Associated Press

James Harden scores 28 against Hawks, 30-point streak ends

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden isn’t exactly lamenting the end of his impressive scoring run.

Harden had 28 points, snapping his 32-game streak with at least 30 while the Houston Rockets beat the Atlanta Hawks 119-111 on Monday night.

He’s glad it’s over, too – especially since he had no expectation of matching Wilt Chamberlain’s 65-game streak, the longest in NBA history. Harden’s stretch with 30 or more points ranks second.

“Yeah I am. It was cool but I knew I wasn’t going to get to No. 1,” Harden said before walking away chuckling.

Houston overcame a scoring outburst from Hawks rookie Trae Young, who set career highs with eight 3-pointers and 36 points.

Harden returned after missing Saturday’s win over Golden State with a neck injury and missed all 10 3-pointers he attempted.

“This was the first time I was able to move it since a few days,” he said. “So it kind of felt good to go out there and just move it and run around. I hadn’t really done any movement or working out. I’ve been in bed really.”

He got to 28 points with 23.3 seconds left and had the ball on Houston’s last possession but did not attempt a shot from half court with the game in hand. When asked if the injury affected his shot he said: “I don’t care. Made shots, missed shots, we won the game.”

Harden last came up short of 30 points in a Dec. 11 win over Portland, when he had 29. During the streak, he scored 50 or more points four times, including a career-high 61 in a win at the Knicks on Jan. 23.

“Eventually it was going to have to end one of these days,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s unbelievable. He’ll start another one.”

Chris Paul added 20 points, and Eric Gordon hit four 3-pointers for 16 points.

The Hawks cut the lead to five on a basket by John Collins with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining. Harden missed his 10th 3-pointer seconds after that, but Harden was fouled on a 3-pointer on the next possession and made all of the free throws to make it 115-107.

Atlanta scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, with five points including a long 3-pointer from Young, to cut the lead to one. P.J. Tucker got the Rockets going again when he made a 3-pointer to make it 98-94 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining.

Young’s hot shooting continued after that when he made his seventh 3 to cut the lead to one again.

Harden made four quick points later in the quarter, but Young was at it again after that, sinking his eighth 3-pointer to cut the lead to 107-102 with about five minutes left.

Young said he couldn’t appreciate his big night since the Hawks came up short.

“For me, I’ve grown up with a dad who raised me that winning is the only thing that matters,” he said. “So for me, of course you want to play well, of course you want to do well in the game and help your team, but at the end of the day I don’t feel good about it.”

Vince Carter got the Hawks within one with a 3-pointer later in the third quarter before Houston scored five quick points, capped by a basket from Harden to make it 82-76 with about four minutes left in the third.

Alex Len added a 3 for Atlanta after that but the Rockets padded the lead to 90-79 with an 8-0 run.

The Hawks got within seven late in the third, but Paul made a shot while being foul and completed the 3-point play to leave Houston up 95-85 entering the fourth.

 

Bulls reportedly apply for cap relief from Omer Asik contract

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Omer Asik didn’t play a minute for the Bulls this season (they got him in the Nikola Mirotic trade). Back in training camp he ruled out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis, which had flared up last summer. Asik had played in just 49 games combined the two seasons before that.

Prior to this season, the Bulls waived Asik. He was paid his full $11.3 million for this season but had only $3 million guaranteed for next season. The Bulls have now applied for cap relief — meaning taking that $3 million off the books for next season — because of Asik’s injury, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

One year after a player last appeared in a game, teams can apply for cap relief if a player’s injury or condition is determined to be career-ending. An independent doctor needs to verify that Asik could not play again to get the extra cap relief. Asik gets paid, it is still a guaranteed contract. Miami took this step with Chris Bosh, for example.

The Bulls have talked about being aggressive in free agency — finding guys to pair with Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Otto Porter — and while that $3 million is not a lot, it helps. The Bulls will have between $20 million and $23 million in cap space if/when the league approves Asik coming off the books (depending on what they do with a couple of players), according to our Dan Feldman. That’s not max contract money, but it can help bring in some depth and shooting to go around the young core in Chicago.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry top NBA jersey sales again

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There are new names on and climbing the list: Joel Embiid is up to No. 5, Luka Doncic came in 13th as a rookie.

However, for the most part, the names on the list of the most sold jerseys in the NBA look very familiar.

With LeBron James jumping teams to the Los Angeles Lakers, it should be no surprise he tops the list of most-sold jerseys (based on NBAStore.com sales since the start of the season). Stephen Curry is second, and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo climbed up to third.

Here are the top 15 in jersey sales this season.

1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
4. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
6. James Harden, Houston Rockets
7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
9. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
10. Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia 76ers
11. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
12. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
13. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
14. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
15. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Three Sixers made the list (Embiid, Simmons, Butler), the most of any team. Also, Wade went out in the top 15 after his Last Dance farewell tour.

Here are the top 10 franchises in team merchandise sales:

1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Boston Celtics
4. Philadelphia 76ers
5. Milwaukee Bucks
6. Chicago Bulls
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Houston Rockets
9. Toronto Raptors
10. New York Knicks

Malcom Brogdon out for Bucks-Celtics Games 1 and 2

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Malcolm Brogdon suffered a foot injury that’d sideline him for the start of the playoffs.

The Bucks (vs. Pistons) and Celtics (vs. Pacers) won their first-round series too quickly.

Milwaukee-Boston will be the first series between teams coming off sweeps since Lakers-Suns in the 2010 Western Conference finals and first such second-round series since Pistons-Bulls in 2007. So, the Bucks-Celtics series will begin Sunday, the second-earliest of four possible dates.

Which means no Brogdon to begin the series.

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Game 1 is Sunday, and Game 2 is Tuesday. That leaves open the possibility of Brogdon returning for Game 3 Friday, May 3.

Brogdon is a good shooting guard, but the Bucks were just fine without him in the first round. Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton played well against Detroit, and Tony Snell could enter the rotation as he gets healthy.

But the Celtics are a far bigger challenge. Milwaukee won’t necessarily need Brogdon against Boston, but the Bucks’ chances are much higher if he returns to full strength.

Russell Westbrook to critics: ‘I don’t really care what people say’

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Russell Westbrook has faced a lot of criticism this season, a chorus that grew louder in the first round of the playoffs.

While he averaged a triple-double for the third straight season, his shooting degenerated and his efficiency dropped. This is Westbrook’s shot chart for the regular season.

Which was better than his playoff shot chart.

The results of his shooting woes were obvious in the playoffs. Portland big man Enes Kanter can be exposed as a pick-and-roll defender if pulled out on the perimeter to deal with a ball handler, but the Trail Blazers didn’t have to do that. Kanter would sag back, clog the paint, and dare Westbrook to take jumpers or drive past him. Even when Westbrook drove there were not clear lanes and he struggled to finish.

That swelled the volume of criticism of Westbrook. Not that he cares. Did anyone actually expect him to be bothered? Westbrook brushed off his critics speaking with the media after his exit interview on Thursday. Via Royce Young of ESPN.

“There used to be conversations if I was a ball hog, but now I lead the league in assists for the past three years or whatever it is, that’s getting squashed out,” he said. “So now the conversation is about shooting. Next year I’m going to become a better shooter. After that it’ll be probably, f—, my left foot is bigger than my right one. Who knows.

“So that’s why, back to your point, I don’t really care what people say, what they think about me, because it doesn’t really matter. I know what I’m able to do and know what I’m able to do at a high level every night, and nobody else can do what I can do on a night-in, night-out basis, and I truly believe that. If they could, I’m pretty sure they would. But I know for a fact that nobody can.”

Westbrook still impacts the game with his drives and athleticism, he is still an All-NBA level guard in this league, if not MVP level anymore. He is still one of the game’s elite players. However, as he was getting outplayed by Damian Lillard in the first round the questions came up again, “just how far can the Thunder go with Westbrook as their primary option?” After four surgeries in six years, can he still carry a team deep into the playoffs?

When Westbrook was on the floor without Paul George this season, the Thunder struggled. When it was George without Westbrook, they still played well. It’s become clear that not only must Westbrook improve his shooting — not to Curry levels, but closer to his MVP self that shot better from the midrange — but also Sam Presti and Thunder management need to find a way to get more shooting around Westbrook. A stretch-five, in particular, would help (Stephen Adams is good at a lot of things, but spacing the floor is not one of them). OKC needs shooters around Westbrook.

How the Thunder pull that off with a capped-out team — they have the second-highest payroll in the league this season and Westbrook and George are maxed out for years — is going to require some real creativity. But if the Thunder are going to be more than a first-round-exit team in the West, they need to find a way.