Associated Press

James Harden scores 38 but Trail Blazers beat Rockets 110-101

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland’s Evan Turner knew what he was up against with James Harden.

Harden had scored 40-plus points in his previous five games and was coming off consecutive triple-doubles.

Turner, charged with Harden from the start, stopped that streak and managed to slow him – a bit. Harden finished with 38 points and the Trail Blazers snapped Houston’s six-game winning streak with a 110-101 victory on Saturday night.

“I just had to be aggressive and try to limit what he likes to do. He’s an amazing offensive player, he’s been on a hell of a run and obviously he’s the head of the snake, so I just tried to pick him up, wear him down, tire him out and not try to get any cheap fouls,” Turner said.

Harden was 13 of 35 from the field, and shot 5 of 17 from 3-point range, overcoming a slow first half that ended with just nine points.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said Harden is clearly on another level.

“It’s unbelievable. Now you grade him on that he wasn’t very sharp tonight, he only had 38. Now if he doesn’t get 40 it’s like, `What’s wrong with him?”‘ D’Antoni said.

Portland coach Terry Stotts weighed in: “Well, we held him under 40 so I guess that’s a win.”

Jusuf Nurkic had 25 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Blazers.

CJ McCollum added 24 points and Damian Lillard finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for Portland’s third win in the past four games.

Portland led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, but Harden started to show some life after a surprisingly cold first half.

Gerald Green‘s dunk got Houston within 88-83 early in the fourth but Nurkic’s layup pushed Portland’s lead to 97-85 with just under 6 minutes left.

After Harden collected his fourth foul, McCollum hit a long jumper to put Portland up 101-90 with 3:10 remaining. Turner’s layup and free throw made it 106-95 and Moda Center fans started heading for the doors.

There was some controversy when Harden got three free throws on Turner’s foul that appeared to be on P.J. Tucker, and he made all three to close the gap with 1:02 left. After Lillard made a free throw on the other end, Harden’s step-back jumper got the Rockets within 107-101 with 34 seconds left – but it was a close as they could get.

Harden missed a layup with 15 seconds left that would have put him at 40 points.

“My shots were flat at the beginning of the game but I picked it up in that third quarter and the second half. I’ve just got to get off to a better start,” he said.

Portland was the last team to hold Harden under 30. He had 29 in Houston’s 111-104 home victory on Dec. 11. Maurice Harkless had some success guarding Harden, but he out with a sore left knee after a loss to the Thunder on Friday and Turner made his second start of the season.

Harden had his 11th career triple-double and made the go-ahead 3-pointer in a 135-134 overtime victory over Golden State on Thursday night. He finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.

Neither team was able to make much of a move until the final two minutes of the half, when Portland went up 54-46 on Turner’s layup. Nene was charged with a flagrant foul on Nurkic, who made one of the two free throws then added a basket. Lillard had a floater before time ran out and the Blazers went to the break with a 59-46 lead.

Harden was 0 for 8 from 3-point range in the opening half. It was just the second time this season he failed to reach double digits in the first half.

Lillard’s 3-pointer pushed Portland’s lead to 77-61, but Harden answered with his own. Harden had 20 points in the third quarter but the Blazers led 86-77 going into the final period.

Austin Rivers scored a season-high 21 points for Houston, while Clint Capela had 13 points and 21 rebounds.

 

Report: Despite rumor to contrary, Suns would draft Zion Williamson over Ja Morant with No. 1 pick

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The rumor the Suns might draft Ja Morant over Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick? It was never that believable.

Now comes concrete reporting to the contrary.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

The Suns need a point guard and clearly like Morant. But Williamson is the far-superior prospect. That’s the good reason to take Williamson. There are even bad reasons, too – like Williamson’s marketability.

Remember, there’s only a 14% chance Phoenix gets the No. 1 pick. So, this probably won’t matter.

But good for the Suns settling this quickly. The rumor only made them look bad (which might have been part of the point of people spreading it). James Jones’ regime has hit at least a tolerable level of credibility.

Report: Lakers offered to retain Luke Walton as coach after Magic Johnson resigned

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Johnson clearly intended to fire Lakers coach Luke Walton. Then, Johnson stunningly resigned as Lakers president.

Still, the Lakers and Walton “mutually agreed to part ways,” as team described it.

Most people figure Walton got fired, but had his departure put into kinder terms. But maybe it wasn’t that simple.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

sources say Walton was given the chance to stay on as head coach in a subsequent meeting that included owner Jeanie Buss. But Walton, who was already aware that Buss had given Johnson the full authority to fire him and who had long harbored concerns about general manager Rob Pelinka’s style, was ready to head for the exits himself.

Why is this leaking now? Walton is being sued for sexual assault. The Lakers say they didn’t know about the alleged incident while employing him. Kelli Tennant claims it occurred while Walton was still a Warriors assistant coach, and it didn’t become public until after he left Los Angeles. That the Lakers invited him to return supports their claim (or opens the door for them to look far worse if it turns out they did know).

From a basketball standpoint, it’s unclear under what terms Walton could have returned. Perhaps, the Lakers would have required him to change his coaching staff and/or schemes. It might not have been as simple as Walton continuing on the job as he was doing it previously.

Even if he stayed, Walton would have been on the hot seat. His record was underwhelming, and LeBron James‘ camp reportedly wanted him gone.

He found a soft landing spot with the Kings. The security of the Sacramento job might have been more appealing than continuing with the Lakers.

Also add Walton to the list of people concerned about Pelinka. For better or worse, the Lakers appear to be going forward with Pelinka in charge, anyway.

Igor Kokoskov joins unfortunate ranks of head coaches fired after first NBA season

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Igor Kokoskov worked 18 years as an NBA assistant coach. The Serbia native worked tirelessly to convince teams he was more than just a mentor for European players. Finally, the Suns hired him as their head coach.

“It’s a dream job,” Kokoskov beamed. “And it’s a special day for me.”

Less than a year later, Phoenix fired him.

What a tough business.

The Suns gave Kokoskov a roster ill-equipped to win. They were comically thin at point guard. They had one of the NBA’s least-experienced teams. Even rising star Devin Booker still has significant flaws that inhibit his ability to win. Veterans like Trevor Ariza and Tyson Chandler appeared apathetic in Phoenix.

And now Kokoskov will pay the price for the Suns’ 19-win season.

His time as an NBA head coach is over already, and he might not get another opportunity. Kokoskov is the first coach to get fired after his first season as an NBA head coach since Mike Dunlap with Charlotte in 2013.

Here’s every coach to get fired after only one season, or less, of his first head-coaching job since the NBA-ABA merger. Interim seasons count only if the coach was retained the following year.

Season Tm Coach W L Future jobs
2018-19 PHO Igor Kokoskov 19 63
2012-13 CHA Mike Dunlap 21 61
2010-11 GSW Keith Smart 36 46 SAC
2008-09 DET Michael Curry 39 43
2007-08 CHA Sam Vincent 32 50
2003-04 PHI Randy Ayers 21 31
2003-04 TOR Kevin O’Neill 33 49
2000-01 WAS Leonard Hamilton 19 63
1999-00 WAS Gar Heard 14 30
1999 DEN Mike D’Antoni 14 36 PHO, NYK, LAL, HOU
1997-98 DEN Bill Hanzlik 11 71
1996-97 PHI Johnny Davis 22 60 ORL
1995-96 TOR Brendan Malone 21 61
1993-94 DAL Quinn Buckner 13 69
1992-93 SAS Jerry Tarkanian 9 11
1987-88 PHO John Wetzel 28 54
1983-84 SAS Morris McHone 11 20
1980-81 CLE Bill Musselman 25 46 MIN
1979-80 LAL Jack McKinney 10 4 IND, KCK
1977-78 SEA Bob Hopkins 5 17
1976-77 BUF Tates Locke 16 30

Of the 21 coaches fired in or following their first season as an NBA head coach, only five – Keith Smart, Mike D’Antoni, Johnny Davis, Bill Musselman and Jack McKinney – got another head-coaching job. Kokoskov faces long odds.

At least he got to finish the season. Phoenix had a late 5-2 stretch that included wins over the Bucks and Warriors. That could be a selling point for Kokoskov.

Randy Ayers (2003-04 76ers), Gar Heard (1999-00 Wizards), Jerry Tarkanian (1992-93 Spurs), Morris McHone (1983-84 Spurs), Bill Musselman (1980-81 Cavaliers), Bob Hopkins (1977-78 Seattle SuperSonics) and Tates Locke (1976-77 Buffalo Braves) all got fired during their first seasons as NBA head coaches. Jack McKinney (1979-80 Lakers) lost his job due to a bicycle crash during the season, and Los Angeles officially fired him after the season to keep Paul Westhead, who guided the team to a title in McKinney’s absence.

The Suns weren’t necessarily wrong to fire Kokoskov. Under his watch, they were sloppy and undisciplined and had chemistry problems – areas where the head coach usually gets credit or blame. General manager James Jones deserves a chance to hire his own coach.

Kokoskov might be a good coach. Even if he’s not, he could grow into one.

But he didn’t do enough to secure his job, as tall as that task might have been.

The above list is filled with coaches who had awful records. McKinney is the only one with a winning record, and his situation was complicated by the bike crash. Michael Curry (2008-09 Pistons) is only first-time head coach to take his team to the playoffs and still get fired since the merger, but Detroit had a losing record and got swept in the first round.

In many ways, it’s unfortunate Kokoskov didn’t get a better chance to prove himself. His job security took a major hit when the Suns fired the general manager, Ryan McDonough, who hired Kokoskov before the coach’s first season even began. Kokoskov survived rumors of a potential firing in February, but that was clearly only a stay of execution.

The Suns’ problems go way above the head coach, and Kokoskov’s experience in Phoenix could dissuade potential candidates from replacing him.

But there are only 30 NBA head-coaching jobs. Except for the most-coveted candidates, many coaches would rush to take this job.

As precarious as it can be.

Blake Griffin joined in on the “refs you suck” chant in Detroit

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The Pistons didn’t get swept by the Bucks because of the officiating, but the calls did frustrate Detroit and their fans throughout the series. (Good luck finding a fan base that doesn’t believe the officials have it in for them.)

During the Pistons’ Game 4 loss, frustrated fans started a “refs you suck” chant that reverberated throughout the arena. Blake Griffin got in on the act, quietly joining in with the chants.

Griffin continued to express his frustration with how the game was officiated from the podium after the game.

Griffin missed the first two games of the series, then tried to play through a knee issue the last two, wearing a bulky brace the entire time. Griffin made plays and the Pistons looked better, but it was never going to be enough. When his pain caught up with him and Griffin was taken out of the game in the fourth, Pistons fans gave him a standing ovation.