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

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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.

Report: NBA not bringing other eight teams to Disney World bubble

Knicks vs. Bulls
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The NBA bringing the “Delete Eight” teams to its Disney World bubble to train as other teams depart?

Like other plans for the Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors… it’s not happening.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBPA has no interest in that idea, sources said. It’s a non-starter. The inevitable solution for the eight teams left out of Orlando: The NBA and NBPA agreeing upon voluntary workouts in the team facilities, sources said.

The NBPA won’t agree to mandatory reporting for players on the eight teams outside of the restart but will eventually allow it on a voluntary level, sources said.

Bringing those other eight teams to the Disney World bubble was always a ridiculous idea. Why would the NBA jeopardize its highly profitable setup just so some lousy teams could train and maybe hold glorified scrimmages?

Voluntary team workouts are a reasonable allowance. Though it’s difficult to ensure players coming and going from a team facility won’t spread coronavirus, some players are playing basketball in groups, anyway. At their own facilities, teams can at least enforce protocols to increase safety. And players who’d rather be more careful wouldn’t be forced to participate.

There’s no reason to make anything mandatory. These eight teams’ seasons are over.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.