Isaiah Hartenstein

James Harden scores 32, passes 20,000 points to lead Rockets during blowout of Timberwolves

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HOUSTON — James Harden didn’t have much to say after he surpassed 20,000 points on Saturday in Houston’s blowout win over Minnesota.

“It’s a great accomplishment obviously,” he said. “I have a bigger picture and bigger goals but it’s pretty cool.”

Teammate and longtime friend Russell Westbrook, who also played in the game when Harden got the first points of his NBA career, was much more effusive in his comments about the milestone.

“To be able to do that on a very, very high level is something we don’t take for granted,” Westbrook said. “Growing up in L.A. and being able to see him progress over the years to me is just a blessing to see as his friend and I’m truly happy for him.”

Harden scored 32 points in three quarters to help the Rockets roll to the 139-109 victory.

Houston led by double figures for most of the game and used a huge run in the third quarter to put the game out of reach and bounce back after a lopsided loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday night.

Harden, who had 12 rebounds and eight assists, is the 45th player in NBA history to reach 20,000 points and the seventh-youngest. He entered the game 10 points away and reached the milestone in fitting fashion, on a step-back 3-pointer midway through the second quarter.

The public address announcer simply said 20,000 after Harden hit the shot, before a video was played during the next timeout to mark the occasion. The video showed him making his first points in the NBA while with the Thunder, then making a free throw that gave him 10,000 points and a replay of the 3 that got him to 20,000.

He got the game ball on Saturday and presented it to his mother.

“’She has everything,” Harden said. “Every goal and achievement that I have, she has it. I gave it to her and she’ll put it in a safe place.”

Already without Clint Capela because of a bruised heel, the Rockets lost fellow starter P.J. Tucker early in the first quarter when he fell hard on his right shoulder. But Houston was just fine without them thanks to another big game from Harden and a 30-point performance by Westbrook.

Josh Okogie had 16 points off the bench for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns remained out with a left knee sprain that has had him sidelined since mid-December. The 30-point defeat was their largest loss of the season.

“We need to be better in terms of withstanding runs, especially against a good team,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “You give them credit. They got us tonight.”

The Rockets were up by 16 at halftime and 17 in the third quarter before scoring the next 16 points to push the lead to 89-56 with about 5 minutes left in the quarter.

Harden made two 3-pointers in that span and added another three points when he was fouled on a 3 and made all the free throws. The Timberwolves had three turnovers, including two from Andrew Wiggins, to help Houston pad the lead.

Minnesota cut the lead to 26 entering the fourth quarter, but the Rockets extended it to 115-82 with about 9 minutes left by opening the quarter with a 13-6 run.

Westbrook made a layup soon after that before stealing the ball on a bad pass by Jeff Teague and dishing it to Ben McLemore, who found Thabo Sefolosha for a 3 that made it 124-86. The Timberwolves called a timeout and all of Houston’s starters except Isaiah Hartenstein went to the bench after that with about 8 minutes to go.

Hartenstein started in place of Capela and had 17 points and 15 rebounds. Eric Gordon added 17 points and tied a season high with five 3-pointers.

Chris Paul torches Rockets center Isaiah Hartenstein with nutmeg (video)

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As he returned to Oklahoma City with the Rockets last night, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder repeatedly showed appreciation for each other. It was such a pleasant reunion.

Chris Paul – who was traded for Westbrook – brought the disrespect.

Paul unleashed this absolutely cruel nutmeg on Rockets center Isaiah Hartenstein. The waves away afterward were even more brutal.

That and a 113-92 Oklahoma City victory had to feel good for Paul, whom Houston unloaded with multiple draft picks attached to get Westbrook.

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.

Marquese Chriss wants Rockets to play him more or trade him

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The best big man in the NBA requested a trade.

So did the fifth-best big man in Houston.

As the league has been consumed with Anthony Davis news, the Rockets’ Marquese Chriss put out word he’s unhappy with his situation.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

The representation for Marquese Chriss is in discussions with the Houston Rockets to either find the third-year forward an opportunity to play or seek a trade in which Chriss will have a chance to earn rotational minutes, Aaron Goodwin, Chriss’ agent, told Yahoo Sports.

“Marquese didn’t ask to be traded to Houston,” Goodwin told Yahoo Sports. “The Rockets are a great organization and the kid has done everything they’ve asked of him to get on the floor. If it’s not going to happen there, we just want him to be treated fairly.”

“I would hate to see a career derailed because teams feel he cannot play at the level he did before the trade,” Goodwin said.

The second-funniest part of this: The Rockets were probably already trying to trade Chriss. He’s buried behind Clint Capela, Kenneth Faried, Nene and Isaiah Hartenstein on the depth chart. Chriss is also earning $3,206,160 this season. By shedding Chriss’ salary, Houston would reduce its impending luxury-tax bill by $5,403,099. There’s a decent chance nobody wants Chriss or else he’d already be traded.

The funniest part of this: Goodwin suggesting Chriss looked good with the Suns before getting traded to the Rockets. Chriss was quite bad in Phoenix. That was somewhat excusable given his age (now 21) and raw talent. But the level of play Chriss showed with the Suns was already beginning to derail his career. That’s why he got thrown into salary-focused trade with Houston.

Beyond the comedy, this a fairly typical NBA situation. The league is full of non-rotation players who want to play more or get traded. Many of them believe their current team is the main thing holding them back from playing time.

The big difference is most players who want to get traded either leak it through anonymous sources or say nothing publicly. Goodwin stated Chriss’ desire on the record. I applaud that.

The NBA takes a different view. Davis got fined $50,000 for his agent’s public remarks. However, J.R. Smith avoided a fine for stating his desire to be traded – per the Cavaliers’ feedback, according to NBA commissioner Adam Silver. I bet the Rockets will extend Chriss similar leniency. The league might even interpret Chriss’ play-me-or-trade-me choice as permissible, unlike Davis’ pure trade request. But enforcement in this area is arbitrary, so who knows what the NBA will do?

As far as what Houston will do, probably nothing different. Keep playing better players over Chriss, keep trying to trade him.

Report: Rockets Center Clint Capela out 4-6 weeks

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James Harden has been doing a ton for the Rockets, but at least he has a reliable sidekick in Clint Capela.

James Haden will have to do everything for the Rockets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Capela hasn’t been quite as sharp defensively this season as last, but he’s still Houston’s top defender. He can switch on the perimeter and protect the rim. Capela is also an elite finisher, making him a dangerous pick-and-roll partner for Harden.

Losing him is a blow to the Rockets, who are in the middle of the Western Conference pack and therefore just two games inside playoff position. With Chris Paul already sidelined, Houston’s depth is thinning quick.

Nene is the Rockets backup center, but he hasn’t played even 27 minutes in a game since the 2015-16 season, back when he was with the Wizards. Houston probably won’t want to lean too hard on the 36-year-old.

So, expect Isaiah Hartenstein and/or Marquese Chriss to enter the rotation. The Rockets could also use P.J. Tucker more at center.

Houston will also surely canvass for a trade. The good news: Center is the NBA’s deepest position, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find potential help. But already into the luxury tax, how much will the Rockets pay for additional players?