Associated Press

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

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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.

James Harden scores 35, plays great defense on Kawhi Leonard on final shot, Rockets win

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 35 points for his 22nd straight game with 30 or more and the Houston Rockets never trailed and held off a late charge for a 121-119 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

After averaging 52.2 points over the last five games, capped by a franchise-record 61 in Wednesday’s win over the Knicks, Harden’s torrid scoring pace slowed a bit as all of Houston’s starters scored 10 points or more.

Eric Gordon led that group with 24, Kenneth Faried had 21, P.J. Tucker added 18 and Austin Rivers scored 13. Faried also had a season-high 14 rebounds and blocked two shots in his third game since signing with the Rockets to fill in with Clint Capela recovering from thumb surgery.

Houston led by 11 points after two free throws by Harden with 1:14 remaining before the Raptors made three straight 3-pointers to cut the lead to 121-119 with 27.3 remaining. Gordon missed a 3 to give the Raptors a chance, but Kawhi Leonard‘s 3-point attempt was short because Harden played impressive defense on the play.

It’s the 22nd straight game where Harden has led his team and Houston’s opponent in scoring, which moves him past Michael Jordan for the second-longest streak in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain, who did it in 40 in a row.

Harden’s stretch of 30-point games is the fourth-longest in league history, behind three streaks by Chamberlain of 25, 31 and 65 games. Harden was 15 of 15 on free throws, but struggled from long-range, shooting just 2 of 13 on 3-point attempts. The strong play of Faried gave Harden some much-needed help Friday and The Beard will get another reinforcement Sunday night when Chris Paul is expected to return after missing 17 games with a strained left hamstring.

The Raptors got 32 points from Leonard as they dropped their second straight.

The Rockets held a 7-point lead to start the fourth and pushed it to 10 before the Raptors scored five straight points, capped by a 3 from Norman Powell to get within 99-94 with about nine minutes left.

Houston then used a 9-0 run to extend the lead to 108-94 about three minutes later. Rivers made a 3 late in that span before Tucker capped it by grabbing a steal and finishing with a layup.

Toronto got within 10 after scoring four quick points later in the fourth, but a layup by Harden made it 117-105 with about 90 seconds left.

Houston led by as many as 22 early, but Toronto used a 41-point second quarter to cut the lead to 70-61 at halftime. The Raptors opened the third quarter with a 9-4 run to get within 4, but Houston followed with an 18-4 spurt, with nine points each from Harden, to push it to 92-74 with about four minutes left in the quarter.

The Raptors got back on track after that, scoring the next 10 points, with two 3-pointers from Danny Green, to cut the lead to 92-84 with about a minute left in the third.

 

James Harden should have been counted as being assisted Monday (video)

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To great fanfare, James Harden has scored 57, 58, 48, 37 and 61 points (a total of 261) in his last five games – all without being assisted.

At least according to the box scores.

It sure looks like P.J. Tucker‘s pass to Harden, who sized up the basket without dribbling then made a 3-pointer, in the Rockets’ loss to the 76ers on Monday should have counted as an assist (hat tip: reddit user nmnlp). Scorekeepers have awarded assists for far less. This doesn’t look like even a gray area.

The spirit of Harden’s hot streak remains. He is creating so much for himself.

But we should say Harden has been unassisted on 258 of his 261 points in his last five games. It’d still be darn impressive and – importantly – accurate.

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.

 

Three Things to Know: Boston plays up to level of its competition, earns win over Toronto

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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) Boston plays up to the level of its competition, which is enough to earn big win over Toronto. Speaking on behalf of basketball fans everywhere, after watching the last two meetings between these teams, I would like to order seven more of these games for late May. Please. This is a playoff matchup that has to happen.

Now, about last night…

“What is wrong with the Boston Celtics” has been a favorite parlor game around the NBA this season, and while the “too talented” theory and others exist, Wednesday night’s performance and win at home against the Toronto Raptors shed light on maybe the real issue:

These Celtics play to the level of their competition. That gets them in trouble against lesser teams, but when the big guns come to town Boston shows up.

One week ago, the Celtics dismantled a strong Indiana team by 27 points. Boston then turned around and lost to Miami, Orlando, and Brooklyn (the Heat and Nets are .500 teams, the Magic are trying to find their way into the playoffs).

Boston came out Wednesday night like none of those losses happened and played one of its best games of the season to beat Toronto, the team with the best record in the NBA. It was a huge effort led by Kyrie Irving, who had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists, and he outplayed Kawhi Leonard down the stretch of the game (the Kyrie vs. Kawhi duel is what the game became at the end). Irving hit all the big shots.

The Celtics have won 2-of-3 against the Raptors and now are 6-3 overall against Toronto, Milwaukee, Indiana, and Philadelphia this season. When the Celtics need to raise their game up, they can, they just don’t do it nightly. After the game, to a man, the Celtics said they need to play like this in their upcoming games (struggling Memphis, then at Atlanta, Miami, and Cleveland).

“We have to play all those teams that aren’t the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philly 76ers, we have to play those teams like they are,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “That only helps us, keeps us in a rhythm, a great rhythm and it holds us accountable for doing the right things.”

Irving took the blame for some of that, admitting he had to call LeBron to apologize and talk leadership.

“It just comes with our maturity as a team,” Irving said. “I did a poor job of setting an example for these young guys of what it’s like to get something out of your teammates. You go and say something publicly and it ends up being received in so many different ways. You never know how fragile or what guys are going through if you say things like that. You’re expecting results but at the same time I should have kept it in-house. Going forward, I want … to get the best out of them but I won’t do it publicly like that.”

Was this win a turning point for Boston? It felt like it, not just in the fact that the had to fight back from behind twice in the game and showed real grit and will, but those postgame comments are a positive. Boston may be learning its lessons and growing into a contender.

Only time will tell. With some soft games on the schedule coming up, we may quickly see if Boston is learning its lessons.

2) Stephen Curry explodes for 23 points in third, Warriors storm back then hold off Pelicans for the win. For the second night in a row, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors put on a basketball fireworks show.

Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were playing maybe their best game of the season and were up 16 on Golden State at Oracle Arena, then Curry went on the kind of run they will show in his Hall of Fame career retrospective video — 23 points on 7 threes in the third.

Curry finished with 41 points on 22 shots, hitting 9-of-17 from beyond the arc. Kevin Durant had 30 points, maybe scariest of all for coaches who have to game plan against the Warriors Draymond Green shot 4-of-7 from three on his way to 17 points (sagging off Green at the arc has been a thing this season, and for a while now).

The Warriors got the win 147-140 in a game with the most threes made in any game in NBA history (43).

It wasn’t a defensive masterpiece by anyone, but the game had amazing shot making all night long.

It was the second night in a row the Warriors looked like the Warriors, and why they are back as the No. 1 seed in the West.

All of that overshadowed a 30 point, 18 rebound game from Anthony Davis, who reminded everyone why he should be in the MVP conversation even if the Pelicans are three games below .500.

3) James Harden scores 58 but the Rockets still lose to Brooklyn in OT. We could be seeing variations of that headline a lot in the next month — James Harden continues to play at an MVP level, but it’s hard to underestimate just how much Houston is going to miss Clint Capela this season, both on defense and in the overall scheme of how they play. (Capela is out 4-6 weeks with ligament damage in the thumb of his right hand.)

Harden was spectacular again on Wednesday, scoring 58 points.

But the loss of Capela was glaring, and Danuel House Jr. being back in the G-League — because the sides couldn’t agree on how to convert his two-way contract — was a more painful loss than expected.

Also, the Nets just do not quit .

After a P.J. Tucker three, Brooklyn was down eight with 1:02 left in the game. But them Sixth Man of the Year Spencer Dinwiddie drained a key three. Then one more. Then a third — this one to send the game to OT. That’s where the Nets got the win.

Brooklyn is a .500 team with this win — an amazing season considering the roster, the expectations, and the fact this team lost Caris LeVert (their best scorer) for much of the season due to an ankle injury. They are building something in Brooklyn that in a few years could be very special.