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.

 

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum: “Trade rumors don’t bother me”

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Jayson Tatum was one of the young Celtics who struggled to find his space this season with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the mix. Tatum wasn’t shooting the three as well, was taking more long twos, and just seemed to plateau from last season rather than take the leap forward that was expected.

Playoff Tatum has looked more like what we expected, 19.8 points per game, 58 percent shooting from three, and impressive shot creation. That, of course, has rekindled the “are they going to trade him for Anthony Davis” talk. To which Tatum just shrugs, speaking to the New York Times.

“Trade rumors don’t bother me,” he said in his deep monotone. “They’re talking about trading me for guys like Anthony Davis. So, I mean, I must be doing something pretty well.” When pressed on whether this bothered him, he didn’t budge: “I love the game of basketball. Being traded is part of the game. I’ll play for whomever. It’s something I can’t control.”

That echoes what Tatum has said all year. This wasn’t the Laker locker room (which was a different circumstance), Tatum was unphased by the rumors that swirled around him and felt management would be upfront with him.

New Pelicans head man David Griffin has said in the past what he would look for in a Davis trade is one young All-Star player, other good young players or picks, and a veteran role player or two to stabilize the locker room. Tatum would be the young likely future All-Star. The guy who did this to LeBron James just a year ago.

Whether Tatum is traded or not depends on a lot of things — what direction Pelicans’ ownership wants to go with the trade, whether Kyrie Irving remains in Boston this summer, what other surprise offers for Davis or other stars come in — and none of it is within Tatum’s control. So he’s going to do his thing.

In the playoffs, that thing has been impressive.

Jimmy Butler, Jared Dudley ejected after scuffle following Joel Embiid block

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Welcome to the playoffs.

Emotions already were running high as Brooklyn faced what isn’t officially but might as well be a must-win game Saturday.

Then with 7:42 left in the third quarter this happened, and all those emotions burst out.

It started with Joel Embiid making a hard block on a Jarrett Allen dunk attempt. Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley — who started for the Nets and has been huge for them this series — came in to protect his man and shoved Embiid. Then Jimmy Butler decided to protect his guy and ran in and shoved Dudley. Then it all broke loose, including D'Angelo Russell moving the pile with his shove.

After the official reviewed the video (and consulted with the official video center), Butler and Dudley were ejected as instigators — that is a win for Brooklyn, the 76ers lost the better player in that trade.

Embiid was given a flagrant 1 for a foul with contact to the head. For my money that’s over the top in this case, he got the ball and blocked the shot, and this is the playoffs. That was not an intentional blow.

The Nets got a couple free throws and the game moved on, but you can be sure this is going to linger.

The playoffs are just more fun when there is bad blood between the teams.

Joel Embiid playing, starting for 76ers in Game 4 in Brooklyn

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Philadelphia can take a commanding 3-1 series lead over Brooklyn with a win on Saturday.

The Sixers will have Joel Embiid in the paint for that game.

Embiid, battling a sore knee, has averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, and he’s been a defensive presence, but he has not been his same, explosive self. He has missed some bunnies around the rim and just has not been right. It’s clear watching him.

Still, Philly is better with him on the court (as long as the aggressive Ben Simmons still shows up). With him in the paint and a quick end to the series, Philly may be able to get some rest for Embiid before the second round. But Brooklyn will not make that easy on Saturday or the rest of the way.

Missouri’s Jontay Porter announces he will enter NBA Draft

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Jontay Porter — the younger brother of Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., who did not play all season as he recovered from back issues — was impressive as a freshman, the one season he played at Missouri. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a game (mostly off the bench), showed a shooting touch from three, he plays a high IQ game, and at 6’11” he has NBA size and a strong frame.

But since then Porter has been a story of injuries. A lot of them. He did not play this past season after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee back in October. By his own admission he tried to rush back and tore the same ACL again in March.

Now, Porter is declaring he will enter the NBA Draft.

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Porter has legitimate potential as a stretch five in the NBA, but the knee injuries and questions about Porter’s athleticism (he’s not athletic by NBA standards) makes teams hesitant. That’s why Porter is projected as a second-round pick, a big man with potential but one who needs time to get healthy and develop.

A couple other draft notes:

• Charles Bassey, the 6’11” big man out of Western Kentucky, will test the draft. He is projected as a late second rounder, if drafted at all.

Mike Daum, who averaged 25.3 points and 11.7 rebounds a game this past season for South Dakota State, has entered the draft and signed with Octagon Sports. He needs to impress at combines and workouts to make sure he gets drafted.

• Two European big men, Louis Olinde (6’10” out of Germany) and Aleksander Balcerowski (7’1” center from Poland) both have put their names in the NBA Draft pool. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony announced both of the Euros looking to come to the NBA.