Posts Tagged ‘James Harden’

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEO: The Starters reveal their early All-Star starter picks

> You’ll get a chance to you change your mind in about three weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The guys I think earned it in the West are names who might actually get enough votes in the real balloting: Stephen Curry and James Harden in the backcourt, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Out East, I’m not sure my five all would prevail in the popularity contest but on merit, they should go: John Wall and Kyle Lowry at guard, with LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kyle Korver up front. Korver, you ask? He’s having a season to make analytics fans swoon, someone from Atlanta deserves a spot and I like the idea of two Kyles in a five-man lineup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comEast: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol. West: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol. Durability counts, that’s why Dwyane Wade loses out to Irving and DeMarcus Cousins to Marc Gasol.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comEast: LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (forwards), Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (guards). West: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins (forwards), Stephen Curry and James Harden (guards). The option to change my mind in three weeks comes in especially handy with Cousins. If he returns strong from the viral meningitis, he holds the spot. If he struggles physically for long, his place becomes more precarious. It gets even worse if the Kings continue to drop in the standings — which dooms Carmelo Anthony on the East front line –or Cousins has a choppy adjustment to the Kings’ coaching change increased emphasis on playing up-tempo. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are waiting.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWest: James Harden, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol. Pretty clear-cut there. They’ve been healthy and productive. East: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Yeah, folks will hold their nose about ‘Melo, but that’s more because of the Knicks. He’s No. 6 in scoring and the East is lacking in star power on the front line.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Going by the positions on the ballot (veiled shot at my colleagues who included Lowry, Wall and Butler) … East guards: Kyle Lowry and John Wall.  East frontcourt: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. West guards: Stephen Curry and James Harden. West frontcourt: Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Tim Duncan. Duncan gets my final spot in the crowded West frontcourt (for now), because he’s more of a two-way player than LaMarcus Aldridge and his minutes are over 30 per game this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based only on performance, in the East it has to be Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Pau Gasol. In the Western Conference, where a preposterous surplus of candidates for five spots, I’m going with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol. I don’t think I’ll need that mulligan in three weeks either, even with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coming on the way they are for Oklahoma City and Kobe Bryant playing the way he has all season. I want to reserve my injury replacement spot for Klay Thompson, too. He’s been that good this season and the Warriors are rocking. He belongs in New York for the festivities.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, I’ve got LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt, with Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. In the West, it’s Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis up front, with James Harden and Stephen Curry in the backcourt.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogEast: John Wall, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh. If I could put Kobe at the 3, I would, because I think he deserves to make the starting five. But there are literally only two players in the West that I’d rate ahead of him, and they are both guards. Sorry, Mamba. West: Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

One Stat, One Play: Ariza from the corner


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Ariza from the corner

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Three-point attempts have been trending up for a while now. But the Houston Rockets have taken things to a new level this season.

Houston has attempted 42.2 percent of its shots from 3-point range, the highest rate in NBA history by a wide margin.

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Both Trevor Ariza and James Harden rank in the top six in 3-point attempts. Ariza ranks second in the league in corner 3s…

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Though he’s not shooting them as well as he did last season, when he led the league…

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He has shot them well from the left corner…

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Though three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard has missed 11 of their 21 games, the Rockets’ defense (ranked No. 2 through Wednesday) is more responsible for their 16-5 record than their offense. But their 3-point shooting makes them always tough to guard. And when Howard returns, their offense should climb from 20th in the league toward the top 10.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” featuring a fun play that results in one of Ariza’s 3s from the left corner.

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With Howard hoping to return for Saturday’s game against the Nuggets, we may be seeing more of that play soon. In the meantime, you can watch a compilation of it here.

Houston visits the Sacramento Kings in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 7




VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors keep streaking | Two in a row for Philly | Rockets blast Suns

No. 1: Draymond Green-lights 12th straight — It takes a lot more than a one-trick pony to win 17 times in 19 games and it’s becoming more apparent with every passing day that the Warriors are far more than just the Splash Brothers. It was Draymond Green who stepped into the spotlight and led the way in Chicago as Golden State set a franchise record with a 12th consecutive win. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has the details:

“He was OK,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I know it was his career high and his numbers were incredible, but that is kind of who he is.
“He’s just a winner.”
With All-Star point guards Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose never really getting it going and up-and-coming shooting guards Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler producing stat lines similar to each other, Green helped the Warriors snap a five-game losing streak in Chicago.
The game was tied four times and the lead changed hands 10 times in the final 19 minutes, but the Warriors never trailed after a six-point spurt by Marreese Speights put them up 83-82 with 10:59 to play. Green made his sixth three-pointer to cap a decisive 8-2 run that extended the Warriors’ advantage to 95-87 with 6:24 remaining.
Green made more three-pointers than the rest of the team combined (five), had half of the team’s six blocked shots and four of the Warriors’ 14 steals. He added seven rebounds and three assists for good measure to a game in which he shot 11-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-13 from three-point range.
“Oh man, I might lose my job if I do that too often. I don’t know if I can keep doing that,” said Green, who took 13 threes to Thompson’s eight and Curry’s five. “I don’t know if there’s going to many nights when I take as many three-point shots as them, but tonight, the shot was there. I didn’t turn it down too many times, and when I did turn one down, they told me to shoot it.”
His shot helped the Warriors (17-2) clinch a franchise-best seventh consecutive win on the road, equaling a record set in 1969 and tied in 2013-14. The last time the Warriors had an 11-game win streak overall, the Bulls snapped it in January 1972.

***

No. 2: Break up the Sixers — It may have taken them more than a month and a flirtation with NBA infamy to get their first win of the season, but the Sixers didn’t waste any time getting victory No. 2 when they outlasted the struggling Pistons in overtime. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes how the young team is enjoying its sudden taste of success:

“We are on a great little run,” said point guard Michael Carter-Wiliams, who finished with 20 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots and 7 turnovers. “We played OKC tough. We came up a little short. But we wanted to build off that coming into this game.”
The Pistons dropped to 3-17 and lead the Sixers by only one game in the Eastern Conference standings. This was Detroit’s 11th consecutive loss. The Pistons are closing in on the franchise record of 14 straight losses.
The Pistons missed all 11 of their field goal attempts in the extra period. Their lone point came on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s foul shot with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left.
“I was pleased with our defense in that overtime,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose squad also held the Pistons to 18 points in the fourth quarter. “I thought our defense was tough.”
After the teams combined to miss their first nine shots in overtime, Henry Sims’ jumper gave the Sixers a 102-101 lead with 1 minute, 57 seconds left. Then Nerlens Noel’s 5-foot floater made it a 104-101 game with 29.9 seconds left. Carter-Williams and Robert Covington both added a pair of late foul shots in the seven-point win.
“Robert played great,” Carter-Williams said of Covington, who finished with a career-high 25 points off the bench. “I think Luc [Mbah a Moute], who had 14 points and 11 rebounds] made a couple of hustle plays. And Nerlens, Henry, and [Brandon Davies] were in there banging with their bigs and doing the best they can.
“So it was definitely a group effort.”

***

No. 3:Beverley returns in the nick of time — It’s been a tough start to the season for Rockets feisty point guard Pat Beverley as he’s missed 10 of the last 14 games with a nagging hamstring injury. But with Dwight Howard still sidelined and James Harden’s back finally giving out from carrying so much of the load, Beverley returned to make the big plays and shots that carried the Rockets to a fourth straight win and kept them on the heels of Golden State in the Western Conference race. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explains:

Beverley returned after missing the previous six games and 10 of 14 with a strained hamstring. But with the Rockets’ list of injuries growing nightly, they needed him to be back and at his best with the game on the line.
Beverley answered just in time, putting in the 3-pointer that stopped the Phoenix Suns’ charge and grabbing the rebounds that held them off 100-95 on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
“We don’t win that game unless Pat plays,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He made some big 3s and got some huge offensive rebounds.
“We were really struggling. We were running out of gas. James tweaked his back. Francisco (Garcia) is out. We were really running on fumes there.”
Even with Beverley back, the Rockets began the game with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou out, with Papanikolaou spraining his right knee Friday. Garcia left in the first half with a sore right leg.
Harden had carried the Rockets through the weeks of injuries, but when his back tightened Saturday, he struggled to move on the floor, eventually leaving the bench area to try to stretch. He played the final seven minutes in obvious pain, grimacing as he left the floor in the final seconds.
“I had a real tight back,” Harden said. “It was hard for me to even move. It was hard for me to change directions, and it was hard for me to really move and push off. It was a tough night.”
Harden was unconcerned that the back would be an ongoing problem.
The Rockets started fast, building a 22-point lead with Donatas Motiejunas sinking hooks and Jason Terry putting in 3-pointers early. But in the fourth quarter, the Rockets went seven minutes without a field goal as their lead shrank from 16 points to seven.
Finally, with 2:30 remaining, Beverley nailed his fifth 3-pointer of the night, ending the Rockets’ dry spell just in time.
“Patrick brings something we don’t have and that’s a point guard who plays excellent defense, knocks down shots and is a great team player,” Harden said. “Without Pat tonight, we probably would have lost that game. It was great just to have him back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tiago Splitter could finally be back in the Spurs’ lineup Tuesday night at Utah… Brian Shaw says there’s not much daylight between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant…  Are the Gasols the best brother combination in NBA history?…Andre Drummond admits that he made a fast mistake.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Blogtable: The league’s best 2 guards

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16



VIDEO: Isiah Thomas has high praise for Chicago’s Jimmy Butler

> Rank the top three shooting guards in the league … under 35. What’s your reasoning?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: 1. Klay Thompson, 2. James Harden, 3. Jimmy Butler. This is pretty straight-forward for me. Thompson has the reputation and the paycheck as the best two-way shooting guard, with Team USA credibility behind him. Harden is the most dangerous offensively, and the position is called “shooting guard” for a reason. And I’ve seen Butler enough to know that, while his offensive game isn’t as developed as Thompson’s, his brand of defense and toughness can win you a bunch of games. Just missing my cut: Bradley Beal. Scoring chops, mature, guy who does little things, but oh those injuries.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: James Harden, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal. Harden is the most unstoppable backcourt scoring force in the league right now, ranks second in league in points per game. He’s the best at getting to the hoop and drawing fouls and can fill it up on 3s. Also gets a half dozen rebounds and assists per game and this season is also making a solid defensive effort. Thompson’s improved post-up game has him closing the gap, but Harden’s free throws make the difference. Beal just needs a long run of good health to stake his claim with the top two.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s a change at the top of the leader board. While I would have gone with James Harden in the past, I give Klay Thompson the edge now because of defense. Thompson has size, the shooting range, the ability to check multiple positions. And he’s only getting better. I’ll go DeMar DeRozan third.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Harden, Thompson, DeRozan. I just realized how watered-down this position actually is, especially compared to the golden age with Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, etc. None of my candidates are perfect, but Harden is extremely good at the skill that the position demands. So he’s my choice despite his defense. Funny thing, just a few years ago folks were wondering if the Raptors jumped the gun by giving DeRozan that extension.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: 1. James Harden. 2. Klay Thompson. 3. Dwyane Wade. Harden’s efficiency at such a high volume (Kyle Korver is the only shooting guard who’s a more efficient scorer) makes up for his defensive issues. Thompson is a pretty complete player, though he hasn’t had to be the lead guy like the other two. And Wade still gets it done when he’s healthy and when he decides to care on defense. This isn’t an easy question to answer because there are a lot of solid guys and nobody that’s not without his faults. I came close to squeezing Korver, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Joe Johnson, or Wesley Matthews on the list. And give 37-year-old Manu Ginobili any time.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Once a position of extreme depth and power, the move to “hyrbid” point guards who could be classified at either backcourt position clouds these rankings a bit for me. That said, James Harden tops my list. He’s an elite scorer who cannot be contained most nights because he can beat you from deep or by attacking and finishing at the rim and free throw line. Klay Thompson is No. 2 on my list. He plays both ends at an elite level and, in my opinion, is just now coming into his own as a true All-Star caliber player. I know he’s older and a bit broken down at this stage of his career, but on his best night Dwyane Wade still makes my top 3 at shooting guard. He can still do things, albeit on a far more infrequent basis, that only a select few at the position can. Wade’s ability to post up on offense and play both ends at the highest level keeps him holding on, so to speak.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: So far Jimmy Butler is having the best year, just in front of James Harden and Klay Thompson. Butler impacts the game at both ends, and his offensive versatility has been tremendous. Harden and Thompson (another strong two-way player) have been crucial to their teams’ hot starts. Dwyane Wade and DeMar DeRozan would be challenging (in addition to Monta Ellis) if not for injuries.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: So, what, anyone but Kobe Bryant? Because Kobe is the only 35+ two guard I can think of to whom this question would apply. So with KB out of the picture — and he would probably be in my picture otherwise — I’m looking for players who do more than just score. I want guys who give a hoot on defense and provide leadership, as well, and also have some room to grow. So I’ll go Klay Thompson first, James Harden second, and DeMar DeRozan third, with Bradley Beal right on their heels. But if you want, you can have any of those guys and I’ll still take Kobe, regardless of age.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: Dwyane Wade, because is a very versatile player, a good shooter, rebounder and passer, a leader at last. And already he’s won three championship rings in six Finals. James Harden is the future on this position, because his strength, his shooting abilities and in going powerfully to the rim. He only needs to play better in the clutch games. Monta Ellis has grown as a more complete player in Dallas and is just pure show.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: James Harden, Klay Thompson and Monta Ellis. Harden is my top shooting guard at the moment, he may get some flak because of his defense but the way he controls the game is almost effortless — he can score easily and when he puts his mind into it he can guard positions 1-4. Klay just keeps on improving and he is with the right system, with great teammates that look for him on offense. While on defense he is tasked to defend the best guard in the opposing them on a nightly basis. Monta is the most underrated shooting guard in the league. if you watch the Mavs you will see that he is their primary option on offense and he also has underrated defense.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: Number 1’s gotta be James Harden – knock him for his defensive inability or over-reliance on the free-throw line all you want, but Harden’s ability to create offense for himself and his teammates is currently above far and beyond all other comers at his position. I’d give Klay Thompson second place in the list for scoring nearly 21 points per game and also developing into an elite perimeter defender on the opposite end. Number 3 is a tricky choice – if we were in the playoffs, I would’ve probably chosen Dwyane Wade, but the Heat SG’s inconsistencies knock him down a spot for me. I’d say the third-best shooting guard in the league is DeMar DeRozan. Although he’s currently hurt, DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer and has helped them to early success this season.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com/Mexico: 1. Stephen Curry is averaging 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game, plus an impressive 41.3 percent on three-pointers, so in my opinion, he’s the best in the league. Let’s not forget that he’s also a great defender and he’s undoubtedly the Warriors’ leader.  It’s a delight to watch him play – spectacular passes, dribbles and stunning high-level layups. 2. Russell Westbrook with 24 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6 assists per game plus a percentage of 57.1 in three-pointers is an awesome weapon for the Thunder. What leaves me with doubts, even though his return was “wild,” was his aggressiveness when attacking the rim and defensively, the questions that we’d asked about him during his first seasons in the league. 3. James Harden‘s simply an offensive show, just look at his stats: 25.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game – a confirmation of a great offensive talent that has the most famous “Beard” in the NBA.  However, his lack of commitment to become a better defender and his occasional lapses in the clutch forces me to put him in third place.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: How old is Kobe, after he fell into the fountain of youth? 28? I’m joking, but I’m really impressed by his performance so far at his age. I’ve expected a good comeback from him, but so good? Okay, let’s talk about the young fellas. I’m not a big fan of James Harden because of his defense, but his season is offensively so dominant, that you can’t choose someone else as the best shooting guard in the league so far. Behind Harden I have to pick Jimmy Butler. His improvement in the offense this season is so huge. Maybe he’s the upcoming franchise player of the Bulls. For third, I choose Klay Thompson. His game is not as variable as the ones of Butler and Harden, but if he catches fire no one can stop him.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: James Harden, Klay Thompson, Dwyane Wade. From No. 1 to No. 3. I think that there is no need to argue about Harden. His 25.2 points per game speak for themselves. Thompson is one the best pure shooters in the NBA and the best under 30 years-old. Wade,  on the other hand, still has got game. He scores 20.5 per game, dishes 5.6 assist and makes a trick or two to finish at the rim despite the nickname “Flash” starts to fade out as he slowly creeps toward 35 years old.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: Right now it’s James Harden, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler for me. Harden is an MVP-caliber player, a guy who can win games by himself. Devastating from distance, his Euro-steps are a trademark; he’s also trying to play more with his teammates. Thompson is more than just Steph Curry’s sidekick: he’s a star in the making, great on defense, awesome on offense. Butler is the new face of this season, an early candidate for the Most Improved Player award. He’s one of the best 2-way players in the league after he transformed himself into a reliable offensive weapon during the offseason.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: Klay Thompson, Wesley Matthews and James Harden. My reasoning for Thompson and Matthews is pretty simple: they’re two of the best two-way guards we have in the league. Both guys can lock down opponents and influence things on defense and have become so important to their team’s overall success. From an offensive standpoint, these guys can hurt you in a number of different ways, but mainly due to their elite 3-point shooting which has become so important in today’s NBA. As for Harden, I’m probably contradicting myself due to his defensive limitations but he is the most explosive scorer at the position so it’s hard to keep a guy out like that. He sets up teammates, gets to the line at an abnormal rate and can hurt you in a number of different ways. If it was two years ago, Dwyane Wade finds himself in this list.

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For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook’s historic return | Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach | West recalibrates view of Pacers | Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses

No. 1: Westbrook’s historic return — Never before in NBA annals, according to the authorities at the unassailable Elias Sports Bureau, had a player scored so many points with so many assists in so little time. And then Russell Westbrook did it Friday night against New York in what was his comeback from a 14-game injury layoff (broken hand), the sort of contest through which many of his peers might have eased themselves.

Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s irrepressible point guard, scored 32 points with seven rebounds and eight assists in just 24 minutes as the Thunder clobbered the Knicks by 27 points (and led by as many a 37). Going off one night, that gym where OKC plays ought to be renamed the “Westbrook” Energy Arena rather than Chesapeake, because he brought a bundle of heavy voltage. Here is some of the recap from Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:

It started in the pre-game introduction line.

Russell Westbrook raced onto the court so fast you would have thought he was shot out of a cannon. All the energy that he had pent up for the past 14 games exploded from his pores before his name was even announced over the public address system.

That’s when you knew the type of night it would be.

Back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right hand on a fluke play against the Clippers on Oct. 30, Westbrook wasted no time showing the NBA he was indeed back.

New York was in town on the wrong night.

The Elias folks attached an asterisk to Westbrook’s distinction – no one in the shot clock era had ever gone for 32 points and eight assists in 24 minutes or less, but c’mon, do we really think some old-timer did it without the imperative for his team to shoot in 24 seconds? Here’s more from Mayberry:

He made 12 of 17 shots, three of his four 3-point tries and five of his seven free throw attempts.

He netted a game-high plus-24 in the plus-minus category.

“An area that’s not shown on the stat sheet is his ability to raise the level of his teammates,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s what the great ones do, and that’s what he did tonight. I thought everybody responded when he was on the court. He did a good job of getting guys involved.”

Westbrook was nearly flawless in his first shot at it in four weeks. And it was clear early on that he couldn’t wait to get back on the court.

“You get so used to sitting on the side…and now I got an opportunity to go out and hear my name called. You never want to take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Never. At any time. So I was just hyped to be able to hear my name and run out on the floor.”

***

No. 2: Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach — Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine scored a season-high 28 points off the bench against his boyhood hero and LaVine’s team won the game, beating the Lakers by one point at Staples Center. That hero, Kobe Bryant, scored 26 points on 18 shots and was the only starter on his club in the black on plus/minus.

And still, the best performance of the night came later, when Lakers coach Byron Scott vented about his team’s lackadaisical approach. At 3-13 after the loss, L.A. cannot afford to look past the Sixers, never mind the Timberwolves. But that’s what happened and it bit them hard, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes. Just like the animals in the metaphorical zoo Scott spoke about afterward:

“Do you ever go see the gorillas, the elephants, the lions and the monkeys, and they’re looking right back at you?” Scott asked. “That’s what Minnesota was doing. They were looking right back at us.”

They looked at the Lakers, now 3-14, as an easy target — and rightfully so.

He raised his voice, all but shouting. He pounded the table before him in the postgame news conference. He beat his hands into it four times — hard.

“There’s nobody in this league that we should be looking at thinking, ‘This is an easy win,’ ” he boomed, beating the table as he spoke. “Period.”

Was this rock bottom? So far, yes. It’s still November. It can — and probably will — get worse.

***

No. 3: West recalibrates view of PacersDavid West had begun the season more plugged into the disappointment of Indiana Pacers fans than into the stay-upbeat-and-sell-tickets approach of his bosses within the organization. West knew the Pacers’ chances of chasing an NBA title had taken serious hits with the departure of Lance Stephenson and then the gruesome, season-crushing leg injury of All-Star wing Paul George. West said as much as 2014-15 began, advising all on Media Day that the team’s ambitions needed to be scaled downward.

Then West watched from the side, nursing an ankle sprain through the first 15 games, as Indiana went a surprisingly resilient 6-9 without four of last year’s starters (George Hill was hurt, too) and a couple key reserves. By the time he got in on the action Friday with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in a victory over Orlando, the Pacers’ sixth victory in the past nine games, the veteran power forward was ready to re-adjust his expectations. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com chronicled the upturn in West’s mood:

“These guys compete and play hard, and they do that at a very high level,” he said. “They’ve won some tough road games by being competitive and engaged and having a fight about them, which is one of the reasons I was anxious to get back out there. You appreciate that. You appreciate how hard they’ve competed while being undermanned.

“I’m just feeding off these guys. I’ve watched them for the first month or whatever. We’ve got some good guys who can cut off the basketball, guys who can execute, so we’re just going to keep getting better.”

He said that with a lilt in his normally gruff voice. It’s clear he’s revised his realism.

As injured veterans return – C.J. Watson also came back on Friday and scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, Roy Hibbert could return for Saturday’s game in Cleveland and George Hill is still a couple of weeks away with an injury coach Frank Vogel revealed in the pre-game to be a torn quad muscle – the continued improvement seems likely.

So, what does the Media Day realist believe the team’s ceiling is now?

“I’ll evaluate that when we get there,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy this this year and try to do something special with this group. The thing that people had overlooked is that we’re in the East, so we’re not going to be out of it.

“Before the season (began) I didn’t realize how hard these guys were going to play. Donald (Sloan) hasn’t played major minutes in his career but all of a sudden he’s out there. But he’s a competitive dude. Solomon (Hill), he competes every single play. And that’s inspiring. You want to get in the trenches with guys like that.”

***

No. 4: Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses — When the best news the New York Knicks can offer is an updated medical report suggesting that Carmelo Anthony’s sore back is 80 percent healthy – spasms vs. structural damage is what passes for good fortune these days – it’s clear there are serious issues within Phil Jackson’s, Derek Fisher’s and Anthony’s crew. Sure, Russell Westbrook was back Friday but 2014 MVP Kevin Durant still was out (right foot surgery). So Veteran forward Amar’e Stoudemire called out the Knicks on their courage and desire after that loss in OKC, the most lopsided of their dreary season. Marc Berman of the New York Post offered details:

“They played like they wanted it more,’’ Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.’’

The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony (back spasms) for the second straight game, but it seemed as if they were lacking passion.

“[Oklahoma City] came out with a lot of energy and it seems as if we got taken back by that,’’ Stoudemire said. “We have to have a lion’s heart and can’t be afraid of teams coming out and playing with that type of aggressiveness. We have to retaliate.”

Stoudemire was one of the few Knicks to play aggressively. He scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 6-for-10 from the line, with nine rebounds off the bench.

“It’s intensity level at this point,’’ Stoudemire said. “The learning process is there. We can’t keep saying we’re learning. We’re learning. Teams want it more than we do. We can’t say we’re still learning. We can’t say we had an off night shooting. That happens, but you can still win the ballgame with defense. We have to become students of the game and become masters of our craft.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The mood in Milwaukee is changing, top down and inside out, according to our own Steve Aschburner. And it served the 10-7 Bucks well again in their victory in Detroit. … Folks in Portland like their big-small combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but Memphis’ version – Marc Gasol and Mike Conley – left town with a victory and the league’s best record. … Clever Heat fan suggests that Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose considering teaming up to job-share. … One more to go – Saturday night in Utah – on this seven-game, 12-day trip for the Clippers and it’s already been a success (5-1) thanks to the victory in Houston. … Doc Rivers sounds like he’s throwing his hands up over James Harden throwing his arms up, but it’s meant as a compliment to the Rockets guard.

 

Report: Bosh didn’t want ‘pressure’ of title chase with Rockets

You know the old saying: If you can’t stand the heat, stay with the Heat.

That’s pretty much the admission that Chris Bosh made about his decision last summer to turn down the free-agent offer to chase another championship or two with the Rockets.

When LeBron James chose to leave Miami and return to the Cavaliers in July, it was generally believed that Bosh would make a perfect fit with fellow All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston.

The Rockets made Bosh a max offer of four years, $88 million. The Heat eventually got him to stay for their own max of five years, $118 million. And it’s hard to anyone to tell someone else to simply give up $30 million.

But it wasn’t solely about the money. Bosh told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com that after four years of living under the microscope of intense scrutiny in Miami, he was ready to, well, not put so much effort into intensity-filled title chase:

“I could see where people would think that’s an attractive site,” Bosh told CBSSports.com, speaking of Houston, where half the NBA expected him to land back in July. “They were trying to win right away. And I was really happy to be touted that I possibly could’ve been out there. But you know, that doesn’t guarantee anything, and I know that. All that guarantees is a bunch of pressure.”

Before you jump on Bosh for taking the easy way out, consider what the past four years were like for him. He was never the most important corner of the James-Wade-Bosh triangle, except when he missed an open jumper or flubbed a defensive assignment. He had to sacrifice and unlearn key parts of his game to adapt to the more dominant talents and personalities around him. For four years, every day in the life of the Miami Heat was like being on tour with the No. 1 artist in the land.

The perpetual chase, the championship-or-bust environment, the celebrity status afforded basketball’s three-headed monster — all of it wore on James, who spoke often last season of the mental fatigue of pursuing a fourth straight trip to the Finals. Everyone was so busy chronicling James’ every word that they forgot to ask Bosh what he thought.

It wore on him, too.

“It’s incredibly difficult to win a championship,” Bosh told CBSSports.com. “I know that, and I know it’s a whole process.”

The Rockets had pushed all their chips to the center of the table in pursuit of Carmelo Anthony (who chose to stay in New York) and then Bosh, a perfect complement to Howard and Harden. With James gone and with Rockets GM Daryl Morey clearing the runway for Bosh to chase a third ring as the third wheel in his home state of Texas, it all seemed to be a fait accomplit. The Rockets sure seemed to think so.

“Did they?” Bosh told CBSSports.com. “… I think they’re still in contention for it even without me. It’s free agency. It’s a crazy time. It just kind of got crazy real fast and then it settled down completely.”

It did so when Bosh chose to settle down in Miami, a place that he and his family have adopted as “pretty much our second home,” he said.

“I’m familiar with people,” Bosh said. “I know how to get to work. And if there’s traffic, I know the shortcuts. It’s those small things that I really love about the city and I love about being comfortable that guided me back. And you know, if you can make a couple of dollars on the side, then it works out.”

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron loves seeing the Hawks| Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? | CP3 rescues the Clippers | Rockets talking mental toughness

No. 1: LeBron loves seeing the Hawks — Perhaps this is his way of taking out his frustrations on the San Antonio Spurs. Since he couldn’t do it against the real Spurs, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers went in on the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night in record fashion. LeBron, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group makes clear, loves seeing the Hawks:

LeBron James’ body language spoke volumes Saturday night.

Consider what was said in the second quarter of the Cavaliers’ 127-94 thumping of the Atlanta Hawks.

Cleveland was on its way to a 71-point first half, had drained its first 11 three-pointers, and would end the half with assists on 22 of 25 field goals. James wasn’t sprinting so much as he was gliding around the court, tossing one-handed, no-look, razor-sharp passes into traffic for layups.

The way he was moving around the court, his leg churning like pistons and eyes up, looking for open teammates with a little grin on his face – was a look seldom (if ever seen) on James since he returned to the Cavaliers.

He looked like he was having fun.

“I have fun every time I step out on the basketball court – win, lose, or draw,” James said. “I have a love for the game, I have fun, I show it on my face sometimes more than others. Inside, the kid is always excited to put another uniform on and go out and play.”

***

No. 2: Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? — Leave it up the Knicks, a team struggling in every facet in this early season, to worry about free agency before Thanksgiving. They are already poised to pick a fight with the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs … for Marc Gasol, who by the way is busy leading his Memphis Grizzlies to the top of the Western Conference standings right now. Those little details won’t stop Knicks Nation from dreaming about what could be. Frank Isola of the Daily News has more:

Phil Jackson has made a career out of taking pot shots at the San Antonio Spurs so even if the Knicks president doesn’t respect Greg Popovich’s club he should fear them.

The Knicks’ main free-agent target, Marc Gasol, is also being targeted as a possible replacement to Tim Duncan assuming Ol’ Man Riverwalk retires this summer. The Knicks will be players for the Memphis center mainly because of the first three rules of real estate — location, location, location — and because Gasol is familiar with both Jackson and Derek Fisher since older brother Pau spent the best years of his career with the Lakers.

Otherwise, staying in Memphis will be appealing to Gasol, whose team is a legitimate championship contender. The Grizzlies can offer Gasol the most money, and he has grown to love the city, having lived there since high school when Pau broke in with the Grizzlies.

Coincidently, Pau considered the Spurs this past summer but took more money to join the Chicago Bulls, much to Jackson’s chagrin. When Pau signed, Jackson tweeted a photo of lightning striking the city of Chicago. He might end up tossing his iPhone in the East River if Marc signs with the Spurs, arguably the best run franchise in all of pro sports. They also have the nucleus to remain a contender for years to come.

Signing with the Knicks strictly for basketball reasons is a tougher sell, although his Spanish teammate, Jose Calderon, will be a key part of the recruiting pitch. History, however, is not on the Knicks’ side. The last major free agent to make a significant impact was Allan Houston all the way back in the summer of the 1996. Back then, Jeff Van Gundy was winning big as the head coach, and Jim Dolan was learning to play the guitar, not running the Garden. Crazy coincidence, no?

***

No. 3:CP3 to the rescue for Clippers — It’s an act Chris Paul will probably have to perform more often than he wants to this season, rescuing the Los Angeles Clippers from despair the way he did against the Phoenix Suns. But that’s the burden he signed on for when he became the face of the franchise. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

After taking four days off to collect themselves after a difficult loss to San Antonio, Chris Paul made sure the Clippers played better basketball.

Paul took over the game in the third quarter and then saved the Clippers from imploding in the fourth, pushing Los Angeles to a 120-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at Staples Center.

Paul scored a season-high 32 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including five for six on three-point shots. He had nine assists and five rebounds in helping the Clippers score a season high in points.

When the Clippers’ 26-point lead was cut to 11 points late in the fourth quarter, Paul went to work.

He scored seven consecutive points in the fourth to help the Clippers pull out a victory in which six players scored in double figures.

He made two free throws, a three-pointer and a jumper.

The Clippers outscored the Suns, 42-20, in the third quarter in opening their big lead.

***

No. 4: Rockets talking mental toughness – The Houston Rockets have clearly turned a corner on the court from last season. They look every bit as fit to chase a championship as we thought they should have and would have a year ago. But the real test is about the mental toughness needed to win it all. And the Rockets are working on that, as should be expected after a narrow escape against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Jenny Dial-Creech of the Houston Chronicle explains:

After barely pulling out an 88-87 win over Philadelphia on Friday night, the Rockets practiced Saturday in preparation for their third set of back-to-back road games this season.

On Sunday, the Rockets will play at Oklahoma City and on Monday they will travel to Memphis.

“We already know these are two playoff teams,” guard Jason Terry said. “Both of these teams, barring they stay healthy, will be in the playoffs this year. Oklahoma is a tough team. We know their system very well.

“Memphis is a division opponent. It is sort of a rivalry. You have to say that because they are in the division so you never want to lose division games. It will be a tough challenge because they have two great big men that are the toughest two tandem in the league and you have a great, young point guard in Conley who pushes the tempo and is always on the attack.”

Terry said that headed into the road trip, he felt the Rockets were mentally stronger than ever thanks to the close call against the Sixers.

“We grew as a team,” he said. “On this journey that we go on through the regular season, there are going to be times where your mental toughness is tested and (Friday) was one of those times. We got back late from Mexico City. We didn’t practice. We came right back here and the game came so fast against a team that lost by 50 the night before. They were ready, they were hungry, they challenged us and we weathered the storm. I learned a lot about us, about our mental toughness. It’s good to see, and it’s good to see early on in the season. It won’t be the last test, but we passed the first one.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Magic finally get Victor Oladipo back in their starling lineup … The Chicago Bulls love what Pau Gasol brings to the Windy City  … Bradley Beal targeting a return to practice this week with the Wizards … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is keeping his (starting lineup) options open … The Milwaukee Bucks’ dedication to defense is paying off

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suddenly confident Lakers get first win, eye more | Thunder “supporting cast” leads the way over Kings | Waiters clears the air on anthem-gate | Hibbert: Paul George is getting LeBron big

No. 1: Suddenly confident Lakers get first win, eye more — Leave it up to Kobe Bryant to be thinking about mountains after his Los Angeles Lakers climb a mole hill. The Lakers suffered five straight losses before securing their first win of the season over Charlotte Sunday. Now Bryant is looking to get greedy this week, suggesting that a couple more wins this week are a distinct possibility. Helene Elliott of The Los Angeles Times explains:

Where are the Lakers going? That’s tough to say. We know, at least, that they won’t go 0-82.

It’s also certain that they’re headed into a tough part of their schedule. Had they not won on Sunday, they might have had a long wait for that first win because they will face Memphis and New Orleans back to back on the road Tuesday and Wednesday before returning home to face San Antonio and Golden State. After that, they’re on the road at Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

So if it wasn’t now-or-never, it was close.

Sunday became now because they defended with some energy and had a balanced offense that wasn’t just Kobe Bryant and a bunch of other guys. Their success was constructed with 16 points from Carlos Boozer, 12 from Jordan Hill and 21 points and seven assists from Jeremy Lin, whose midcourt scream seemed to sum up fans’ long pent-up frustrations after he hit a three-point shot that gave the Lakers a 94-79 lead with 4 minutes 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

“They got into it,” Wesley Johnson said of the fans. “When we started making shots, that’s when the crowd got into it and everybody’s energy levels picked up a little more.”

And so did the Lakers’ confidence level. Asked if they would carry some momentum into those games at Memphis and New Orleans, Bryant spoke in a tone that was matter-of-fact. “I wouldn’t be shocked if we went out there and won both of them,” he said.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about the Lakers’ first win of 2014-15

*** (more…)

Superman’s return(?) lifts Rockets


VIDEO: Dwight Howard goes alley-oop crazy on the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We haven’t seen him in a couple of years, the smiling big guy who wore the cape and leaped over all things.

The dominant Dwight Howard we all grew accustomed to seeing while he starred in Orlando, the one who disappeared two years ago in Los Angeles and struggled a bit adjusting early on in Houston last season, was back on the floor Thursday night in Houston.  Howard crushed the (Tim Duncan-less) San Antonio Spurs, executing a series of alley-oop dunks early against the reigning world champs in the Rockets’ 98-81 demolition job.

Howard finished with 32 points and 16 rebounds and was unstoppable inside. The Rockets are 6-0 with James Harden and Howard leading the way.

Harden was splendid last season, a first-team All-NBA pick on a good team that couldn’t get out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Could Superman’s return lift them up to that next level this season?

I don’t see  why not.

If this is the Howard we’re going to see all season, maybe I need to take another look at the landscape in the West and put the Rockets in their proper position among the elite teams. Originally I saw them as a team capable of chasing that fourth spot behind San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder.

But early on it’s the undefeated Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors who are leading the pack. The Grizzlies have their own dominant big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. They’d be hard-pressed to look any better than Howard did against the Spurs.

Blogtable: Harden for MVP

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Harden an MVP? | Are the Grizzlies legit? | Kobe and the Lakers



VIDEO: James Harden erupts for 35 points and nine rebounds in a win over Philadelphia earlier this week

> James Harden has said he’s the best player alive. Houston is undefeated, Harden is a potential scoring champ … is he a possible MVP, too?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIf James Harden were to win or even get serious voter consideration for MVP, it will be a statement as much about a certain taller teammate. Dwight Howard was supposed to be the man in Orlando, in Los Angeles and, yes, in Houston. So if someone else on his team gets Podoloff-worthy acclaim, folks will have to accept first that Howard’s star has fallen big-time. No matter how many points Harden scores or anything else he does night in, night out, the first level of MVP handicapping is, “How much help did the guy have?”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: A near triple-double on the night the Rockets went to 5-0 with an impressive win at Miami will certainly have the early drums beating loud, the flavor of the first two weeks.  Harden finished fifth in the voting a year ago, and averaging 25+ points per game will always get you noticed. It’s fair to have him in the conversation. And he’ll stay there because in the absence of Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, Harden’s offense will be needed even more. But unless he makes a quantum leap on defense — i.e. is interested all season — or the Rockets surprise everyone and run away with the best record in the West, I can’t see him jumping over LeBron James, Chris Paul or maybe even a recovered Kevin Durant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I could see itas long as both situations hold true. If the Rockets are among the best teams at the end and if Harden is one of he top scorers while getting others involved, a trophy with a beard is not impossible to imagine. It sets up well. He has a high profile and doesn’t have to come from back in the pack, and he has the chance for extra credit if the Rockets do well when most expect a step back following the loss of Chandler Parsons and missing on Chris Bosh.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comFirst: Harden must actually win the scoring championship, and there will be a handful of players with a say in that. Second: The Rockets must actually win 60-something games and make a strong bid for best record in the regular-season, tough to do in the West. Finally: Even if all of the above rings true, should we place little to no weight on playing defense? If so, then Dominique Wilkins is wondering where his MVP trophy is.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHe’d be a leading candidate for an “Offensive Player of the Year” award if there was one. But if you take both ends of the floor into account, Dwight Howard is just as important a player as Harden for the Rockets. While Harden is a liability on defense, Howard is holding the Rockets together on that end. The two of them are like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in that they would likely split MVP votes if they were both healthy for the entire season and led their team to a top-three seed.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Seriously? Just because a guy looks into a camera and says something preposterous we don’t have to legitimize it here. He could win the scoring title this season and that still won’t make him the MVP, not on my ballot. My MVP has to impact the game in more than just on facet. He’s an offensive juggernaut, an absolute scoring machine. I’m a huge fan of that part of his game. But he’s deficient on the other end to the point that it takes away from his overall value. The MVP of the league has to be a more complete player than Harden is right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: There are so many possible responses that I’m having trouble choosing one. (1) Didn’t they used to say the same thing about Tracy McGrady? (2) What happens in November stays in November. It’s too early to matter. (3) The best players earn their reputations during the playoffs … Let’s go with response (3) for now.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Sure, James Harden is a possible MVP, the same as Patrick Beverly or any other member of the Houston Rockets is a candidate. But let’s be real here: Harden’s defense remains indefensible, and as long as that narrative best explains his game, I find it hard to believe that voters will elect a one-way player into the MVP office. Harden may be an exceedingly great one-way player, but until he stops watching and starts participating on the other end, in my eyes he will not be MVP material.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA