Associated Press

Three Things to Know: James Harden drops Jamal Murray, Rockets drop Nuggets

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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, the stuff you missed while watching Clemson throttle Alabama.

1) James Harden drops Jamal Murray, Rockets drop Nuggets. Another night, another string of highlights from James Harden, another storm of threes from Houston (22-of-47), and another win for the Rockets.

Houston is on a roll and best-record-in-the-West Denver was not going to stop them, just the way Jamal Murray was not going to stop James Harden.

Harden scored 32 but this game was a little different because the Nuggets tried to take the ball out of his hands — from the opening tip, they trapped him off the pick-and-roll, hard doubled him, and just threw multiple defenders at him every possession. The result was Harden racking up 14 assists, Clint Capela getting the ball on the roll to the rim on his way to a career-high 31, and P.J. Tucker getting the ball on the kick-out, as he had five threes in the first half alone. Denver dared someone other than The Beard to beat them, and they did.

Nikola Jokic did have 24 points and 13 boards for Denver.

The Rockets run should continue. There’s an interesting test against the Bucks on Wednesday night, then the Rockets hit the soft part of the schedule for a couple of weeks.

2) Anthony Davis keeps making his MVP case, scoring 36 with 13 rebounds in Pelicans win over Memphis. If the MVP voting took place today, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden would finish first and second in some order (it would be close).

Third would likely be Anthony Davis, despite the fact his Pelicans are below .500. The man is having a monster season on both ends of the floor. Just ask the Grizzlies, he dropped 36 points and had 13 boards against them Tuesday night.

Memphis has lost six in a row and 11-of-13 now to fall all the way back to 13th in the West, out of the playoffs, their hot start freezing up in winter. In those 13 games, the team’s defense has been fine, or at least middle-of-the-NBA pack, but the offense is second-worst in the league, scoring fewer points per possessions than the Cavaliers or Knicks in that stretch. The team needs help so the front office traded Wayne Selden Jr., MarShon Brooks, and two second-round picks to Chicago for Justin Holiday, a rotation-level two guard who can give Memphis a little depth but isn’t the answer. Chandler Parsons isn’t the answer, either.

Memphis needs to figure out an answer fast before this season is lost to them completely.

3) Did Cleveland game the system to help out Patrick McCaw? For the first couple of months of the season, Patrick McCaw was sitting in limbo. The restricted free agent who had shown promise as a rookie, regressed, but was in line for a role off the bench, refused to sign a contract and show up to play in Golden State — the team that had his rights — because the swingman wanted more touches and a bigger role. Golden State is pretty set on the wing, and McCaw had regressed last season and couldn’t get the ball in his hands like he wanted. The sides were at a stalemate, with the Warriors having all the power.

Then a week ago along comes Cleveland with an offer sheet — two years, $6 million, not guaranteed. The Warriors, already over the tax and not really having a need for McCaw, let him walk. Then a week later, on Sunday, the Cavaliers waived McCaw, letting him go to become an unrestricted free agent.

One of two things happened here.

First, struggling Cleveland decided they wanted to take a flier on McCaw, they made the offer, then got him in with the team, watched him play — 53 minutes over three games, shooting 2-of-9 — and decided he was not a fit and waived him.

Nobody around the league thinks that’s what happened.

The other option is the Cavaliers did McCaw and his agent a solid. McCaw wanted to be a free agent and the Cavaliers helped him get there, making an offer that was big enough the Warriors would not match, but always with the intention of letting him go. (Cleveland is reportedly in the mix to re-sign McCaw at a lower price.)

Is that allowed? Yes. It didn’t violate any league rules. But it raised some eyebrows around the league as violating the spirit of the team-friendly restricted free agent system. The Warriors are not going to ask the league to investigate, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times, and it’s not the kind of situation that will come up often, but the Cavaliers gamed the system to get McCaw out of Golden State and to free agency.

Now McCaw needs to prove he made the right move, he needs to land somewhere he can get some run and touches. He refused to play a role on the best team in the NBA, the team where he won two rings, that also should raise some eyebrows around the league.

Watch James Harden score 55, including 10 threes, to beat Cleveland

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CLEVELAND (AP) — James Harden scored 55 points – 20 in the fourth quarter – and Russell Westbrook added 23 points as the Houston Rockets withstood an unexpected scare from Cleveland and held on for a 116-110 win Wednesday night over the free-falling Cavaliers, who have lost eight straight and 14 of 15.

Harden matched Kyrie Irving‘s arena record for points in a game, and his fourth with 50 or more this season bailed out the Rockets, who allowed the Cavs to score 24 straight points in the second half.

Cleveland was still up 108-107 when Harden, who came in leading the NBA in scoring at 38 points per game, dropped a floater in the lane. After a turnover by Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson, P.J. Tucker hit a 3-pointer from the corner and Clint Capela had a dunk following another Cleveland miscue.

The inexperienced Cavs crumbled in the final minute, making three turnovers.

Capela added 13 rebounds for Houston, which figured to have an easy time with the Cavs, who are struggling under first-year coach John Beilein.

Cleveland, though, came to play and was led by rookie Kevin Porter Jr.‘s season-high 24 points. Collin Sexton added 18 and Kevin Love had 17 points and 11 boards.

Harden connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-2 run in the third quarter when the Rockets, who were sleepwalking through long stretches of the first half, appeared to take control.

But Houston relaxed, and Cleveland went on a jaw-dropping 24-0 run – all without Love, who was on the bench with a head laceration – over a 4:43 stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters to a take a 99-88 lead on Porter’s bucket.

 

Grizzlies’ Ja Morant absolutely destroyed Aron Baynes with dunk (VIDEO)

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We may have a new Dunk of the Year.

Memphis rookie Ja Morant is an athletic freak, one confident enough in his skills to go right at a big switched onto him. Say Phoenix’s Aron Baynes. On a critical fourth-quarter possession.

RIP Aron Baynes.

Memphis won the game 115-108.

Victor Oladipo not near return to Pacers rotation

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“But he’s still a ways away.”

Those are not the words Pacers fans want to hear about Victor Oladipo. Their team is playing well — 15-9 with a top-10 defense — but they are not a real postseason threat without their best player, who is recovering from a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. Before the season, Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said he was “hopeful” Oladipo would be back in December or January.

It looks like it’s going to be the back end of that timeline. At best. From J. Michael of the Indy Star, speaking to coach Nate McMillan.

Oladipo will have to be eased back in when he does return, he’s not going too hit the ground running at 40 minutes a night.

The Pacers look like a lock playoff team in the East even without Oladipo, they can afford to bring him along slowly. The hope would be to have the All-Star up to speed and integrated into the offense when the playoffs do start. If that happens, the Pacers become that team that the elite squads want to avoid early.

Lakers outscore Magic 26-9 in the first quarter. It got uglier after that.

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As has gotten a lot of publicity this season, the Lakers have one of the best defenses in the NBA, sixth in the league in defensive rating coming into Wednesday night. Their combination of length and activity has thrown teams off their games.

Less well publicized, the Orlando Magic have been bad on offense this season, fifth-worst in the NBA.

What happens when the immovable object met a very soft force on Wednesday night, well…

Orlando shot 4-of-21 in the first quarter, missing all six of their threes, plus turned the ball over four times just to make things a little worse. It’s not that the Lakers were exactly tearing it up, as a team they shot just 35.7 percent in the first quarter (Orlando is a good defensive squad), but Anthony Davis saved their bacon with seven points plus three assists (all for threes, so 16 points generated by him in the first).

The Lakers stretched that out to a 24-point lead in the second quarter before a combination of Orlando stepping up their play and the Lakers taking their foot off the gas a little led to an 18-3 Orlando run that cut the lead to 13 at the half. LeBron James had 16 points to lead the Lakers.

By the middle of the third, Orlando had made a game of it.