Associated Press

James Harden scores 30 to keep steak alive; Nikola Jokic scores 31, Nuggets beat Rockets handily

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DENVER (AP) — Denver couldn’t stop James Harden‘s scoring streak, but the Nuggets were able to end three years of frustration against the Houston Rockets.

Nikola Jokic had 31 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists, Malik Beasley had a career-high 35 points and the Nuggets beat Houston 136-122 on Friday night to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Rockets.

Harden scored 30 points to extend his streak to 25 games of scoring 30 or more points. He needed a late 3-pointer to keep it going, and it came well after the game was in hand for Denver.

“He’s a great player, obviously one of the best scorers in the league, so to hold him to 30 after the way he’s playing, and we get the win, I’m not too disappointed,” Torrey Craig said.

Denver has won seven of its last eight overall and heads on a four-game trip at 36-15, the best start in the team’s NBA history.

“I think everybody thinks we were going to stop (winning),” Jokic said. “Twenty games ago they thought, `Oh they’re going to lose,’ but we’re still winning.”

The Nuggets’ last win against Houston came Dec. 14, 2015, in Denver. The Rockets swept the season series twice and won the first two games this season.

“We knew we lost nine in a row to them and we knew we wanted to come out and beat them,” Beasley said.

Harden’s streak started with a 50-point night against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 13, and nearly ended on a tough shooting night for the reigning league MVP. He hit five of his first six shots and scored 15 points in the first quarter but then went cold. He missed 10 of his next 11 shots and also missed four free throws.

He was 9 of 21 from the field and 7 for 14 from 3-point range in his lowest point output since scoring 29 against Portland on Dec. 11.

“Some of them went in, some of them didn’t,” Harden said of his shots. “That’s basketball.”

His late flurry gave Houston some late life. He hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to pull Houston within nine points, but Jokic scored six straight points to put it away. Harden’s step-back 3-pointer with 1:05 left gave him 30.

“I was trying real hard to stop him from getting 30,” said Craig, who had a career-high 22 points.

The Rockets scored 43 points in the first quarter and the Nuggets responded in the second with a 48-point outburst. They had 35 of those in the final 7:31, when they transformed a five-point deficit into an 83-71 lead at halftime.

Denver led by 20 in the third quarter, but the Rockets got within 11 late before the Nuggets pulled away.

 

NBA veteran Jason Terry takes job as assistant coach at Arizona

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Jason Terry played four years for the legendary Lute Olsen at Arizona, winning a national championship in 1997 and averaging 21.9 points a game his senior year. The Jet went on from there to play 19 years in the NBA, winning a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009, and he was part of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team.

Terry had moved into the front office side of the business and was serving as the assistant GM of the Texas Legends, Dallas’ G-League affiliate. Now, however, he is jumping back to his alma mater, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This is a smart hire by Arizona and head coach Sean Miller. High schoolers going to a major D-1 school all have NBA dreams and having a respected NBA veteran who can say “this is what it takes” on staff is a big plus. Besides, Terry was a smart player who knows the game and had a mentality suited to coaching.

For Terry, he’s back in a place he likes, he’s young (42) and has a world of options ahead of him.

Scott Foster says it’s going to be different officiating without fans in building

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The noise from 18,000 people can cover up a lot of sounds in an NBA arena. So when a back-bench assistant coach yells “bulls****” after a call he doesn’t like, the official never hears it and the game moves on.

Not when NBA games restart in fan-less facilities in Orlando in a couple of months. Without those fans, referees are going to get to hear that coach. And a whole lot more.

It’s going to be weird for referees in Orlando, just like for players, veteran official Scott Foster said recently on NBA TV.

I know I don’t want everything that we normally say to each other going out. But normally we’re all in a professional manner out there. But it is going to be different. There’s going to be some assistant coaches that we haven’t really heard from before sitting in the second row that we’ll be able to hear now, so there’s going to be some adjustment there. And then I think we’re going to need to really talk about and analyze what is OK for the public to hear and how we’re going to go about our business.

But it’s definitely going to be a different thing. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really unique experience for the referees, players, coaches, everybody who’s going to go through this.”

It is going to be unique. Everybody is going to hear everything, and that is going to be very different from most nights when coaches have to go to hand signals because it’s too loud just to call out a play. It’s going to lead to some awkward and tense moments.

Everyone is going to have to adjust to the new reality, and that includes the referees, too.

 

Report: NBA group stage could include 24 teams

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Bulls guard Zach LaVine
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The initial report on the NBA resuming with a group stage presented a 20-team scenario. There’d be four groups with five teams each – one from each tier of the current standings:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

Teams would play each other team in its group, and the top two finishers in each group would advance to an eight-team tournament (effectively the second round of the playoffs, though without conference splits).

But that format could apparently include four more teams.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

In brief, per several sources who have seen the league’s proposal: The NBA could take 20 (or 24) teams and divide them into groups

The simplest way to expand to 24 teams would be adding a sixth tier then forming four groups of six. That’d mean adding:

  • Tier 6: Suns, Wizards, Hornets, Bulls

Bleh.

The more games the NBA holds, the more money the league will make. But the more people involved, the more risk of someone contracting and spreading coronavirus. It’s a fine line, and the league has sought a middle ground.

Phoenix, Washington, Charlotte and Chicago strike me as too lousy to include. Those teams are well outside the normal playoff race, and there’s no good reason to believe they would’ve made a late push.

In this environment, they might have shot, though. Coronavirus increases variability. Players have had differing access to resources and differing motivation to train during the hiatus. Once play resumes, positive tests could be scattered randomly. Would anyone view the Suns, Wizards, Hornets or Bulls as deserving of a berth in the eight-team tournament? If one of those four teams qualified, that’d probably just show the setup was flawed.

The fairest way to set the playoffs is with 20 teams, depending on structure. Resuming with just 16 teams wouldn’t be that far behind. The highest financial upside comes with all 30 teams, but that seems infeasible.

Setting the line at 24 teams seems like the worst of most worlds – including four bad teams that wouldn’t generate much interest but would threaten to disrupt everything else.

Michael Porter Jr.: Pray for both George Floyd’s family and police officers involved in ‘this evil’

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. and Knicks forward Maurice Harkless
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Several NBA players posted about George Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer for about eight minutes.

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. struck a different tone than most.

Porter:

Knicks forward Maurice Harkless:

Harkless, whose dismay was shared by many, is a seasoned veteran. Porter has made made rookie gaffes.

But I’m uncomfortable criticizing someone for calling for prayer for anyone. For some, prayer can be effective way to cope amid tragedy. Many believe prayer can change the world.

Porter didn’t say prayer alone should be the solution. In fact, he called the situation “evil” and “murder,” seemingly suggesting the need for criminal justice, too.