Three Things to Know: Boogie’s night too much for Rockets, Warriors win

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) Boogie’s night too much for Rockets, Warriors win. In building a team to challenge the Warriors, the Rockets didn’t think big. Actually, they got even smaller this season, which made some sense because Golden State has been most feared when its “death lineup” with Draymond Green was the center was on the court. Houston put its faith in 6’10” center Clint Capela, who is athletic enough in the middle to counter to all things Warriors.

That was until Golden State went out and got DeMarcus Cousins.

Wednesday night Boogie was too strong inside, was finding cutters and shooters with his passing, and carved up the Rockets to the tune of a season-high 27 points, plus eight rebounds, and seven assists. Cousins led the Warriors to a 106-104 win in Houston, snapping the Rockets’ nine-game win streak. And they did it without Kevin Durant (tweaked ankle).

Two key areas stood out with Boogie. First, the Rockets tried to go at Cousins defensively, an area where he has had his struggles since joining the Warriors. Not Wednesday night. When switched onto James Harden or Chris Paul, Cousins contested shots but did not foul. He did not get exploited, and Cousins even drew a charge on Harden.

The other was posting him up. The Warriors in the Curry era have not had a big they could just post up and watch him go to work on the block. Cousins did that to Capela. They also took advantage of Boogie’s passing skills, with cutters moving to the rim and shooters spotting up at the arc. Cousins even found Curry when he was not in the game.

Don’t read too much into this game, regular season matchups are a poor predictor of postseason outcomes. (Same with the Rockets’ three wins against the Warriors this season.) The Rockets made mistakes and missed shots we haven’t seen from them during their recent nine-game win streak, while the Warriors were without Kevin Durant. What you can take away is the Rockets look like the second best team in the West right now.

The playoffs have a different flow because it becomes more about matchups, more about exploiting weaknesses or covering them up. What Cousins gives Steve Kerr and the Warriors is another weapon. They can post Boogie up and not many teams can do anything about it. Just more versatility for the two-time defending NBA champs.

2) Russell Westbrook owns the second half, gets another triple-double in Thunder win against Nets. The tradition in Oklahoma City is the fans stand until the Thunder get their first basket. Legs were getting tired on Wednesday night — OKC started 0-of-8 from the field and it took 4:04 of game time before Russell Westbrook hit a three and fans could plop themselves down. The Nets were up 11-1 by the time it happened. That’s pretty much how the entire first half went, Brooklyn was in control and led by 10 after 24 minutes.

Then Russell Westbrook woke up. He had 14 points and 10 assists in the second half and led a 21-4 run that sealed the win, while Paul George pitched in 13 points on 8 shots in the half. The Thunder won 108-96 and Westbrook had his 26th triple-double of the season with 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. Westbrook and George combined for 56 points.

The win, combined with Houston’s loss, ties the Thunder and Rockets for the 3/4 seeds in the West (both teams are 42-26). Both would rather be the three seed, which will put them on the other side of the bracket from the Warriors.

3) Heat go on 21-0 run to start the second half, blow out Pistons, give their playoff chances a big boost. How about if Dwyane Wade’s “last dance” has an encore? A few playoff games?

Miami got closer to that Wednesday night with a critical win, 108-74 against the Detroit Pistons. The game itself wasn’t that interesting, the Heat led by five at the half, went on a 21-0 run to start the second half, and that was the ballgame. Detroit scored just  25 points in the second half. Miami did have some flashy highlights.

The win, coupled with Washington beating Orlando, gives eight-seed Miami a two-game lead over Orlando and Charlotte, who are tied for the nine seed (Washington is still alive 3.5 games back as the 11 seed). The Heat’s cushion matters because the Magic have a much easier schedule the rest of the way, which is why fivethirtyeight.com gives Orlando a 57 percent chance of making the playoffs while the Heat are at 35 percent (Washington and Charlotte each are at 12 percent). The numbers are the numbers, but I think with this win Wednesday Miami’s chances are actually much higher.

But maybe that’s just because I want to see Wade in the playoffs one more time.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.