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.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.