Associated Press

Watch James Harden’s latest 40-point triple-double; Rockets rout Cavaliers

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HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets still have a way to go to reach their goal of earning the top seed in the Western Conference.

But it seems far more attainable than it was just a month ago.

James Harden had 43 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in 29 minutes – the first player in NBA history to have a 40-point triple-double in less than 30 minutes played.

His performance led the Houston Rockets to a 141-113 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for their eighth win in 11 games.

“I think we’ve all had that in the back of our mind. It was just a far reach earlier in the season,” Harden said. “Now it’s pretty close. We’ve just got to continue to do what we’ve been doing. Playing well, taking care of opportunities like this tonight. Just continue to get better, strive to get better.”

The Rockets, who were in 14th place in the West in early December, are 4 1/2 games out of first place and tied with the Clippers for fifth.

After the Cavaliers got a 117-108 win in the first meeting with Houston this season, the Rockets were determined to take care of business this time around. They did that, racing out to a 28-point lead after scoring a season-high 77 points in the first half behind 24 points from Harden.

It’s Harden’s 15th straight game with at least 30 points, his franchise-record 13th game with 40 points this season and the seventh in the last nine games as he has carried the team with Chris Paul and Eric Gordon out with injuries.

Ante Zizic came off the bench to score 18 for the Cavaliers, whose season-long skid extended to 12 games.

“We just couldn’t stop them,” Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said. “They were raining 3s all over the place. They broke us down off the dribble. They are in a rhythm now and playing very good basketball.”

Harden needed less than 2 1/2 quarters to reach 30 points on Friday night, hitting a 3 with 7:41 left in the third to give him 32 points and push Houston’s lead 91-58. He joins Kobe Bryant (16 games in 2003) as the only players to score 30 points in at least 15 games in a row since the 1972-73 season.

About three minutes later, he pushed his total to 40 after he was left wide open to drive into the lane for an easy layup to make it 99-68. Harden grabbed his 10th rebound with about 90 seconds left in the third quarter to give him his sixth triple-double this season and the 41st of his career.

Harden played just 29 minutes and 34 seconds, and made eight 3-pointers to extend his NBA record to 12 games in a row with at least five.

“The step-back 3s, he’s perfected that,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s got 16 3s and they’re all step-backs. I don’t know how he does it … everybody knows what he’s doing and he still gets them off, and they’re kind of open. They’re not forced, so he’s just an incredible player.”

Clint Capela added 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting after making just four of 16 field goals in a loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday night.

Harden and fellow starters Capela and Tucker also sat out the fourth quarter with Houston up 113-81 entering the fourth. Even with the trio watching the final quarter from the bench, the Rockets maintained a huge lead and their 141 points were a season high and the most Cleveland has allowed this season.

 

Adam Silver: LeBron James leaving East hurts TV ratings, NBA could start West Coast games earlier

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The NBA’s TV ratings are down this season.

Asked about that, NBA commissioner Adam Silver cited LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers for the Lakers.

Silver on Today:

Face it, LeBron is one of the biggest stars in the world, and he also played in the East.

And so, the reason I look a little bit tired is a lot of our games are in the West, and it’s late at night. And I recognize most people choose to go to sleep at a reasonable time. And so, from a rating standpoint, not having LeBron in the playoffs, not having him in the East, has clearly impacted ratings.

Fifty percent of television households in this country are in the Eastern time zone. And so if your West Coast games start at 10:30 at night in the East, you’re invariably going to lose a lot of viewers around 11, 11:30. I mean, you can just chart it. You see how many television households turn off around 11:15, 11:30 at night, just because people have to get up for work in the morning.

I mean, it is something we can address. We’re talking about it. I mean, it would obviously be less convenient to those fans on the West Coast if we played even earlier. I mean, just think about people getting to those arenas after work if you start a game at 6 p.m. local time in the West. It’s not the most convenient thing. It’s not as convenient for a television watcher on the West coast, either. But when you look at the league from a national standpoint, it may make sense to play a little bit earlier in the West. And that’s something we’re going to talk to our teams about this summer.

There is no single reason ratings are down. As Silver also said, people – especially young people – watch less television through conventional methods.

Of course, the league still wants to maximize viewers in this new media landscape.

Determining start times is a delicate balance between appeasing home fans, road fans and a national audience. There’s no easy answer.

But this is why I’m against seeding the playoffs 1-16. That’d create more inter-time-zone games, not just in the playoffs but also in the regular season. The whole point of 1-16 seeding is increasing fairness in competition, which would be achieved only through balancing the regular-season schedule. Right now, teams play 52 games against their own conference and 30 against the other conference. A balanced schedule would mean more East Coast teams with late-starting games out West and more West Coast teams with early-starting games out East. That doesn’t serve fans of those teams.

So, the league should avoid those cross-time-zone games as much as reasonably possible.

Yet, some must still occur. The NBA is also trying to appeal to a national audience. So, every game has a cross-time-zone element.

People are concentrated in the Eastern time zone. That’s also where 13 of 30 NBA teams are located. And the league office.

No wonder people out West are the ones who might have to adjust.

David Griffin on possibility of keeping Anthony Davis: ‘We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George’

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New Pelicans lead executive David Griffin wants to sell Anthony Davis on staying in new Orleans.

Even with the Pelicans landing the No. 1 pick and ability to draft Zion Williamson, Davis reportedly still wants to be traded.

But New Orleans doesn’t have to acquiesce. No matter what Davis wants, he’s still under contract next season. The Pelicans can keep him and spend the season trying to convince him to re-sign in the summer of 2020.

Griffin, via Zach Lowe of ESPN:

“We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George,” he said. “We can hold onto [Davis] and let him see what we really are. [Winning the lottery] changes how quickly he can buy into it. It gets us closer. Every day, maybe he believes a little more. As much as elite talent likes to play with elite talent, I can’t imagine any elite player in his prime looking at our situation and saying to himself, ‘There’s a better grouping to play for’ than ours.”

George had his eyes on the Lakers when the Thunder traded for him in 2017. But he enjoyed his time in Oklahoma City and re-signed.

The big difference between George and Davis: Davis requested a trade from the team trying to keep him. George didn’t.

In fact, George didn’t even request a trade at all. George merely told the Pacers he wouldn’t re-sign the following year. Obviously, he knew that made them more likely to deal him. But he was content playing out the the final year of his contract in Indiana or anywhere else.

Davis told New Orleans he wanted out. He’s not coming to a new team, let alone with an open mind.

Still, the Pelicans have changed significantly since Davis’ trade request. Griffin and Williamson significantly improve the the franchise’s outlook. Depending what offers he receives for Davis, Griffin keeping the superstar and attempting to change his mind throughout the season could make sense. New Orleans can always deal Davis before the trade deadline if it’s not working, though trading him later likely lowers the return.

Of course, Griffin could have no intention of keeping an unhappy Davis. Saying he might only increases Griffin’s leverage in trade negotiations.

But if they truly want to keep Davis and pitch him throughout the season, the Pelicans are facing a much steeper hill than the Thunder had with George.

Report: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers expected to sign super-max extension

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Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers entered this postseason with an opportunity to prove themselves to each other. Portland had gotten swept in the first round the last two years, including a devastating sweep as the No. 3 seed last season. Lillard would be eligible this offseason for a super-max extension that projects to be worth $193 million over four years.

Everyone feels good now.

Lillard hit one of the biggest shots ever, and the Trail Blazers advanced to their first conference finals in 19 years. Both sides want to continue their partnership.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lillard is under contract two more seasons. So, his extension would take effect in 2021, when it’s exact value would be determined. I project it at $193 million over four years.

As an All-NBA lock this year, Lillard will be eligible to sign a super-max extension this offseason or next. If he waits until 2020, he could sign a five-year extension. That deal would carry the same terms as the four-year extension for the first four years but would add a fifth year worth a projected $57 million – bringing the total projected value to $250 million. But there’s no guarantee Portland will offer the megadeal next year.

Already, this is a real risk for the Trail Blazers.

It’s probably one they must take. Lillard is an excellent player who does so much to set the team’s culture.

But paying someone projected salaries of $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34? Nearly no player can assure he’ll warrant that. Build a winner around a single player earning so much is quite difficult. Portland’s ownership situation after the death of Paul Allen, who frequently paid the luxury tax, only adds to the uncertainty.

This could be a litmus test for the designated-veteran-player-extension rule altogether. If it doesn’t work with Damian Lillard – who exudes so many traits you want in a superstar – who will it work with?

Meyers Leonard delivers all-time out-of-nowhere playoff performance

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In 1967, Richie Guerin retired. The former Knicks star had been the St. Louis Hawks’ player-coach a few years, and he shifted fully into coaching. He even won Coach of the Year that season. As the Hawks moved to Atlanta the next year, he occasionally returned to the lineup, but played sparingly while focused on coaching. He played even less the following season, scoring just seven points in eight games.

But when the Hawks were facing injuries, inexperience and a 3-0 deficit to the Lakers 1970 Western Division finals, a 37-year-old Guerin stepped up on the court. He scored 31 points in Game 4, though Los Angeles completed the sweep.

Afterward, Hawks publicity director Tom McCollister called in the game’s stats to the league office:

”Guerin played 35 minutes,” reported McCollister, quietly, ”made 12 of 17 field goal attempts, 7 for 7 free throws, had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 personal fouls. Thirty-one points.” Pause. ”They are burying him tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.”

That was a rare time someone with a lower scoring average than Meyers Leonard scored 30 points in a playoff game.

Leonard – who averaged 5.9 points per game in the regular season – scored 30 points in the Trail Blazers’ Game 4 loss to the Warriors last night. He scored 25 in the first half!

This was the same Leonard who was in and out of the rotation all season, who had a DNP-CD in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, who had a previous career high of 24 points. That came in 2015, preceding a much-maligned four-year, $41 million contract.

But when Portland needed a more-mobile defender at center, Leonard started. He played well in Game 3, scoring 16 points and dishing four assists. That wad already an unexpectedly good night for him.

Yet, Leonard upped the ante yesterday. For a while, he was going shot-for-shot with Stephen Curry. Though he couldn’t keep up with Curry (37 points), Leonard went 12-of-16, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers.

Here are the players to score 30 points in a playoff game with the lowest regular-season scoring averages:

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The only other player besides Guerin to drop 30 in a playoff game after scoring so little in the regular season was Daniel Gibson. Boobie averaged 4.6 points per game his rookie year then scored 31 points on 5-of-5 3-point shooting in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons, helping send the Cavs to their first NBA Finals.

“If I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me up,” Gibson said. “This was perfect, to win it for Cleveland.”

The most recent player to crack the leaderboard was CJ McCollum, who averaged 6.8 points per game in 2014-15 then scored 33 in a season-ending Game 5 loss to the Grizzlies in the first round. McCollum won Most Improved Player the next year and has remained a near-star ever since.

Could Leonard make a similar jump for the Trail Blazers? Don’t count on it. McCollum was in only his second season. Leonard, who just finished his seventh season, has been in the league even longer than McCollum now.

But appreciate Leonard’s scoring binge for what it was – one heck of an outlier.