Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

Report: Dell Demps bypassed Rob Pelinka for Magic Johnson in Anthony Davis trade talks

AP
1 Comment

It appears that Anthony Davis is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The trade was announced this weekend between L.A. and the New Orleans Pelicans, but won’t be completed until July 6. Earlier this season, it was thought this trade could never happen. Tensions between the two teams were high, and negotiations had broken down.

That was perhaps due in some part to the odd back-and-forth between the teams’ front offices. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, one peculiarity was that former Pelicans GM Dell Demps wouldn’t deal with Lakers GM Rob Pelinka. Demps would only discuss things with Magic Johnson.

Via ESPN:

Now, calling those discussions in February “negotiations” is a bit of a stretch. The Pelicans were never serious about dealing with the Lakers then. They didn’t like being forced into this position by Davis and his representative, Rich Paul. And they probably weren’t going to let former general manager Dell Demps make this big of a decision anyway.

So the Lakers — really just Johnson, because Demps wouldn’t talk to Pelinka — would call and Demps would write names on the board without giving them any feedback. Those names would leak publicly and do damage to the Lakers’ team chemistry. But eventually, Johnson and the Lakers got the hint and stopped banging up against what had become an incredibly self-destructive wall.

It’s possible that Demps wanted to deal with Magic simply because he thought he had ultimate authority. That, or maybe Demps thought Johnson would be easier to manipulate?

There’s also the idea that Demps could have had a poor relationship with Pelinka from when he was an agent. For example, Pelinka client Eric Gordon had a restricted free agent saga wherein he tried to leave New Orleans for the Phoenix Suns in 2012. The Pelicans matched, and the shooting guard never played more than 65 games in a season. This is conjecture of course, but it’s not as though Demps hadn’t dealt with Pelinka in the past. There’s been reports that Pelinka is unliked by some GMs around the league from his days as an agent.

I think we’re going to keep seeing information about the inner workings of the Lakers and former Pelicans front office like this over the next several months. This one is pretty odd, but it’s not entirely surprising.

Magic Johnson congratulates Lakers, Rob Pelinka, on Anthony Davis trade

Getty
4 Comments

Magic Johnson left the Los Angeles Lakers under inauspicious terms. Turn the last game of the season, the Lakers great announced that he would be resigning his position effective immediately. In an extended hallway interview, Johnson said that he hadn’t even informed close friend and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.

Now Magic is back to his old tricks, flashing his pearly white smile on television and tweeting banal observations about the NBA.

Johnson was supposed to be part of the team that got New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis to Staples Center. He couldn’t get the deal done, and things reportedly got testy between the two organizations during the regular season.

The Lakers were able to finally trade for Davis in an agreed-upon deal on Saturday. The trade reportedly won’t be completed until July 6th, but all indications are that Davis will be a Laker.

To that end, Johnson is apparently quite happy. He took to social media to congratulate Buss and the organization on Saturday. Eventually — surprisingly — he even gave props to Rob Pelinka.

Via Twitter:

The Pelicans got a great haul for Davis, and the Lakers got what they wanted in another star to pair with LeBron James.

It’s unclear if Los Angeles will be able to build a roster around their two stars enough to contend deep into the Western Conference playoffs. That’s still up for debate, and health will be a serious question as they try to rely on an aging James and a shaky Davis.

Still, the Lakers are headed in the direction they would like and with the West now more in question than ever. We don’t know what’s happening with the Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets could be in full teardown mode as they look to ditch Chris Paul.

We’re headed into the summer and there’s a bit of daylight for fans in L.A.

Report: Celtics wouldn’t include Jayson Tatum in Anthony Davis trade talks

Getty
6 Comments

Anthony Davis is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The New Orleans Pelicans got a significant haul in exchange for their beleaguered star, and LeBron James is openly happy his team finally got the player they wanted all along.

Other favorites to land Anthony Davis this offseason were the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. Danny Ainge had to wait until after July 1 to make a trade for Davis thanks to some special CBA rules regarding Kyrie Irving‘s contract.

But that no longer appears to be on the table, in part because Boston decided not to offer Jayson Tatum in any deal for Davis. Thought to be the crown jewel of any potential Celtics-Pelicans trade, there was also concern by Ainge that Davis would not re-sign in Beantown.

Via Twitter:

This runs contrary to everything we’ve heard about Boston going after Davis. Ainge has always been one to leverage his assets in a way that’s less conservative than other team execs. Plus, the reports have been that the Celtics were not concerned about Davis re-signing. Perhaps Davis gave them a little extra information, telling them directly that he would not re-sign? Davis’ agent Rich Paul said as much publicly, but what’s posturing and what’s negotiating isn’t one in the same.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pelicans and Lakers will complete the deal on July 6. There’s a lot of time before we hit that date, and Pelicans leader David Griffin won’t back out of his deal with L.A. But the fact there’s still time on the table and the Celtics didn’t change their tune on Tatum tells us all the information we need to know.

Rumor: LeBron James hoping Kyrie Irving might join Lakers despite Nets talk

AP
10 Comments

The Anthony Davis trade saga is finally over. The deal between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers hasn’t been completed yet, and is expected to be done on July 6.

For now, L.A. can move its attention elsewhere to look for another star. The Lakers will have significant cap space — $23.7 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks — and they’ll need another star.

Talk recently has been that former LeBron James running mate Kyrie Irving is headed to the Brooklyn Nets. But no deal is officially in place, and free agency hasn’t started. According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, there are folks in LeBron’s camp who are hopeful that Irving could still join L.A.

Via The Athletic:

Just days before the Davis deal was done, a source close to James indicated some optimism that – Nets noise be darned – Irving was still in play for the Lakers.

Remember, Irving and James had a heart-to-heart talk earlier in the season. They hashed out what happened in Cleveland, with Irving apologizing to James for how he acted as a younger man.

That sparked speculation that Irving could be looking to join LeBron with the Lakers this summer when he had the ability to opt out of his contract with the Boston Celtics.

We haven’t even reached the 2019 NBA draft yet, and already free agency is ramping up and getting crazy. This July is going to be wild, and until the music stops and the butts are in the seats, don’t count anyone as being a sure thing for any team just yet.