Ben McLemore

James Harden scores 32, passes 20,000 points to lead Rockets during blowout of Timberwolves

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HOUSTON — James Harden didn’t have much to say after he surpassed 20,000 points on Saturday in Houston’s blowout win over Minnesota.

“It’s a great accomplishment obviously,” he said. “I have a bigger picture and bigger goals but it’s pretty cool.”

Teammate and longtime friend Russell Westbrook, who also played in the game when Harden got the first points of his NBA career, was much more effusive in his comments about the milestone.

“To be able to do that on a very, very high level is something we don’t take for granted,” Westbrook said. “Growing up in L.A. and being able to see him progress over the years to me is just a blessing to see as his friend and I’m truly happy for him.”

Harden scored 32 points in three quarters to help the Rockets roll to the 139-109 victory.

Houston led by double figures for most of the game and used a huge run in the third quarter to put the game out of reach and bounce back after a lopsided loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday night.

Harden, who had 12 rebounds and eight assists, is the 45th player in NBA history to reach 20,000 points and the seventh-youngest. He entered the game 10 points away and reached the milestone in fitting fashion, on a step-back 3-pointer midway through the second quarter.

The public address announcer simply said 20,000 after Harden hit the shot, before a video was played during the next timeout to mark the occasion. The video showed him making his first points in the NBA while with the Thunder, then making a free throw that gave him 10,000 points and a replay of the 3 that got him to 20,000.

He got the game ball on Saturday and presented it to his mother.

“’She has everything,” Harden said. “Every goal and achievement that I have, she has it. I gave it to her and she’ll put it in a safe place.”

Already without Clint Capela because of a bruised heel, the Rockets lost fellow starter P.J. Tucker early in the first quarter when he fell hard on his right shoulder. But Houston was just fine without them thanks to another big game from Harden and a 30-point performance by Westbrook.

Josh Okogie had 16 points off the bench for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns remained out with a left knee sprain that has had him sidelined since mid-December. The 30-point defeat was their largest loss of the season.

“We need to be better in terms of withstanding runs, especially against a good team,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “You give them credit. They got us tonight.”

The Rockets were up by 16 at halftime and 17 in the third quarter before scoring the next 16 points to push the lead to 89-56 with about 5 minutes left in the quarter.

Harden made two 3-pointers in that span and added another three points when he was fouled on a 3 and made all the free throws. The Timberwolves had three turnovers, including two from Andrew Wiggins, to help Houston pad the lead.

Minnesota cut the lead to 26 entering the fourth quarter, but the Rockets extended it to 115-82 with about 9 minutes left by opening the quarter with a 13-6 run.

Westbrook made a layup soon after that before stealing the ball on a bad pass by Jeff Teague and dishing it to Ben McLemore, who found Thabo Sefolosha for a 3 that made it 124-86. The Timberwolves called a timeout and all of Houston’s starters except Isaiah Hartenstein went to the bench after that with about 8 minutes to go.

Hartenstein started in place of Capela and had 17 points and 15 rebounds. Eric Gordon added 17 points and tied a season high with five 3-pointers.

James Harden, Trae Young both get 40-point triple-doubles in Rockets win

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ATLANTA — James Harden‘s big first quarter gave Houston a lead that seemed safe.

His misses helped give Atlanta a chance.

Harden scored 41 points, including 22 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets over Trae Young and the Hawks 122-115 on Wednesday night.

Harden had 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his second straight triple-double. He made only 9 of 34 shots, including 4 of 20 3-pointers.

Young kept pace. The Hawks’ second-year point guard had 42 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He and Harden are the first players to post 40-point triple-doubles in the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Harden faded in the second half, when he made only 2 of 18 shots.

“I think, obviously, we had a couple guys run out of gas,” said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni. “… Our legs got tired obviously. We just had to hang on.”

D’Antoni said Harden “just didn’t shoot the ball well. So be it.”

Harden had 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for his first triple-double of the season in a 118-108 win over Philadelphia on Friday night.

The Hawks pulled within three late in the fourth quarter, the last time at 118-115 on two free throws by Alex Len. Harden sank four free throws in the final 10.4 seconds.

“They made shots,” Harden said. “We missed shots. They’re a feisty team.”

Clint Capela had 22 points and 22 rebounds, and Ben McLemore had 18 points in Houston’s third straight win.

Harden more than made up for the absence of Russell Westbrook, his usual backcourt partner. D’Antoni had a confident answer when asked before the game about the impact of Westbrook being rested.

“Just more James,” D’Antoni said.

It was a safe prediction.

Harden, who scored 60 points in his last game against Atlanta in November, set out on another high-scoring pace. The NBA’s leader at 38.4 points per game, Harden abused the Hawks with his mix of 3-pointers and drives. Atlanta’s frequent best answer was to foul him, and he made 19 of 23 free throws.

Houston led 45-29 after the first quarter and pushed the lead to 20 in the second period.

The Hawks rallied in the third, cutting the Houston lead to 87-83.

Following Houston’s timeout, Harden sank a 3-pointer to start a 12-2 run to close the period, pushing the lead back to double figures. McLemore had two 3s in the run.

Atlanta again pulled close in the final period. Len’s three-point play pulled the Hawks to 108-105.

Russell Westbrook’s third-straight triple-double powers Rockets past Suns

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HOUSTON — On a night where James Harden‘s shots weren’t falling for three quarters, the Houston Rockets got big performances from those in supporting roles until the star stepped up late to close out the victory.

Harden scored 18 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and Ben McLemore added 27 points to help the Rockets outlast the Phoenix Suns 115-109 on Saturday night.

Harden had a tough shooting night through three quarters and was 5 of 19 overall and 1 of 10 on 3s with 16 points before getting going in the fourth. The game was tied with about 7 minutes left, and he scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-6 run that made it 102-95.

“That’s how deep we are,” Harden said. “We have a really good team and guys that can make plays and knock down shots. More importantly we were focused on our defense.”

Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his third straight triple-double and sixth this season. Harden finished 8 of 27, 3 of 17 on 3s and made 15 of 18 free throws.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 35 points after scoring a season-high 44 in an overtime victory at New Orleans on Thursday night.

Phoenix coach Monty Williams was proud of his team for staying in it until the very end.

“We have a mentality that we just don’t give in,” Williams said. “We’re playing young guys that are learning how to play against physical NBA men and that’s part of developing.”

The Suns cut the lead to five twice in the last 90 seconds, but both times Westbrook made a layup to extend the advantage. And the second time he was fouled on the shot and made the free throw to make it 114-106.

The Suns scored seven straight points, capped by a dunk from Kelly Oubre, to tie it at 85 with about 9 minutes left. After a timeout, Harden scored Houston’s first points in about three minutes on a layup to put Houston back on top.

It was tied again before Harden scored five points to give the Rockets a 94-89 lead. He stole the ball from Ty Jerome after that and was fouled by Booker on a drive, with Harden aggressively continuing forward and pushing Booker off the court. Harden later shoved Booker, and they both received technical fouls to the bewilderment of the Suns.

Harden made both free throws to make it seven points in a row and was fouled again after he stole the ball from Mikal Bridges. Harden made one of those free throws to make it 97-89.

“He finds a way to win the game,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “A lot of guys contributed. A lot of guys played well.”

 

Three Things to Know: After back-to-back Knicks blowout losses, David Fizdale job watch on

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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) After back-to-back Knicks blowout losses, David Fizdale job watch is on. Eight losses in a row. The last two were by 44 points at Milwaukee then by 37 points Thursday night to Denver — games where the Knicks didn’t show much fight (except for Marcus Morris, who literally seems to be looking for a fight every game). Things are bad with the 4-18 Knicks. Historically bad.

That has ramped up the “David Fizdale Job Watch” around Madison Square Garden (and all over NBA Twitter). The Knicks have the worst offense in the NBA this season, a bottom-10 defense, and their energy level appears to be dropping with each game. Even Fizdale called the team’s effort “sickening” after Thursday’s loss.

The coach’s firing now feels inevitable, with the only question being when — and the rumor is soon. It was clear when team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry were forced to talk to the media a dozen games ago — after an ugly 21-point home loss to the Cavaliers — that Fizdale was going to be the scapegoat for a full organization that deserves blame. Mills said at the time he wanted to see “consistent effort” from the Knicks, that hasn’t happened of late.

These last two losses — where the Knicks were increasingly listless — seemed to turn up the flame and now everyone is waiting for that pot to boil over. (The reports on Twitter that the Mills, Perry, and owner James Dolan were not in their seats at the end of the game were not completely accurate, Mills was until the final minute. The three were talking after the game, but that is not unusual.)

Mid-season coaching changes rarely jumpstart teams — there is precious little practice time in the NBA, and it’s nearly impossible for a new coach to make systemic changes. The rotation can be tweaked, players can be put in better/different positions, but any spark tends to be short-lived.

There are really only a couple of reasons that a mid-season coaching change makes sense. One is that the coach management really wants is out there and the franchise needs to move before another team snaps him up (think Sacramento forcing out 11-13 Mike Malone so they could eventually get George Karl, who went 11-21 that season). When (it’s not really an “if” anymore) Fizdale is let go, one the coaches currently in the organization is expected to get the job — Mike Miller, Pat Sullivan, Jud Buechler, Keith Smart, Kaleb Canales — and they do not fit the “he’s our guy” criteria.

The other reason to fire mid-season is that the situation in the locker room and around the team is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. That is a case that can be made.

Still, we all know the real problem in New York goes higher up the ladder. This was never a playoff roster, but the organization seemed to sell itself — and sold ownership — that it was, which has led to disappointment. There is some young talent on the roster — rookie RJ Barrett shows flashes, Mitchell Robinson has potential — but sticking with one coach, one system, and being patient through a rebuild has never worked for Dolan and New York. It always seems to be the search for the next free agent, the next quick fix, and because of that instability free agents are leery of coming to Manhattan (a couple of them found that stability in Brooklyn last summer).

James Dolan has owned the team for two decades now, he took over near the end of the Jeff Van Gundy era. This season will mark the seventh straight the team has missed the playoffs, and they will have been out of the top eight in 13 of the last 16 seasons. Dolan has been the one constant through all the GMs and coaches in that era.

There are rumors Dolan wants to lure Masai Ujiri out of Toronto. We’ll see. What smart front office people will want in New York is total control — not just of the basketball decisions but of the personnel throughout the Knicks front office. Sources have told me others who spoke to the Knicks for the top executive job previously wanted to clean house throughout the basketball staff (to bring in their guys and force out the entrenched people) and that has met with resistance.

Just don’t expect Dolan to sell the team. That’s not happening. The best Knicks fans can hope for is that he brings in a smart head of basketball operations, gives that person total control, then gets out of the way. For years and years, allowing for the ups and downs of a rebuild. But if we haven’t seen that after two decades…

2) James Harden scores “just” 23, Russell Westbrook has triple-double, Rockets pick up a quality win over Raptors. Houston is not going to protest this one.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse had a game plan — trap James Harden, do it 40-feet from the basket sometimes, but do not let that man beat you. Force someone else to make shots, even if they are open threes. Part of that plan worked, Harden had just three shots in the first half and finished well below his season scoring average with just 23 points on the night.

Toronto’s problem was the other guys did step up. Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House Jr. shot 10-of-19 from three in the first half and had 41 points combined before halftime. For the game, Russell Westbrook had a 19-point triple-double, while McLemore led the team with 28 points on 18 shots.

Toronto’s other problem is that Houston played better defense and Pascal Siakam went scoreless in the fourth quarter (he did have a team-high 24 for the night). When their star struggled, the rest of the Raptors went cold, shooting 6-of-17 in the fourth with six turnovers. That’s not going to get it done against anyone.

3) Rookie Rui Hachimura is playing fairly well in Washington, scores 27 to lead Wizards past Sixers. In what has been a surprisingly down rookie class, Washington is starting to get something out of Rui Hachimura.

In his last four games, the Japanese national — and there is a media contingent from Japan following him around — is averaging 22 points a game. Against Philadelphia on Thursday he may have had his best game as a pro, scoring 27 points on 18 shots, with seven rebounds, and two steals. He led the Wizards to an upset win against the 76ers, 119-113 (Philly continues to struggle on the road)

The long-term concern with Hachimura is that he’s a mid-range shooter — he took six of his 18 shots from there on Thursday (making four), and for the season more than 30 percent of his shots have come between 10 feet out and the arc. Hachimura can get those shots at will and is hitting them at a good clip, but it’s not what teams are looking for on a consistent basis (unless DeMar DeRozan is your idealized player). Midrange shots are a good weapon for a scorer to have, but teams want that as more of a fallback. His 22 percent three-point shooting needs to improve to become a real scoring threat in the future.

However, in a rookie class where the biggest star has yet to step on the court, and other guys are struggling, Hachimura is starting to stand out as a good pick by Washington.

Watch James Harden scores 49 points, lead Rockets past Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS — Undermanned and playing for the second consecutive night, the Houston Rockets still had plenty of reason to be confident.

“I would think it would give you confidence,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You’re playing with a bazooka out there.”

A bazooka named James Harden.

Harden unloaded Saturday night, scoring 49 points on a whopping 41 shots from the field to lead the short-handed Rockets to their seventh straight victory, 125-105 over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With Russell Westbrook resting and several key contributors injured, the Rockets needed Harden to shoulder an even bigger scoring load than usual. The 41 attempts are the most in his career, and the most in the NBA this season, surpassing the 37 Golden State’s D'Angelo Russell took in an overtime loss Nov. 8 in the same building in Minnesota.

“It was a collective effort,” Harden said. “We’ve got six, seven guys out. So it could have been an easy game, where we just chalked it up and got ready for next game. We wanted to come here and win this game, and we showed it.”

Harden made 16 of the 41 shots, going 8 for 22 from 3-point range. He was 9 of 11 on free throws.

“He scored (49) on 41 shots,” Timberwolves forward Robert Covington said. “That’s what we want. But it’s just the other guys hurt us. We followed the game plan with him.”

Ben McLemore scored 20 points. Undrafted rookie Chris Clemons scored a career-high 19 off the bench for the Rockets, who broke open the game with a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter. Austin Rivers also scored 19 points.