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Draymond Green ejected after third quarter ends

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Draymond Green was pissed off. The Warriors had just been outscored by 10 (32-22) in the third quarter and headed to the fourth trailing the lowly Suns. Plus, he felt Phoenix’s Kelly Oubre almost head-butted him celebrating a bucket at the end of the quarter, a play the referees chose not to call it.

After the buzzer to end the third, Green marched down to have a word with Leon Wood. DeMarcus Cousins and Jordan Bell realized this was not going to be the kind of polite conversation one has over tea and finger sandwiches, so they tried to run down and pull him back, but they were not fast enough, and Green said something that got him tossed.

No Green didn’t matter. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson cranked it up in the fourth, combining for 21 points and the Warriors without Green beat the Suns 117-107.

NBA Power Rankings: Warriors surge, Raptors still on top

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The Golden State Warriors reminded everyone Tuesday night what they are capable of, but the top two spots still belong to the top teams in the East. They have been more consistent.

Raptors small icon 1. Raptors (33-12, last week No. 1). Things are coming together for the Raptors. They have won five in a row, the last four of those with Kyle Lowry back in the lineup returned from injury, Kawhi Leonard has moved the ball better in those five wins (26 assists), Pascal Siakam is getting more run at center, and Serge Ibaka has slipped up a few times but is still having a renaissance season playing center. Raptors fans, enjoy the journey, this may well be the best Toronto team ever, try to ignore that cloud over the team about Leonard and July. Teams like this don’t come around often. Savor it.

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (31-12, LW 2). They had a statement win against Houston — where Brook Lopez’s defense in the paint was the surprising key (after they overplayed Harden and forced him right and into Lopez) — and while the Bucks then turned around and lost to the Wizards a couple of nights later it was without Giannis Antetokounmpo so we’re not holding that against them. The other interesting thing out of the win over Houston: How well Eric Bledsoe did on James Harden. Yes, Harden had 42 points on 30 shots, but Bledsoe made him work for his buckets and that bodes well for the Bucks heading into the postseason. Milwaukee has 7-of-9 on the road coming up.

Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (30-14, LW 5). The reports of the troubles/demise of Golden State have been greatly exaggerated — despite the injuries, lack of depth, infighting and everything else they currently have the best record in the West. They took control of the conference with an emphatic win over Denver, a game that was a reminder of how good they can be. Friday night against the Clippers the DeMarcus Cousins experiment begins and should be one of the more interesting stories of the second half of the season (when you hear rumors of the Warriors’ interest in Robin Lopez on the buyout market, that’s really just Cousins insurance, nobody knows how this is going to go).

Pacers small icon 4. Pacers (29-13, LW 3). Myles Turner returned from injury against Phoenix Tuesday, which was good news because their defense when he was out was not the same — and the Pacers are second in the NBA in defensive rating. It’s a credit to coach Nate McMillan how well he has this team defending, that end of the floor has become their calling card. Indiana went 3-2 on a recent road trip but the losses were to Toronto and Boston, two of the other teams at the top of the East, and that’s a cause for some concern.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (29-14, LW 7).. Will Barton is back in the lineup — he played in just the first two games of the season before injuring his groin — and that is a big boost for Denver and it’s wing depth and rotation. Just ignore the Warriors game, Golden State does that to teams a couple times a season, except that it was another rough defensive outing. While the Nuggets on the season have a top-10 NBA defense, that has slid to the second worst in the NBA in their last 10 games. The defensive slippage has been covered up because Nikola Jokic can do things like this.

Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (25-18, LW 4). Clint Capela is out 4-6 weeks with an injured right thumb, and the pressure just mounted even more on James Harden — he responded with 57 points in the first game without Capela, but can he sustain this? The Rockets are 3-3 in their last six with an elite offense covering up for a bottom-10 defense, and that defense is not likely to improve with Capela out. Look for Daryl Morey to try and find some help at the five because the only real center on the roster now is Nene and he can give them maybe 15 minutes a night, tops.

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (26-17, LW 6). The Thunder have the best defense in the NBA on the season, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com stats), but in the last five game that has slipped to 119.7 per 100 (28th in the league in that stretch). While teams have bad runs of games over the course of 82, the Thunder are built on defense and they can’t afford for the defensive issues to last much longer, or there will be more ugly losses like Tuesday’s one to Atlanta.

Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (29-16, LW 10). Philadelphia is 20-10 since trading for Jimmy Butler, and the way the Sixers looked and the way the Timberwolves rolled over in that game Butler looked prophetic. That said, all is not just puppy dogs and rainbows with the Sixers — After an Embiid-less loss at home to the lowly Hawks, Ben Simmons called his team out as soft (Atlanta was the more physical team in that game). That Simmons would go there speaks to the struggles still going on trying to get Butler/Embiid/Simmons on the same page.

Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (25-18, LW 9). Terry Rosier said this week this team is “too talented” and that has been a popular theory — too many mouths to feed, too many players who want touches and shots, and it leads to a crowded rotation and guys pushing for larger roles. Is it too much talent or that talent not fitting together? The Celtics can rise up and look like one of the best in the East — they did it in the win over Indiana — but they don’t consistently. Brad Stevens also needs to be thinking about who will be in his 8/9-man playoff rotation, and which current rotation guys (likely Robert Williams, Daniel Theis, and Semi Ojeleye, maybe others) will be relegated to the bench.

Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (26-19, LW 11). The Blazers are 18-7 at home and have a +7.1 net rating, but get on the road and they are 8-12 with a -5.1 net rating. The problems are on both ends of the court, the offense is 5.4 per 100 worse on the road and the defense is 6.8 per 100 worse. We saw it recently in action, the Blazers won four in a row at home then got out of Portland and promptly lost two straight. The Blazers have five more road than home games the rest of the way (but a relatively easy strength of schedule(.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (24-21, LW 14). The Jazz look like themselves again winning four in a row, 6-of-7, and they have allowed less than a point per possession in that stretch (best in the NBA). Utah has moved into a tie for the eighth seed in the Wes. Granted, this run has come against a softer part of the schedule (something that ends this week with the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Nuggets), but the Jazz have the second-easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way and the easiest of any team in the West. Utah is starting to look like a playoff team again.

Spurs small icon 12. Spurs (25-20, LW 8). Last Thursday’s dramatic double-overtime win against the Thunder — where LaMarcus Aldridge scored 56 — was a signature win for San Antonio. And, if that’s all you saw of them you’d say they were surging. However, they have dropped 3-of-4, including splitting that home-and-home with OKC. The Spurs’ defense, which has carried the team this season, is bottom 10 in their last 5 games, while the offense has been pedestrian. The Spurs may be coming back to earth a little bit, they need to get their defense right and start winning some road games against the West (3-12 so far).

Kings small icon 13. Kings (23-21, LW 17). Rookie Marvin Bagley III is back in the rotation after missing 11 games and is starting to find his form again. Bagley has played fairly well, averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a night off the bench before he got injured (it’s just in this rookie class those numbers get overshadowed). Coach Dave Joerger needs to get Bagley some run and bring him along, the No. 2 pick is a big part of the Kings’ future. Sacramento has won four in a row at home, but now heads out on the road for their next six.

Clippers small icon 14. Clippers (24-19, LW 12). The Clippers have regressed to the mean recently, having lost three in a row and 7-of-8. In those last 15 games the Clippers have had a top-10 offense — with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell providing a big spark off the bench — but a bottom 10 defense. The Clippers will be the focus of the NBA universe Friday night because DeMarcus Cousins makes his return against them — we all want to see Boban Marjanović matched up against him. Doc Rivers needs to make that happen.

Lakers small icon 15. Lakers (24-21, LW 13). Los Angeles has gone 4-7 since LeBron James’ groin injury, sliding down to a tie for the final playoff spot in the West, and with some ugly games in there — the loss to Cleveland at home was their worst loss of the season. Two things to be concerned about if you’re a Laker fan: 1) This recent run of games really did not help the “we can trade these guys for Anthony Davis” cause (although Brandon Ingram, when he’s facilitating still shows promise); 2) The Lakers have the second toughest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way. With LeBron back they should be able to handle it and make the playoffs, but it’s not going to be easy.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (21-21, LW 15). The unlikely backcourt of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson has started to find some chemistry, they had big games in the wins against the Celtics and Grizzlies recently, and the Heat have won 10-of-15 with them running the show (although it’s a top-10 defense that has really carried the Heat through this stretch). The loss in Milwaukee Tuesday was the first of 6-of-7 on the road as Miami enters a rough patch of the schedule.

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (21-23, LW 20). New Orleans finally has Elfrid Payton and Nikola Mirotic back in the rotation after extended absences due to injury, they have gone 2-1 in those games and looked much improved. Their return came at the right time, if New Orleans is going to make a playoff push — read: have any shot at all of keeping Anthony Davis — they need to survive a tough January schedule the rest of the way, with 5-of-7 on the road and much of that against West playoff teams. The Pelicans have the fourth toughest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way.

Nets small icon 18. Nets (22-23, LW 19). Before the season it was expected that Brooklyn would be out of the playoff mix and with some expiring contracts — DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried — and they would be sellers at the trade deadline. But the scrappy Nets, who play hard and take smart shots, have turned their team of journeymen into the seven seed in the West with a real shot at the playoffs. With that, the fire sale is off and Brooklyn is one of the feel-good stories of the season.

19. Timberwolves (21-23, LW 16). Coming out flat against Philadelphia was ugly — they made Jimmy Butler look prophetic about Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins by showing no fire in that game. This team shows flashes — KAT was blocking Anthony Davis at the end of a win over the Pelicans — but they don’t defend or take smart shots with any consistency. Ryan Saunders is 2-2 as a coach and there are people rooting for him to do well enough to keep this job, but he has a lot of work ahead of him to just get more every night out of this roster.

Mavericks small icon 20. Mavericks (20-23, LW 21). Why are the Mavericks shopping Dennis Smith Jr.? Because, while his shooting has improved this season, he simply has not fit with Luka Doncic (and Doncic is the future). Smith as part of the regular starting five for Dallas scores less than a point per possession, sub rookie Jaylen Brunson in for Smith and that lineup’s offense gets 16 points per 100 possessions better. Smith is incredibly athletic and should have value on the trade market, but with every other team knowing both Dallas and Smith want to part ways, it’s going to be hard to get anywhere near fair value.

Magic small icon 21. Magic (19-24, LW 24).
Another team many around the league expected to be a seller at the deadline, but after back-to-back victories over Boston and Houston, the Magic are just a game out of the playoffs in the East and are more likely to make a push for it rather than tank. The key to making the playoffs will be more of the Aaron Gordon who showed up against Boston and Houston, scoring 28 and 22 points in those games, shooting a combined 51.7 percent, and getting to the free throw line. Orlando needs Gordon to be aggressive and the catalyst for the offense.

Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (20-23, LW 18). Charlotte wants to make the playoffs this season, owner Michael Jordan wants to make the playoffs, and their recent 2-4 road trip did not help that cause (although the Hornets remain a game ahead of Orlando for the eight seed). The bigger problem is they miss Cody Zeller, he has been out seven games (2-5) and in those games the Hornets have the third worst defense in the NBA. They need to get some stops over the next few weeks because Kemba Walker’s heroics alone are not enough to get them into the playoffs.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (18-26, LW 25). They beat the 76ers. They beat the Bucks. They took the Raptors to double overtime. Forget about tanking and selling off players, the Wizards are playing better and, with the third easiest schedule the rest of the way the Wizards are thinking playoffs. The Wizards are 5-4 with a +3.2 net rating since John Wall left the team due to injury, there is more balance on the offense and Bradley Beal is attacking the rim more than we’ve seen in years. Despite their horrid start to the season and injuries, the Wizards are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs and stranger things have happened.

Pistons small icon 24. Pistons (18-24, 22). Blake Griffin’s 44-point performance against the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night was a classic revenge game — he even blew off Steve Ballmer (maybe) — and a great reminder of how good Griffin can be. It’s also the Pistons’ only win in their last six games, the team continues to struggle offensively (bottom 5 in the league over the last 10 games). The Pistons have 7-of-10 at home and if they are going to make a playoff push it needs to come now.

Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (14-30, LW 26). The Hawks have quietly gone 8-7 in their last 15 games, with an average NBA offense and a just slightly below average defense in that stretch. That included a 142-126 win over Oklahoma City. Rookie point guard Trae Young has started to show some chemistry with Kevin Huerter,, and the Thunder found out about that the hard way.

Grizzlies small icon 26. Grizzlies (19-24, LW 23). Unexpected stat: The Grizzlies lead the NBA in passes per game, averaging 342.1. Unfortunately, that does not correlate directly to winning, the Grizzlies have gone 3-13 in their last 16, have slid out of the playoffs, and their next four games are the Bucks, Celtics, Raptors, and Pelicans. If the losing continues for another week or two, and with Marc Gasol a free agent this summer, will we finally see Memphis talk trade and break up their core? Other teams are watching, but if they didn’t do it this summer would they now?

Suns small icon 27. Suns (11-34, LW 27). Kelly Oubre Jr. is starting to find a comfort level in the Valley of the Sun, averaging 17.6 points per game on 50.8 shooting in his last five games. That said, the offense continues to struggle if Devin Booker is not on the floor, and that lack of consistent offense keeps them from winning games (although they are competitive most nights, they are not just rolling over).

Knicks small icon 28. Knicks (10-33, LW 29). It will be February before we get an update, but if the rumors are true that the Knicks want to hold Kristaps Porzingis out all season — against his wishes — then that is the kind of short-sighted things that leads to broken relationships. (This is providing there is not a good medical reason to keep KP out.) Only one game this week as the NBA decided to promote its game by sending the Knicks and Wizards over to London for a Thursday game (don’t they have enough problems over there with Brexit without us making them watch that excuse for basketball?).

Bulls small icon 29. Bulls (10-34, LW 28). Chicago has lost eight in a row, but Bulls management wants to show it’s committed to the old-school ways of coach Jim Boylen by giving him a raise this season and next (they had lost six in a row when that news leaked). Boylen is now 5-15 as head coach. When you’re losing like that, experimenting with Lauri Markkanen at the three — as Boylen wants to do — is worth trying.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (9-35, LW 30). the Cavaliers snapped their 12 game losing streak thanks to the LeBron-less Lakers. One bright spot, Matthew Dellavedova has played like a solid pro for the Cavaliers off the bench providing some steady play their bench units can use. Beyond that… here’s a Zion Williamson highlight to dream about.

Kelly Oubre misses two FTs as Pacers fans chant ‘John Wall hates you’

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The Washington Wizards are a dysfunctional organization with a roster that doesn’t seem to like each other very much. They’ve made some changes, including sending Kelly Oubre to the Phoenix Suns exchange for Trevor Ariza.

Meanwhile, John Wall is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a Haglund’s deformity and an Achilles tendon injury in his left heel. That’s somehow left the Wizards in better shape, with guys like Bradley Beal netting triple-doubles.

But for Oubre? It’s not been so great.

On Tuesday as the Suns got set to take on the Indiana Pacers, fans in the Hoosier State decided to troll Oubre while he was at the free-throw line.

Via Twitter:

Oubre is a career 78 percent free-throw shooter, so him missing two in a row is a bit of an anomaly. Even further, that Oubre let the crowd get to him is pretty wild.

Hopefully he can move on from the Wizards’ stink, although playing for the organization in Phoenix might not be the best way to do that.

Three Things to Know: Rockets drain record 26 threes, have turned season around… kinda

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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) Houston knocks down NBA record 26 three-pointers in fifth straight win. They have turned things around… kinda. Wednesday night’s win against Washington in a lot of ways looked like the last four games for Houston: James Harden went off (35 points), the Rockets defense was good enough, and that meant a win.

What was different: Houston set an NBA single-game record hitting 26 threes (on 55 shot attempts).

Washington’s defense was atrocious. The Rockets took 85 total shots in the game, 60 of them were uncontested (using the NBA’s Second Spectrum data, which is imperfect but validates the point about the Wizards’ defensive effort). That doesn’t invalidate what the Rockets did, just pointing out that Washington made it all possible.

Not every fan will love that Houston took 64.7 percent of their shots from three, but that’s what the Rockets should do if Washington isn’t going to run them off the line. Which the Wizards did not.

That’s five straight wins for the Rockets, who are now 16-14 and would be the seven seed if the playoffs started today.

Have the Rockets turned their season around? Well, kinda. They have fought their way back into playoff positioning and the combination we’ve seen in this win streak — MVP-level play from James Harden sparking an elite offense, with the defense being average and that’s good enough — can keep them in the playoffs in the West. But that was not the goal in Houston — the Rockets want to be contenders. This is a team that was up on the Warriors at halftime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season, they want to be a team that can take that next step. They want to be a threat to win it all, and even this improved Rockets team is not that yet. The defense is better but not good enough. They lack the depth needed on the wing (GM Daryl Morey is trying to fix that heading into the trade deadline).

So yes, the Rockets are better. But they are not where they wanted to be this season, not even close.

2) Foreshadowing? Shorthanded Raptors show mettle in comeback win against Pacers, while Celtics lose to Suns. The conventional wisdom around the league about the East right now is that it will come down to Toronto and Boston. Maybe the Bucks can crack into that group (they are right there, but there are defensive questions in a playoff matchup), and after those three it’s half a step back to the Sixers (as currently constructed without enough depth) and the Pacers.

Boston has work to do to live up to that faith in them.

The Celtics had racked up eight wins in a row against a softer part of the schedule but now has dropped two straight, one to the Pistons and one Wednesday night at home to the lowly Suns. A game where the hated-in-Boston Kelly Oubre returned, was booed, then stuck a dagger in the Celtics and blew kisses to the crowd.

Was that Celtics’ win streak a mirage? We’ll get a good measuring stick in the next week: Friday they host the Bucks, Christmas Day they host the Sixers, then the Celtics hit the road to take on the Rockets and Grizzlies. The schedule is getting tougher, is Boston up to it?

Toronto, on the other hand, is doing what elite teams do — finding ways to win, even key players out.

No Kyle Lowry. No Serge Ibaka. And the Pacers were in control, up 17 (77-60) with five minutes to go in the third. Then Kawhi Leonard led the way (scoring 11 of his 28 on the night in this stretch) and the Raptors closed out the game on a 39-19 run over the final 17 minutes to get the win. Fred VanVleet knocked down the shot that gave Toronto the lead for good.

I hear you Pacers fans: That was a bad call at the end of the game. The Pacers needed a three to tie, got the ball to Bojan Bogdanovic beyond the arc and OG Anunoby reached in and fouled him as Bogdanovic started to go up. Unquestionably. But that’s not why the Pacers lost the game — blow a 17 point lead in the final 17 minutes and you don’t get to put the blame on the officials for one call. The Pacers deserved to lose that game the way they played down the stretch.

3) Derrick Rose is back and fun to watch. Savor this. I’ll admit it: I thought he was washed. So many seasons of watching Derrick Rose struggle after his knee injuries, watching his struggle with the craft of his game once he was robbed of his explosiveness, had me thinking he was done.

Rose is back — averaging 19 points a game, knocking down threes better than he ever has (46.9 percent on 3.3 attempts per game), getting to the rim, managing games, being efficient (his 58 true shooting percentage would be a career high), and he’s just flat-out fun to watch right now.

Monday night he dropped 33 for the Timberwolves in an eventual loss to the Pistons.

Rose is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate this season and he is all the way back. At age 30, he’s not the same player he was in his early 20s in Chicago, he’s something else entirely. Rose has reinvented himself, and it’s beautiful to watch.

Savor this while we can. Rose is having a redemptive season, showing how hard work and belief in yourself can pay off, and it is one of the best stories in the NBA this season.

Suns executive James Jones: Focus has shifted to NBA players, not draft

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The Suns are 7-24.

At least they’ll get a prime draft pick to add young talent to grow with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. That’s Phoenix best path toward meaningful success.

Or…

Suns front-office chief James Jones, via Arizona Sports 98.7:

“Yeah, we have to worry about what happens in the draft but our primary focus is on this team currently and what we can do,” he told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo on Wednesday. “We have a bunch of young players in this draft. We’ve been deep in the draft, we’ve drafted a lot of players over the years and our focus has shifted more to development of these players and looking at NBA players that we possibly can add to this team.”

“We shifted focus,” Jones said. “I think in the past our primary focus — a great amount of our time was spent turning over every stone as it relates to players and college players, but college players don’t win NBA games. NBA players do, so that’s where our focus is now.”

I get why the Suns want to be done with the draft. This will be Phoenix’s ninth straight season outside the playoffs. That should have provided enough lottery picks to stock the roster.

But since 2011, the Suns have gotten Markieff Morris, Kendall Marshall, Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges from the lottery. That’s not good enough.

Phoenix is still multiple steps from winning. Trying to shortcut the process will only push the goal further away. That type of thinking is what led to misguided signings like Trevor Ariza, Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley. The Suns should be realistic about where they are in team-building.

And maybe they are. Perhaps, Jones is just saying what he thinks should be said. The Suns are trying to sell tickets and secure taxpayer funding for arena upgrades, after all.

But this also might be Phoenix’s actual approach. Suns owner Robert Sarver is notoriously impatient. After Jones’ comments, the Suns traded Ariza to the Wizards without getting a draft pick (netting only Kelly Oubre).

The best thing the Suns can do is nail their upcoming high first-round pick. That should be their primary focus.

Jones saying otherwise ought to terrify Phoenix fans.