Associated Press

Bucks become first team in NBA history to trail by 20 at half, win by more than 15

1 Comment

MIAMI (AP) There was no yelling and screaming in the Milwaukee locker room at halftime. A little bit of film got reviewed, a couple adjustments got discussed, and the Bucks believed a 20-point deficit could be overcome.

They were right.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points and finished an assist shy of a triple-double, and the Bucks tied a franchise record for second-half comebacks on the way to beating the Miami Heat 113-98 on Friday night. Milwaukee became the first team in NBA history to trail by 20 at half then come back to win by more than 15.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re down 20, 15, 10,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had 16 rebounds and nine assists. “We’re going to keep playing hard. It’s a process. You’ve got to win games like this. You’ve got to face adversity when you’re playing on the road. In the playoffs, it’s not going to be easy. We want to be a great team and that’s why we keep playing hard.”

The Bucks were 1-100 all-time – 0-77 on the road – when trailing by 20 or more at the half. They trailed 72-52 at the half against the New York Knicks on Feb. 18, 1977, and won 124-123.

On Friday, it was Heat 62, Bucks 42 at the half.

From there, Bucks 71, Heat 36. Milwaukee also became the first team in NBA history to trail by at least 20 at the break and wind up winning by at least 15 points.

“We lost our energy in the second half,” said Justise Winslow, who led Miami with 20 points – all in the first half. The Heat’s lead over Orlando and Charlotte for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference was trimmed to just one game.

Hassan Whiteside had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, Josh Richardson scored 11 points and Dwyane Wade was one of four players with 10 for Miami. Wade bruised his right hip on a hard fall late in the third quarter.

Khris Middleton scored 21 and Eric Bledsoe had 17 for the NBA-best Bucks, who improved to 52-17. Antetokounmpo was in total control of the second half, grabbing an offensive rebound with 2:40 left and throwing a no-look, behind-the-head pass to Bledsoe for a layup and a 110-92 lead. Most fans didn’t see it – they were long gone by then.

“To do what we did in the second half, I’m just pleased with the guys the way they were able to flip it,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Our defense fuels our offense. We want that to be our identity.”

The Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon in the first quarter to a sore right heel. Brogdon was 0 for 3 in 6 1/2 minutes.

The rally from 23 down was the Bucks’ biggest of the season, one better than what they did against Chicago on Nov 16. It was only the fifth game all season where the Bucks trailed by 20 or more, and they’re now 2-3 in those games.

The Heat came out flying, leading 25-8 before any of the starters came out for their first rest of the night. The biggest lead was 37-14 with a minute to go in the opening quarter, and the Bucks pared that down to 13 on three occasions in the second quarter. Miami wound up closing the half on a 10-3 spurt to push the lead back to 20.

It all changed – and fast.

The Bucks made as many 3-pointers in the third quarter – five – as the Heat made field goals. Middleton and Ersan Ilyasova each had 10 points in the quarter, Miami shot 5 for 20 and got outrebounded 16-8, and the lead was down to one going into the fourth.

The lead didn’t last long, and Milwaukee kept pulling away.

“Sometimes you’re going to miss open shots,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Sometimes you’re going to miss free throws. Sometimes there are going to be turnovers. Sometimes there are going to be things you don’t agree with the officiating. All of that in the second half really distracted us and they really took advantage of that.”

 

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
1 Comment

James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

Yifan Ding/Getty Images
2 Comments

Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-