Watch James Harden score 60 as Rockets rout Hawks 158-111

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HOUSTON — James Harden’s performance on Saturday night was enough to make even those who see him put up gaudy numbers night after night step back and marvel at his work.

Harden scored a season-high 60 points in 31 minutes and the Houston Rockets sent the struggling Atlanta Hawks to their 10th straight loss with a 158-111 romp.

“It’s like everything else he does – unbelievable,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Harden came one point shy of matching his career high and franchise record on a night he made eight 3-pointers and 20 free throws. He watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench with Houston up 127-73 at the end of three.

“What he’s doing has not been seen,” teammate Austin Rivers said. “My man had 60 and didn’t play the fourth quarter. Name another player who could do that right now.”

It was Harden’s fourth career 60-point game, tying him with Michael Jordan for third-most in NBA history, trailing only Kobe Bryant (six) and Wilt Chamberlain (32). Harden is the only active player who has scored 60 points more than once.

But as usual he wasn’t interested in talking about reaching 60 points while spending an entire quarter on the bench.

“Nope,” he said before walking off and repeating the word two more times.

The Rockets were missing starters Clint Capela and Danuel House because of illnesses, but still had no trouble handling an Atlanta team that hasn’t won since Nov. 12 thanks to Harden’s huge night.

“We try to do what we have to do against James, which is throw a lot of bodies at him,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “Try and put him under duress. He just didn’t feel us.”

Atlanta was never really in this one and was down by 20 points or more for most of the game. The flat effort came a night after the Hawks fell by one point in overtime to the Pacers in a game where Trae Young tied career highs with 49 points and eight 3-pointers.

Young led the Hawks with 37 points and had five 3-pointers, but it wasn’t nearly enough to offset Harden’s game.

The Rockets raced out to a 14-5 lead and had stretched their advantage to 81-52 by halftime behind 31 points from Harden for their third 80-point first half in franchise history.

As good as Harden was in the first two quarters, it was nothing compared to how he dominated in the third. Houston was up 83-56 early in the period before he scored all of the team’s points in an 18-3 run that made it 101-59 with 7 minutes left in the period.

Harden made three 3-pointers and was fouled on 3-point attempts three other times in that stretch. He had eight assists, three rebounds, three steals and blocked a shot to go along with his 60-point effort.

After the third quarter, Harden was sitting on the bench with a towel draped over his shoulders when he was shown on the video board with a note that said he was two points shy of setting his career high. Harden looked at the screen, read the note and pointed at it while opening his mouth wide in fake shock as if to say: “I was so close,” before smiling broadly.

“Yeah I was playing with the fans a little, but honestly I didn’t know,” he said. “But we played a really good game those first three quarters so it was an opportunity for other guys to play minutes that they’ve earned.”

There were a few half-hearted chants of: “Harden! Harden!” midway through the fourth quarter from a few fans who hoped to see Harden come back in to make Rockets history. But D’Antoni kept the bearded superstar on the bench with the game well in hand.

Former Celtic Guerschon Yabusele fined for not looking at flag during Chinese national anthem

Guerschon Yabusele
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Guerschon Yabusele washed out with the Celtics.

So, now the former first-rounder is playing in China – and running into trouble.

The Chinese Basketball Association fined him for not looking at the flag during the national anthem:

Though Yabusele is French, this comes amid heightened tension between the NBA and China. Most Americans will probably find it ridiculous that looking at the flag during the national anthem is required in authoritarian China.

Meanwhile, let’s ostracize anyone who dares not to stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

Portland reportedly applies for disabled player exception after Rodney Hood injury

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Rodney Hood‘s season coming to an end because of a ruptured Achilles was a real blow to Portland — he had become a critical part of their rotation. That has led to a lot of speculation about already shorthanded Portland jumping into the trade market soon looking for someone to absorb those minutes, as well as hitting the buyout market hard next February.

Portland is now looking for a little more money to spend to bring someone in, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The “disabled player exemption” allows a team over some space to go after a replacement for a player lost due to injury. This is a fairly standard process and likely will be approved. Portland can use that money on a free agent (Iman Shumpert is available again) or someone bought out by another team.

Portland is 10-16 on the season, set back in part due to injuries to the front line. The Blazers knew Jusuf Nurkic would miss most of the season, and he was vital to them, but they were counting on Zach Collins to step up and absorb those minutes. Then he needed shoulder surgery. Portland eventually turned to Carmelo Anthony to help along the frontline, and he has performed well enough for them to guarantee his contract for the season.

Portland is going to be active, both looking at free agents and on the trade market. Just don’t expect a Kevin Love deal (he may want it but his contract makes that nearly impossible).

Rumor: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul stated intent to join Mavericks until Howard backed out

Chris Paul and Dwight Howard
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The Mavericks went from winning the 2011 NBA championship to missing the playoffs within two years.

Somewhat by choice.

Of course, they wanted to remain competitive. But they were willing to accept a lower floor to maintain financial flexibility. They let key players – most notably Tyson Chandler – leave in order to chase bigger stars.

Dallas was repeatedly linked to Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, who could’ve become free agents in 2012 but opted in. They finally hit the market in 2013, but once again spurned the Mavericks. Paul re-signed with the Clippers, and Howard left the Lakers for the Rockets.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

I really think that they, Chris and Dwight, basically wink, wink said they were going to Dallas, from what I’ve heard, and that Dwight backed out.

Word on the street. But we hear a lot of stories. That’s one story I’ve heard.

This is the peril of making arrangements in underground free agency. They’re unbinding. That was especially true with Howard, who waffled through the Dwightmare with the Magic. The Mavericks might have proceeded in the smartest way, but it backfired. Dallas is only now re-emerging upward with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

This also creates a fun “what if?” How good would Dallas have been? Paul remained elite, but Howard and Dirk Nowitzki were slipping. Where would the Clippers have gone with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan but without Paul? Would they still have held the credibility required to lure Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer? Where would Houston have turned without Howard as the star to pair with James Harden?

Serge Ibaka says he nearly goaltended Kawhi Leonard’s iconic shot: ‘I would’ve retired’

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Kawhi Leonard hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history – a buzzer-beater that bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced in during Game 7 of last year’s second-round Raptors-76ers series and propelled Toronto toward an eventual title.

Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, via Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

“I didn’t think it was going in. I was under the basket trying to go for the offensive rebound. The ball was bouncing and one time I was so close to going [for it]. Thank God I didn’t because it could have been goaltending. That would’ve been bad. I would’ve retired. If that had happened I would have retired.”

In hindsight, that would’ve been catastrophic. It would have been been bad at the time, too – but only so bad.

The Bucks, Toronto’s opponent in the Eastern Conference finals, looked better than the Raptors. The Western Conference-winning Warriors were widely viewed as invincible. Few would have thought Ibaka’s goaltend would’ve cost Toronto a championship.

Thankfully for him and the Raptors, we now know better.