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Three Things to Know: Harden’s streak continues for 27th game, but are Rockets contenders?

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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.

1) James Harden’s streak continues for a 27th game, but can Houston win a title this way? The Phoenix Suns haven’t stopped much of anybody this season (second worst defensive rating in the NBA), so it shouldn’t be a surprise they couldn’t slow the best scorer in the game on Monday night.

James Harden scored 44 and the Rockets knocked off the Suns 118-110. For those of you scoring at home, that extends Harden’s 30+ points streak to 27 games, fast closing in on the second-longest streak ever, held by Wilt Chamberlain at 31. (The all-time record is 65, also held by Chamberlain, and that’s probably unbreakable). Also, this was Harden’s 20th 40-point game this season. Last guy to do that? Kobe Bryant in the 2005-06 season (when the Lakers started Smush Parker and Kwame Brown, so you couldn’t blame Kobe for jacking up shots).

With the win, the Rockets are 31-22, the fifth seed in the West and solidly a playoff team (three games up on the nine-seed Kings). But are they contenders? In an ESPN interview, Kobe himself said no, not if Harden has to dominate the ball like this.

Kobe’s right, these Rockets are not contenders, although I would argue the reason is less Harden’s offense and more defense — fourth worst in the NBA this season, and in the last 10 games it’s gotten worse (by 3.4 points per 100). What propelled the Rockets to contender status a season ago was a top-10 defense to go with Harden and the offense, but this season their defense is 6.6 points per 100 worse, and if a team can’t get stops it will not last long in the postseason.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo has another MVP-level night. Harden’s scoring streak — and the fact he has nearly single-handedly propelled the Rockets to be a playoff team — has The Beard as the frontrunner for MVP. However, if anyone’s going to push him it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo — and the Greek Freak showed why on Monday night.

The feisty Brooklyn Nets have given a lot of teams trouble but the Greek Freak came within an assist of a triple-double — 30 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists — and the Bucks cruised to a 113-94 rout.

The argument for Antetokounmpo over Harden for MVP is based on two things. First, the Bucks are the better team — best record in the NBA at 39-13, with the best net rating in the league by far at +9.8 — and the Greek Freak is their best player. Second, Antetokounmpo plays defense at a high level, let’s just say Harden doesn’t and leave it at that.

But if you want to counter that Antetokounmpo does not have a well-rounded game because of his jump shot, well….

3) Kings’ Marvin Bagley III with 360 alley-oop finish. You should be watching the Sacramento Kings more — they are one of my League Pass favorites. They play fast, they’re athletic and young, and win or lose they are entertaining. And improving.

Case in point, the prized No. 2 pick from the last draft Marvin Bagley III. He showed his steps forward with a career-high 24 points and 12 rebounds to lead Sacramento to an upset of San Antonio Monday night.

And he had one of the highlight dunks of the year.

These Kings will not fade away. With this win, they are 28-25 on the season and are just half a game out of the playoffs. They wouldn’t beat the Warriors in a first-round playoff series, but it would be fun to watch.

Pistons’ owner doesn’t regret pushing for playoffs instead of tanking

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A first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks showed just how far the Detroit Pistons are from the elite of the East. Even factoring in Blake Griffin‘s injury. On top of that, the Pistons are capped out next season — Griffin $34.5 million, Andre Drummond $27.1 million, Reggie Jackson $18.1 million, and a payroll over the tax with just 10 players locked in on the roster. Improving this summer will be tough.

Landing higher in this draft might have helped add youth and athleticism, but the Pistons pushed to make the playoffs. Which is just want owner Tom Gores wanted, he said speaking to the media after the Pistons were eliminated, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News.

“We have to make more progress. A lot of people talk about the idea of winning or losing — we want to win. This idea of what happens in the league and losing is going to be good for you, well that’s not going to be good for any of us,” Gores said. “We just want to go and win — and we did.

“I just don’t believe in the idea of whatever you want to call it — tanking or losing. We need a winning culture and let’s just see what happens from there. I don’t think sports is about that. You can’t get on the court and think about losing. I just don’t believe in it … I’m not going to get into that business.”

The Pistons would be smart this summer to look at deals to either lower their tax bill or make them more athletic, adding playmakers and shooters to help Griffin and Jackson. Of course, that sounds great on paper but will be very difficult to execute. Gores said he would be willing to go above the tax to add players to help the Pistons win, he would take on salary for the right deal. Again, finding that kind of trade is much easier said than done within the confines of the NBA.

The Pistons have an interesting summer ahead, but with the salary cap tying their hands it will be difficult to make any meaningful changes to this roster. That doesn’t mean tanking for a few draft spots (they weren’t moving into Zion Williamson territory) would have been the right move.

Attorney representing Kelli Tennant, Luke Walton’s accuser, releases statement

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Right now a lot of people around the league — the Sacramento Kings, the Golden State Warriors, and the NBA league office itself — are starting investigations into the allegations that newly-minted Kings’ coach Luke Walton sexually assaulted a female reporter back while an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

These allegations blindsided not only the Kings but the entire NBA, and there is no history with the Santa Monica Police Department (the city where the alleged assault took place) because no crime was ever reported.

Now Garo Mardirossian, the attorney for the plaintiff in the lawsuit Kelli Tennant, has released a statement (and later today will conduct a press conference). Here is his statement, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“As alleged in the lawsuit, women connected to the National Basketball Association have long had to suffer in silence through the indignities of gender abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of famous, wealthy, and powerful men. Aided by their fame, money, and power, and motivated by a culture that tolerates misogynistic gender-bias, too many men in professional basketball inappropriately abuse women. As alleged in the lawsuit, defendant Luke Walton — a former professional basketball player and the former head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers — is one of these men.

As alleged in the lawsuit, Kelli Tennant — a former collegiate athlete and star sports broadcaster, is a woman who has had to tolerate and summer in silence from the abuse she suffered at the hands of Luke Walton. By way of this lawsuit, Ms. Tennant is speaking out and saying #timesup to the culture of abusing women in the NBA.”

Walton’s attorney Mark Baute previously released this statement:

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations. The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, & her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

Tennant was a host with the Lakers’ regional sports network when the incident reportedly took place in 2016, before Walton had been hired as the Lakers’ coach. According to the lawsuit, she had written a book and wanted him to write the book’s forward. She met him in the lobby of the hotel, agreed to go up to his room to discuss the book, and it was there he pinned her to the bed, kissed her and tried to force himself on her, according to the lawsuit allegations. She says she screamed and tried to get up, but he pinned her in place. Eventually, she was able to get away, according to the lawsuit.

Walton, through his attorney, denies this is what happened. The Kings have stuck by Walton while the investigation is ongoing.

Right now there are a lot of people trying to find out what happened in that hotel room three years ago, and just as many trying to spin the story as it develops.

NBA television ratings down first weekend of playoffs (following season trend)

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There was some serious competition for eyeballs last weekend when the NBA opened its playoffs with eight games over two days. Most importantly, Tiger Woods was on the leaderboard (and eventually won) The Masters, and that was the big draw for sports fans all weekend. Then by Sunday night, Game of Thrones was all anyone wanted to talk about.

Still, NBA television ratings were down for the first weekend of action, in some cases by more than 40 percent. Paulson at Sports Media Watch broke down the numbers.

Ratings and viewership declined double-digits for all-but-one NBA playoff window over the weekend. The exception was Saturday’s Clippers-Warriors Game 1, which had a 3.0 and 4.83 million on ABC in primetime — up 7% in ratings and 13% in viewership from ABC’s opener last postseason (Spurs-Warriors: 2.8, 4.28M) and up 20% in both measures from its 2017 opener (Pacers-Cavaliers: 2.5, 4.04M). Those games aired in the afternoon.

Versus the same window last year, Heat-Sixers on ESPN, ratings and viewership both increased 20% (from 2.5 and 4.02M)…

The rest of the weekend was a dud. On Sunday, ABC earned a 2.55 and 3.90 million for Thunder-Blazers Game 1 — down 32% in ratings and 34% in viewership from last year (Pacers-Cavaliers: 3.8, 5.94M) and down 31% and 40% respectively from 2017 (Blazers-Warriors: 3.7, 6.52M). It was ABC’s least-watched opening weekend playoff game in four years (2015 Pelicans-Warriors: 3.49M).

While there have been entertaining series in the first round — Brooklyn/Philadelphia and Portland/Oklahoma City in particular — only one series, Denver and San Antonio, will go at least six and maybe seven. That does not help. On the bright side for the NBA, the matchups get far more compelling in the second round, Houston and Golden State out West, and both series in the East (Philly vs. Toronto, Boston vs. Milwaukee).

Also, there is no LeBron James in the playoffs. Stars are draws.

While the numbers (both on traditional broadcast and cable) were down, and were this season for the league, this is more of a broad trend across sports. With the advent of streaming and changing view habits, live NBA games (and sports in general) can provide one of the few “must watch live” moments, which makes it valuable to advertisers and networks. However, capturing those viewers, particularly younger ones under the age of 35, is much more difficult. There’s a reason the NBA started offering streamed snippets of games on their streaming services (you could buy just 10 minutes of league pass, or tune in at the end of a close game just to watch that finale). Getting those viewers in front of a traditional television is not as easy as it once was.

It’s something the NBA thinks a lot about. It’s also something every professional sports league around the globe is struggling with.

Report: Lakers interviewed Jason Kidd for head coaching position Monday

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If you want to know what would really freak Lakers’ nation out, this potential outcome would be it.

While the Lakers have seemed focused on Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams as the frontrunners to be their next head coach (both have second interviews this week), Lakers brass interviewed Jason Kidd on Monday, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

Kidd’s interview was with general manager Rob Pelinka, as well as team executive Kurt Rambis and was conducted at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, California. The interview with the Hall of Fame point guard lasted for several hours, sources told ESPN.

Kidd probably would get a thumbs’ up from LeBron James, the pair were teammates for Team USA and LeBron is known to respect Kidd. Maybe it’s for that reason that Kidd’s name came up early as someone the Lakers would consider.

Kidd’s reputation as a coach has seemingly hit a low point after he was let go in Milwaukee, then Mike Budenholzer came in this season and took the same core of a roster to the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer will likely be named coach of the year because he modernized the Bucks attack and defense, taking them out of Kidd’s 1990s influenced style and putting the players in much better positions. The changes and results were striking.

For a Laker team whose roster building and organization have seemed a little stuck in the past in recent years, hiring Kidd would not seem a way forward. He at least got a foot in the door and an interview.