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James Harden scores 35, plays great defense on Kawhi Leonard on final shot, Rockets win

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 35 points for his 22nd straight game with 30 or more and the Houston Rockets never trailed and held off a late charge for a 121-119 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

After averaging 52.2 points over the last five games, capped by a franchise-record 61 in Wednesday’s win over the Knicks, Harden’s torrid scoring pace slowed a bit as all of Houston’s starters scored 10 points or more.

Eric Gordon led that group with 24, Kenneth Faried had 21, P.J. Tucker added 18 and Austin Rivers scored 13. Faried also had a season-high 14 rebounds and blocked two shots in his third game since signing with the Rockets to fill in with Clint Capela recovering from thumb surgery.

Houston led by 11 points after two free throws by Harden with 1:14 remaining before the Raptors made three straight 3-pointers to cut the lead to 121-119 with 27.3 remaining. Gordon missed a 3 to give the Raptors a chance, but Kawhi Leonard‘s 3-point attempt was short because Harden played impressive defense on the play.

It’s the 22nd straight game where Harden has led his team and Houston’s opponent in scoring, which moves him past Michael Jordan for the second-longest streak in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain, who did it in 40 in a row.

Harden’s stretch of 30-point games is the fourth-longest in league history, behind three streaks by Chamberlain of 25, 31 and 65 games. Harden was 15 of 15 on free throws, but struggled from long-range, shooting just 2 of 13 on 3-point attempts. The strong play of Faried gave Harden some much-needed help Friday and The Beard will get another reinforcement Sunday night when Chris Paul is expected to return after missing 17 games with a strained left hamstring.

The Raptors got 32 points from Leonard as they dropped their second straight.

The Rockets held a 7-point lead to start the fourth and pushed it to 10 before the Raptors scored five straight points, capped by a 3 from Norman Powell to get within 99-94 with about nine minutes left.

Houston then used a 9-0 run to extend the lead to 108-94 about three minutes later. Rivers made a 3 late in that span before Tucker capped it by grabbing a steal and finishing with a layup.

Toronto got within 10 after scoring four quick points later in the fourth, but a layup by Harden made it 117-105 with about 90 seconds left.

Houston led by as many as 22 early, but Toronto used a 41-point second quarter to cut the lead to 70-61 at halftime. The Raptors opened the third quarter with a 9-4 run to get within 4, but Houston followed with an 18-4 spurt, with nine points each from Harden, to push it to 92-74 with about four minutes left in the quarter.

The Raptors got back on track after that, scoring the next 10 points, with two 3-pointers from Danny Green, to cut the lead to 92-84 with about a minute left in the third.

 

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.