Russell Westbrook scores 21 as Rockets ruin Chris Paul’s return, beat Thunder 116-112

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HOUSTON — James Harden scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook scored 21 and fell an assist shy of a triple-double against his former team, as the Houston Rockets got a 116-112 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.

Westbrook had 12 rebounds and nine assists after notching his 139th triple-double in his last game to pass Magic Johnson for second-most all-time.

A 3-pointer by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 19 seconds left got Oklahoma City within 3. Westbrook made 1 of 2 free throws before fouling Nerlens Noel, who made both free throws.

But Harden, who was 21 of 22 from the line, made two free throws with 13.2 seconds to go to make it 114-110.

Gilgeous-Alexander cut it to 2 with a basket, but Harden made two more free throws to secure the victory.

It was the first game between these teams since a blockbuster summer trade reunited Westbrook with Harden and sent Chris Paul to Oklahoma City after the nine-time All-Star failed to help the Rockets to a title in two seasons in Houston.

Paul had 15 points, four assists and five rebounds.

Just before tipoff, Westbrook approached the Thunder bench and hugged coach Billy Donovan before slapping hands and greeting virtually every player on the bench. Westbrook spent the first 11 years of his career in Oklahoma City where he was the face of the franchise before moving to Houston in the deal the Rockets hope will help bring them their first title since 1995.

Gilgeous-Alexander had 22 points and Dennis Schroder added 22 points to lead the Thunder, who fell to 1-3.

Danilo Gallinari made a 3-pointer to get the Thunder within 4 with about 3 1/2 minutes left, but Westbrook added a jump shot seconds later to push Houston’s lead to 106-100.

Paul hit a 3 for the Thunder after that before a turnover by Westbrook.

Harden made two free throws with about 90 seconds left to leave Houston up 108-103.

Paul added a basket, but Westbrook drove into the lane before kicking it out to P.J. Tucker for a 3 to push the lead to 6 with a minute left.

Houston used a 39-point third quarter to take an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. Both teams had trouble getting going on offense to start the quarter and the only points either team scored in the first three minutes of the fourth came on two free throws Gallinari at the start of the quarter.

Paul made the first field goal of the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer with just over eight minutes remaining before a layup by Schroder cut the lead to 91-87.

Houston scored its first points of the quarter when Harden made two free throws about a minute later.

The Rockets led by 4 soon after that when Harden was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to make it 96-89. That was the start of a 7-4 run that left Houston up 100-93 with five minutes to go.

The Rockets opened the third quarter with a 17-4 run to erase a 10-point halftime deficit and take a 69-66 lead with about seven minutes left in the quarter. A 3-pointer by Tucker put Houston on top and Westbrook punctuated the run with a dunk before screaming and flexing as he passed the Thunder bench.

 

Watch Kobe Bryant memorial live stream (video)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Thousands of mourners will gather in Staples Center on Monday to say farewell to Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

The basketball superstar and his 13-year-old daughter will be honored in a public memorial at the arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant died along with seven others on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.

The Celebration of Life will feature speakers reflecting on Kobe Bryant’s impact on his sport and the world, along with music and retrospectives on Bryant’s on-court achievements. Bryant became active in film, television and writing after he retired from basketball in 2016.

Bryant’s family, dozens of sports greats and many major figures in Bryant’s public life are expected to attend.

Staples Center is sold out for the memorial. The money made from ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in underserved communities and teaches sports to girls and women.

Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers, including the final 17 seasons at Staples Center, which opened in 1999. The five-time NBA champion’s two retired jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – hang high above the arena where he became the third-leading scorer in league history until Lakers star LeBron James passed him on the night before Bryant’s death.

Bryant’s death caused an outpouring of grief across Los Angeles, where he remained the city’s most popular athlete into retirement. Dozens of public memorials and murals have been installed around the sprawling metropolis, and thousands of fans gathered daily outside Staples Center to commiserate after the crash.

Symbolic meanings will run throughout the ceremony, which will be held on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage. Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother, chose Feb. 24 as the date in honor of the uniform numbers of Kobe and Gianna, who wore No. 2 on her youth basketball teams.

A private funeral was held for Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Orange County on Feb. 7.

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo throws dead ball into air, hits Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in head

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What an unfortunate encapsulation of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s time with the Lakers.

At least Rajon Rondo, beyond this gaffe, did plenty to help the Lakers beat the Celtics.

Bucks’ minor-league coach goes on epic rant, calls ref ‘f—ing clown’ (video)

Bucks' minor-league affiliate Wisconsin Herd vs. Pistons minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Drive
Mike E. Roemer/NBAE via Getty Images
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After coaching the Wisconsin Herd (Bucks’ minor-league affiliate) to a loss to the Grand Rapids Drive (Pistons’ minor-league affiliate), Chase Buford – son of Spurs CEO R.C. Buford – had a normal one.

Ryan Rodig of WFRV-TV:

Buford:

The officiating definitely went right for Grand Rapids. That was as unprofessional as an officiating performance. I hope you tweet this out and tag the league, because that was embarrassing. Matt Rafferty is a f—ing clown. That being said, we have to be so much better at the end of games. We can’t blow a 21-point lead with 12 minutes to go. However bad and biased and unfair and illegal and cheating the referees are, we have to be better at closing games. And so that’s the way I feel.

Herd:

The words are amazing: “f—ing clown,” “illegal,” “cheating.”

But the hair really completes the whole unhinged motif.

Mavericks protesting loss to Hawks

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was irate after his team’s loss to the Hawks on Saturday.

He’s putting his money where his Twitter fingers are.

Dallas is protesting the game, according to the Last Two Minute Report. That requires posting a $10,000 fee to be refunded only if the challenge prevails.

The contentious play occurred in the final 10 seconds. Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith was called for goaltending Trae Young‘s shot. The play was reviewed and ruled a clean block. However, officials determined the whistle was therefore inadvertent and blew while John Collins was in his shooting motion on a successful putback attempt. So, Collins’ basket counted.

The Mavericks are claiming officials misapplied the rules – a key distinction for a protest. A simple missed call won’t get it done.

Protests rarely succeed. This one probably won’t.

But I think Dallas has a chance. The whistle wasn’t inadvertent. It was intentional. It was for a wrong call. But it was intentional.

Even if the challenge is successful and the Mavericks get their desired jump ball in a re-do, they’d still be trailing by two in the final seconds. They’d still be underdogs.

On the other hand, odds still strongly favor Cuban getting fined… eventually.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

The NBA plans to await commissioner Adam Silver’s ruling on a Dallas Mavericks game protest before leveling possible discipline on owner Mark Cuban for his behavior during and after the Mavericks’ loss to Atlanta on Saturday night.