Three Things to Know: Harden drops 58 in comeback win and it seems almost routine

Associated Press
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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 drops 58 in comeback win and it seems almost routine. Much like his historic scoring streak — 32 games of 30+ points a night, a streak that just ended in the past week — James Harden had to do it. The Rockets were a below .500 team sitting at 13th in the West when he started the scoring streak, and when it was done the Rockets were a solid playoff team. He carried them to that level.

Thursday night the Rockets were down 21 points in the third quarter to the Miami Heat, and Houston was without key players — Eric Gordon, Kenneth Faried, and Iman Shumpert (plus P.J. Tucker got ejected in the third quarter) — so Harden had to do it. He took over. From the moment the Rockets trailed by 21 Harden scored 29 of his eventual 58 points, and dished out 5 of his 11 assists, to spark the Rockets comeback win, 121-118.

He’s done it so much we’ve become almost numb to nights like this from Harden. That was Harden’s sixth 50+ point game this season (no other player even has two). It feels like video game numbers that we don’t even take seriously. We should. He’s that good.

The other good news for the Rockets in this — they defended pretty well once way down. The Heat shot 57.7 percent overall and hit 11-of-16 threes to get to that 21 point lead, but 41.4 percent the rest of the way, and going 4-of-12 from three. If the Rockets are going to be a threat in the playoffs they to defend like that for 48 minutes.

2) Tobias Harris takes charge, leads 76ers to win — that they need because the Pacers keep winning. On a team that had issues getting its stars to fit in — Joel Embiid wanted to be around the basket more, Jimmy Butler wanted more pick-and-roll — Tobias Harris has been a refreshing change. He went from being the first option with the Clippers to being the third or fourth option with the Sixers without a complaint. Until this week, he hadn’t taken more than 15 shots in a game with Philadelphia. He got his touches in the offense and did what he could to get wins. He played very well but didn’t challenge the system.

Thursday night, Harris scored 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting overall and 5-of-7 from three to get Philadelphia its first win against Oklahoma City since 2008 (a 19-game losing streak, the last time the Sixers beat the Thunder now 76er GM Elton Brand was the starting center).

Butler had 20 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists, and seems to be settling into a role initiating the offense.

Russell Westbrook had a triple-double for the Thunder with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. but he needed 24 shots to get there and was 1-of-9 from three, continuing his outside shooting woes this season. At points in this game Ben Simmons gave Westbrook the full playoff Rondo treatment, sagging 12 feet off of him and daring Westbrook to shoot a jumper (it’s a defensive strategy Simmons is very familiar with). Without MVP candidate Paul George (shoulder issues), Westbrook was dominating the offense like his 2017 MVP season, but he couldn’t do it alone against Philly.

The Sixers needed that win to keep up with the Pacers, who are the three seed in the East and are not fading away with Victor Oladipo out. Bojan Bogdanovic had 37 points, seven rebounds, and four assists to lead Indiana past Minnesota, keeping the Pacers half a game ahead of the Sixers for that three seed. Slumping Boston is the five seed, both the Pacers and Sixers would like to avoid the Celtics in the first round.

3) Jazz put it all together for a night, Donovan Mitchell takes over in win against Nuggets. This season the Jazz defense has looked dominant for stretches — especially with Rudy Gobert on the floor — but when it did the offense sputtered. When the offense has clicked, the defense has looked pedestrian. The Jazz have had precious few complete games and they need to find more of them entering the playoffs.

Ones like the 111-104 win against Denver Thursday. Utah defended well, Joe Ingles stepped up as a playmaker (if you can name the Jazz point guard, they were out injured), and when it mattered Donovan Mitchell just took over.

Gobert did his thing — the dangerous Nuggets offense was slowed in large part because they shot just 46.4 percent within eight feet of the basket thanks to Gobert’s presence. Derrick Favors was on Nikola Jokic for long stretches and defended him well. Joe Ingles was a pick-and-roll wizard.

That’s the kind of Jazz performance that should worry any team that plays them in the postseason. After the Bucks come to Salt Lake City Saturday the schedule gets soft for the Jazz. If they can get on a roll heading into the playoffs, well, we saw last year how dangerous they can be.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”