Associated Press

Watch James Harden score MVP-like 48, lift Rockets past Lakers in OT

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 48 points, Eric Gordon added 30 and the Houston Rockets overcame a 21-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 138-134 in overtime Saturday night.

The Rockets trailed for most of the night and were down by 18 in the second-half. Gordon sent it to overtime with a 3-pointer, and made four free throws in the last seconds of the extra period.

Coming off 57- and 58-point games, Harden had his 19th straight game with at least 30 and he’s had 40 in 10 of the last 13. He was 14 of 30 from the field, going 8 of 19 3-pointers, and hit 12 of 15 free throws.

Brandon Ingram missed a 3 for Los Angeles before Harden hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it 132-130 with less than a minute left. Ingram tied it with a basket, and Harden again made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 133-132.

Los Angeles missed a 3 before Gordon also made just 1 of 2 free throws to leave Houston up by two with 12.6 seconds left. Kyle Kuzma lost the ball and it went out of bounds to give Houston the ball back. Gordon added four free throws after that to secure the victory.

It was the second straight overtime game for both teams after Houston lost to Brooklyn on Wednesday night and Los Angeles beat Oklahoma City on Thursday night.

Kuzma had 32 points for Los Angeles and Ingram added 21 in a game where coach Luke Walton was ejected in the third quarter.

Already without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, the Lakers have another injury concern after Lonzo Ball sprained his left ankle in the third quarter. The team said he was taken to a hospital for X-rays because the machine at the arena was broken.

Four straight points by the Lakers stretched the lead to nine in the fourth quarter, but Harden and Gordon made consecutive 3-pointers cut it to 112-109 with about two minutes remaining.

Los Angeles made four free throws to make it 116-109 about a minute later, but Harden made two 3-pointers around a basket by Ivica Zubac to get Houston within three with about 30 seconds left.

Lance Stephenson missed a 3-pointer and Harden made two free throws to cut the lead to 118-117 with 5.7 seconds left.

Zubac made two more free throws before Gordon’s off-balance 3-pointer with 2 seconds left sent it to OT.

The Lakers built a huge lead early and were up 64-46 at halftime, with Kuzma scoring 24 points.

They were ahead by 17 with about eight minutes left in the third quarter after scoring five straight points capped by a basket from Kuzma before Houston scored the next 15 points to cut it to 74-72 three minutes later. James Ennis had five points in that stretch and P.J. Tucker capped it with a 3-pointer.

Ball was injured just before Houston’s run began. He remained on the court for a couple of minutes talking with trainer’s before he was helped to his feet where he hopped on his right foot for a few steps before being carried off the court and to the locker room by Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

Walton was ejected a couple of minutes after that when he got two technical fouls after yelling at officials during a timeout.

 

Watch James Harden’s latest 40-point triple-double; Rockets rout Cavaliers

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HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets still have a way to go to reach their goal of earning the top seed in the Western Conference.

But it seems far more attainable than it was just a month ago.

James Harden had 43 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in 29 minutes – the first player in NBA history to have a 40-point triple-double in less than 30 minutes played.

His performance led the Houston Rockets to a 141-113 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for their eighth win in 11 games.

“I think we’ve all had that in the back of our mind. It was just a far reach earlier in the season,” Harden said. “Now it’s pretty close. We’ve just got to continue to do what we’ve been doing. Playing well, taking care of opportunities like this tonight. Just continue to get better, strive to get better.”

The Rockets, who were in 14th place in the West in early December, are 4 1/2 games out of first place and tied with the Clippers for fifth.

After the Cavaliers got a 117-108 win in the first meeting with Houston this season, the Rockets were determined to take care of business this time around. They did that, racing out to a 28-point lead after scoring a season-high 77 points in the first half behind 24 points from Harden.

It’s Harden’s 15th straight game with at least 30 points, his franchise-record 13th game with 40 points this season and the seventh in the last nine games as he has carried the team with Chris Paul and Eric Gordon out with injuries.

Ante Zizic came off the bench to score 18 for the Cavaliers, whose season-long skid extended to 12 games.

“We just couldn’t stop them,” Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said. “They were raining 3s all over the place. They broke us down off the dribble. They are in a rhythm now and playing very good basketball.”

Harden needed less than 2 1/2 quarters to reach 30 points on Friday night, hitting a 3 with 7:41 left in the third to give him 32 points and push Houston’s lead 91-58. He joins Kobe Bryant (16 games in 2003) as the only players to score 30 points in at least 15 games in a row since the 1972-73 season.

About three minutes later, he pushed his total to 40 after he was left wide open to drive into the lane for an easy layup to make it 99-68. Harden grabbed his 10th rebound with about 90 seconds left in the third quarter to give him his sixth triple-double this season and the 41st of his career.

Harden played just 29 minutes and 34 seconds, and made eight 3-pointers to extend his NBA record to 12 games in a row with at least five.

“The step-back 3s, he’s perfected that,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s got 16 3s and they’re all step-backs. I don’t know how he does it … everybody knows what he’s doing and he still gets them off, and they’re kind of open. They’re not forced, so he’s just an incredible player.”

Clint Capela added 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting after making just four of 16 field goals in a loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday night.

Harden and fellow starters Capela and Tucker also sat out the fourth quarter with Houston up 113-81 entering the fourth. Even with the trio watching the final quarter from the bench, the Rockets maintained a huge lead and their 141 points were a season high and the most Cleveland has allowed this season.

 

Three Things to Know: LeBron’s injury apparently not serious. Warriors weren’t serious either.

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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) LeBron James injury apparently not too serious. Warriors weren’t serious either on Christmas. It was almost the Nightmare on Christmas for the NBA — the game’s biggest star, LeBron James, going down, saying he heard a pop, right in the middle of a prime-time game on Christmas Day.

After NBA Twitter — and more than a few Lakers fans — freaked out for a while, it appears things are not that bad for LeBron or the Lakers, it’s a muscle injury, a groin strain.

LeBron reportedly was in a good mood after the game and the team says he is day-to-day right now. After Wednesday’s MRI the doctors will have the final say on a timeline, but it doesn’t look like LeBron will miss extended time (my guess, a week or two, that’s the standard with these types of injuries). The Lakers are 5.1 points per 100 possessions worse with LeBron off the court this season, and he is by far their best shot creator in the half court. The Laker can’t go without him for long, but may not have too.

No LeBron for most of the second half and the Lakers still handled the Warriors with ease, 127-101. Best Laker win of the season.

There are two non-injury takeaways from this game.

First, don’t take much away from this game. It’s December, we’re not halfway through the season. Golden State is still struggling with its bench and second units (they got smacked at the start of the second and fourth quarters, lineups that still had Stephen Curry and Draymond Green out there). The Warriors had another game where they didn’t bring a playoff-level intensity when their opponent did. When the energy isn’t there is shows on defense for the Warriors — slow rotations, miscommunication on switches, a casualness on closeouts. Add to that the Lakers just hit shots at a likely unsustainable rate (streaky Lance Stephenson 4-of-4 from three, Ivica Zubac 9-of-10 shooting). This is what you get from the Warriors during the middle of the regular season. They are not fully engaged and are beatable. Nobody should doubt they will find a groove for the playoffs, but right now even LeBron James on Christmas Day can’t bring the fire out of them.

Second, the Lakers do have guys who can ball outside LeBron. Kyle Kuzma (19 points) and Josh Hart (12) have been doing it all season long — those guys are decisive and just know how to finish — but Zubac (18 and 11), Rajon Rondo (15) and everyone else stepped up, too. Plus, the Lakers defend pretty well. LeBron is still the leader, the fulcrum on offense and the guy who sets the tone, but the Lakers have other guys who can make plays around him, a nice core, and those guys stepped up on Tuesday.

2) No Celtic can get buckets like Kyrie Irving, he took over against Sixers and got Celtics OT win. Part of Boston’s problems early in the season was the lack of a clear pecking order. After last season and the playoff run, Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown thought they deserved more touches, same with Terry Rozier, Al Horford has to get his, and now Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injected back into the mix. It was a lot of mouths to feed and not everyone was getting the portions they wanted.

There’s a pecking order now, and it starts with Irving getting to eat all he wants. He had 14 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined, including the bucket that forced OT, and much of that was with a good, physical defender in Jimmy Butler draped all over him.

This was a quality win for Boston. The Celtics’ recent 8-game win streak came against a softer part of the schedule and now they are in the middle of a test against good teams — and they passed this one. This was not a game Boston likely won earlier in the season but they are genuinely finding an identity now, their defense is still elite, and they have a guy in Irving who can get buckets with the best of them. In the playoffs, that matters.

Philadelphia should come out of this feeling positive, there were good signs. Joel Embiid struggled against the Celtics and Horford last playoffs, he had 34 points and 16 assists in this one (he did better against Horford but really feasted on Daniel Theis). J.J. Redick will do his thing every game (although he was 1-of-6 inside the arc), Wilson Chandler is probably the fifth best player on the team and was solid for them (as he usually is) and the bench was okay in its minutes. Jimmy Butler had 24 points but on 9-of-21 shooting. Philly can be a little better, they do need more depth (GM Elton Brand is working the phones heading into the trade deadline) but the Sixers forced OT on the road with the team that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago. This matchup should not scare Philadelphia right now.

3) James Harden scores 41 and the Rockets are 2-0 since Chris Paul went down. Do not sell short what James Harden did on Christmas Day. Yes, it took him 34 shots to get to his 31 points, but he had Paul George — an elite defender playing the best basketball of his career — inside his jersey most of the night. Harden still found a way to get a little space and get buckets.

Harden has scored at least 30 points in 7 straight games and is carrying the offense — and the Rockets back into the playoffs. For the past couple of weeks, Harden has been back to his MVP form.

He had some help. Austin Rivers stepped into some Chris Paul minutes and played good defense, plus hit a couple of threes in the fourth. Eric Gordon and Clint Capela put up numbers (but neither were efficient on the night). The Houston defense is improving.

OKC can make a case for being the second best team in the West right now (Denver is the other team that can stake a claim) — the Rockets went on the road and beat the Thunder. And without CP3. Going into the season, we thought the Rockets would be the second best team in the West again. Maybe they are, it just took a while to get there.

Austin Rivers downplays tension with Chris Paul: ‘If we ever play in L.A., me and CP know all the tunnels’

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HOUSTON — Despite positive results from their first victory without guard Chris Paul, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey acted with haste in patching the hole on his roster that could undermine advancement toward securing a playoff bid in the competitive Western Conference.

The Rockets on Monday announced the signing of free agent guard Austin Rivers, recently released by the Phoenix Suns following a trade that sent Rivers westward from Washington. Rivers, in his seventh season, has averaged 9.3 points and 2.4 assists over 437 career games with New Orleans, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Wizards. Rivers posted career-best marks in points (15.1), assists (4.0), rebounds (2.4), and steals (1.2) last season with the Clippers.

With Paul expected to be sidelined between 2-4 weeks with a Grade-2 left hamstring strain, the Rockets opted not to roll the dice by increasing the workload on guards James Harden and Eric Gordon. Guard Brandon Knight recently returned from a knee injury that cost him almost two full seasons, but in averaging 14.9 minutes over the previous two games, it became clear that Knight isn’t ready for such heavy minutes. That led Morey and the Rockets to Rivers.

“He can give us stuff, especially with Chris out, another ball handler, scorer,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “A guy that attacks, can play defense — he’s a good NBA player. It makes us deeper and it keeps us from having Eric to play too many minutes and different guys. Another good body. A lot of positive stuff.”

Rivers will play on Tuesday when the Rockets (17-15) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-11) at Toyota Center. Houston has produced the fourth-best offensive rating (112.1) in the league this month and improved to 7-4 in December with a 108-101 home victory over the San Antonio Spurs last Saturday, their first victory in six games this season with Paul sidelined.

Rivers and Paul were teammates for three seasons in Los Angeles, and rumors abounded about their supposedly frosty relationship. They were central in an altercation, highlighted by talk of secret tunnels, between the Rockets and Clippers last season.

Rivers was quick to dismiss those allegations prior to his first practice with the Rockets on Monday.

“I had no problems with Chris,” Rivers said. “Obviously if I had a problem with Chris I wouldn’t be here. Chris has a huge input on this team as he should; he’s a Hall of Fame point guard. Obviously, if that was that serious I wouldn’t be here. That just goes to show you that it’s not real.

“That’ll be quickly put to bed.”

Rivers, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“For better or worse, right?” Rivers said of his history against the Rockets. “If we ever play in L.A., me and CP (Chris Paul) know all the tunnels. We’ll be all right there. It’s funny. This is a team I always admired and wanted to play for with (Mike) D’Antoni and the way they play, getting up and down. It’s a very fitting place.”

Stability and success have been companions for the Thunder, winners of 9 of 13 with two of those four losses coming by just two points. In the second game of a back-to-back, the Thunder fell 114-112 to the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Sunday. Still, third-seeded Oklahoma City possesses the best point differential (6.4) and net rating (6.1) of all teams in the West.

Those margins have been built but the league’s second-best defense (102.0 rating) and by prowess on the glass. Oklahoma City ranks fourth in rebounding percentage (52.0) and, especially concerning for the Rockets, first overall in offensive rebounding rate (31.4). Houston is 29th in defensive rebounding percentage (69.4) this season, ahead of only the Wizards.

“That’s the game,” Harden said. “Obviously, we know how really good they are defensively but rebounding (will be decisive).”

Three Things to Know: Chris Paul goes down with hamstring injury, then Rockets fall down

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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) Tell me if this sounds familiar: Chris Paul goes down with hamstring injury, then Rockets go down with a loss. Last season Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games due to injury, however, more importantly, he missed Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors with a strained hamstring, two games the Rockets led at the half but could not close out. That transitioned into a whole lot of “if only” cries in Houston.

Which is why there was an uncomfortable sense of deja vu when Paul went back to the locker room during the second quarter Thursday night’s game in Miami with what was later determined to be a hamstring injury. One that could sideline him for “a while.”

The Rockets are 0-5 in games Paul has sat this season.

It’s 0-6 if you count this one. With CP3 out of the picture, Miami took the lead when they opened the third quarter on a 17-4 run. James Harden — nine of his 35 came in the fourth quarter — led a comeback that had the Rockets briefly take the lead, but Miami answered with a 6-0 run of its own and some key buckets from Tyler Johnson down the stretch. When an Eric Gordon attempt from three missed in the final seconds, Miami got the 101-99 win.

It wasn’t a pretty game — the Heat were the better shooting team on the night and still made just 38.7 percent overall and hit 9-of-39 from three. But that kind of grinding game seems to work for the Heat. Miami now 4-4 in games they shot less than 40 percent this season. Which is just weird.

For Houston, which had climbed back into the playoffs in the West going into this game, the real test is coming up the next few weeks (including against the Thunder on Christmas).

2) Luka Doncic is as advertised, but the Clippers got Lou Williams back and that got them a win. Before tipoff, Doc Rivers said of Luka Doncic, “I haven’t ever wanted to watch a rookie play more than him.”

After the game, where Doncic dropped 32 on the Clippers, Rivers said “I’m sick of him” with a laugh.

Doc Rivers, however, had something that made him feel a lot better — the return of Lou Williams. In the first half Dallas trapped Williams and Tobias Harris, but Rivers said they had seen that in the previous meeting and set up release valves — Danilo Gallinari for one, and he finished with 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting. The other was Montrezl Harrell and the other bigs on the roll after setting picks, and Harrell finished with 18. Harrell feasted on Dirk Nowitzki in the big German’s limited minutes (he’s still not moving like he wants).

Then in the fourth quarter, Williams wasn’t facilitating he was scoring — 13 of his 26 points came in the final frame. He was the steadying influence late the Clippers had lacked in recent losses to Oklahoma City and Portland. Having him back made the Clippers a more dangerous team.

None of those were the highlight of the game, though. This was:

“When I went down the first thing I thought was ‘oh my god, I just tore my ACL for the second time, and this time I’m coaching.’ I’m not even sure how you do that. The doctor said I didn’t, my body said I did, so we’ll find out tomorrow.”

“I thought he would be out 2-4 weeks,” DeAndre Jordan said with a smile.

3) Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry and Anthony Davis himself try to put out “Where will AD play next?” fire. Good luck with that.

Friday night Davis heads to Staples Center to play LeBron James and the Lakers and the Pelicans’ Mr. Everything will be asked about playing for the Lakers/with LeBron/leaving New Orleans roughly 4,237 times in varying ways. Before that happened, the Pelicans tried to throw water on that fire. First, there was New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry being as clear as he could be.

Then there is what Davis himself said to Zach Lowe of ESPN, on LeBron saying it would be “incredible” to play with AD.

“I don’t really care,” Davis told ESPN of James’ comments Wednesday night after the Pelicans’ 123-115 loss to the Bucks. “Obviously, it’s cool to hear any high-caliber player say they want to play with me. But my job is to turn this team around. If we’re 15-17, that means I’m not doing my job.”

Gentry is right, the Pelicans are not going to trade Davis… yet.

New Orleans does not want to trade Davis, the goal is to keep him and that’s why they are active on the trade market right now, as buyers. On July 1, 2019, New Orleans will put a designated veteran $235 million guaranteed contract in front of Davis, $40 million more than anyone else can offer. If Davis rejects that contract, then the Pelicans should listen to trade proposals (and teams around the league expect them to). But not until then.

Until then, the Pelicans are holding out hope.