James Harden’s scoring, playmaking, and acting lift Nets past Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — James Harden played a masterful game Sunday, scoring 37 points with 11 rebounds and seven assists, controlling the flow as a facilitator, and leading the Nets to a win over the Clippers and a sweep of the two Western Conference powerhouses in Los Angeles. The Nets have gone undefeated on a five-game road swing through the West — four of those wins without Kevin Durant — and Harden is at the heart of Brooklyn looking like the team to beat in the NBA.

But all people were talking about Sunday night was Harden’s flopping. Or, since it was in Los Angeles, call it acting.

After a DeAndre Jordan tip-in had the Nets up 110-108 with :11 seconds left, the Clippers final meaningful possession saw Kawhi Leonard drive past Harden and use his body to get in position to tie the game with a lay-up (and maybe get an and-1) — instead the referee saw this as an offensive foul.

It should have been a no call — Leonard was physical to get to his spot, but Harden sold the contact and got the referee’s whistle. It was never reviewed. We’ll see what the NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report says about the play tomorrow (those tend to back the official on the court when it can), but that is not a call an official should make in the final seconds of what had been an entertaining Sunday game between two of the league’s top teams.

“My take from it is we’re gonna play bully ball at the end of the game, let it go both ways. But they didn’t call it, so good defense,” Leonard said postgame, before then saying “alright” and walking out of the press conference room.

“They called it, there’s nothing you can do about it…” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “It is what it is.”

It was a missed call, but the Clippers didn’t lose the game on that final shot.

They lost it because they couldn’t slow the high-powered Brooklyn offense — Harden and Kyrie Irving combined for 65 points — and the Nets switching defense had the Clippers reverting to an isolation form of basketball rather than the ball movement that has made them the second-best offense in the league this season.

The Clippers defense has been pedestrian all season — 15th in the league coming into the game — and Sunday Harden and Irving shredded it. Brooklyn came off picks and got into the lane all night, scoring 60 points in the paint and having 31 shots at the rim (a stark contrast from how the Clippers defended against the Jazz two nights before). None was bigger than the Jordan tip-in off an Irving miss that won the game for Brooklyn.

Harden was a big part of the Nets’ offensive success. He has thrived in the facilitator role since coming to Brooklyn.

“From when I first got here, we’re playing hard and we’re playing smart,” Harden said. “We’ve had time to go over things on both sides of the ball and that’s why we’re playing better.”

“We’ve got to do a better job of pick-and-roll defense,” Clippers big man Ivica Zubac said after the game, adding the Clippers did force a lot of floaters, which had been a goal, but the Nets hit them.

Defensively, the Nets are getting better — they’re not good, but better. They have a system, they switch a lot, and while there are some ugly lapses, they are improving and getting some stops. Jordan had two key blocks on Clippers shots in the final five minutes, providing some of the rim protection Brooklyn needs to make their system work.

Lue noted the Clippers got the switches they wanted — Landry Shamet on Kawhi or Paul George, for example — “but we couldn’t get to the basket, we couldn’t force the doubles we wanted.”

“We just fell into the trap,” George said. “Their defense does a lot of switching. We tried to manipulate the matchups, got off our game of moving the ball.”

Irving had 28 points and eight assists for Brooklyn. Jordan, Bruce Brown, and Joe Harris had 13 points a piece for the Nets, who have now won six in a row.

Paul George scored 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting, while Leonard added 29 points on the night. Zubac was the only other Clipper in double figures with 13.

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.

Reports: Suns push for Jarred Vanderbilt derailed Bojan Bogdanovic trade

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Utah traded Bojan Bogdanovic not to one of the contenders pushing for him — Phoenix, Miami, even the Lakers — but to rebuilding Detroit. It’s a move that caught the NBA off guard.

News has come out now that part of what hung up the Suns’ effort to land Bogdanovic was their push to make promising young forward Jarred Vanderbilt — who the Jazz got from the Timberwolves in the Rudy Gobert trade — as part of the deal. The well-connected John Gambardoro first had the report.

If the Suns had not pushed for Vanderbilt it doesn’t mean they would have landed Bogdanovic using a Jae Crowder-based package ( with another player, maybe Landry Shamet, and some picks). Reports have also suggested the draft package that was part of the Suns offer was not impressing the Jazz, so Utah moved on to a cost-cutting move rather than one where they took back more salary than they preferred.

The Pistons may decide to trade Bogdanovic again closer to the February deadline and maybe the Suns can get in the mix then. But for now, the Phoenix target is in the Motor City to start the season.

 

 

Knicks’ Leon Rose plays it safe with media, Mitchell trade: ‘We’re thrilled with where we are’

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Leon Rose continues to play it safe.

He’s played it safe with the New York media since he arrived — he doesn’t meet with them. Instead, he again turned this week to the MSG Network — owned by Knicks governor James Dolan — so he doesn’t have to face hard questions or defend decisions.

He also played it safe in the Donovan Mitchell trade talks, not going all-in to get the All-Star out of Utah. Mitchell is now in Cleveland and we will see over the course f the next 12-24 months if playing it safe was the right call. Here’s Rose’s explanation of the situation in that MSG interview (hat tip Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News).

“We went through that process and at the end of the day we made a decision to stay put. And we’re thrilled with where we are. Taking a look at the summer, we feel great about what transpired.”

As every GM does this time of year, Rose said he likes his team and its chances this season.

“One of our main goals has been to create internal stability. Signed RJ Barrett, first extension of a player since Charlie Ward. We retained Mitchell Robinson. He’s a player who has developed the last few years and we feel very fortunate that we were able to keep him. We got the No.1 point guard in free agency this summer in Jalen Brunson. So we feel really good about the summer.”

In the interview, Rose also defended Tom Thibodeau and his decisions as coach, despite rumors of him being on the hot seat. Rose said Thibs is not under pressure.

The Knicks should be better this season with Brunson, plus Barrett should take another step forward. New York’s problem is much of the East got better — Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington and others — and this roster likely still leaves the Knicks fighting to make the play-in.

Rose deserves credit for being patient, trying to build culture and foundation, and not just throwing Dolan’s money at an aging superstar. He hasn’t done anything stupid, which is a step forward in New York. But he also hasn’t done anything bold yet, he’s just played it safe.

At some point, Rose and the Knicks will have to push their chips in and make a bold, all-in move. But for now, they are playing it safe.