Dennis Schroder

Chris Paul scores 28, leads Thunder rally to hand Rockets fourth straight loss

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HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul scored 28 points and Danilo Gallinari added 25 as the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat cold-shooting James Harden and the Houston Rockets 112-107 on Monday.

Paul scored 27 of his 28 points in the first half against his former team. Gallinari and Dennis Schroder, who scored 17 of his 23 points after halftime, carried the Thunder after the break.

Former Thunder player Russell Westbrook had 32 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds for Houston. Harden had 29 points but was astonishingly inefficient, making 1 of 17 3-point attempts, as the Rockets’ losing streak stretched to a season-high four games.

Oklahoma City used a 6-0 run, highlighted by a dunk from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after he stole the ball from Harden, to put the Thunder up 108-105 with about a minute left.

Harden made a layup for Houston to cut the lead to one, but Schroder made a jump shot with 28 seconds remaining to make it 110-107. Russell Westbrook missed a 3-pointer on the other end and Gilgeous-Alexander added two free throws to secure the victory.

Houston had a 15-point lead before the Thunder scored 13 straight points to get within 100-98 with 4 1/2 minutes to go. Gallinari led the way for Oklahoma City in that stretch, making two 3-pointers and adding three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

Harden made one of two free throws after that but Gallinari struck again seconds later with another 3 that tied it at 101-all. Gilgeous-Alexander then made one of two free throws to give the Thunder their first lead since the first quarter.

Westbrook made Houston’s first field goal in more than four minutes with a layup with just more than three minutes left. He then added another layup after a steal seconds later to give the Rockets a 105-102 lead with about two minutes to go.

The Thunder trailed by 16 points after three quarters, but a 9-2 run, with five points from Schroder, got them within 91-82 with about 9 1/2 minutes left.

Houston trailed by as many as 10 in the first half but led by seven at halftime and used a 9-3 run to open the third quarter and push it to 73-60. P.J. Tucker had a 3-pointer in that stretch and Westbrook added four points.

Houston scored the last four points in a third quarter where Oklahoma City scored just 14 points to make it 87-71 entering the fourth.

 

Three Things to Know: Lakers’ dependance on LeBron exposed by red-hot Denver

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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) Lakers’ dependance on LeBron exposed by red-hot Denver. Taking sweeping lessons from one NBA regular-season game is a Trumpian-level overreach, but one game can highlight trends.

We saw that with both the Lakers and Nuggets Sunday night at Staples Center, where the Denver Nuggets won their sixth game in a row, cruising past the host Lakers 128-104.

For the Lakers the trend — and the lesson from it — was clear: They need to find LeBron James some playmaking help.

LeBron is the Lakers’ fulcrum, without him the offense simply does not space and move the same way — they had a season-low 18 assists. Saying the Lakers are better with their MVP-candidate, the man who is arguably the best player walking the face of the earth (even as he turns 35 next week), is not exactly a hot take. LeBron missed his first game of the season Sunday night with a thoracic muscle strain (and he is day-to-day heading towards the Christmas Day showdown with the Clippers).

The lesson from Sunday is the Lakers need another playmaker for their eventual playoff run.

When LeBron sits this season, the Lakers offensive rating falls off 10.7 points to 102.2 — a number that would be dead-last in the league right now, worse than the mainly G-League team the Warriors are rolling out nightly. With LeBron and his league-leading 10.6 assists a game (not to mention 25.8 points), Anthony Davis gets the rock in places he can do damage, players in the weakside corner are just one bullet pass away from being a threat, and the Lakers are dangerous in transition. With LeBron, the Lakers are a top-five offense in the league.

Without him, with everything flowing through Anthony Davis (32 points, 11 rebounds), the Lakers looked a little too much like the Pelicans of recent years. The team Davis forced a trade to get away from. As good as he is, Davis alone cannot run the show.

The best teams, championship teams, have a second shot creator who can keep the offense flowing when playoff defenses scheme to load up on the primary ball handler and take away his favorite plays. In the postseason, things will get harder for LeBron, and that’s when the Lakers can turn to… Rajon Rondo? Kyle Kuzma? Are those guys the Lakers can trust?

They may have to be because there is no good path to adding a quality player in Los Angeles at the trade deadline. Their older players on one-year contracts will not return much in a move (Danny Green would, but the Lakers aren’t trading him). Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s name comes up (paired with Kuzma?), but he has the right to veto any trade and likely would.

It’s the one concern with the playoff Lakers. We’ll see a good test of how they would fare on Christmas against the Clippers (LeBron is expected to be healthy and good to go then).

On the other side of the court, the lesson is Denver’s offense is back — they are having fun again on that end — and with that, they must be counted as one of the top teams in the West.

As of Monday morning, the Nuggets are 20-8 on the season, have won six in a row, and are officially the two seed, just ahead of the Rockets and Clippers (and three games back of the top-seed Lakers, who built a cushion for their current three-game losing streak). Denver may have stumbled out of the gate this season with questions about Nikola Jokic’s conditioning swirling, but the Nuggets have shed the “bust” label, found their footing and look like a threat again.

During Denver’s six-game streak, they have an offensive rating of 119.3, best in the NBA.

Watch them play against the Lakers and it was obvious they were having fun again — Malik Beasley putting his fingers to his lips to quiet the Laker crowd, while Paul Millsap was flexing. Denver has had a surprisingly good defense all season; now that their offense is clicking again the Nuggets need to be mentioned as one of the top threats in the West. Maybe on the second tier (behind the two Los Angeles teams), but a threat like the Rockets and others.

Denver’s season ultimately will be judged on games in May, not ones against a shorthanded Lakers team in December. The Nuggets were bounced in the second round by Portland last season, and to move forward from that spot will be more difficult this season. But that is the ultimate measuring stick.

For now, however, Denver is having fun again. And that’s a good start — and makes them one of the more entertaining teams in the league to watch.

2) Jayson Tatum scores a career-high 39 points in Celtics win against Hornets. For the past few weeks, it felt like Jaylen Brown may be the young Celtic player breaking out this season, he had played well on both ends of the floor and fueled wins.

Sunday, Jayson Tatum reminded everyone what he could do, dropping 39 points (on 15-of-29 shooting) against Charlotte, including taking over late with 22 in the fourth.

Tatum did his damage when he drove to the rim (5-of-6 shooting) and from three (4-of-9). What he also brings Boston is good, switchable, perimeter defense — that’s the end of the floor that has coach Brad Stevens praising Tatum, via NBC Sports Boston.

“I can’t believe it’s not talked about more, how good he is defensively,” said Stevens. “I think, for whatever reason, that gets lost in the shuffle. How much effort he’s been playing with all year has been like — he’s really become a great defender. His length. He chases balls, he challenges shots. He gets his hands on balls or keeps them in their mind that he’s behind them with that length. And then he’s a great rebounder from the wing.

“So he’s a really good defender. He’s a big reason why our defense is where it is as a team and we need him to keep continuing to be at that level.”

Boston has the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA this season (they are not missing steps without Al Horford in the paint), and if the Celtics are going to be the second-best team in the East and a threat to the Bucks, that’s the end where it has to start. Tatum has become key to that.

3) Paul George is welcomed back to OKC with cheers and open arms. Then beaten. If the fans in Oklahoma City had decided to boo Paul George after he forced his way out of town last summer and into a trade to Los Angeles, it would have been understandable. Fans are loyal to their town and team, and they want the same from the players. George re-signed in OKC, then a year later wanted out.

However, he was welcomed with open arms and cheers in his return on Sunday.

Classy.

Oklahoma City is a better team than many fans realize and moved above .500 Sunday with a 118-112 win over George’s Clippers. That was fueled by 32 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the player the Clippers didn’t want to give up but had to in the George trade. The Clippers knew he would be good, and SGA got his revenge game.

How big a postseason threat the Thunder are — and they look like a playoff team in a West where nobody has run away with the last couple of seeds — will depend on what the roster looks like after the trade deadline. Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, and others could be on the move.

With Chris Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander running the show (and some interesting three-guard lineups with Dennis Schroder) Oklahoma City is going to be a tough playoff out.

Paul George’s return to Oklahoma City spoiled by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 32 points

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George’s return to Oklahoma City was spoiled by a player the Thunder got back when they traded him.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander matched his career high with 32 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 118-112 on Sunday night.

George, who finished third in the MVP voting last season, was sent to the Clippers for Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari in a deal that began the restructuring of the Thunder roster. George was cheered when he was introduced during the starting lineups.

“It was great,” he said. “It made me feel appreciated, just being here. I enjoyed my time here.”

George scored 18 points, but he made just 6 of 17 shots and had five turnovers. Gilgeous-Alexander made 12 of 25 field goals.

Oklahoma City trailed by 18 points in the second quarter, making it the third time in seven days the Thunder overcame a deficit that big to win. This time, the victory came against the No. 2 team in the Western Conference standings.

“That’s a really good team over there,” Thunder guard Chris Paul said. “Obviously, they’ve been in all type of different situations. It’s good. It’s really good, especially they way we were down in the first half.”

Los Angeles scoring leader Kawhi Leonard sat out because of left knee soreness.

Dennis Schroder scored 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and Steven Adams added 20 points and 17 rebounds to help the Thunder win their fourth straight. Oklahoma City has won nine of 12 to move above .500 for the first time this season.

“You just go on chemistry, being more comfortable with the offense, defense, you could do all that sort of stuff,” Adams said. “Figuring out playing habits — you could go on, mate.”

Lou Williams scored 22 points for Los Angeles, and Montrezl Harrell had 18.

The Clippers led 63-57 at the half, with Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 19 points for the Thunder.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s layup tied it at 66 in the third quarter. After the Clippers seemed to regain control, the Thunder remained competitive. Paul’s 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer cut it to 89-86.

With 5:35 to play, Harrell appeared to score and draw a foul from Nerlens Noel. The basket would have given the Clippers a 100-94 lead with a free throw coming. The Thunder challenged the call and it was changed to a charge on Harrell.

The Clippers weren’t sure if the challenge worked as it was supposed to. Some time passed as Harrell waited to shoot the free throw.

“I just thought the delay was strange,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We kept asking, ‘What was the delay for? What was the delay for?’ The ref kept holding the ball.”

The Thunder took advantage. Schroder’s 3-pointer put the Thunder ahead, then Adams had a steal and a layup to make it 110-106 with 1:19 to play. After the Thunder got a stop, Schroder’s layup put the Thunder up by six.

“I think as mad as we are that we’re letting games get away early, we’re starting to figure out how to win them now,” Paul said. “We’ve got to keep it going. Even if we’re not making shots, knowing we can get stops. Really good teams in this league — that’s when they buckle down — the fourth quarter.”

For second straight game, Thunder come from 24-points (or more) down to win

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The same Thunder team that began the season losing close games on a regular basis now has figured out how to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and win.

Dennis Schroder scored 31 points, and Oklahoma City overcame a 24-point deficit and beat the Memphis Grizzlies 126-122 on Wednesday night.

Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each scored 20 points and Chris Paul added 18 for the Thunder, who rallied from 26 points down to beat the Chicago Bulls on Monday.

According to the Thunder, Oklahoma City is the only NBA team in the past 20 years to overcome deficits of at least 24 points in consecutive games and win both. The Thunder will take the wins, but they’d prefer to avoid the extra drama.

“It feels good,” Schroder said. “Two of them. You can’t rely on it. We’ve just got to come out better in the first quarter. But it was good. We can go home and enjoy the time but we’ve got to be better for 48 (minutes).”

Schroder scored 22 points in the second half.

“I think Dennis was — not to gas him up or nothing — but that was inspiring tonight,” Paul said. “On a night where we sort of don’t have the energy, don’t have the mojo — just sitting over there watching how hard he was playing and the energy he was playing with, it forced everybody else to get on board.”

Brandon Clarke scored 27 points, Jonas Valanciunas scored 24 and Ja Morant added 22 for the Grizzlies.

“Tough one for us tonight,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “Obviously, great job building that big lead. Credit the Thunder. They played a heck of a second half. Their bench was phenomenal. Just a little short tonight.”

The Thunder got off to another shaky start on Wednesday. Memphis shot 54% in the first half and took a 68-59 lead at the break. Valanciunas and Morant each scored 13 points for the Grizzlies while Gallinari scored 11 points for the Thunder.

Oklahoma City did not score for three minutes to start the third quarter, and Memphis took an 80-59 lead. The Grizzlies’ largest lead was 89-65.

The Thunder surged at the end of the third quarter. Abdel Nader hit a 3-pointer with nine seconds left, then Schroder stole the inbound pass and Gilgeous-Alexander hit a 16-footer at the buzzer to cut Oklahoma City’s deficit to 100-93.

“That was a momentum switch for sure,” Jenkins said.

Oklahoma City finally took the lead on a pull-up jumper by Schroder with just over eight minutes to play.

Paul’s short jumper gave the Thunder a 122-120 lead in the final minute. Memphis could have tied the game, but Morant and Clarke missed in close and Schroder made two free throws at the other end for Oklahoma City to push the Thunder lead to four.

After a dunk by Clarke, Schroder was fouled with 7.5 seconds to go, and he made both free throws to give the Thunder control for good.

Three Things to Know: Philadelphia zones out against Miami in loss

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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) Philadelphia zones out against Miami, Heat snap Sixers home winning streak. Brett Brown has done the self-scouting on his Sixers team, he knew this day was coming. Think about the Sixers’ biggest offensive strengths — Joel Embiid in the post, the slashing game of Ben Simmons getting to the rim — and the strategy becomes obvious and logical:

Play a zone defense.

A packed-in 2/3 zone that makes it hard to get Embiid the ball in the post and takes away Simmons’ driving lanes. Dare the Sixers to shoot over the top of the zone and beat it. Other teams had tried this for a few possessions here and there against Philadelphia this season, but nothing steady.

Miami has been more of a zone team than most already this season. They have the length and athleticism to make a zone work at the NBA level, so long as the other team can’t shoot well from distance.

Starting in the second quarter Wednesday night, Miami broke out its zone, and Philadelphia struggled. A lot. Philadelphia’s offense had flowed in the first quarter (with their defense creating transition chances), but it slowed and became clunky. At the heart of the issue was the Sixers couldn’t shoot over the top of the zone and make the Heat pay — Mike Scott was 1-of-6 from three, Josh Richardson 3-of-10, Joel Embiid 1-of-5, and as a team the Sixers shot just 30.8% from deep.

The Sixers then let their offensive struggles impact their defense. In the words of Tobias Harris, the Sixers became “zombies.” Miami went on a 23-5 run to take the lead, stretched that out to as much as 16, then held on at the end to win 108-104. That gave Philadelphia its first home loss of the season after 14 wins.

Miami’s zone cut off a Sixers strength — Embiid post-ups — and exposed a weakness of reliable long-range shooters. The Sixers started to adapt by moving Embiid more to the high post, with some success (and they could have even more long term by getting Al Horford or Ben Simmons the ball at the nail and letting them initiate the offense) but it was too little, too late.

Philly has been good this season against the league’s best — even with this loss it is 6-3 against the team with the 10 top records in the league — but their weaknesses can be glaring at times. It’s a concern when looking ahead to potential playoff matchups.

Games like this — with Bam Adebayo going off for 23, Kendrick Nunn 26, and Jimmy Butler being the closer when needed — make it clear Miami is going to be a very tough playoff matchup. Miami is the team other top teams would like to avoid come the postseason, the Heat will be a very tough out (and a real upset threat).

2) Oklahoma City comes back from 20+ points down to win for the second straight game. Some teams play better with their backs against the wall. Oklahoma City appears to be one of those teams.

Monday night, the Thunder stormed from 26 down against Chicago — with Chris Paul taking over late — to get a 109-106 win.

Wednesday night, the Thunder got down 24 to the Grizzlies but stormed back behind 22 second-half points off the bench by Dennis Schroder to get a 126-122 win.

That’s not a sustainable way to keep picking up wins, but they count just the same.

Phoenix may want to plan for how to handle the OKC guards if the Suns race out to a lead Friday night.

3) Two reasons the Knicks hiring David Blatt should concern Knicks fans. Steve Mills played basketball at Princeton, and there he was teammates with Craig Robinson and David Blatt. All three played under legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril, and all three went on to careers in basketball.

Mills is the president of the Knicks basketball operations and — hot seat or no — he still has power. He had already hired Robinson, and on Wednesday he hired Blatt — the former Cleveland Cavaliers coach — as a consultant.

In a vacuum, this move is fine. Blatt knows basketball, he may not have the personality and temperament to coach NBA players, but he has a long track record of success in Europe and he understands the game. Adding another smart voice to the front office mix is generally a good thing.

Two key things should concern Knicks fans with this hire. (And that assumes that Blatt never comes down from the front office to coach this team, or it would be three things to be concerned about.)

First, this is a very insular hire, when what the Knicks need is someone outside the box. One of the issues with Mills is that he was the guy with the power before Phil Jackson and the one with the hammer after Jackson left — the Knicks never shook things up. It was always insular, comfortable, safe moves. Mills, as president, just hired a guy he knows well and comes from the same coaching tree. It’s a move that backs the status quo, and is this status quo where the Knicks want to be?

Second, this hire shows Mills still has juice in the organization and may be around a while. For all the talk of Mills being on the hot seat and a fascination in the front office with Masai Ujiri (or other high-level replacement), this not a move ownership okays if the plan is to show Mills the door anytime soon. Even if the plan is to get a new POBO this summer, is this a hire ownership signs off on.

It’s the kind of move that makes it feel like Mills (and GM Scott Perry) are going to be around a while. A long while. Things change fast in Madison Square Garden, but for now the winds of change are not sweeping through the building.