Jazz defense no match for small-ball Rockets, James Harden scores 38 in win

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SALT LAKE CITY — Team are trying to get creative in guarding the Houston Rockets.

Russell Westbrook doesn’t think the ploys are effective.

James Harden shrugged off traps to score 38 points, Westbrook faced two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and still had 34 and the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz 120-110 on Saturday night.

“I don’t know if it’s working. I get whatever I want. I get to the basket. I shoot. I drive and kick. The pace and speed you can’t scout for,” Westbrook said.

Harden (13 for 23, 6 3-pointers) and Westbrook (14 for 26) were efficient all night and the Rockets rode a big third quarter to their third straight win.

“It obviously didn’t work,” Harden said when asked about putting the 7-foot-1 Gobert on the 6-3 Westbrook.

Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore each scored 12 off the bench for Houston.

Donovan Mitchell scored 31 and Jordan Clarkson had 22 for the Jazz, who cut the Rockets’ lead to seven in the fourth quarter a couple times but could never get closer.

The Rockets made the Jazz pay when they occasionally double-teamed Harden and couldn’t rotate fast enough to the perimeter shooters. After a season high-tying 25 3-pointers in their last outing against Golden State, the Rockets made 20 of 48 from beyond the arc.

“We have two guys, even more than two guys, that are able to put pressure on the rim. Teams are going to come and help and then our shooters have open shots,” Harden said.

The Rockets made their move in the third quarter when they outscored the Jazz 38-19.

“When we don’t make shots, it really impacts our defense. That said, I thought in the third quarter, we didn’t have the same energy we needed on the defensive end. We didn’t get our hands on balls, we didn’t get deflections, and we fouled just once which tells you a little about our aggressiveness,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

Westbrook capped a 14-2 run with a jumper and Houston led 100-85 entering the final period.

“It’s cash money when they guard like that,” Westbrook said.

The Rockets made eight of their first nine 3-point attempts to take an early eight-point lead.

Taking advantage of Houston’s lack of rim protection, Clarkson scored 20 points in the first half to help the Jazz recover and move in front.

The Jazz played zone defense at times along with some non-traditional defensive matchups against the small-ball Rockets.

“Every game has been different so we just need to figure out how they are going to guard us and attack it. If they trap me, we are going to get open 3s. If they play us regular, we’ll run our offense and still get it,” Harden said.

If Harden and Westbrook are rolling, unique strategies don’t seem to matter.

“We got two of the best 1-on-1 players in the world. What are you going to do?” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.

The Jazz lost to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night and could hardly afford another slip-up on the second half of their back-to-back as they jockey with the Rockets for playoff position in the last third of the season.

Houston and Utah now both have records of 36-20 but the Rockets claimed the season series, 2-1.

Must watch: Lonzo Ball halfcourt alley-oop to Zion Williamson

Lonzo Ball Zion Williamson
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Damn. This is just a thing of beauty.

Lonzo Ball and Zion Williams have a connection on the court and the Grizzlies got a look at it up close and personal Monday.

NBA TV has another angle

In a must-win game for 0-2 New Orleans, Zion played more in the first half than we have seen recently, but he was still under 10 minutes total. He had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, leading an energized Pelicans team that led by seven at the half.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
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Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.