This Date in NBA History: James Harden goes off for then career-high 51 vs. Kings (VIDEO)

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The 2014-15 season is one of several years where James Harden feels he should have been MVP but was robbed by voters. It’s become almost an annual tradition.

Stephen Curry won the award that year — he was bombing threes on his way to 23.8 points and 7.7 assists a game, leading the 67-win Warriors to an NBA title — but Harden put up raw numbers that were right there, 27.4 points and seven assists a game.

Harden made his case for the award on Feb. 1, 2015, with a 51-point outburst against Sacramento that was, at the time, his highest-scoring game ever. He shot 16-of-25 from the field overall, a ridiculous 8-of-9 from three, and he got to the line 13 times. Sacramento had no answer.

Harden has scored more points since — he’s had 60+ point games each of the last three seasons — but this was his first 50+ point game, and to this day remains one of his signature games.

Alex Len didn’t get Hawks trading him for Dewayne Dedmon

Dewayne Dedmon
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
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Dewayne Dedmon blossomed into a solid starting center the previous couple years with the Hawks. He defended well, rebounded hard and even shot 3-pointers efficiently.

The Kings signed him last summer to a three-year $40 million contract with $1 million of $13,333,333 guaranteed in third season.

Atlanta settled for Alex Len on a one-year, $4.16 million deal.

But just before the deadline, the Hawks dealt Len to Sacramento for Dedmon.

Len, via Chris Kirschner of The Athletic:

“They didn’t want to pay him in the first place, so it didn’t make sense to me,” Len said. “If they wanted him, they could have just paid him. So they get him as a backup now and end up paying him anyway.

Players rarely talk about each other this way. It’s jarring. But I appreciate Len’s candor. In a league where so many players spew platitudes, it’s nice to hear how someone really feels.

Despite Len’s confusion, the trade was about far more than the Hawks reacquiring Dedmon. They got two second-rounders from Sacramento. They also unloaded Jabari Parker, who probably won’t be worth his $6.5 million player option next season.

And yes, they got Dedmon. In Dedmon, they got a player whom they know fits their system – and performed better in it than Len did (though Len is a few years younger than Dedmon). Atlanta can reasonably hope Dedmon’s struggles this season were due, at least in part, to a poor fit with the Kings.

So, it’s not as if the Hawks suddenly had second thoughts on letting Dedmon walk for that price. This was not the same as re-signing him. They got picks and unloaded a burdensome contract in the process of getting Dedmon. That appears to be what Len is missing.

Report: Pelicans refused to play Kings in last scheduled game before NBA’s coronavirus hiatus

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When the NBA suspended its season the night of March 11, the hiatus was planned to begin the next day. After all, most of the March 11 games outside Oklahoma City – where Rudy Gobert‘s coronavirus diagnosis led to cancellation of Jazz-Thunder and sent the league scrambling into action – were near completion.

Only one game that night had yet to tip off – Pelicans at Kings.

Referee Courtney Kirkland, who was scheduled to work that New Orleans-Sacramento game, had just officiated Gobert in the Jazz’s loss to the Raptors two days prior.

The Kings reportedly still wanted to play. The league was at least initially on board.

Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports:

There were only about 20 minutes remaining until tipoff, according to those present. Upon learning of Kirkland’s exposure to an infected player, Pelicans staffers walked to the visitor’s locker room and informed the players. One player wondered aloud, according to sources, “What’s the point of even playing this game?” It was decided as a team that they wouldn’t participate in the game, according to sources. Remain in the locker room, team officials instructed.

That’s part of a fuller look into what happened in Sacrament that night. I suggest reading it.

The game was eventually canceled – probably because the Pelicans forced the league’s hand. Kirkland tested negative for coronavirus.

But a big question remains: How did the NBA – which boasts about being on top of this crisis – nearly let this game happen?

Though it’s worth exploring the details and thought processes, it’s easy to guess at the underlying $ource of motivation.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Suns, Kings

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division and the Central Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Pacific:

Golden State Warriors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: The Warriors have their core together with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Ky Bowman, Marquese Chriss, Damion Lee and Eric Paschall provide value on minimum contracts. That’s all the Warriors need to protect.

Golden State wouldn’t mind seeing Kevon Looney or Jordan Poole selected to get the salaries off the cap sheet. The rest of the players are ones the Warriors won’t lose any sleep over if they’re drafted.

L.A. Clippers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: L.A. has its main guys with four starters under contract. They aren’t being exposed here. The other three players are key bench contributors on good contracts. And Kabengele and Mann were just drafted. Easy decisions across the board for the Clippers.

L.A. could lose Green as a free agent. The Clippers also bet he does undrafted and could return. Rodney McGruder makes too much money for his role.

Los Angeles Lakers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: The Lakers and Anthony Davis will work out that he’ll opt out before the expansion draft, which makes him ineligible. The rest of the players are role players that Los Angeles would rather keep around LeBron James than risk losing.

Los Angeles won’t be upset to see Quinn Cook or Rajon Rondo selected. They’re both replacement-level players for the Lakers at this point.

Phoenix Suns

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Phoenix keeps it simple and protects all the guys who are part of its core. The Suns could have left Dario Saric unprotected, but by protecting Saric, they keep the flexibility to re-sign him as a restricted free agent. The rest are all easy decisions.

Of the unprotected players, none of have established themselves as NBA rotation players. If any are selected, Phoenix won’t lose any sleep over it.

Sacramento Kings

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Kings will protect their five starters and three key reserves. Cory Joseph is a decision-point, but considering De’Aaron Fox’s injury issues, Joseph is too valuable to let walk away.

Sacramento won’t mind if Jabari Parker is selected, but they aren’t going to pay anyone to do it. Justin James has been an interesting prospect, but the Kings won’t stress if he gets selected.

Report: NBA official Courtney Kirkland tests negative for coronavirus

NBA cancels games due to coronavirus
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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NBA official Courtney Kirkland has tested negative for coronavirus, according to a report from ESPN.

Kirkland was at the center of the swirl around the NBA’s COVID-19 precautions on Wednesday night. Kirkland worked the Jazz-Raptors game on Monday night. That game featured Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, who have both tested positive for coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Kirkland was scheduled to work the Kings-Pelicans game in Sacramento. That game was postponed moments before tip-off.

Kirkland has been in Sacramento since, but is now cleared to leave and return home. Kirkland had self-isolated since taking the test on Thursday.