HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets still have a way to go to reach their goal of earning the top seed in the Western Conference.
But it seems far more attainable than it was just a month ago.
James Harden had 43 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in 29 minutes – the first player in NBA history to have a 40-point triple-double in less than 30 minutes played.
His performance led the Houston Rockets to a 141-113 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for their eighth win in 11 games.
“I think we’ve all had that in the back of our mind. It was just a far reach earlier in the season,” Harden said. “Now it’s pretty close. We’ve just got to continue to do what we’ve been doing. Playing well, taking care of opportunities like this tonight. Just continue to get better, strive to get better.”
The Rockets, who were in 14th place in the West in early December, are 4 1/2 games out of first place and tied with the Clippers for fifth.
After the Cavaliers got a 117-108 win in the first meeting with Houston this season, the Rockets were determined to take care of business this time around. They did that, racing out to a 28-point lead after scoring a season-high 77 points in the first half behind 24 points from Harden.
It’s Harden’s 15th straight game with at least 30 points, his franchise-record 13th game with 40 points this season and the seventh in the last nine games as he has carried the team with Chris Paul and Eric Gordon out with injuries.
Ante Zizic came off the bench to score 18 for the Cavaliers, whose season-long skid extended to 12 games.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said. “They were raining 3s all over the place. They broke us down off the dribble. They are in a rhythm now and playing very good basketball.”
Harden needed less than 2 1/2 quarters to reach 30 points on Friday night, hitting a 3 with 7:41 left in the third to give him 32 points and push Houston’s lead 91-58. He joins Kobe Bryant (16 games in 2003) as the only players to score 30 points in at least 15 games in a row since the 1972-73 season.
About three minutes later, he pushed his total to 40 after he was left wide open to drive into the lane for an easy layup to make it 99-68. Harden grabbed his 10th rebound with about 90 seconds left in the third quarter to give him his sixth triple-double this season and the 41st of his career.
Harden played just 29 minutes and 34 seconds, and made eight 3-pointers to extend his NBA record to 12 games in a row with at least five.
“The step-back 3s, he’s perfected that,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s got 16 3s and they’re all step-backs. I don’t know how he does it … everybody knows what he’s doing and he still gets them off, and they’re kind of open. They’re not forced, so he’s just an incredible player.”
Clint Capela added 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting after making just four of 16 field goals in a loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
Harden and fellow starters Capela and Tucker also sat out the fourth quarter with Houston up 113-81 entering the fourth. Even with the trio watching the final quarter from the bench, the Rockets maintained a huge lead and their 141 points were a season high and the most Cleveland has allowed this season.
Anthony Davis blocks Jordan Clarkson dunk then immediately blocks Ante Zizic follow
He showed that effort in New Orleans’ 140-124 win over the Cavaliers last night.
He helped the Pelicans overcome a 16-point deficit and finished with 38 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists (an expanded skill), four blocks and two steals. No play better highlighted his determination than this one late in the first quarter, when Davis blocked Jordan Clarkson‘s dunk then jumped again to block Ante Zizic‘s follow.
Three Things to Know: 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think
LOS ANGELES —Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) The 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think. Watch the Wizards play and what is wrong grows more and more obvious. It’s not the defense — although it’s terrible, the Wizards are allowing 114.5 points per 100 possessions this season (26th in the NBA and 6.9 worse than they gave up last season). It’s not their three-point shooting, although the Wizards are hitting just 31 percent from three as a team. It wasn’t even that the Wizards got blown out by the Clippers 136-104 Sunday night.
It’s not the statistics at all.
Watch Washington in person and the team’s lack of chemistry is painfully obvious:
• When Bradley Beal slipped and went to the floor in the second half, it was Clipper Tobias Harris who helped him up because no Wizard teammate came over to. There were two other similar instances I noticed Sunday night where the Clipper player helped a Wizards player off the floor because teammates did not rush over to do so.
• When the Wizards took the court to start the game there was almost no interaction among players — Otto Porter was talking to the referee because that was the only person willing to talk to him.
• Clippers players seemed to be more concerned when Markieff Morris went down with an elbow to the face than the Wizards (Morris left the game with a concussion).
The Wizards are clearly playing for themselves and not each other, not the team.
“That was the first thing Scotty [Brooks, Wizards’ coach] said after the game,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said. “He said, ‘Man, your guys are just, watching them, you just feel the energy and you just feel them. They get along.”
“Just gotta go out there and compete,” John Wall said. “We play like a team that’s 5-1 and people are just going to lay down, we got to play with a sense of urgency that we’re 1-5 now…. “When you play the game of basketball you can’t worry about how many points you got, how many steals you got, how many assists you got, it’s just competing.”
Beyond the chemistry, of all the on-court problems, nothing is going to change until the defense improves.
“Our defense is horrendous…” Austin Rivers said. “You’ve got to have personal pride. You’ve got to get mad when someone scores on you. We’re not the Warriors.”
“Just heart. Just heart and pride,” Wall said of what it will take to fix the defense. “Guard your man one-on-one, that’s really the main key. We gotta do a better job of switching — when we do do that, like we did in the first quarter, I think we played the best we have played for a while.”
The switching trend in the NBA is giving the Wizards problems on both ends.
“On offense when we get (a switch we like), we take a bad shot sometimes and bail those guys out,” Wall said. “When they put us in bad situations, we gamble too much or don’t stay on the play and get a stop… we do a good job of it in practice, but we have to bring the same competitive edge we have competing against each other in practice to playing someone else.”
Washington’s play is ugly and coach Scott Brooks could pay the price with his job if things don’t improve. He certainly is not faultless in all this.
However, the Wizards have changed coaches before. They have changed players around on the periphery then spun it as trying to fix chemistry issues (Marcin Gortat going to the Clippers is the latest along those lines). Everything changes except the core, and yet the same problem exists.
Which means maybe it’s getting to be time for the Wizards to take a fresh look at that core and if it works.
2) Does firing of Tyronn Lue mean Cavaliers realize it’s time to go all-in on the rebuild? Last July, when LeBron James decided to head west, the Cavaliers brain trust decided to pivot to… nobody is sure what exactly. They wanted to walk the very fine line of a rebuild on the fly — compete now while building for the future — and they fell off that tightrope.
This isn’t a team built to win now, not with Kevin Love leading an aging roster constructed to support LeBron — Tristan Thompson, George Hill, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver. They are not a group built to create great looks and rack up wins on their own. There’s a reason Vegas set the under/over on wins for the Cavaliers this season at 31.5.
Sunday Lue paid the price for a 0-6 start and a sense among the front office in Cleveland they needed to go another direction, a coach better suited to a young team (even if the Cavs are not yet htat).
That start, however, was not about Lue. It’s about a team in limbo. The Cavaliers need to pick a path. Rebuilding would make the most sense.
Play Colin Sexton more and live with the at times painful learning process. He’s got real potential, but he’s still adjusting to the speed of the NBA and settles for far too many long twos.
More importantly, it’s time to start working to trade the veterans and getting pieces for a rebuild back (picks and prospects). There will a market at the deadline for Kyle Korver — a shooter on a fair contract, $7.6 million this season and with a $3.4 million buyout for next season. George Hill is overpaid this season ($19 million) but he is a solid point guard when healthy and come the deadline there could be teams willing to take the hit this season knowing he has a $1 million buyout next season. J.R. Smith, at $14.7 million this season (with a $3.9 million buyout next season) will be harder to move because, without LeBron, teams are not sure how much he will help them.
Love is the big piece to move, but with his new contract it’s a lot harder. That is probably a next summer move — but it’s one they need to start moving toward.
3) Oklahoma City gets first win of the season. When you’re busting out of a slump, you don’t care where and how it happens. So what if the Phoenix Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back? Who cares if they didn’t have Devin Booker?
CLEVELAND (AP) —LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.
Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.
James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.
The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.
Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.
Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field.
Milwaukee guard Jason Terry was given a Flagrant-1 foul for hitting Ante Zizic in the face with an open hand while the rookie center was putting up a shot in the lane. Zizic made both free throws, helping spark a run that built a double-figure lead.
Lue, 40, led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season.
The Cavaliers (41-29) are third in the Eastern Conference and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time.
No timetable has been given for when Lue will return. He missed the second half Saturday, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn’t feeling well. Lue also sat out a game against Chicago at home in December.
LeBron James no-look pass freezes entire Lakers’ team (VIDEO)
The next possession down, in transition LeBron threw a brilliant one-handed skip pass to George Hill in the corner, Hill just missed the shot. That doesn’t diminish a pass only a couple of guys in the league could see and make.
Then there was LeBron with the nutmeg on Lonzo Ball.