Danuel House

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

James Harden, Russell Westbrook combine for 78 points in Houston win vs. Boston

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HOUSTON — James Harden scored 42 points, Russell Westbrook had 36 and the Houston Rockets snapped Boston’s seven-game win streak with a 116-105 victory over the Celtics on Tuesday night.

Houston broke it open with a 15-2 run that made it 116-98 with about two minutes left. Harden scored six points during the decisive stretch, and Danuel House had five.

Boston had two turnovers and missed numerous shots to allow the Rockets to turn the close game into a one where coach Mike D’Antoni cleared the bench for the last minute with the game well in hand.

Harden had eight rebounds and seven assists and Westbrook finished with 10 rebounds and five assists as Houston continued to go with a small-ball lineup after trading Clint Capela last week.

The Rockets enjoyed a big advantage at the line, going 37 for 42 compared to 20 for 25 for the Celtics. Harden made 17 of 18 foul shots.

Gordon Hayward had 20 points in Boston’s first loss since Jan. 26. Jaylen Brown scored 19, and Jayson Tatum had 15 on 5-for-15 shooting.

Harden, who scored 19 points in the third quarter to help Houston take control, picked up his fifth foul with about eight minutes left. But he was able to stay in the game and avoid fouling out.

Robert Covington had 12 points and seven rebounds in his fourth game since he was acquired as part of a four-team trade that sent Capela to the Hawks.

The Rockets were up by seven with about eight minutes left when Harden picked up three fouls in about 30 seconds. The Celtics then closed to 96-94 on Brown’s 3-pointer and a dunk by Tatum with 5:40 to go.

But Houston made five straight free throws to push the lead to 101-94 before making the big run to put the game away.

Watch Bojan Bogdanovic’s deep, contested game-winning three to lift Jazz past Rockets

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HOUSTON — Jazz coach Quin Snyder kept telling Bojan Bogdanovic to keep playing despite his shooting struggles on Sunday night.

Bogdanovic ended up hitting the biggest shot of the game.

Bogdanovic’s 3-pointer as time expired gave Utah a 114-113 victory over the Houston Rockets.

“The play was designed for me to shoot a 3,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s big-time from their part to have that trust and confidence in me to make that shot after the game that I had.”

Bogdanovic finished with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“You just play him, let him play,” Snyder said. “He’s such a competitor, and I tell him to keep playing. If he needs to hear that, he knows how much I trust him.”

Jordan Clarkson scored 30 points and Donovan Mitchell finished with 24 points, six assists and five rebounds for the Jazz, who won their second straight after a five-game losing streak.

“They made a heck of a shot,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We had two guys on him. I was afraid we were going to foul him (because) it was so close. Hats off to that shot.”

It came after P.J. Tucker‘s 3-pointer from the corner gave Houston a two-point lead with 1.6 seconds remaining. Following a timeout, Bogdanovic came off a screen and hit a contested 29-footer to give the Jazz the win.

“I had kind of two guys on me,” Bogdanovic said. “The first moment I thought they might block me or foul me on the shot. Then, as soon as I kind of released the ball from my hand, I saw it in there.”

Tucker knew immediately it was going in.

“I knew it was good as soon as he caught it,” Tucker said. “He got a good lift on it. I could tell as soon as he shot it.”

Mike Conley added 20 points, six assists and five rebounds for the Jazz. Rudy Gobert had 12 points and 15 rebounds. The Jazz shot 49%, including 15 of 38 on 3-pointers.

“We’ll take it,” Conley said of the win. “We would have liked to have won it on the last stop. Obviously, P.J. Tucker got a good luck and made that, and that’s the league. We came down and were able to draw up a good play for Bogi, and he was able to make it. I don’t know how he did it, but we’ll take it.”

Russell Westbrook had 39 points for the Rockets. James Harden added 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Westbrook shot 18 of 33 from the floor, while Harden was 11 of 23, including 2 of 13 on 3-pointers. Robert Covington had 14 points and Danuel House Jr. had 10 for Houston. The Rockets shot 46%, including 15 of 42 on 3-pointers.

“I think we get the shots we want taken,” Westbrook said. “Open shots, open looks. Depends on what kind of defense you see every night, so we’re just trying to read and see what’s going on.”

Trailing by two, Covington hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 28 seconds left to give Houston a 110-109 lead. On the ensuing possession, Tucker fouled Mitchell, who made both free throws to give the Jazz a 111-110 lead.

James Harden’s 40 points too much for Zion Williamson, Pelicans to overcome

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HOUSTON — James Harden had 40 points and came an assist shy of a triple-double to lead the Houston Rockets to a 117-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

Rookie sensation Zion Williamson had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, whose three-game winning streak was snapped.

Harden, who added 10 rebounds and nine assists, poured in 26 points in the first half and cooled down in the second half. But he still had his second straight game with 30 or more points after failing to score 30 in his previous four games as he worked through a shooting slump.

Jrue Holiday had three points before Josh Hart made one of two free throws to allow New Orleans to cut the lead to 110-107 with about two minutes to go.

Eric Gordon added a basket seconds after that and Danuel House hit a 3-pointer to make it 115-107 with less than a minute left to seal the victory.

Brandon Ingram had 28 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans.

Houston went with its small lineup again as center Clint Capela missed his second straight game and the third in four games with a bruised right heel. Russell Westbrook added 22 points for the Rockets and Ben McLemore had 22 off the bench.

The Pelicans led by one to start the fourth and scored the first four points of the quarter to make it 97-92. But Harden made a 3-pointer before finding Westbrook for a layup to tie it up with about 10 minutes left.

The Pelicans were up by two points later in the fourth when House made a 3-pointer to put Houston up 102-101. Both teams missed numerous shots after that and Houston finally got back on the board with a layup by House with about seven minutes to go. Harden made a layup after that to push Houston’s lead to 106-101.

Hart made the first field goal for New Orleans in more four minutes after that to cut the lead to 106-103 midway through the fourth.

The teams combined to miss nine shots over the next 2 ½ minutes before Harden added two points on free throws that pushed Houston’s run to 9-2 and made it 108-103 with 3 ½ minutes to go.

This game was close throughout and Houston cut the lead to 93-92 entering the fourth quarter after McLemore made two of three free throws after he was fouled on a 3-pointer.

Damian Lillard gets first career triple-double, Blazers knock off Rockets 125-112

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard had 36 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for his first career triple-double, and the Portland Trail Blazers spoiled James Harden‘s return after a two-game absence, beating the Houston Rockets 125-112 on Wednesday night.

Lillard scored 30-plus points for his sixth straight game, a franchise record.

CJ McCollum had 22 points and Trevor Ariza, playing in just his third game as a Blazer after a trade with Sacramento, matched his season high with 21. Portland led by as many as 20 points in the second half.

The crowd roared at the Moda Center and gave Lillard a standing ovation when he got his final rebound with just under a minute left.

Russell Westbrook led the Rockets with 39 points, extending his streak of games with 20-plus points to 21, and 10 rebounds. Harden, who was leading the league with 36.1 points a game this season, had 18.

Harden was questionable for the game but started after missing two games with a thigh contusion. Clint Capela missed Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz because of a right heel contusion, as did Westbrook, who was rested. With three starters missing, Eric Gordon took over and scored 50 points in the 126-117 win in Utah.

Earlier this month, the Rockets fell at home to the Blazers 117-107. Lillard had 25 points in the victory.

Lillard was the reigning Western Conference Player of Week after averaging 52.7 points and 9.3 assists last week. He set a franchise record for points when he scored 61 against Golden State.

Danuel House Jr., had a 3-pointer that gave the Rockets an early 16-8 lead, but Portland’s 8-0 run, capped by Lillard’s layup and free throw, closed the gap.

Already beset by injuries this season, Portland got a scare in the opening quarter when center Hassan Whiteside was kneed and went to the locker room. He returned to the game.

Westbrook’s pull-up jumper and driving layup gave Houston a 46-38 lead. Portland used a 12-2 run, capped by a dunk by Ariza, to take a 61-50 lead.

Portland closed the half with dunks by Ariza and Whiteside to take a 71-60 lead into the break. Lillard led all scorers with 25 points, while Westbrook had 19.

McCollum’s wide-open 3-pointer midway through the third quarter gave the Trail Blazers an 83-67 advantage. Lillard’s 3-pointer from just inside the pinwheel logo at midcourt made the lead 97-82.