Watch James Harden drop 47 on Suns leading Rockets to third straight win

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PHOENIX — The James HardenRussell Westbrook combo is starting to become everything the Houston Rockets hoped it would be. The two superstar guards bring different speeds to the offense, and the Phoenix Suns couldn’t stop either one Saturday.

“Russell is go, go, go, go,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When it’s half-court, maybe it’s James’ time.”

Harden scored 47 points, Westbrook added 30 and the Rockets rolled to a 139-125 victory over the Suns for their 10th victory in the past 13 games.

Phoenix pulled to 115-107 with 9:37 left but the Rockets responded with a 21-9 run — which included four 3-pointers from Harden — that slowly deflated the Suns’ players and crowd.

Harden shot 15 of 27 from the field, including 9 of 19 from 3-point range. He leads the NBA with 38.5 points per game and blew past that number with his fourth quarter outburst, hitting his quartet of 3s in a span of about three minutes.

The former Arizona State star has already scored 1,124 points this season, most for a player through 29 games since Rick Barry had 1,134 in the 1966-67 season. By the end of the night, he received an ovation from a big chunk of the fans.

“This city has shown me so much love before I even got to the NBA,” Harden said. “So I feel like it’s my job to go out there and put on a show.”

Harden’s scoring has been a constant throughout the season, but Westbrook’s production has spiked in recent weeks. He’s averaging 33.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists over his past three games. The two players took turns dominating on Saturday, hitting Phoenix with waves of offense that couldn’t be stopped.

“I don’t know if 30 (points) is a benchmark or not, but Russell’s playing really well, doing a lot of stuff,” D’Antoni said. “And you know James has been playing great.”

Said Westbrook: “It’s a good balance for our team, for myself. I think it’s moving in the right direction.”

Westbrook added 10 assists, and Clint Capela had 14 points and 17 rebounds. The Rockets shot 59% from the field.

The Suns have lost six straight games and fell to 11-18. Kelly Oubre Jr. led Phoenix with 26 points, and Devin Booker had 19. Elie Okobo scored 17 in his first start of the season and all five starters scored in double digits for just the third time this season.

Booker said he thought the Suns did a good job of competing in the second night of a back-to-back after losing to the Thunder on Friday, but they couldn’t figure out a way to stop Harden or Westbrook.

“They’re MVP players, they’re going to make those shots,” Booker said. “It’s how you respond and just keep defending and playing the right way.”

Harden scored 18 points in the first quarter and had 29 by halftime, shooting 10 of 15 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. The Rockets led 70-65 at the break after shooting 61% from the field.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.

Tilman Ferttita: Rockets don’t fear Lakers, Clippers like they did Warriors

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta likes to talk.

Volume 48.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“I think Milwaukee is head over heels above everybody else,” said Fertitta

“We just need to get home court for the first and second rounds and see what happens.”

“None of us fear L.A. or the Clippers or Denver like we feared Golden State,” he said. “It’s not like how we were scared of them. We could easily win the West this year or get knocked out in the first round. Both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, we’re all excellent teams. Just comes down to somebody gets hot and makes a shot. Our chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”

The Rockets stood up to the Warriors far more than any other team. But that was most true before Fertitta put his imprint on the franchise. He’s somewhat culpable for Houston cowering to Golden State.

As far as this season, Fertitta is right all around: The Bucks are great, combining last year’s success with important playoff lessons. Houston could easily win the West or lose in the first round. The Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets shouldn’t be feared. (Nobody fears the Nuggets, though they are a real championship contender.)

But the Lakers and Clippers also look like darned good playoff teams. Even if not predicting victory, Fertitta’s comments could become bulletin-board material in Los Angeles.