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.

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid usher 76ers past Nets and into 2nd round

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Joel Embiid showed no mercy. He buried a 3-pointer that gave the 76ers a 24-point lead and waved his arms like a boss, exhorting an already jacked crowd to get louder.

Philly obeyed its most popular player and went wild – and the All-Star center believes the good times have only just started.

“We think we can win it all,” Embiid said.

Ben Simmons thumped his chest after a big dunk , Embiid pointed toward an overmatched defender on a slam of his own, and Philadelphia flexed its offensive muscle from the opening tip to beat the Brooklyn Nets 120-100 on Tuesday night and close out their Eastern Conference playoff series in five games.

Up next, a second round series against the Toronto Raptors, who dropped their playoff opener before winning four straight against Orlando – the same thing the Sixers did to Brooklyn.

“We still have more to do. A lot more to do,” coach Brett Brown said.

Any late arrivals missed the defining moments of the game from a jovial Sixers team that enjoyed toying with the sickly Nets.

The Sixers stunned the Nets with a 14-0 run in front of the loudest and rowdiest packed house of the season.

Embiid again shook off a bad left knee and had six points and five rebounds in the first two minutes to chants of “MVP!” The Nets later trailed 20-2, and Simmons put an exclamation point on the stunning first quarter when he drove the paint and used a right-handed jam to make it 32-12 – with a thump of his chest for emphasis.

“They did whatever they wanted before we could even get on the board,” Nets All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell said.

Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley was soundly booed during pregame introductions and each time he touched the ball in the first. Dudley had stirred trouble when he said Simmons was “average” in the half-court. Dudley bumped Embiid in Game 4, triggering a skirmish with Jimmy Butler that spilled into the stands. Dudley heard “Dudley sucks!” chants from opening tipoff and got a view of this rout from the bench in the second half. He flashed a few smiles in the waning moments, his time as a playoff name over.

The teams tangled again in the final two minutes, and the deep reserves had to be separated. Sixers mascot Franklin ran out wearing oversized gold boxing gloves to bring a dose of levity to the ruckus.

Philadelphia’s Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe, and Brooklyn’s Dzanan Musa and Radians Kurucs were ejected.

“Our team was physical the whole time,” Simmons said. “I think we need to take that up to Toronto.”

Embiid got the last laugh in the second quarter with a baseline dunk over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and pointed at the hapless defender. Embiid was hit with a technical but by then, who cared? Embiid buried a 3 from the top of the arc that made it 41-17 and about blew the roof off the arena. Sixers general manager Elton Brand, who sits in the first row of the press seating, had his eyes locked on the scoreboard for each replay of the big man’s 3.

Embiid had 23 points and 13 rebounds, Simmons had 13 points and no starter played more than 27 minutes in a game that could have been called off after the first quarter.

Hollis-Jefferson scored 21 points for the Nets, who head into the offseason after their first playoff series since 2015.

“We never made a push back,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I’m surprised we didn’t come out with more grit, more fight.”

Brand is as much to credit for the Sixers’ success as anyone, using his rookie season as GM to orchestrate trades for Butler and Tobias Harris that kept Philly humming along in a 51-win season. But even before the trades, the Sixers were expected to make it this far in the playoffs. They did last season and were knocked out by Boston in the East semis in five games. The midseason trades for Harris and Butler were expected to push the Sixers to at least the conference final. Brown has said the goal is to play in the NBA Finals.

“They’re going for big things. They can compete for a championship, quite honestly,” Atkinson said.

TIP-INS

Nets: Joe Harris, the NBA’s top 3-point shooter, hit his first one since Game 1 with the score well out of hand. Harris was just 3 of 16 through the first four games. … Nets general manager Sean Marks was suspended for the game for entering the referees’ locker room after Brooklyn’s loss to Philadelphia in Game 4. … Simmons smothered Russell and the Nets star was held to eight points on 3 of 16 shooting.

76ers: Their 29-point halftime lead was the largest in playoff franchise history. The 31 points allowed matched the lowest in the shot-clock era.

UP NEXT

The Raptors went 3-1 vs. the Sixers this season.

“You can credit it or you can discredit it,” Brown said. “I’m discrediting it. We have a new group. We have a new opportunity.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kawhi Leonard has 27 as Raptors clinch series over Magic

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TORONTO (AP) Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, Pascal Siakam added 24 and the Toronto Raptors used another stifling defensive effort to beat the Orlando Magic 115-96 on Tuesday night, winning their first-round playoff series in five games.

Kyle Lowry scored 14 points as the Raptors finished off the Magic with ease, bouncing back from a Game 1 defeat to win by double-digits in three of the next four. Toronto led by as many as 37 in the clincher, their biggest-ever margin in a playoff game.

It’s the fourth straight year the Raptors have reached the second round.

Leonard made 8 of 11 shots, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range, as the Raptors jumped on Orlando early and never trailed. Leonard also made all six of his free throws. He checked out to cheers of “MVP, MVP” with 8:05 to play and Toronto up 105-75.

D.J. Augustin scored 15 points, Terrence Ross had 12 and Aaron Gordon 11 for the Magic, who won 104-101 on Augustin’s late 3-pointer in Game 1 but never again topped 96 points against Toronto’s dominant defense, and twice finished with 85 or fewer.

Orlando made 32 of 83 shots, including 9 of 34 from 3-point range.

The Magic hadn’t reached the postseason since 2012. That year, Orlando won its opener on the road against Indiana, then lost four straight. The Magic haven’t advanced past the opening round since 2010, when they lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Lowry scored Toronto’s first nine points and had 12 in the opening quarter. Orlando missed 10 of its first 11 shots and went 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the first. Toronto was up 35-19 after one.

The Magic missed 11 straight from long range before Fournier connected at 7:55 of the second. Toronto answered with a 6-0 spurt, opening a 50-29 lead with 6:48 to go until halftime. Leonard and Siakam each had seven points in the second and the Raptors held a 67-47 lead at the intermission.2

Lowry left at 2:41 of the second and headed to the locker room after appearing to jam a finger on his right hand. He returned to start the second half.

Toronto took a commanding 99-70 lead into the fourth.

TIP-INS

Magic: Vucevic missed his first four shots and had three fouls in a scoreless first quarter, playing only five minutes. Vucevic scored his first basket at 9:54 of the third, when Orlando trailed by 26. He shot 3 for 10 and scored six points. … Khem Birch led Orlando with 11 rebounds.

Raptors: Toronto had 10 assists on 13 made baskets in the first quarter, and 19 on 23 baskets in the first half. The 19 assists set a Raptors record for a single half of a postseason game. … G Fred VanVleet led Toronto with 10 assists while Lowry had nine. … Five games is the quickest Toronto has ever won a seven-game series. … F Chris Boucher (back) was not available.

UP NEXT

Toronto will host Philadelphia or Brooklyn in Game 1 of the second round.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Donovan Mitchell pulled over to assist at the scene of a car wreck (PHOTO)

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A car wreck can be a terrible thing. People get injured, property gets damaged, and it ruins your day. But perhaps folks were a little bit happier when they got out of their car and saw Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell coming over to help.

Mitchell witnessed a car wreck over the weekend and decided to get out of his vehicle and assist those on the scene.

According to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune, Mitchell saw a woman who needed help and pulled over to lend a hand.

Via Salt Lake Tribune:

“I was driving by, a lady was falling out of her car, the airbags went off, she was grabbing her chest and I was like, ‘Oh shoot.’ Like a natural instinct to found out what happened,” Mitchell explained. Mitchell ended up calling 911 to report the accident.

Apparently everybody in the car accident was okay, but imagine getting in a wreck and then an NBA star shows up. That might be a little odd.

Meanwhile Mitchell and the Jazz might be headed for a short postseason. They are struggling against the Houston Rockets, just as many predicted.

Mitchell has not played a great in the series against the Rockets. His per game numbers are similar to what he posted last season, but his advanced metrics tell a different story. The young Jazz point guard is playing near replacement-level, and some of his decision-making has been questionable.

Game 5 is on Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST and the Rockets lead, 3-1.

Blake Griffin shook the hands of every media member after exit interviews (VIDEO)

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The season is over for the Detroit Pistons. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks took care of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond in quick fashion, sweeping them out of the playoffs on Monday.

Griffin had an incredible regular season in Detroit after being traded by the Los Angeles Clippers back in January of 2018. He notched numbers of 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. Griffin also shot 36 percent from 3-point land.

The former member of Lob City is apparently embracing his new role as the face of the Pistons, and that included shaking hands with every media member after his exit interview on Tuesday.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this isn’t something that every NBA superstar would do.

Via Twitter:

On Tuesday Griffin also thanked all of the Pistons fans via Instagram for sticking with him and the rest of the squad through the postseason.

People have lambasted Griffin’s contract up until this point, but if he can stay relatively healthy and play similar to how he did this year, the power forward is at least be a building block for Detroit to improve upon moving forward.