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Donovan Mitchell turned to James Harden, Kobe Bryant for advice on early season struggles

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Players that have elite rookie NBA seasons often plateau at the start of — or during all of — their second season. The leap in adjusting to the NBA that often players make in their second or third season tends to happen earlier for these elite rookies, meaning they already made their jump. Also, defenses are now aware of them and are focused on them.

It happened to Utah’s Donovan Mitchell — in November and December his offensive net rating was less than a point per possession. He had a below average true shooting percentage of 51 in November and 47.3 in December. Mitchell told Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated that Jazz coach Quin Snyder warned him this was coming, that he was the first thing in the scouting report and defenses would be focused on him, but being told that and experiencing it are two different things.

“Coach Snyder stressed to me that this year was going to be a lot different, and it was one thing for me to hear, and another thing for me to go through it,” Mitchell said regarding Utah’s poor start. “It’s one of those things you really have to go through, to experience. They kind of anticipated this happening, I didn’t. But to have the support of my teammates through the early part of the season was really special, and really helped get us back to where we need to be.”

So Mitchell reached out for help, speaking to James Harden, Chris Paul, and Kobe Bryant. They all had similar advice — get to the free throw line more.

“This year, it’s different. I have to be locked in for every moment, they make it so tough on every possession,” Mitchell told The Crossover. “But the words I’ve received from James [Harden], from Kobe [Bryant], Chris Paul, it’s helped me understand that. I think in my rookie year, I was really taken aback. This year I came seeking advice….

“Changing my pace and making an effort to get to the free-throw line, that’s something James [Harden] is great at and Dwyane Wade talked to me about as well,” Mitchell said. “To hear that from them and then trying to follow their advice really helped me get back on track.”

In November and December, Mitchell averaged 4 free throw attempts per game (which was in line with his 3.8 attempts per game as a rookie). However, since Jan. 1 that is up to 6 a game — and the Jazz are 24-11. (Part of that is the Jazz had a very tough early schedule that has softened up considerably since.)

That Mitchell is reaching out and seeking help from the best is a good thing — it shows his drive, his desire to improve. That is what is going to help him take the next step (although another good playmaker next to him to relieve some of that defensive attention wouldn’t hurt).

Report: Doc Rivers agrees to extension with Clippers

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Doc Rivers will be staying with the Los Angeles Clippers.

According to multiple reports, Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer have agreed to an extension that will keep Rivers with the Clippers organization “long term”.  Some earlier rumors had Rivers potentially being a candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers, who are presumed to have an opening this summer. But Rivers told reporters on Tuesday that he isn’t going to be heading across the hall, and that he’s happy where he is.

Via Twitter:

Rivers has led the Clippers to a surprising season, one that should result in a postseason bid despite a sort of ramshackle roster.

I think Rivers’ legacy was called into question following the departure of both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but his ability to create a winning atmosphere in L.A. in a post-star era for the Clippers is a testament to his ability.

Of course, Rivers might not have to go without a star for too long. Rumor has it Kawhi Leonard still favors the Clippers as a top destination this summer should he choose to leave the Toronto Raptors.

Watch James Harden drop 41 points, 11 assists in win over Suns

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 41 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds, and the Houston Rockets outlasted the Phoenix Suns to get a 108-102 win Friday night.

The Rockets had trouble putting away the Suns, who have won just 16 games this season, and trailed for much of the night as they struggled from long-range, making just 11 of 40 3-pointers.

It’s Houston’s franchise-record 10th straight win over the Suns, and the Rockets have won 10 of their last 11 games overall.

They were up by 2 after two free throws by Harden with about four minutes to go. He hit his head on the court after being knocked down on a hard foul by Deandre Ayton about 90 seconds after that, but got up and made two more free throws.

Mikal Bridges missed a 3 for the Suns and Harden added a jumper on the other end to make it 102-96 with about two minutes remaining.

But Devin Booker made the next four points to get Phoenix within two points at 102-100 about a minute later.

Danuel House padded the lead with a 3-pointer after that, but Booker made a jump shot to cut it to 105-102.

A turnover by Harden gave the Suns the ball back. But Josh Jackson missed two free throws with 24.6 seconds left and Harden made one of two free throws with 11.1 seconds remaining to make it 106-102.

Booker missed a 3 and Harden made two more free throws to secure the victory.

Booker had 29 points for the Suns, who lost their second in a row.

Eric Gordon added 19 points and House had 18 for the Rockets on a night Chris Paul sat out to rest.

The Suns led by 2 to start the fourth and had a 3-point lead with about nine minutes left when Gordon made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to put Houston up 92-89. Gordon had missed six of seven 3-point attempts before making those shots.

Phoenix made the next four points, with a 3 from Josh Jackson, to regain the lead before a 3 by Harden put Houston up 95-93 midway through the quarter.

The game was tied at 71 with about five minutes left in the third before Houston used a 5-2 run, capped by a 3 from Harden, to take a 76-73 lead. But Phoenix used a 5-2 spurt after that, highlighted by a soaring dunk from Richaun Holmes, to tie it back up a couple of minutes later.

A 7-2 run by the Suns later in the third put them on top 85-82. Kelly Oubre Jr. had a 3-pointer in that stretch and Holmes scored the other four points.

Kenneth Faried made one of two free throws after that cut the lead to 2 entering the fourth quarter.

 

Daryl Morey: I want Mike D’Antoni to coach Rockets as long as he wants

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey got his contract extension.

Now, he wants to lock up Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, whose contract expires after next season.

Morey, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“He’s such a critical factor,” Morey said. “Speaking for myself only, I would love for him to be here for as long as he wants to be here. He’s so critical to everything we’re doing here. Hopefully, that’s something we can work out at the right time. I think the right thing for everyone is those things are done in the off-season.”

That’s an unusually emphatic endorsement for an NBA head coach. The Warriors’ Steve Kerr and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle also have “as long as he wants” backing. Otherwise, I’m not sure not sure of another coach with such strong support from his boss. (It helps Spurs coach Gregg Popovich that his boss is Spurs president Gregg Popovich.)

When given players who fit his style, D’Antoni is an excellent coach – so good that it’d be foolish not to get him fitting players. Coaches must earn having a roster built around them. D’Antoni has.

D’Antoni is an offensive innovator. He has adjusted his system around James Harden and Chris Paul, but the ways Houston hunts the most efficient shots is still incredible.

D’Antoni’s interest in defense remains passing. The Rockets have Jeff Bzdelik for that.

In stints with the Nuggets, Suns and Knicks, D’Antoni never coached more than four full seasons anywhere. He’s in his third full season with the Rockets. Maybe this partnership will last longer.

Three Things to Know: Boogie’s night too much for Rockets, Warriors win

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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) Boogie’s night too much for Rockets, Warriors win. In building a team to challenge the Warriors, the Rockets didn’t think big. Actually, they got even smaller this season, which made some sense because Golden State has been most feared when its “death lineup” with Draymond Green was the center was on the court. Houston put its faith in 6’10” center Clint Capela, who is athletic enough in the middle to counter to all things Warriors.

That was until Golden State went out and got DeMarcus Cousins.

Wednesday night Boogie was too strong inside, was finding cutters and shooters with his passing, and carved up the Rockets to the tune of a season-high 27 points, plus eight rebounds, and seven assists. Cousins led the Warriors to a 106-104 win in Houston, snapping the Rockets’ nine-game win streak. And they did it without Kevin Durant (tweaked ankle).

Two key areas stood out with Boogie. First, the Rockets tried to go at Cousins defensively, an area where he has had his struggles since joining the Warriors. Not Wednesday night. When switched onto James Harden or Chris Paul, Cousins contested shots but did not foul. He did not get exploited, and Cousins even drew a charge on Harden.

The other was posting him up. The Warriors in the Curry era have not had a big they could just post up and watch him go to work on the block. Cousins did that to Capela. They also took advantage of Boogie’s passing skills, with cutters moving to the rim and shooters spotting up at the arc. Cousins even found Curry when he was not in the game.

Don’t read too much into this game, regular season matchups are a poor predictor of postseason outcomes. (Same with the Rockets’ three wins against the Warriors this season.) The Rockets made mistakes and missed shots we haven’t seen from them during their recent nine-game win streak, while the Warriors were without Kevin Durant. What you can take away is the Rockets look like the second best team in the West right now.

The playoffs have a different flow because it becomes more about matchups, more about exploiting weaknesses or covering them up. What Cousins gives Steve Kerr and the Warriors is another weapon. They can post Boogie up and not many teams can do anything about it. Just more versatility for the two-time defending NBA champs.

2) Russell Westbrook owns the second half, gets another triple-double in Thunder win against Nets. The tradition in Oklahoma City is the fans stand until the Thunder get their first basket. Legs were getting tired on Wednesday night — OKC started 0-of-8 from the field and it took 4:04 of game time before Russell Westbrook hit a three and fans could plop themselves down. The Nets were up 11-1 by the time it happened. That’s pretty much how the entire first half went, Brooklyn was in control and led by 10 after 24 minutes.

Then Russell Westbrook woke up. He had 14 points and 10 assists in the second half and led a 21-4 run that sealed the win, while Paul George pitched in 13 points on 8 shots in the half. The Thunder won 108-96 and Westbrook had his 26th triple-double of the season with 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. Westbrook and George combined for 56 points.

The win, combined with Houston’s loss, ties the Thunder and Rockets for the 3/4 seeds in the West (both teams are 42-26). Both would rather be the three seed, which will put them on the other side of the bracket from the Warriors.

3) Heat go on 21-0 run to start the second half, blow out Pistons, give their playoff chances a big boost. How about if Dwyane Wade’s “last dance” has an encore? A few playoff games?

Miami got closer to that Wednesday night with a critical win, 108-74 against the Detroit Pistons. The game itself wasn’t that interesting, the Heat led by five at the half, went on a 21-0 run to start the second half, and that was the ballgame. Detroit scored just  25 points in the second half. Miami did have some flashy highlights.

The win, coupled with Washington beating Orlando, gives eight-seed Miami a two-game lead over Orlando and Charlotte, who are tied for the nine seed (Washington is still alive 3.5 games back as the 11 seed). The Heat’s cushion matters because the Magic have a much easier schedule the rest of the way, which is why fivethirtyeight.com gives Orlando a 57 percent chance of making the playoffs while the Heat are at 35 percent (Washington and Charlotte each are at 12 percent). The numbers are the numbers, but I think with this win Wednesday Miami’s chances are actually much higher.

But maybe that’s just because I want to see Wade in the playoffs one more time.