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.

 

Lakers’ Lonzo Ball carried off court with sprained ankle

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Saturday night the Lakers, already without LeBron James as he recovers from a groin strain, lost their next best playmaker to an ankle injury.

Lonzo Ball had to be carried off the court after spraining his ankle in the third quarter when he collided with and apparently accidentally stepped on the foot of James Ennis. Ball went to the ground grabbing his ankle the second it happened.

Because the X-ray machine inside the Toyota Center was malfunctioning, Ball was taken to a local hospital for further examination. At least the news there was good for Los Angeles.

There is no timeline yet on Ball’s return, but he’s going to miss a little time.

The Lakers, without Ball or coach Luke Walton (who was ejected), lost to the Rockets in overtime, behind James Harden‘s 48.

The Lakers host the red-hot Warriors on Monday night without Ball, LeBron, or Rajon Rondo.

Three Things to Know: Lakers’ ‘kids’ exploit struggling Thunder defense, pull off upset

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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) The kids are alright. Young Lakers exploit struggling Thunder defense to pull off overtime upset. Up until a few days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had the best defense in the NBA this season (and they are still currently second). Paul George has looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, fighting over picks on the perimeter and being disruptive, while Stephen Adams has owned the paint.

However, the Thunder have hit a slump, losing 5-of-6, and in those six the Thunder have allowed 119.8 points per 100 possessions — 16 more per 100 than they did most of the season.

The maligned Laker “kids” — still playing without LeBron James — exploited that defense. The Lakers moved the ball (37 assists on 50 made buckets) and hit 19-of-40 from three.

Kyle Kuzma had 32 points, Lonzo Ball had five of his 18 points in overtime (plus he had 10 assists on the night), and Ivica Zubac owned the paint, coming off the bench to score a career-high 26 points and 12 rebounds.

The Lakers should have won the game in regulation, but the officials blew a call. The Lakers were up 122-119 with 2.9 seconds left but the Thunder had one last chance. Luke Walton gave the instructions to foul before a shot, but Russell Westbrook drove past Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ball switched on to him. Ball fouled before Westbrook started his shooting motion, but the referees whistled it as in the act and awarded him three free throws (which Westbrook hit to force OT).

However, upon review, it was clear Westbrook was not in a shooting motion when Ball fouled him, and the officials owned up to that after the game.

After the game, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said the problem with the Thunder defense in this slump is they are not defending out to the three-point line.

The Thunder are allowing just two more threes per game in this slump (and one more per 100 possessions), but teams are hitting them at a higher rate — 34.9 percent for the season but 43.1 percent in the last six. Some of that is just bad luck for OKC (the Lakers are not that good a three-point shooting team but the shots fell for them Thursday), and some of it is not contesting those shots as well.

Don’t worry about the Thunder long term, they will get their defense turned around. Mid-season slumps happen. But they have slid back into the big group in the middle of the Western Conference and it’s going to be a battle for seeding the rest of the way.

2) With the game on the line, Raptors turn to Pascal Siakam, who drives and hits game-winner for Toronto. Kawhi Leonard sat this one out, but Kyle Lowry — a likely All-Star in the East — was on the floor. So with the game tied against Phoenix in the final seconds, who did Toronto turn to for the game-winner?

Pascal Siakam, of course. On a clear-out.

And he nailed it.

Siakam was destroying the Suns in the first half and was the Raptors best player on the night. He has made huge strides this season and is in the mix for Most Improved Player this season. Shots like that help his cause.

3) Wizards beat Knicks in London on a game-winning goaltending call. The NBA went to London Thursday — distracting a troubled nation from the Brexit disaster by giving them the Wizards vs. the Knicks…. sorry about that — and Londoners got to see the most unusual ending to an NBA game this season.

New York led 100-99 (thanks to a Noah Vonleh hook shot) but Oklahoma City had one last shot, and everyone in the building knew Bradley Beal would get the rock. Scott Brooks drew up a play that had Beal starting in the backcourt and sprinting into the frontcourt to get the inbound pass, and he did but the defense rotated to Beal, so he passed to Thomas Bryant rolling down the lane wide open. Bryant put up the finger roll and…

The officials got that right, it was a goaltend by Allonzo Trier — the ball is just starting its downward trajectory, and it may have been over the cylinder. Give the Wizards the win.

Washington has won 3-of-4 and are 6-4 since John Wall was sidelined with his foot injury, and the team is now just two games out of the playoffs in the East. Owner Ted Leonsis said in London the team will not tank, so maybe the rumored trades around the Wizards don’t happen as they make a push for the postseason.

LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo pulling ahead as captains for All-Star draft, which will be televised Feb. 7

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After last year’s debacle, the NBA will televise the All-Star draft. Now, we have a firm date: 7 p.m. Eastern Feb. 7 on TNT.

Don’t expect it to be live. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in line to be captains, and LeBron’s Lakers play the Celtics at 8 p.m. that night. I doubt LeBron will interrupt his pre-game routine for this. He and Antetokounmpo will likely record the draft earlier in the day.

The full fan-voting leaderboards:

Western Conference

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 3,770,807

2. Luka Doncic (DAL) 3,301,825

3. Paul George (OKC) 2,583,342

4. Kevin Durant (GSW) 2,432,134

5. Anthony Davis (NOP) 2,091,770

6. Steven Adams (OKC) 1,483,223

7. Nikola Jokić (DEN) 1,128,766

8. Kyle Kuzma (LAL) 899,237

9. Draymond Green (GSW) 660,276

10. DeMarcus Cousins (GSW) 450,480

Guards

1. Stephen Curry (GSW) 2,979,080

2. Derrick Rose (MIN) 2,712,938

3. James Harden (HOU) 2,315,093

4. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 2,090,432

5. Klay Thompson (GSW) 1,120,675

6. Damian Lillard (POR) 851,125

7. DeMar DeRozan (SAS) 850,415

8. Lonzo Ball (LAL) 764,892

9. Chris Paul (HOU) 419,410

10. Devin Booker (PHO) 405,432

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 3,626,909

2. Kawhi Leonard (TOR) 2,882,227

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 2,292,511

4. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 826,177

5. Jimmy Butler (PHI) 740,778

6. Blake Griffin (DET) 677,472

7. Vince Carter (ATL) 423,795

8. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 338,716

9. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 336,476

10. Al Horford (BOS) 291,722

Guards

1. Kyrie Irving (BOS) 3,187,015

2. Dwyane Wade (MIA) 1,738,043

3. Kemba Walker (CHA) 1,156,040

4. Ben Simmons (PHI) 941,368

5. Victor Oladipo (IND) 778,983

6. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 708,071

7. Zach LaVine (CHI) 440,568

8. Jeremy Lin (ATL) 341,024

9. Goran Dragic (MIA) 335,899

10. Bradley Beal (WAS) 251,170

The standings are taking shape. Not much movement from the previous returns.

The most significant race is between Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis in the Western Conference frontcourt.

LeBron is a lock to start. Luka Doncic probably won’t get enough support in other categories of the All-Star starter formula – 50% fans, 25% players, 25% media – to start despite ranking second in the fan vote. That leaves two starting spots for George, Durant and Davis.

George leads Durant by just 151,208 votes for third place in fan voting. I’m not sure how players and media will rank the two. George is having a better season. Durant is the better player. It could come down to which of the two squeaks by the other in the fan vote, which carries added importance of being the tiebreaker.

I doubt Davis – who trails Durant by 340,364 votes and George by 491,572 votes – will rise in the fan-vote rankings. He’ll have to make up ground with players and media. Which he could do.

At least George, Durant and Davis are all shoe-ins to make the All-Star game. In the long run, we won’t really care who started and who came off the bench.

Luke Walton says he talks regularly with Magic Johnson: ‘It’s been good’

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Back on Oct. 30, Magic Johnson chewed out Luke Walton for the Lakers’ 2-5 start.

Magic is a little like that boss we’ve all had who is around a handful of days a month but swoops in like he knows everything and offers edicts. Still, the rebuke reverberated. Magic and GM Rob Pelinka did not hire Walton, he’s not their guy, and the buzz around the league for a while has been that the front office would replace Walton with someone a little more old-school/hard-a** if they could (but owner Jeanie Buss stands in the way).

Walton pushed back on that idea in an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“It’s been good,” he said of the relationship with Magic. “Honestly, it has. …Anytime I call him, he calls back within an hour or two, and we talk hoops. He wants to win, and I want to win. So as far as that (goes), we’re all trying to do the same thing, and I don’t feel like he’s trying to move me out of there.

“We definitely talked about (the Oct. 30 meeting). Me and him, one on one. We one hundred percent have moved forward from it. I don’t think it has changed anything. We still – it’s still the ultimate goal, and there’s time when I’ll call him or go sit in his office and pick his brain on what he’s seeing and what kind of suggestions he might have. But there’s no – what’s the word – discomfort. I don’t walk in there, and it’s like ‘F***, I’ve got to go talk to Magic.’ Like, I have no problem going in and sitting down with him and talking about what’s going on without thinking about that at all.”

Walton has the young Lakers defending well — eighth in the NBA on the season, fourth since LeBron James went down. The offense has been an issue without LeBron, but is that on Walton or the fact Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are not stepping up consistently?

Walton has done a good job as the Laker coach.

Which leads to the real question for anyone who wants Walton out: Who are you getting that’s better? There are maybe five coaches around the NBA who are difference makers, who can get a team wins just by their system and presence. The Lakers aren’t going to be able to hire Gregg Popovich or Rick Carlise or any of the others, and if they are not getting one of those handful of elite guys — who all already have jobs — then they are getting another guy who is good but goes as his talent goes. Which is Walton. Which again leads to the “why are you doing this?” question. It’s like Sacramento firing Mike Malone while DeMarcus Cousins was out and blaming the losing streak. (How is Malone doing in Denver, by the way?)

Of course, the real test for if Walton is back next season: What does LeBron think of him?

If you can answer that, then you know the future.