Kenneth Faried

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Top 10 free agents still available

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This list could change very fast. Whenever Kawhi Leonard makes up his mind — today, tomorrow, next week — his choice will be the first domino in a run of signings. The Los Angeles teams have sat on cap space to fit Leonard onto their team, and once the call is made one or both of them could suddenly go on a little spending spree. Dallas is still lurking with money to spend, too.

However, there isn’t a lot for those teams to shop for — there were 50 players signed in the first 10 hours of NBA free agency starting June 30 and it became a feeding frenzy. Teams saw players they wanted get snapped up and felt they had to get the next guy on their list fast before he was gone, agents saw roster spots filling up fast and wanted to make sure their player had a chair before the music stopped. There was far more “you have 45 minutes to decide” sales pitches this year than in years past. A lot of good players are off the board.

As of right now, here are our top 10 free agents still available.

1) Kawhi Leonard

Duh. While LeBron James last year and Kevin Durant this year (along with Kyrie Irving) made quick decisions in free agency, Leonard is going old school, not rushing, meeting with teams and thinking over his decision. As is his right. This is a major life decision about where to work (and with whom) — stay in Toronto where he just won a title, or come back home to Southern California and play for Doc Rivers and the Clippers, or with LeBron James and the Lakers. Leonard, when on the court, may be the best player walking the face of the earth right now and he averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game during the Raptors run to the title. He is worth the wait.

2) DeMarcus Cousins

He’s the biggest name on this list, and with raw talent may be the second-best player on this list, but in terms of demand by teams this ranking may be a couple of spots too high. Cousins averaged 16.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and grabbed 8.1 rebounds a game last season, but he only was in 30 games coming off a torn Achilles and then tore his quad muscle two games into the playoffs. All season he did not move terribly well and could be exposed defensively in space. As the NBA evolves away from traditional centers, teams look at Cousins and aren’t seeing a player they want to pay eight figures because they can get 80 percent of his production for 20 percent of the cost. Plus, some teams don’t want the potential locker room disruption (whether that is fair or not, it’s his rep). Cousins is waiting to jump into the cap space Leonard leaves open on at least one of the Los Angeles teams, but we’ll see if he has to settle for the $4.8 million room exception or maybe even the veteran minimum.

3) Marcus Morris

A solid veteran at the four who can stretch the floor (37.5 percent from three last season), Morris also brings grit and a toughness a lot of teams could use. He is one of the best scorers left on the board and can get buckets in a variety of ways — post-ups, from three, the occasional isolation — and did so to the tune of 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season in Boston. Plus he can solidly defend the four spot. Dallas is among the teams reportedly making a run at this Morris twin.

4) Danny Green

He may have lost a step at age 32, but his value as a 3&D wing who will step up and make plays in big minutes was on display in the NBA Finals. He averaged 10.3 points per game and shot 45.5 percent from three in the regular season (but that fell to 32.8 percent in the playoffs). He is one of the players waiting on Leonard and could end up playing for the $4.8 million room exception wherever Leonard goes, but he also could go his own way. The Raptors, Clippers, Lakers, and Mavericks are all interested.

5) Kelly Oubre

He’s a restricted free agent, meaning the Suns can match any offer, which has dampened his market because no team has wanted to come in with the big contract it would take to get the Suns to walk away. Oubre is incredibly athletic but has never quite lived up to his potential. Traded mid-season to the Suns, the slashing wing averaged 16.9 points a game for them, but he still shot just 32.5 percent from three. With Ricky Rubio at the point Oubre could fit on the wing in Phoenix, the only question now is the price.

6) JaMychal Green

If he can stay healthy (he played 65 games last season between the Grizzlies and Clippers), Green is an underappreciated 6’9″ modern stretch four who can help teams because he plays with high energy and can defend multiple positions. Last season he averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from three, and added 6.3 rebounds a night. In Memphis his role kept changing, he didn’t complain and just tried to make plays. He could fit on a lot of teams.

7) Jabari Parker

Looking for a player who can just get buckets? Parker is the guy. The former No. 2 pick (who had multiple ACL surgeries) averaged 14.5 points and 6.6 rebounds a game last season, he gets most of his points around the rim, where he is very efficient. He struggles defensively but is a solid scoring role player off the bench.

8) Rajon Rondo

The veteran, high IQ point guard averaged 9.2 points and 8 assists per game last season with the Lakers. While his defense isn’t near what it used to be (particularly on ball), he is still a solid rotation point guard at the NBA level who has championship experience.

9) Delon Wright

A restricted free agent, meaning the Grizzlies can match any offer. A combo guard but one without a three-point shot. Still, in 26 games at the end of last season with Memphis, where the ball was in his hands more, he averaged 12.2 points per game. He’s got good size and can defend well, too. He would fit on a few teams as a backup point guard who can play some at the two as well.

10) Jeremy Lin

Lin earned a ring last season when picked up by the Raptors after he was waived by the Hawks (who were in Trae Young mode). He averaged 9.6 points and 3.1 assists per game overall last season, and while he fell out of the Raptors playoff rotation he is a solid backup point guard who knows how to run a team, can get to the rim, can hit the three enough you have to respect it, and is a better defender now than his reputation. He could provide good point guard depth to a lot of teams.

HONORABLE MENTION: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Avery Bradley, Kenneth Faried, Ivica Zubac. (For some teams guys on this part of the list are much better fits than Wright or Lin).)

James Harden, Rockets again leave Jazz in the dust

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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After turning the ball over late in the fourth quarter, James Harden meandered near halfcourt as the Jazz pushed for a fastbreak layup. But that put him in perfect position to receive a long inbound pass after Utah scored. Harden caught the ball and whipped it ahead Kenneth Faried, who dunked to give Harden a triple-double-clinching assist.

You’ll have to forgive Harden for not hustling back on defense. He did most of his heavy lifting far earlier.

By late in the first quarter, Harden created 28 points (17 scored, 11 assisted) to the Jazz’s 13 total points. The Rockets never looked back.

Houston crushed Utah 118-98 in Game 2 Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead. It seems the Jazz – who lost Game 1 by 32 points and a 4-1 second-round series in this matchup last year – have no answer for the Rockets, particularly Harden.

Harden finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He was a game-high +24.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in red. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in blue. This Houston-Utah series is in silver. This Bucks-Pistons series is in cream.

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Teams that outscored their opponents by at least 50 in the first two games have never lost a best-of-season series. The Rockets, +52, might have built an insurmountable advantage.

Especially the way the Jazz guard Harden. They’re trying to overplay him but wind up just giving him lanes into the paint. The talented guard is picking them apart.

Until Utah solves that, secondary matchups won’t matter. Houston is content winning through its superstar.

Watch James Harden drop 41 points, 11 assists in win over Suns

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 41 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds, and the Houston Rockets outlasted the Phoenix Suns to get a 108-102 win Friday night.

The Rockets had trouble putting away the Suns, who have won just 16 games this season, and trailed for much of the night as they struggled from long-range, making just 11 of 40 3-pointers.

It’s Houston’s franchise-record 10th straight win over the Suns, and the Rockets have won 10 of their last 11 games overall.

They were up by 2 after two free throws by Harden with about four minutes to go. He hit his head on the court after being knocked down on a hard foul by Deandre Ayton about 90 seconds after that, but got up and made two more free throws.

Mikal Bridges missed a 3 for the Suns and Harden added a jumper on the other end to make it 102-96 with about two minutes remaining.

But Devin Booker made the next four points to get Phoenix within two points at 102-100 about a minute later.

Danuel House padded the lead with a 3-pointer after that, but Booker made a jump shot to cut it to 105-102.

A turnover by Harden gave the Suns the ball back. But Josh Jackson missed two free throws with 24.6 seconds left and Harden made one of two free throws with 11.1 seconds remaining to make it 106-102.

Booker missed a 3 and Harden made two more free throws to secure the victory.

Booker had 29 points for the Suns, who lost their second in a row.

Eric Gordon added 19 points and House had 18 for the Rockets on a night Chris Paul sat out to rest.

The Suns led by 2 to start the fourth and had a 3-point lead with about nine minutes left when Gordon made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to put Houston up 92-89. Gordon had missed six of seven 3-point attempts before making those shots.

Phoenix made the next four points, with a 3 from Josh Jackson, to regain the lead before a 3 by Harden put Houston up 95-93 midway through the quarter.

The game was tied at 71 with about five minutes left in the third before Houston used a 5-2 run, capped by a 3 from Harden, to take a 76-73 lead. But Phoenix used a 5-2 spurt after that, highlighted by a soaring dunk from Richaun Holmes, to tie it back up a couple of minutes later.

A 7-2 run by the Suns later in the third put them on top 85-82. Kelly Oubre Jr. had a 3-pointer in that stretch and Holmes scored the other four points.

Kenneth Faried made one of two free throws after that cut the lead to 2 entering the fourth quarter.

 

Three Things to Know: Harden drops 58 in comeback win and it seems almost routine

Associated Press
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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) James Harden drops 58 in comeback win and it seems almost routine. Much like his historic scoring streak — 32 games of 30+ points a night, a streak that just ended in the past week — James Harden had to do it. The Rockets were a below .500 team sitting at 13th in the West when he started the scoring streak, and when it was done the Rockets were a solid playoff team. He carried them to that level.

Thursday night the Rockets were down 21 points in the third quarter to the Miami Heat, and Houston was without key players — Eric Gordon, Kenneth Faried, and Iman Shumpert (plus P.J. Tucker got ejected in the third quarter) — so Harden had to do it. He took over. From the moment the Rockets trailed by 21 Harden scored 29 of his eventual 58 points, and dished out 5 of his 11 assists, to spark the Rockets comeback win, 121-118.

He’s done it so much we’ve become almost numb to nights like this from Harden. That was Harden’s sixth 50+ point game this season (no other player even has two). It feels like video game numbers that we don’t even take seriously. We should. He’s that good.

The other good news for the Rockets in this — they defended pretty well once way down. The Heat shot 57.7 percent overall and hit 11-of-16 threes to get to that 21 point lead, but 41.4 percent the rest of the way, and going 4-of-12 from three. If the Rockets are going to be a threat in the playoffs they to defend like that for 48 minutes.

2) Tobias Harris takes charge, leads 76ers to win — that they need because the Pacers keep winning. On a team that had issues getting its stars to fit in — Joel Embiid wanted to be around the basket more, Jimmy Butler wanted more pick-and-roll — Tobias Harris has been a refreshing change. He went from being the first option with the Clippers to being the third or fourth option with the Sixers without a complaint. Until this week, he hadn’t taken more than 15 shots in a game with Philadelphia. He got his touches in the offense and did what he could to get wins. He played very well but didn’t challenge the system.

Thursday night, Harris scored 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting overall and 5-of-7 from three to get Philadelphia its first win against Oklahoma City since 2008 (a 19-game losing streak, the last time the Sixers beat the Thunder now 76er GM Elton Brand was the starting center).

Butler had 20 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists, and seems to be settling into a role initiating the offense.

Russell Westbrook had a triple-double for the Thunder with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. but he needed 24 shots to get there and was 1-of-9 from three, continuing his outside shooting woes this season. At points in this game Ben Simmons gave Westbrook the full playoff Rondo treatment, sagging 12 feet off of him and daring Westbrook to shoot a jumper (it’s a defensive strategy Simmons is very familiar with). Without MVP candidate Paul George (shoulder issues), Westbrook was dominating the offense like his 2017 MVP season, but he couldn’t do it alone against Philly.

The Sixers needed that win to keep up with the Pacers, who are the three seed in the East and are not fading away with Victor Oladipo out. Bojan Bogdanovic had 37 points, seven rebounds, and four assists to lead Indiana past Minnesota, keeping the Pacers half a game ahead of the Sixers for that three seed. Slumping Boston is the five seed, both the Pacers and Sixers would like to avoid the Celtics in the first round.

3) Jazz put it all together for a night, Donovan Mitchell takes over in win against Nuggets. This season the Jazz defense has looked dominant for stretches — especially with Rudy Gobert on the floor — but when it did the offense sputtered. When the offense has clicked, the defense has looked pedestrian. The Jazz have had precious few complete games and they need to find more of them entering the playoffs.

Ones like the 111-104 win against Denver Thursday. Utah defended well, Joe Ingles stepped up as a playmaker (if you can name the Jazz point guard, they were out injured), and when it mattered Donovan Mitchell just took over.

Gobert did his thing — the dangerous Nuggets offense was slowed in large part because they shot just 46.4 percent within eight feet of the basket thanks to Gobert’s presence. Derrick Favors was on Nikola Jokic for long stretches and defended him well. Joe Ingles was a pick-and-roll wizard.

That’s the kind of Jazz performance that should worry any team that plays them in the postseason. After the Bucks come to Salt Lake City Saturday the schedule gets soft for the Jazz. If they can get on a roll heading into the playoffs, well, we saw last year how dangerous they can be.

Without James Harden, Rockets hold off Warriors 118-112

Associated Press
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Eric Gordon scored 25 points with four 3-pointers, Chris Paul converted two free throws with 1:08 left on the way to 23, and the Houston Rockets outplayed the Golden State Warriors without ill NBA scoring leader James Harden for a 118-112 victory Saturday night.

Stephen Curry‘s 3 with 1:57 to play pulled the Warriors to 114-108 then his two free throws at 1:26 made it a four-point game before Houston came through at the line.

Kevin Durant scored 29 points and Curry added 25 with five 3s, nine rebounds and seven assists as the Warriors had their five-game home winning streak snapped in a matchup of West powers who met in the 2018 Western Conference finals won in seven games by Golden State.

Early in the fourth, Golden State’s Draymond Green exited the game with a sprained left ankle after grabbing at his foot in clear pain from stepping on teammate DeMarcus Cousins‘ foot.

Paul had out 11 of his season-high 17 assists in the first half to reach 9,000 for his career, helping Houston avoid a third straight road loss.

Cousins notched his third straight double-double with 13 points and a season-best 14 rebounds while Klay Thompson scored 20 and had six assists.

Curry’s 3 in the final 30 seconds of the first half and a jumper to beat the buzzer by Andre Iguodala got Golden State to 61-54 at halftime after the two-time defending champions trailed by 20.

While Harden also has a strained neck, coach Mike D’Antoni said the reigning MVP and league scoring leader probably could have played through that.

Harden hurt the neck when he got hit during a practice leading up to Thursday’s road loss to the Lakers and woke up sore the next day.

“He might’ve played even with a sore neck, he had a little touch of the flu. It was a combination of everything,” D’Antoni said.

In the Rockets’ last visit to Oracle Arena, Harden hit a contested 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left in a 135-134 overtime win at on Jan. 3 in which he finished with a triple-double and his fifth straight 40-point game. He was 13 for 32 with 10 3s.

Kenneth Faried started in Harden’s place and delivered 20 points and 10 rebounds. Clint Capela grabbed 15 boards.

The Warriors, who held off Sacramento 125-123 on Thursday night, began 9 for 32 – 3 of 12 on 3s – and didn’t lead for the first time until Curry’s layup at the 9:54 mark of the third. Curry was 5 for 11 from deep.

Much like last time, Golden State’s biggest stars missed key shots when it mattered. The Warriors dug themselves an immediate hole, falling behind 15-0 before consecutive 3s by Thompson and Curry.

They went 14 of 37 on 3s in last month’s matchup with Curry 5 for 15 and Durant 1 of 5.