Dennis Schroder

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Three Things to Know: Warriors go small to earn first win of young season

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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) Warriors go small to earn first win of young season. For the past five years, whenever the Warriors felt their backs were against the wall, coach Steve Kerr would go small: Move Draymond Green to center, then trust Stephen Curry and friends could shoot their way out of any problem.

After two ugly losses to start the season — both by double digits, having given up 261 points total in those games — Steve Kerr decided to go small, put Draymond Green at center, and trust Stephen Curry and friends could shoot their way out of this slow start.

It worked.

The Warriors raced out early and never looked back on Monday night against New Orleans. While the defense is still an issue, Curry had 26 points and hit four threes, Green had a triple-double, D’Angelo Russell had 24 points, and Damion Lee added 23 off the bench as the Warriors outscored the Pelicans 134-123 to pick up their first win of the season.

The threes fell for the Warriors — 14-of-35 (40 percent) — which was a big change from their earlier games. New Orleans also didn’t have anyone who could make the Warriors pay for having Green at the five. The result was a blowout where the Warriors led by 30 at one point.

The win helps the pain stop for a day — maybe the Warriors don’t suck quite that much — but the Warriors aren’t suddenly good.

“We’re still not a very good team,” Green said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “We have a lot of room for improvement. Just because we won one game doesn’t mean that we don’t suck. We still have a lot of improvement.”

“There’s a level of intensity we got to, a level of energy that we hadn’t seen in the first two games,” Kerr added. “I thought it was more confusion on our young guys kind of trying to figure out where to be rather than lack of effort. When you’re thinking too much, it’s tough to just let it go and play. Tonight, I felt like we just played. Our guys didn’t think too much.”

The Pelicans drop to 0-4 with the loss, and their defense has been dreadful (116 net rating so far this young season, second-worst in the league). Granted, no Jrue Holiday for this game, and Jahlil Okafor is the starting center, but this team simply has not been able to get a stop. The return of Zion Williamson (likely not until around Christmas) is not going to change that.

2) Chris Paul returns to Houston, where it’s quickly evident why Rockets traded him for Russell Westbrook. While this was a homecoming of sorts — Chris Paul did play for the Rockets for a couple of years — this game didn’t really feel emotional that way. It certainly didn’t pack the emotional punch of what will come Jan. 9 when Russell Westbrook has to return to Oklahoma City, where he played for 11 years. That’s a homecoming game.

This one had Chris Paul saying he still talks with P.J. Tucker every day, and Russell Westbrook giving Billy Donovan a big hug and slapping him on the but before the game, but it didn’t feel that intense (some reporters said it felt more so when Westbrook went into the OKC locker room after the game to see friends).

What this game turned out to be is a reminder of why the Rockets traded Paul for Westbrook.

Westbrook had 21 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists, impacting the game with his aggressiveness and willingness to push the ball. CP3 finished with a respectable 15-5-4 line, but the impact is just not the same.

James Harden put up 40 points and got to the line all night. Together, Westbrook and Harden were too much for OKC and the Rockets won 116-112.

Credit the scrappy Thunder for keeping it close. Houston put up 39 in the third to take an 11 point lead, but Oklahoma City fought back and kept it close down to the end. It took a Tucker three and some clutch free throws from Harden to keep the Thunder at bay. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder each had 22 for OKC, while Danilo Gallinari added 17.

Houston is simply not consistent defensively and that is going to catch up with them at some points this season (and in the postseason). However, most nights, the combination of Harden and Westbrook can cover that up with energy and scoring. That will be put to a better test as they head out for 6-of-7 on the road coming up.

3) 76ers length eventually swallows up Trae Young, Atlanta, and Philadelphia remains undefeated. This was simply one of the more interesting Xs and Os matchups of the night: How would the length and defensive intensity of Philadelphia handle a red-hot Trae Young averaging 38.5 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent from three in his first two games?

Early on, it looked like Young might have his way. He had 13 first-quarter points on 4-of-7 shooting with a couple made threes, and the Hawks as a team put up 40 points and shot 57.7 percent.

It didn’t last. Philadelphia threw a steady diet of Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle at Young, being aggressive with denying him the ball — even doubling him in the backcourt — and being physical with him when he had the ball. The 76ers didn’t give him room to breathe.

It worked. Young wore down. He shot 3-of-13 the rest of the way for 12 points. It’s dangerous to focus that much attention on Young because he’s such a good passer, but the length and aggressiveness of the Philly defense behind those doubles made it all work — the rest of the Hawks shot just 18-of-45 (40 percent) in the final three quarters and hit just three shots from beyond the arc in that whole time.

Atlanta still hung around because no Sixers outside of Joel Embiid — 31 points on 16 shots, plus 13 rebounds — was scoring that efficiently, and Embiid continues to struggle some with double teams. But at least Embiid was making plays.

This was a game where the Sixers had to play without Mike Scott in the second half after he was given a Flagrant 2 and ejected for this foul on Atlanta’s Damian Jones late in the first half.

That is not worthy of an ejection. It’s debatable if that is a Flagrant 1 foul, but it’s not close to an ejection-worthy Flagrant 2. The league needs to rescind it.

Back to the game itself…

It took a 15-5 run by Philadelphia in the final five minutes to get the win.

Atlanta had a chance to tie on the final play of the game, but again great ball denial of Young forced it to be Vince Carter who took the running three, and that didn’t work.

Once again, the Sixers defense bailed them out, but their 20th ranked offense has to get better if they are going to be a real threat when the games really matter.

Russell Westbrook scores 21 as Rockets ruin Chris Paul’s return, beat Thunder 116-112

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HOUSTON — James Harden scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook scored 21 and fell an assist shy of a triple-double against his former team, as the Houston Rockets got a 116-112 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.

Westbrook had 12 rebounds and nine assists after notching his 139th triple-double in his last game to pass Magic Johnson for second-most all-time.

A 3-pointer by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 19 seconds left got Oklahoma City within 3. Westbrook made 1 of 2 free throws before fouling Nerlens Noel, who made both free throws.

But Harden, who was 21 of 22 from the line, made two free throws with 13.2 seconds to go to make it 114-110.

Gilgeous-Alexander cut it to 2 with a basket, but Harden made two more free throws to secure the victory.

It was the first game between these teams since a blockbuster summer trade reunited Westbrook with Harden and sent Chris Paul to Oklahoma City after the nine-time All-Star failed to help the Rockets to a title in two seasons in Houston.

Paul had 15 points, four assists and five rebounds.

Just before tipoff, Westbrook approached the Thunder bench and hugged coach Billy Donovan before slapping hands and greeting virtually every player on the bench. Westbrook spent the first 11 years of his career in Oklahoma City where he was the face of the franchise before moving to Houston in the deal the Rockets hope will help bring them their first title since 1995.

Gilgeous-Alexander had 22 points and Dennis Schroder added 22 points to lead the Thunder, who fell to 1-3.

Danilo Gallinari made a 3-pointer to get the Thunder within 4 with about 3 1/2 minutes left, but Westbrook added a jump shot seconds later to push Houston’s lead to 106-100.

Paul hit a 3 for the Thunder after that before a turnover by Westbrook.

Harden made two free throws with about 90 seconds left to leave Houston up 108-103.

Paul added a basket, but Westbrook drove into the lane before kicking it out to P.J. Tucker for a 3 to push the lead to 6 with a minute left.

Houston used a 39-point third quarter to take an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. Both teams had trouble getting going on offense to start the quarter and the only points either team scored in the first three minutes of the fourth came on two free throws Gallinari at the start of the quarter.

Paul made the first field goal of the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer with just over eight minutes remaining before a layup by Schroder cut the lead to 91-87.

Houston scored its first points of the quarter when Harden made two free throws about a minute later.

The Rockets led by 4 soon after that when Harden was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to make it 96-89. That was the start of a 7-4 run that left Houston up 100-93 with five minutes to go.

The Rockets opened the third quarter with a 17-4 run to erase a 10-point halftime deficit and take a 69-66 lead with about seven minutes left in the quarter. A 3-pointer by Tucker put Houston on top and Westbrook punctuated the run with a dunk before screaming and flexing as he passed the Thunder bench.

 

NBA players most likely to be traded this season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

NBA teams had historically high roster churn this summer. With so many newcomers around the league, there are fewer than usual obvious in-season trade candidates entering the year. But a few still stand out:

Nene (Rockets)

The NBA nixed the Rockets’ plan to have Nene as a $10 million trade chip. But that might have made it even more likely they trade him.

The upside Nene’s contract provided would’ve been to add salary, which would’ve almost certainly pushed Houston into the luxury tax. Obviously, that was at least a consideration. Otherwise, why sign Nene to that deal? But it’s unclear just how good of a return Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta – notorious for dodging the tax – would’ve required to greenlight a trade.

Fertitta won’t have to worry about that now. With the NBA’s ruling, Nene counts $2,564,753 against the cap. His salary would nearly double if he plays 10 games, which therefore almost certainly won’t happen. He has become too-expensive dead weight on a team flirting with the luxury-tax line.

The Rockets attaching a sweetener to dump Nene is most likely. He could also be dealt as an expiring contract to facilitate something else. But one way or another, expect Houston to trade Nene before the luxury tax is assessed the final day of the regular season – which of course means trading Nene before the trade deadline.

Several other deep reserves (Rockets)

Of the five minimum-salary players who began last year with Houston and didn’t hold an implicit no-trade clause, three got traded during the season.

The Rockets have figured they can move players on full-season minimum salaries and replace them with players on the pro-rated minimum. It’s a clever way to meet the roster minimum all season and still get more breathing room under the luxury tax.

So, Tyson Chandler, Thabo Sefolosha, Ryan Anderson, Gary Clark and Isaiah Hartenstein all look like prime candidates to get traded this year. If any of Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Jaron Blossomgame, Michael Frazier, Shamorie Ponds or Chris Clemons make the regular-season roster, add them to the list.

Jae Crowder (Grizzlies)

Andre Iguodala isn’t Memphis’ only veteran forward on an expiring contract who’d help a winner more than this rebuilding outfit. Crowder also fits the bill, and he’s more likely to get traded for a couple reasons:

1. Crower’s salary ($7,815,533) is far lower than Iguodala’s ($17,185,185). Interested teams will have a more difficult time matching salary for Iguodala. Acquiring Crowder is much more manageable.

2. Iguodala is a 15-year pro with supporters all around the league, First Vice President of the players’ union and former NBA Finals MVP. Crowder lacks those credentials. Iguodala has far more cache to command a buyout.

Iguodala is more likely to change teams this season, but it could be by trade or buyout. Crowder is more likely to change teams via trade.

Josh Jackson (Grizzlies)

Iguodala isn’t even the second-most-likely Grizzly to be traded. That’s Jackson, who’s so far from Memphis’ plans, he didn’t even report to training camp.

With his fourth-year option sure to be declined, Jackson will become a $7,059,480 expiring contract. That makes him useful in so many possible trade constructions. He could allow Memphis to acquire an undesirable long-term contract plus an asset. He could grease the wheels of a larger trade. Maybe another team even wants to take a flier on the 2017 No. 4 pick.

Between all the possibilities, it seems like a decent bet one comes to fruition.

Danilo Gallinari (Thunder)

Chris Paul has generated all the headlines, but in its star trades, Oklahoma City acquired two quality veterans to match salary. Gallinari, 31, is younger and maybe even better at this stage. His contract (one year, $22,615,559 remaining) is definitely more favorable than Paul’s (three years, $124,076,442 remaining)

Plenty of contending teams could use another talented forward like Gallinari – if he’s healthy. That’s the big catch. Gallinari thrived with the Clippers last year, but that was his healthiest season in years.

Paul, Dennis Schroder (two years, $31 million remaining) and Steven Adams (two years, $53,370,785 remaining) are also candidates to get moved. But there will probably be more urgency from the Thunder to get assets for Gallinari and more of a market for him.

A couple notes on prominent players not yet mentioned:

I predicted Bradley Beal will tire of the Wizards’ losing and leave Washington. It doesn’t have to happen this season. Though I wouldn’t rule out a trade before the deadline, Beal will like ride out the year in hopes of making an All-NBA team and gaining super-max eligibility. That might be his best ticket to staying, though paying Beal and John Wall the super-max would sure limit the Wizards.

The Warriors insist they didn’t acquire D'Angelo Russell just to trade him. I believe them. I also believe he’s a difficult fit with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, especially defensively. A Russell trade remains very much on the table. But if Golden State plans to give it an honest shot with Russell – and with Thompson sidelined most of the season – a Russell trade won’t necessarily happen before the deadline.

Damian Lillard: ‘Me and Russ are really cool off of the court’

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The Damian Lillard vs. Russell Westbrook in-your-face rivalry made the Thunder/Trail Blazer series the most entertaining of the first round. It was everything you could want in a mano-a-mano showdown. Lillard won the matchup with a TKO in the fifth game.

The NBA thrives on rivalries. The league needs them. And now two of its best point guards have an intense one…

On the court. Off the court it’s all good between them, Lillard told Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick Show (hat tip Thunder Wire).

“Now that the series is over, it was funny to me that people wanted to make it like such a negative thing between us. Me and Russ are really cool off of the court. But when we get on the court, I don’t expect anything else from him and he doesn’t expect anything else from me. There’s no dislike….

“I’m just telling you what the truth is. On the court, I’ll talk trash to him and he’ll talk trash to me. He rocked the baby and Dennis Schroder tapped his wrist [imitating Dame Time] and all of that stuff [but] that’s all trash talk; that’s not dislike. Everyone was trying to turn it into us not liking each other and all of that stuff when we’re actually cool. Now that the series is over, I’m just making that clear.”

Welcome to the modern NBA.

Some guys dislike each other here and there, but mostly these players feel like they’re in a rare fraternity, and there is a bond with other players. Especially elite players. There’s respect. They played each other on the AAU circuit and at the Nike Peach Jam or Adidas Nations, then in college, and now in the pros. They know this is a business and the guy you’re going hard at today could be your teammate tomorrow.

As Dan Patrick says, that’s not the illusion we want as fans. Portland fans want Lillard to hate Westbrook the way they hate Westbrook. The reality is the players don’t view it that way. Players go hard at each other on the court — the way you went harder at your brother/friends in pick-up games than you did strangers — but it all stays between the lines.

The one thing the players and fans agree on? They hate the referees.

Damian Lillard outduels Russell Westbrook again, Blazers go up 3-1

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Damian Lillard scored 15 of his 24 points in the third quarter, and the Portland Trail Blazers held Russell Westbrook without a basket in the second half in beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-98 on Sunday night to take a 3-1 lead in their series.

Lillard had another big third quarter after scoring 25 points in the period in a Game 3 loss Friday. In this game, the All-Star point guard was 5 of 7 in the third to help Portland take control for good.

Lillard made his first basket with 1:14 left in the first half after missing his first six shots, but he still had seven assists before the break.

“We’ve kind of come to expect it,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He manages the game. He senses the moment when we need him to do different things. He’s an ultimate competitor. He is going to give it his all.”

C.J. McCollum scored 27 points, Al-Farouq Aminu had 19 points and nine rebounds and Maurice Harkless added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Trail Blazers. Portland can close out the series Tuesday at home.

Paul George had 32 points and 10 rebounds for Oklahoma City. Dennis Schroder added 17 points.

Westbrook scored 14 points on 5-for-21 shooting. He missed his final 10 shots and was 0 for 7 for one point in the second half.

George missed most of the second quarter with three fouls, but the Thunder hung tough and led for much of the period. Lillard hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of the first half to give Portland the lead, then Aminu hit a 3 with 3.9 seconds left as the Trail Blazers took a 50-46 edge into the break.

“I thought in the first half, we weathered the storm a little bit with Paul picking up fouls,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “We didn’t close the half very well and gave them momentum going into the locker room.”

Lillard hit deep back-to-back 3s 27 seconds apart to give Portland a 66-54 lead. The Trail Blazers stretched the lead to 19 in the third quarter before the Thunder closed the gap. George hit a 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds to cut Portland’s lead to 79-68.

A 3-pointer by Schroder cut Portland’s lead to 97-87 with 3:35 remaining, but the Trail Blazers maintained control.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Lillard was just 2 of 8 in the first half and scored seven points. … Made 22 of 23 free throws. … Outrebounded the Thunder 41-38.

Thunder: Donovan was called for a technical in the first quarter for a no-call against Steven Adams. … Shot 37.5 percent from the field. … Westbrook had nine rebounds and seven assists.

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