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Tilman Fertitta calls Rockets dodging luxury tax ‘fluke’ and ‘accident’, reportedly approves paying next year

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The biggest reasons the Rockets lost the Warriors in their second-round series:

1. Golden State is an all-time great team.

2. Houston depleted its roster through spending cuts.

Nothing else is even close. Neither Chris Paul nor Clint Capela had a great series. But the Rockets generally played about as well as expected entering the matchup.

That was the problem.

While still excellent, the Warriors looked more primed to get upset than last year, when Houston pushed them to seven games. But the Rockets lowered their own roster quality.

They started in the offseason, letting Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute walk for bigger contracts. Both players wound up overpaid for their production. But Houston didn’t have the cap flexibility to get anyone nearly as good as Ariza. Though Mbah a Moute had a lost season with the Clippers due to injury, the Rockets wanted to keep him. They just deemed him too expensive.

Later in the summer and closer to the trade deadline, Houston made more moves to escape the luxury tax entirely. Those trades cost the Rockets a first-rounder, two second-rounders, a couple second-round pick swaps, James Ennis and De'Anthony Melton. Houston could have used Ennis, who had a nice postseason for the 76ers. All those picks and Melton could have been used to acquire a far better player than Iman Shumpert if trimming costs weren’t the priority.

Yet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is – once again – trying to play everyone for suckers.

Fertitta, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Last year (getting under the luxury tax) was a fluke,” Fertitta said. “We were going to be in the (tax). It was an accident. I’m still trying to figure out how we got under. I was positive we were going to be in it by $11 million. But if I’m in the luxury tax, I expect us to win.

Feigen:

general manager Daryl Morey has already been given a green light to pay the tax, a person with knowledge of the team’s planning said.

If I were Morey, I’d be livid. All general managers must work within the constraints set by team owners, but this goes way beyond. Either Fertitta is lying or Morey is a terrible general manager. Morey’s moves in the last year were indefensible – unless he had a mandate to dodge the tax, in which case they were sadly shrewd.

I don’t believe Morey is a terrible general manager.

I’ll also believe the Rockets will pay the luxury tax next season only when I see it.

Fertitta made a big show about how upset he was with Houston losing to Golden State, which was rich considering his spending limitations were a prime culprit. Maybe the experience motivated Fertitta into spending more in the future. But James Harden and Chris Paul will never have this season back, and especially Paul is at an age where further decline should be expected.

The Rockets also have all their top players already signed. Houston could spend into the tax, but salary-cap rules will inhibit the major spending that was possible last summer. So, this is a much safer proclamation from Fertitta this time.

We’ll see whether he lives up to even that.

Bucks’ Eric Bledsoe out two weeks due to right fibula avulsion fracture

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The Milwaukee Bucks keep right on rolling, they won their 18th straight on Saturday night, cruising past the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now they’re going to have to keep this winning streak going without point guard Eric Bledsoe.

Bledsoe will miss at least two weeks with a right fibula avulsion fracture, the team announced Saturday. The injury happened Friday night in a win against Memphis.

An avulsion fracture is where a strain to ligament pulls a little bit of bone off where the two connect. It sounds worse than it is medically, and while it hurts rest is usually the only treatment needed.

Bledsoe is averaging 15 points and 5.7 assists per game for the Bucks, shooting 34.4 percent from three, playing solid defense, and providing another ball handler and shot creator next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee has been +4.1 points per 100 possessions this season with Bledsoe on the court.

George Hill, who has had a strong season for Milwaukee off the bench, will step into the starting role for now.

The injury comes at a rough time as the Buck hit a tougher part of the schedule this week, facing Dallas (which may be without Luka Doncic) and the Lakers on Thursday.

Hornets’ rookie P.J. Washington out weeks with fractured little finger

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In what has been a disappointing rookie class so far, Charlotte appears to have a steal drafting P.J. Washington at No. 12. The power forward out of Kentucky has started every game for the Hornets this season and is loving the spacing in the NBA game, scoring efficiently in the paint while shooting 40.6 percent from beyond the arc on 3.4 attempts per game, plus is averaging 5.3 rebounds a game.

Now the Hornets are going to be without him, likely for a couple of weeks, due to a fractured fifth finger on his right hand (pinkie). He suffered it in the fourth quarter against Chicago Friday night.

While the Hornets officially only list him as out for Sunday against the Pacers, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports he’s going to be out through Christmas, which would mean at least five games.

Usually this would mean more minutes for Marvin Williams, but he is out with a sore right knee. Most likely, coach James Borego slides an undersized Miles Bridges over to the four — which had been the preseason plan until Washington surprised everyone — but he has a variety of small-ball players who likely will get a little run there.

The 12-16 Hornets are hanging around the playoff picture, just 1.5 games out of the eight seed (Orlando).

Watch Zach LaVine’s driving and-1 game-winner to lift Bulls past Clippers

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CHICAGO (AP) — After blowing several late leads to lose games, the Chicago Bulls were able to flip the script Saturday night.

Zach LaVine scored 31 points and converted a decisive three-point play in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory over the short-handed and weary Los Angeles Clippers.

Chicago trailed by five points with less than two minutes to go. Tied at 106, the Bulls inbounded with 5.4 seconds left. LaVine got the ball near the 3-point line, drove to his right and was fouled by Montrezl Harrell as he scored with 2 seconds left.

Paul George then missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“We made big plays,” LaVine said. “I think that’s what it comes down to, making plays.

“We’ve been playing good, but we just haven’t been able to get that win in the last two minutes, three minutes of the game. Hopefully, we can start stringing some together.”

Lauri Markkanen had 13 points and 17 rebounds, Thaddeus Young scored 17 points, and Denzel Valentine had 16 for the Bulls.

Harrell had 30 points and George had 27 for Los Angeles. The Clippers had won four in a row.

Besides playing for the third time in four days at the end of a six-game trip, the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard (injury management, left knee soreness), Lou Williams (right calf), Patrick Beverly (concussion) and JaMychal Green (tailbone contusion).

This was the eighth game Leonard has missed. He scored 42 points Friday night at Minnesota.

George was asked if the poor finish was a result of fatigue. “Not necessarily,” he said. “This isn’t new. We just got outplayed tonight.”

Los Angeles led by 15 points midway through the second quarter before Chicago closed the first half with a 19-6 run to pull to 57-55.

The Bulls continued the surge early in the third, scoring 17 straight points for a 75-61 lead. The 75 points were two more than Chicago scored Friday night in an 83-73 home loss to Charlotte.

The Clippers answered with a 12-1 run to trim the deficit to 76-73 and pulled to 81-79 in the final minute of the third on a three-point play by Harrell. LaVine then hit a 3-pointer to give Chicago an 84-79 lead entering the fourth.

In the final three minutes, George hit a pair of free throws to break a tie at 98 and Landry Shamet hit a 3-pointer for a 103-98 Clippers lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining. With L.A. up by five a minute later, LaVine and Valentine hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions — sandwiched around one of two free throws by George — for a tie at 106 with 47.9 seconds left.

Blake Griffin does not play second half due to knee soreness; Pistons hang on to beat Rockets

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This summer, Blake Griffin had arthroscopic surgery to clean up his left knee, it cost him the first 10 games of the season.

Saturday night, Griffin sat the second half against the Rockets because that same knee is sore.

That’s concerning, although there have been no further reports on the severity of the issue. Griffin is averaging 17.4 points and 4.8 rebounds a game — both career lows — and remains the fulcrum of the Pistons offense.

Even without him and Andre Drummond, the Pistons held on to beat the Rockets 115-107, thanks to 12 points from Derrick Rose and 11 from Bruce Brown in the second half.