now 4-4 in games they shot less than 40 percent this season. Which is just weird.

For Houston, which had climbed back into the playoffs in the West going into this game, the real test is coming up the next few weeks (including against the Thunder on Christmas).

2) Luka Doncic is as advertised, but the Clippers got Lou Williams back and that got them a win. Before tipoff, Doc Rivers said of Luka Doncic, “I haven’t ever wanted to watch a rookie play more than him.”

After the game, where Doncic dropped 32 on the Clippers, Rivers said “I’m sick of him” with a laugh.

Doc Rivers, however, had something that made him feel a lot better — the return of Lou Williams. In the first half Dallas trapped Williams and Tobias Harris, but Rivers said they had seen that in the previous meeting and set up release valves — Danilo Gallinari for one, and he finished with 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting. The other was Montrezl Harrell and the other bigs on the roll after setting picks, and Harrell finished with 18. Harrell feasted on Dirk Nowitzki in the big German’s limited minutes (he’s still not moving like he wants).

Then in the fourth quarter, Williams wasn’t facilitating he was scoring — 13 of his 26 points came in the final frame. He was the steadying influence late the Clippers had lacked in recent losses to Oklahoma City and Portland. Having him back made the Clippers a more dangerous team.

None of those were the highlight of the game, though. This was:

“When I went down the first thing I thought was ‘oh my god, I just tore my ACL for the second time, and this time I’m coaching.’ I’m not even sure how you do that. The doctor said I didn’t, my body said I did, so we’ll find out tomorrow.”

“I thought he would be out 2-4 weeks,” DeAndre Jordan said with a smile.

3) Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry and Anthony Davis himself try to put out “Where will AD play next?” fire. Good luck with that.

Friday night Davis heads to Staples Center to play LeBron James and the Lakers and the Pelicans’ Mr. Everything will be asked about playing for the Lakers/with LeBron/leaving New Orleans roughly 4,237 times in varying ways. Before that happened, the Pelicans tried to throw water on that fire. First, there was New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry being as clear as he could be.

Then there is what Davis himself said to Zach Lowe of ESPN, on LeBron saying it would be “incredible” to play with AD.

“I don’t really care,” Davis told ESPN of James’ comments Wednesday night after the Pelicans’ 123-115 loss to the Bucks. “Obviously, it’s cool to hear any high-caliber player say they want to play with me. But my job is to turn this team around. If we’re 15-17, that means I’m not doing my job.”

Gentry is right, the Pelicans are not going to trade Davis… yet.

New Orleans does not want to trade Davis, the goal is to keep him and that’s why they are active on the trade market right now, as buyers. On July 1, 2019, New Orleans will put a designated veteran $235 million guaranteed contract in front of Davis, $40 million more than anyone else can offer. If Davis rejects that contract, then the Pelicans should listen to trade proposals (and teams around the league expect them to). But not until then.

Until then, the Pelicans are holding out hope.

James Harden scores 37 but Joel Embiid’s 32 leads 76ers to 121-93 rout of Rockets

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid relished the chance to face James Harden, and wasn’t going to let a little back tightness stop him.

Embiid had 32 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers past fellow MVP contender Harden and the Houston Rockets 121-93 on Monday night.

“I love playing against guys you guys say are better than me,” Embiid said.

Harden, selected Western Conference player of the week earlier in the day, finished with 37 points – giving him 20 straight games with at least 30.

Philadelphia played without four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler (sore right wrist), and Embiid more than made up for his absence.

“It was really fun for us,” Embiid said. “Don’t think it was fun for them.”

Embiid was questionable before the game with lower back soreness and coach Brett Brown hinted during pregame it might be best for the Philadelphia big man to sit this one out. Embiid clearly had other intentions.

“I want to fight with my teammates,” he said. “Whatever I have to do, I’ll do for my team.”

His 24 first-half points helped Philadelphia to a 65-50 halftime lead, and he punctuated an entertaining opening 24 minutes by pinning Harden’s layup attempt with 7.5 seconds left for a crowd-pleasing block. The duo had to be separated with 38.7 seconds left in the half, with each being issued a technical, after Harden took exception to Embiid’s foul on him.

The 76ers broke the game open in a dominant third quarter as they outscored Houston 29-13 to take a 94-63 advantage into the fourth. Ben Simmons stole Harden’s pass, made a layup and finished a three-point play after being fouled by Harden to make it 73-52. The lead kept growing, getting as large as 31.

“We were due for a game like this,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Harden had 10 points in the third but missed four of six field goal tries as the 76ers hounded him defensively with double-teams and different looks. A tired-looking Harden’s air ball with 12.3 seconds left in the third showed the effects of the Philadelphia defense – and, perhaps, Harden’s offensive workload.

With the game out of range, Harden sat in the fourth.

“This is not a great way to rest him, but we rested him today,” D’Antoni said.

 

Doc Rivers seemingly blames Steve Ballmer for Clippers losing Joe Ingles

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Entering the 2014-15 season, the Clippers had to waive someone to meet the regular-season roster maximum. Their choice came down to Joe Ingles and Jared Cunningham, neither of whom had guaranteed salaries.

L.A. kept Cunningham and waived Ingles. Cunningham never made a significant NBA impact. The Jazz claimed Ingles on waivers, and he became a quality starter in Utah.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers was also team president at that time.

Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News:

When asked Wednesday if he regrets that decision, Rivers answered, “all the time.”

“I said it the day we released him that this was a bad decision and that we’re going to regret it,” he said. “Unfortunately I was working for someone who said we couldn’t eat a contract. We were begging to eat one contract and they said that will never happen and we had to let him go.”

Did Rivers confuse the timeline and think he was blaming Donald Sterling, the former Clippers owner who was notoriously cheap? Current owner Steve Ballmer bought the team and was announced as the owner before the start of the 2014-15 season, when Ingles was signed for camp and released. Ballmer has talked big about spending, and is Rivers’ boss right now. It’d be strange for Rivers to criticize Ballmer like this, but I also can’t figure out whom else he’d be referring to besides the owner. As team president, Rivers had no other oversight within basketball operations.

Maybe Rivers wanted to keep both Ingles and Cunningham and waive someone with a guaranteed salary – likely Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ekpe Udoh or Glen Davis. But, in hindsight, the obviously right call would have been waiving whichever of those players was necessary to keep Ingles.

The frequent criticism of the Clippers about Ingles is somewhat unfair. They brought Ingles to training camp when other teams didn’t. The only reason they were positioned to waive him is because they were ahead of the curve on him.

But they also had the unique opportunity to evaluate him up close and still decided he wasn’t worth a roster spot.

How did that decision get made? Rivers passing the buck only adds confusion. It seemed as if it were his decision.

Luka Doncic becomes second NBA teenager to record triple-double, Bucks rout Mavs anyway

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Is Luka Doncic an All-Star?

He’s not a starter (in my vote, anyway) but in what is an exhibition designed to give the fans what they want, why not have Doncic in the game? He is what the fans want. I’m not convinced he’ll make the cut — at least in the ridiculously deep West, in the East he probably would — but it’s a legitimate conversation. The kid can flat-out ball.

Case in point, he dropped a triple-double on the Bucks on MLK Day, becoming only the second teenager to record an NBA triple-double. (The other was Markelle Fultz, who was 10-days younger when he got his, also against Milwaukee.) Doncic finished the game with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Doncic’s play was not enough to keep the Bucks from racking up their fifth straight win, and doing it pretty easily (although Dallas made an 11-0 fourth-quarter run to make it a little interesting). Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 15 rebounds, while Eric Bledsoe had 21 points, and Brook Lopez finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks (that was Lopez’s first double-double with the Bucks).

Reports: Houston trades Carmelo Anthony to Chicago, who will waive him

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Carmelo Anthony‘s sabbatical is over. Sort of.

Anthony, who has been on the Houston roster but not with the team after that experiment crashed and burned 10 games into the season, will be traded to the Chicago Bulls. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story (and other reports have since confirmed it). However, he’s not going to be putting on a Bulls’ jersey.

He may not be waived until after the Feb. 7 deadline, in case the Bulls find a way to use his salary in a one-for-one trade (his salary cannot be combined with others in a deal because he was just traded). If/when he is waived, at that point there will be more roster shuffling around the league and a landing spot for ‘Melo may open up.

Houston’s trade is much like the trade from Oklahoma City to Atlanta last summer that moved Anthony off the Thunder roster. The Hawks waived him and Anthony signed with the Rockets. For the Rockets, this is about saving money.

The Bulls also make a little under a million in this deal. If another team signs Anthony, it would be a benefit for the Hawks.

It’s unclear where Anthony’s ultimate landing spot will be, although his agent has said there are options.

After his struggles in Houston — where the future Hall of Famer thought he deserved more than a bench role due to his stature, even though because of his declining offensive skills and defense that’s all he warranted — it’s hard to imagine another contender or even playoff team picking him up. Maybe a franchise going all in on the Zion Williamson chase but wants a bump at the gate from the name recognition Anthony brings him in? Although for teams trying to develop young talent why take the ball out of those young guys’ hands to let Anthony jack up contested twos? Most likely it will be a team battling injuries and looking for help.

In 10 games for the Rockets this season coming off the bench, Anthony averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, shot just 40.5 percent overall and 32.8 percent from three. The Rockets’ defense was 10.4 points per 100 possessions better when Anthony sat.