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James Harden, Rockets rout Jazz 122-90 in Game 1

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HOUSTON — James Harden had 29 points and 10 assists to help the Houston Rockets rout the Utah Jazz 122-90 on Sunday night in Game 1 of a best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

The Rockets had a double-digit lead for most of the game, but the Jazz got within five points midway through the third quarter before Houston used a big run to pull away and sail to the victory.

It’s the second consecutive year these teams have met in the postseason after the Rockets eliminated Utah in five games in the second round last season.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.

Houston was up by 15 in the fourth quarter before Harden, who had eight rebounds, scored six points in a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 108-86 with four minutes left and both teams cleared their benches about a minute after that.

Houston’s starting lineup helped carry the scoring load on Sunday night, with each starter scoring at least 10 points. Eric Gordon had 17, Clint Capela scored 16, Chris Paul added 14 and P.J. Tucker had 11.

Rudy Gobert had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jazz after not scoring more than 15 points in a game in the playoff series against the Rockets last season. Donovan Mitchell had 19 points, but did not have an assist as the Jazz went long stretches without scoring.

Ricky Rubio started after missing four of the last five games of the regular season with a quadriceps injury. Rubio, who finished with 15 points, didn’t play against Houston in the playoffs last season after injuring his hamstring in a first-round series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Houston had a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter and an 8-0 spurt, with two 3-pointers from Danuel House, extended it to 95-75 with nine minutes remaining.

The Rockets led by 17 when Harden re-entered the game about a minute later. Soon after he returned he found House behind the 3-point line in the corner and drove to the basket and finished with a one-handed slam.

The Rockets were up by 15 at halftime, but Utah opened the second half with a 10-3 run, with six points from Gobert, to cut it to 62-54 with nine minutes left in the third.

The Jazz got within five with a shot from Mitchell later in the third, before the Rockets scored next 10 points, with a 3 from Gordon and a three-point play from Harden, to make it 76-61 with about four minutes left in the quarter.

Mitchell ended a Utah scoring drought of about 4 1/2 minutes after that with a 3-pointer, but Harden hit a 3 seconds later to leave the Rockets up 79-64.

Utah cut into the lead a bit after that and trailed 83-71 after three.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Derrick Favors had 13 points. … Utah went 7 for 27 on 3s. … The Jazz had 18 turnovers. … Jae Crowder scored nine points off the bench.

Rockets: Coach Mike D’Antoni was back on the sideline after missing Houston’s last three regular-season games with an intestinal virus. … Hall of Famer and former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon watched the game from a courtside seat. … Houston made 15 3-pointers, led by four from Harden.

UP NEXT

After Game 2 on Wednesday the series moves to Utah for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on April 22.

Warriors, without Kevin Durant, snap Rockets’ nine-game win streak

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HOUSTON (AP) — Klay Thompson scored 30 points, DeMarcus Cousins had a season-high 27 and the Golden State Warriors snapped Houston’s nine-game winning streak Wednesday night with a 106-104 victory over the Rockets.

Playing without injured star Kevin Durant, the Warriors bounced back after a loss to Phoenix on Sunday and avoided being swept by Houston after the Rockets won the first three meetings this season.

Golden State, which had lost six of 10 overall, is 4 1/2 games ahead of Houston atop the Western Conference standings. The Rockets are tied with Oklahoma City for third place behind Denver.

After trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter, a three-point play by Chris Paul got Houston within one with 10.8 seconds left. Stephen Curry made two free throws with eight seconds remaining to make it 106-103, and James Harden hit one of two from the line at the other end with 6.4 seconds to go. The miss on the second one bounced high off the rim and was rebounded by Andre Iguodala, securing Golden State’s victory.

Harden had 29 points and 10 assists for the Rockets, but shot just 2 of 12 on 3-pointers. Paul finished with 24 points.

Curry added 24 points for Golden State. Durant missed the game with a sprained right ankle.

The Warriors were up by 13 after a reverse layup by Cousins with about 5 1/2 minutes left before Houston used a 7-2 run, with a 3-pointer from Eric Gordon, to get to 102-94.

Thompson added a basket for the Warriors before the Rockets used a 6-0 spurt to cut the lead to 104-100 with 47.7 seconds left.

Thompson made five 3s to give him 203 this season. He joined Curry as the only players in NBA history to have seven straight seasons with 200 3-pointers.

Golden State had a seven-point lead to start the fourth and scored the first seven points of the period, highlighted by a 3 from Thompson, to push the lead to 92-78.

The Warriors were up by 12 in the first half but Houston cut it to 54-52 by halftime. A 3-pointer by Gordon gave the Rockets their first lead early in the third quarter and one by P.J. Tucker seconds later made it 60-56.

The game was tied later in the quarter after a three-point play by Paul before the Warriors used a 9-2 surge to take a 76-69 lead with about five minutes left in the third. Curry had five points in that stretch.

Golden State was up by nine soon after that, before the Rockets got two 3-pointers from Gerald Green to power an 8-2 run that cut the lead to 81-78 with two minutes left in the quarter.

But the Warriors scored the last four points of the period to extend the lead to 85-78 entering the fourth.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Curry needs six points to become the fifth player in franchise history to reach 16,000 points. He made just three 3-pointers, ending a streak of 12 straight games with at least four – which was second in NBA history behind a 13-game streak by Harden this season. … Cousins added eight rebounds and a season-best seven assists.

Rockets: Gordon finished with 17 points. … Houston converted the two-way contract of Danuel House into a standard NBA contract. … Clint Capela had 13 points and 13 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Visit Oklahoma City on Saturday night as they continue a four-game road trip.

Rockets: Host the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.

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.

James Harden scores 28 against Hawks, 30-point streak ends

Associated Press
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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden isn’t exactly lamenting the end of his impressive scoring run.

Harden had 28 points, snapping his 32-game streak with at least 30 while the Houston Rockets beat the Atlanta Hawks 119-111 on Monday night.

He’s glad it’s over, too – especially since he had no expectation of matching Wilt Chamberlain’s 65-game streak, the longest in NBA history. Harden’s stretch with 30 or more points ranks second.

“Yeah I am. It was cool but I knew I wasn’t going to get to No. 1,” Harden said before walking away chuckling.

Houston overcame a scoring outburst from Hawks rookie Trae Young, who set career highs with eight 3-pointers and 36 points.

Harden returned after missing Saturday’s win over Golden State with a neck injury and missed all 10 3-pointers he attempted.

“This was the first time I was able to move it since a few days,” he said. “So it kind of felt good to go out there and just move it and run around. I hadn’t really done any movement or working out. I’ve been in bed really.”

He got to 28 points with 23.3 seconds left and had the ball on Houston’s last possession but did not attempt a shot from half court with the game in hand. When asked if the injury affected his shot he said: “I don’t care. Made shots, missed shots, we won the game.”

Harden last came up short of 30 points in a Dec. 11 win over Portland, when he had 29. During the streak, he scored 50 or more points four times, including a career-high 61 in a win at the Knicks on Jan. 23.

“Eventually it was going to have to end one of these days,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s unbelievable. He’ll start another one.”

Chris Paul added 20 points, and Eric Gordon hit four 3-pointers for 16 points.

The Hawks cut the lead to five on a basket by John Collins with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining. Harden missed his 10th 3-pointer seconds after that, but Harden was fouled on a 3-pointer on the next possession and made all of the free throws to make it 115-107.

Atlanta scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, with five points including a long 3-pointer from Young, to cut the lead to one. P.J. Tucker got the Rockets going again when he made a 3-pointer to make it 98-94 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining.

Young’s hot shooting continued after that when he made his seventh 3 to cut the lead to one again.

Harden made four quick points later in the quarter, but Young was at it again after that, sinking his eighth 3-pointer to cut the lead to 107-102 with about five minutes left.

Young said he couldn’t appreciate his big night since the Hawks came up short.

“For me, I’ve grown up with a dad who raised me that winning is the only thing that matters,” he said. “So for me, of course you want to play well, of course you want to do well in the game and help your team, but at the end of the day I don’t feel good about it.”

Vince Carter got the Hawks within one with a 3-pointer later in the third quarter before Houston scored five quick points, capped by a basket from Harden to make it 82-76 with about four minutes left in the third.

Alex Len added a 3 for Atlanta after that but the Rockets padded the lead to 90-79 with an 8-0 run.

The Hawks got within seven late in the third, but Paul made a shot while being foul and completed the 3-point play to leave Houston up 95-85 entering the fourth.

 

Luka Doncic shows James Harden his sweet stepback, gets ankles broken by P.J. Tucker

Associated Press
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Luka Doncic might have the second-best stepback jumper in the NBA. Already. As a rookie.

Monday night he decided to show it off to the guy with the best stepback, James Harden. And The Beard had to be impressed.

As impressive as Doncic has been, he is still an NBA rookie. Who will have his “welcome to the NBA” moments.

He had one of those Monday night as well, courtesy Houston’s P.J. Tucker.

Nobody knows what Doncic’s ceiling is, but remember what we see now is his floor. This is his rookie year, he’s going to improve.