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James Harden scores 35, plays great defense on Kawhi Leonard on final shot, Rockets win

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 35 points for his 22nd straight game with 30 or more and the Houston Rockets never trailed and held off a late charge for a 121-119 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

After averaging 52.2 points over the last five games, capped by a franchise-record 61 in Wednesday’s win over the Knicks, Harden’s torrid scoring pace slowed a bit as all of Houston’s starters scored 10 points or more.

Eric Gordon led that group with 24, Kenneth Faried had 21, P.J. Tucker added 18 and Austin Rivers scored 13. Faried also had a season-high 14 rebounds and blocked two shots in his third game since signing with the Rockets to fill in with Clint Capela recovering from thumb surgery.

Houston led by 11 points after two free throws by Harden with 1:14 remaining before the Raptors made three straight 3-pointers to cut the lead to 121-119 with 27.3 remaining. Gordon missed a 3 to give the Raptors a chance, but Kawhi Leonard‘s 3-point attempt was short because Harden played impressive defense on the play.

It’s the 22nd straight game where Harden has led his team and Houston’s opponent in scoring, which moves him past Michael Jordan for the second-longest streak in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain, who did it in 40 in a row.

Harden’s stretch of 30-point games is the fourth-longest in league history, behind three streaks by Chamberlain of 25, 31 and 65 games. Harden was 15 of 15 on free throws, but struggled from long-range, shooting just 2 of 13 on 3-point attempts. The strong play of Faried gave Harden some much-needed help Friday and The Beard will get another reinforcement Sunday night when Chris Paul is expected to return after missing 17 games with a strained left hamstring.

The Raptors got 32 points from Leonard as they dropped their second straight.

The Rockets held a 7-point lead to start the fourth and pushed it to 10 before the Raptors scored five straight points, capped by a 3 from Norman Powell to get within 99-94 with about nine minutes left.

Houston then used a 9-0 run to extend the lead to 108-94 about three minutes later. Rivers made a 3 late in that span before Tucker capped it by grabbing a steal and finishing with a layup.

Toronto got within 10 after scoring four quick points later in the fourth, but a layup by Harden made it 117-105 with about 90 seconds left.

Houston led by as many as 22 early, but Toronto used a 41-point second quarter to cut the lead to 70-61 at halftime. The Raptors opened the third quarter with a 9-4 run to get within 4, but Houston followed with an 18-4 spurt, with nine points each from Harden, to push it to 92-74 with about four minutes left in the quarter.

The Raptors got back on track after that, scoring the next 10 points, with two 3-pointers from Danny Green, to cut the lead to 92-84 with about a minute left in the third.

 

Report: Rockets trade Michael-Carter Williams, cash to Bulls

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Trading for Michael Carter-Williams in 2016 was a disaster for the Bulls in hindsight. They sent Tony Snell (a better player) to the Bucks in the deal and, because they acquired another point guard, waived Spencer Dinwiddie (another better player). Carter-Williams’ most memorable moment in Chicago was offending Derrick Rose fans by planning to wear No. 1 with the Bulls.

Chicago reacquiring Carter-Williams now shouldn’t cause as many waves.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Carter-Williams has $365,966 guaranteed remaining on his contract. Presumably, Houston covered that amount plus paid the Bulls extra for their troubles.

The Rockets are in line to save $2,101,934 in luxury vs. just waiving Carter-Williams themselves. So, there’s plenty of room for them to pay the the Bulls and still come out ahead.

Carter-Williams was a flier by a contending team in need of depth. He struggled with Houston, which found a better alternative in Austin Rivers. At this point, the 27-year-old Carter-Williams could be nearing the end of his NBA career.

James Harden scores 38 but Trail Blazers beat Rockets 110-101

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland’s Evan Turner knew what he was up against with James Harden.

Harden had scored 40-plus points in his previous five games and was coming off consecutive triple-doubles.

Turner, charged with Harden from the start, stopped that streak and managed to slow him – a bit. Harden finished with 38 points and the Trail Blazers snapped Houston’s six-game winning streak with a 110-101 victory on Saturday night.

“I just had to be aggressive and try to limit what he likes to do. He’s an amazing offensive player, he’s been on a hell of a run and obviously he’s the head of the snake, so I just tried to pick him up, wear him down, tire him out and not try to get any cheap fouls,” Turner said.

Harden was 13 of 35 from the field, and shot 5 of 17 from 3-point range, overcoming a slow first half that ended with just nine points.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said Harden is clearly on another level.

“It’s unbelievable. Now you grade him on that he wasn’t very sharp tonight, he only had 38. Now if he doesn’t get 40 it’s like, `What’s wrong with him?”‘ D’Antoni said.

Portland coach Terry Stotts weighed in: “Well, we held him under 40 so I guess that’s a win.”

Jusuf Nurkic had 25 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Blazers.

CJ McCollum added 24 points and Damian Lillard finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for Portland’s third win in the past four games.

Portland led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, but Harden started to show some life after a surprisingly cold first half.

Gerald Green‘s dunk got Houston within 88-83 early in the fourth but Nurkic’s layup pushed Portland’s lead to 97-85 with just under 6 minutes left.

After Harden collected his fourth foul, McCollum hit a long jumper to put Portland up 101-90 with 3:10 remaining. Turner’s layup and free throw made it 106-95 and Moda Center fans started heading for the doors.

There was some controversy when Harden got three free throws on Turner’s foul that appeared to be on P.J. Tucker, and he made all three to close the gap with 1:02 left. After Lillard made a free throw on the other end, Harden’s step-back jumper got the Rockets within 107-101 with 34 seconds left – but it was a close as they could get.

Harden missed a layup with 15 seconds left that would have put him at 40 points.

“My shots were flat at the beginning of the game but I picked it up in that third quarter and the second half. I’ve just got to get off to a better start,” he said.

Portland was the last team to hold Harden under 30. He had 29 in Houston’s 111-104 home victory on Dec. 11. Maurice Harkless had some success guarding Harden, but he out with a sore left knee after a loss to the Thunder on Friday and Turner made his second start of the season.

Harden had his 11th career triple-double and made the go-ahead 3-pointer in a 135-134 overtime victory over Golden State on Thursday night. He finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.

Neither team was able to make much of a move until the final two minutes of the half, when Portland went up 54-46 on Turner’s layup. Nene was charged with a flagrant foul on Nurkic, who made one of the two free throws then added a basket. Lillard had a floater before time ran out and the Blazers went to the break with a 59-46 lead.

Harden was 0 for 8 from 3-point range in the opening half. It was just the second time this season he failed to reach double digits in the first half.

Lillard’s 3-pointer pushed Portland’s lead to 77-61, but Harden answered with his own. Harden had 20 points in the third quarter but the Blazers led 86-77 going into the final period.

Austin Rivers scored a season-high 21 points for Houston, while Clint Capela had 13 points and 21 rebounds.

 

James Harden’s 43 point triple-double puts him in elite company

Associated Press
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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 43 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists in his fourth straight 40-point game, leading the Houston Rockets over the Memphis Grizzlies 113-101 on Monday night for their fifth consecutive victory.

Harden set an NBA record with his eighth straight game with at least 35 points and five assists, besting Oscar Robertson, who twice had seven-game streaks. Harden finished with his fourth triple-double this season and 39th overall.

Houston has won 10 of its last 11 to improve to 21-15.

Harden continued his incredible run that has powered Houston’s surge up the Western Conference standings after a slow start, making six 3-pointers and 21 of 27 free throws. He has made at least four 3-pointers in eight straight games has finished with 30 points or more in 10 games in a row.

The Grizzlies cut the lead to nine with about 90 seconds left. But P.J. Tucker made a free throw for Houston before Austin Rivers added a layup to make it 113-101 and seal the victory with about 35 seconds left.

Harden grabbed his 10th rebound seconds after that to complete his triple-double.

Kyle Anderson had 20 points and Mike Conley added 19 for the Grizzlies, who lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Houston was up by 13 to start the fourth and back-to-back baskets by Clint Capela made it 93-77 with about 9 minutes left. Harden made four straight free throws for the Rockets later in the fourth to leave them up 98-83.

But the Grizzlies scored four quick points, with the last basket coming when Anderson stole the ball from Harden, to cut it to 98-87 with 5 1/2 to go.

Gerald Green answered with a 3-pointer and Houston stretched the lead to 103-87 with about 4 minutes left.

The Rockets led by double digits for most of the night and were up by 23 after two free throws by Harden midway through the third quarter. Memphis closed out the third with a 14-3 run to get within 86-73 entering the fourth. Marc Gasol led the way in that stretch, scoring five points.

The Rockets led 61-38 at halftime behind 28 points from Harden. He capped his huge first half by making two 3s in the last 31 seconds of the half, capped by one that was well behind the line with Anderson in his face.

 

Three Things to Know: LeBron’s injury apparently not serious. Warriors weren’t serious either.

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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) LeBron James injury apparently not too serious. Warriors weren’t serious either on Christmas. It was almost the Nightmare on Christmas for the NBA — the game’s biggest star, LeBron James, going down, saying he heard a pop, right in the middle of a prime-time game on Christmas Day.

After NBA Twitter — and more than a few Lakers fans — freaked out for a while, it appears things are not that bad for LeBron or the Lakers, it’s a muscle injury, a groin strain.

LeBron reportedly was in a good mood after the game and the team says he is day-to-day right now. After Wednesday’s MRI the doctors will have the final say on a timeline, but it doesn’t look like LeBron will miss extended time (my guess, a week or two, that’s the standard with these types of injuries). The Lakers are 5.1 points per 100 possessions worse with LeBron off the court this season, and he is by far their best shot creator in the half court. The Laker can’t go without him for long, but may not have too.

No LeBron for most of the second half and the Lakers still handled the Warriors with ease, 127-101. Best Laker win of the season.

There are two non-injury takeaways from this game.

First, don’t take much away from this game. It’s December, we’re not halfway through the season. Golden State is still struggling with its bench and second units (they got smacked at the start of the second and fourth quarters, lineups that still had Stephen Curry and Draymond Green out there). The Warriors had another game where they didn’t bring a playoff-level intensity when their opponent did. When the energy isn’t there is shows on defense for the Warriors — slow rotations, miscommunication on switches, a casualness on closeouts. Add to that the Lakers just hit shots at a likely unsustainable rate (streaky Lance Stephenson 4-of-4 from three, Ivica Zubac 9-of-10 shooting). This is what you get from the Warriors during the middle of the regular season. They are not fully engaged and are beatable. Nobody should doubt they will find a groove for the playoffs, but right now even LeBron James on Christmas Day can’t bring the fire out of them.

Second, the Lakers do have guys who can ball outside LeBron. Kyle Kuzma (19 points) and Josh Hart (12) have been doing it all season long — those guys are decisive and just know how to finish — but Zubac (18 and 11), Rajon Rondo (15) and everyone else stepped up, too. Plus, the Lakers defend pretty well. LeBron is still the leader, the fulcrum on offense and the guy who sets the tone, but the Lakers have other guys who can make plays around him, a nice core, and those guys stepped up on Tuesday.

2) No Celtic can get buckets like Kyrie Irving, he took over against Sixers and got Celtics OT win. Part of Boston’s problems early in the season was the lack of a clear pecking order. After last season and the playoff run, Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown thought they deserved more touches, same with Terry Rozier, Al Horford has to get his, and now Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injected back into the mix. It was a lot of mouths to feed and not everyone was getting the portions they wanted.

There’s a pecking order now, and it starts with Irving getting to eat all he wants. He had 14 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined, including the bucket that forced OT, and much of that was with a good, physical defender in Jimmy Butler draped all over him.

This was a quality win for Boston. The Celtics’ recent 8-game win streak came against a softer part of the schedule and now they are in the middle of a test against good teams — and they passed this one. This was not a game Boston likely won earlier in the season but they are genuinely finding an identity now, their defense is still elite, and they have a guy in Irving who can get buckets with the best of them. In the playoffs, that matters.

Philadelphia should come out of this feeling positive, there were good signs. Joel Embiid struggled against the Celtics and Horford last playoffs, he had 34 points and 16 assists in this one (he did better against Horford but really feasted on Daniel Theis). J.J. Redick will do his thing every game (although he was 1-of-6 inside the arc), Wilson Chandler is probably the fifth best player on the team and was solid for them (as he usually is) and the bench was okay in its minutes. Jimmy Butler had 24 points but on 9-of-21 shooting. Philly can be a little better, they do need more depth (GM Elton Brand is working the phones heading into the trade deadline) but the Sixers forced OT on the road with the team that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago. This matchup should not scare Philadelphia right now.

3) James Harden scores 41 and the Rockets are 2-0 since Chris Paul went down. Do not sell short what James Harden did on Christmas Day. Yes, it took him 34 shots to get to his 31 points, but he had Paul George — an elite defender playing the best basketball of his career — inside his jersey most of the night. Harden still found a way to get a little space and get buckets.

Harden has scored at least 30 points in 7 straight games and is carrying the offense — and the Rockets back into the playoffs. For the past couple of weeks, Harden has been back to his MVP form.

He had some help. Austin Rivers stepped into some Chris Paul minutes and played good defense, plus hit a couple of threes in the fourth. Eric Gordon and Clint Capela put up numbers (but neither were efficient on the night). The Houston defense is improving.

OKC can make a case for being the second best team in the West right now (Denver is the other team that can stake a claim) — the Rockets went on the road and beat the Thunder. And without CP3. Going into the season, we thought the Rockets would be the second best team in the West again. Maybe they are, it just took a while to get there.