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Paul and Harden lead No. 1 seed Rockets against Wolves

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — So far the trade for Chris Paul to give the Houston Rockets another superstar to help James Harden has worked famously. Now the two, who have both had their fair share of playoff disappointments, will try to carry their regular-season success into the postseason when the Rockets open a first-round series with Minnesota on Sunday night (Monday, PHL time). The guards have been effusive in their praise for one another, with Harden recently joking that his relationship with the nine-time All-Star was "love at first sight." Paul didn't go quite that far, but a huge smile crossed his often serious face when asked how their pairing has worked. "Unbelievable," he said. "You just [don't] get this opportunity too often in a career to play with somebody like James ... you get a chance to appreciate greatness. "What he's doing on a nightly basis and stuff like that, it's crazy and I'm in awe," Paul continued. "I'm grateful I get to play alongside him." When told of what Paul said about him, Harden was quick to answer. "You can tell," he said. "It feels like it's been forever but it's not even been a year yet." Their work in the regular season led the Rockets to a franchise-record 65 wins, their first No. 1 seed and sixth straight playoff appearance. They are looking to win the title for the first time capturing back-to-back championships in 1994-95. For the 32-year-old Paul, it's a chance for him to finally shake off years off playoff woes after making nine playoff trips without advancing past the second round. But if he is haunted by the ghosts of playoffs past, he wouldn't acknowledge it and was dismissive when asked if he thought this was his best chance to win it all. "I don't know," he said. "I don't think about all that." What he and the Rockets do know is that they're facing a talented team in the eighth-seeded Timberwolves, who had to win their last regular-season game to get into the postseason. They ended the NBA's longest active playoff drought with their berth, putting them back in the postseason for the first time since 2004 when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. Getting the Timberwolves into the playoffs is a huge accomplishment for the entire team, but might mean just a little more to star Karl-Anthony Towns, who made a vow the night Minnesota selected him with the top overall pick in the 2015 draft. "It means more than I think words can express honestly," he said. "I made a promise to ... Flip Saunders and it meant a lot to me that I was able to keep my word." Some things to know as the Timberwolves and Rockets open their series: BACK HOME The series is a homecoming for Minnesota's Jimmy Butler, who grew up in Tomball, a suburb about 35 miles from downtown Houston. But he insists he won't have any time to get back out there this week. "Nope," he said. "Zero [time]. I ain't even going home. I'm here to work." But he did spend a little time on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) reminiscing about his high school days when he idolized a former Rockets star. "I used to walk around the hallways and in the gym thinking I was Tracy McGrady," he said. "I remember it like it was yesterday. He was my favorite player. I wanted to wear his number, wear his tennis shoes, all of that good stuff." Butler, who returned on April 6 (April 7, PHL time) after missing 17 games with a knee injury, said he's fully recovered from his injury and is "well-rested" entering the playoffs. PLAYOFF HISTORY This is the second time these teams have met in the playoffs. Their other meeting came in Minnesota's first trip in 1997, when the Timberwolves were swept in three games. That Houston team was led by Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley, and the Wolves featured Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and Tom Gugliotta. LIMIT KAT FROM LONG RANGE The Rockets are resigned to the fact that Towns, who led the NBA in double-doubles, will get his points under the basket and plenty of rebounds. "He's going to get a double-double," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's who he is." However, they are not OK with letting him shoot three-pointers. The seven-foot Towns ranked 14th in the league with a 42 percent average from three-point range and knocked down a career-high 120 three-pointers this season. "We [can't] leave him open or let him walk into a 3 because we're not guarding him," D'Antoni said. "We have to be aware of that. You can't take away his post-ups and his moves in there. He's going to score on anybody, but you can do a really good job on the three's." HARDEN'S MOTIVATION Despite finishing as the runner-up for MVP last season and being a front-runner for this year's award, Harden still faces plenty of criticism for some of his past performances in the playoffs, notably, a terrible performance in an embarrassing 114-75 elimination loss to San Antonio in the conference semifinals last season. But he has never been motivated by criticism, and he finds his drive in a far different place. "Just going out there and being the best that I can be," he said. "There's no negativity that someone can say that can motivate me. Some people can get motivated by that. I don't really care.".....»»

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnApr 15th, 2018

Paul and Harden lead No. 1 seed Rockets against Wolves

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — So far the trade for Chris Paul to give the Houston Rockets another superstar to help James Harden has worked famously. Now the two, who have both had their fair share of playoff disappointments, will try to carry their regular-season success into the postseason when the Rockets open a first-round series with Minnesota on Sunday night (Monday, PHL time). The guards have been effusive in their praise for one another, with Harden recently joking that his relationship with the nine-time All-Star was "love at first sight." Paul didn't go quite that far, but a huge smile crossed his often serious face when asked how their pairing has worked. "Unbelievable," he said. "You just [don't] get this opportunity too often in a career to play with somebody like James ... you get a chance to appreciate greatness. "What he's doing on a nightly basis and stuff like that, it's crazy and I'm in awe," Paul continued. "I'm grateful I get to play alongside him." When told of what Paul said about him, Harden was quick to answer. "You can tell," he said. "It feels like it's been forever but it's not even been a year yet." Their work in the regular season led the Rockets to a franchise-record 65 wins, their first No. 1 seed and sixth straight playoff appearance. They are looking to win the title for the first time capturing back-to-back championships in 1994-95. For the 32-year-old Paul, it's a chance for him to finally shake off years off playoff woes after making nine playoff trips without advancing past the second round. But if he is haunted by the ghosts of playoffs past, he wouldn't acknowledge it and was dismissive when asked if he thought this was his best chance to win it all. "I don't know," he said. "I don't think about all that." What he and the Rockets do know is that they're facing a talented team in the eighth-seeded Timberwolves, who had to win their last regular-season game to get into the postseason. They ended the NBA's longest active playoff drought with their berth, putting them back in the postseason for the first time since 2004 when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. Getting the Timberwolves into the playoffs is a huge accomplishment for the entire team, but might mean just a little more to star Karl-Anthony Towns, who made a vow the night Minnesota selected him with the top overall pick in the 2015 draft. "It means more than I think words can express honestly," he said. "I made a promise to ... Flip Saunders and it meant a lot to me that I was able to keep my word." Some things to know as the Timberwolves and Rockets open their series: BACK HOME The series is a homecoming for Minnesota's Jimmy Butler, who grew up in Tomball, a suburb about 35 miles from downtown Houston. But he insists he won't have any time to get back out there this week. "Nope," he said. "Zero [time]. I ain't even going home. I'm here to work." But he did spend a little time on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) reminiscing about his high school days when he idolized a former Rockets star. "I used to walk around the hallways and in the gym thinking I was Tracy McGrady," he said. "I remember it like it was yesterday. He was my favorite player. I wanted to wear his number, wear his tennis shoes, all of that good stuff." Butler, who returned on April 6 (April 7, PHL time) after missing 17 games with a knee injury, said he's fully recovered from his injury and is "well-rested" entering the playoffs. PLAYOFF HISTORY This is the second time these teams have met in the playoffs. Their other meeting came in Minnesota's first trip in 1997, when the Timberwolves were swept in three games. That Houston team was led by Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley, and the Wolves featured Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and Tom Gugliotta. LIMIT KAT FROM LONG RANGE The Rockets are resigned to the fact that Towns, who led the NBA in double-doubles, will get his points under the basket and plenty of rebounds. "He's going to get a double-double," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's who he is." However, they are not OK with letting him shoot three-pointers. The seven-foot Towns ranked 14th in the league with a 42 percent average from three-point range and knocked down a career-high 120 three-pointers this season. "We [can't] leave him open or let him walk into a 3 because we're not guarding him," D'Antoni said. "We have to be aware of that. You can't take away his post-ups and his moves in there. He's going to score on anybody, but you can do a really good job on the three's." HARDEN'S MOTIVATION Despite finishing as the runner-up for MVP last season and being a front-runner for this year's award, Harden still faces plenty of criticism for some of his past performances in the playoffs, notably, a terrible performance in an embarrassing 114-75 elimination loss to San Antonio in the conference semifinals last season. But he has never been motivated by criticism, and he finds his drive in a far different place. "Just going out there and being the best that I can be," he said. "There's no negativity that someone can say that can motivate me. Some people can get motivated by that. I don't really care.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 15th, 2018

Chris Paul, Houston Rockets take dominant step toward ultimate goal

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com SALT LAKE CITY — There is one more game to be played (at the very least) in this series, and it’ll be on the home court Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) when Houston will be in a celebratory mood. But be clear about this: the Jazz are no longer the barrier between the Rockets and the goal. They’re just standing in the way. There’s a difference. Getting rid of the overmatched yet naggingly persistent Jazz is all about keeping pace with the Warriors or perhaps staying one step ahead of the defending champs, nothing more or less. A long-anticipated Western Conference final, and perhaps a classic one, is impatiently waiting, and it’s in the Rockets’ best interest to settle their end of the bargain and if possible on the same night when the Warriors can do the same. And so, just a few hours after the Warriors went up 3-1 on the Pelicans in the other West semifinal, the Rockets did likewise Sunday (Monday, PHL time), using star power to overcome an otherwise blah performance. They only scored 100 points — a level that will certainly rise in the next round. Quite simply, they had James Harden and Chris Paul and Clint Capela when it counted and Utah did not. And speaking of Paul, he’s one win away from advancing beyond the second round for the first time in his otherwise respectable career. His anxiousness to kill that annoying demon was evident in the third quarter of Game 4, when he scored 11 of his 27 points while drilling the Jazz with mid-range jumpers, and the game flipped in Houston’s favor. “I’ve been here before, 3-1,” said Paul on post-game TV, his memory still sharp from blowing that lead while with the Clippers four years ago, coincidentally against Harden and the Rockets. “[Expletive] went bad real quick.” It also happened to be Paul’s birthday, and what more can a 33-year-old do to demonstrate that age is merely a number? “He was really big today," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I understand he has another birthday coming up Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time).” It was a surreal night for Paul as well. While he was busy erasing the Jazz, his brother CJ Paul was being momentarily erased from the arena. CJ Paul, who handles much of his brother’s personal affairs, was escorted from his lower-level seat by arena security in the third quarter for shouting at referee James Williams. He was allowed back to his seat moments later and claimed to be a victim of mistaken identity. “They thought I said something that shouldn’t be printed,” said CJ, right after he took a post-game phone call from Kiki Vandeweghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations. “Actually, it was a fan sitting next to me. I addressed the fan who said it. I told security what happened. After they let me back in, the security guy said, `By the way, James said it was definitely you that said that. He didn’t see you, but he heard you.’ What, you mean out of 20,000 people? What’s crazy is James reffed me when I was in college.” CJ Paul, who has never missed any of his brother’s playoff games, didn’t miss much during his brief departure in this one, either. The Rockets stayed in control, save for some teases by the Jazz, and this is where they stand, right on the cusp, right with the Warriors suddenly swelling in their windshield. Remember, the Rockets built their team and their season around overcoming the Warriors; the Jazz never came up in conversation. That’s why they added Paul last summer, and why Harden tweaked his isolation-dominant game to accommodate Paul, and why the rise of Capela is raising the possibility of Houston bringing a new Big Three in Golden State’s direction. That Houston won another game despite a toned-down offense and a vanishing three-point shot — they made just 26 percent Sunday (Monday, PHL time) and in the last three games are at 29 percent — is either an impressive or troublesome trend depending on your hot take. D’Antoni is playing up the former. “We haven’t shot well the whole series,” he said. “But there’s all different ways to win. We’re not strictly a jump-shooting team. Chris has got the midrange. James gets to the hole. You’ve got Clint down there. We’ve got a lot of other stuff we can go to.  The whole plan was to get that so we wouldn’t be a one-dimensional team.” “We’ll get to 100," D'Antoni added. "Anyway, if we do our part defensively, we have a real good shot to win.” Against the Jazz, does it really matter? Utah arrived this far on hard work and solid coaching and an otherworldly rookie, but those teams don’t travel deeper than this in the playoffs. Their lack of star appeal is flaring up and gradually costing them right now. They started a rookie, a guy cut by the Clippers, an undrafted free agent, a Celtics’ castoff and a center who can’t shoot. Also, Derrick Favors isn’t 100 percent and Ricky Rubio missed his third straight game with a bad hamstring. Then, in the third quarter, Dante Exum grabbed his hamstring and was done for the night, perhaps for the series. They’re playing with house money after losing their franchise guy, Gordon Hayward, to free agency last summer. They won 48 games, had winning streaks of 11, nine and six after Jan. 22, grabbed the No. 5 seed and probably sent Paul George plotting an exit strategy from Oklahoma City after beating the Thunder in the first round. Then they stole a game from the No. 1 seed in the West, in Houston no less. What’s not to like? And yet, reality is settling in Utah like the famous bronze sunsets in the Wasatch Valley. Joe Ingles shocked the Rockets with 27 points in the Game 2 win; he totaled 21 points the next two. Exum was a national talking point for 48 hours after becoming a Harden Stopper in Game 2, but his 15 minutes quickly evaporated, and now he has the sore hammy. Mitchell had one insane quarter when the series shifted to Utah — his 13 points in the third quarter Sunday. Otherwise, not much else. Their plight was cruelly spelled out in a few sequences in Game 4. Mitchell stripped Harden and drove for a layup but couldn’t convert. Ingles broke Capela’s ankles on a step-back jumper but missed the three. Rudy Gobert took a pass and drove the lane... and Capela swooped from nowhere and rejected him. That was one of Capela’s six blocks (to go with 15 rebounds), and he influenced roughly a dozen others. “Donovan drove the lane and saw Clint and decided to pass, and that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” said Paul. “There was a lot of that.” Harden had issues once again against Utah after opening the series with 41 points. He shot poorly from deep, missing 6-of-7, and coughed up eight turnovers and couldn’t take control of Game 4. That left the savior role to Paul. Such is the luxury the Rockets have this season; when one superstar is handcuffed, the other is released. Paul was the best player on the floor if not the most efficient. In 35 minutes he had just one turnover, and in addition to scoring, he chipped in with 12 rebounds and six assists. “He was extremely aggressive tonight, which is what we needed,” Harden said. And why not? Paul can smell the next round and a chance, once and for all, to change the narrative with regards to his playoff history, which is an awkward fit with the rest of his playing history. When that was brought up to Paul, Harden respectfully interjected, “He’s not thinking about that. We got a game Tuesday and we’ll do whatever we can to close it out.” Paul laughed. “We’re not going to give up,” he confirmed. There’s no reason for that. The Rockets are suddenly on the verge — where they thought they’d be all along. The Western Conference Finals are tapping Paul and the Rockets on the shoulder and reminding them of their season-long mission statement, and the Rockets are very much OK with that. “We didn’t come this far,” said Harden, “just to be up 3-1 in this series.” No, not this one. Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 7th, 2018

Donovan Mitchell hits his own postseason bump

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com SALT LAKE CITY -- He saved one of his best performances for the morning of a playoff game, when Donovan Mitchell once again showed the poise and maturity that’s taken him places where few rookies in history have earned the right to travel. Hours after Ben Simmons, the unapologetic and self-proclaimed best rookie in the NBA, laid an egg against the Celtics by scoring one measly point and instantly became a social media punch-line, Mitchell refused to pile on his rival. This took guts, especially after Simmons dismissed any comparisons between himself and Mitchell weeks ago, but Mitchell went high road and had a veteran’s response anyway: “The biggest thing that people don’t understand is that every player has that night. You look at LeBron against the Mavs in the Finals … there was one year when I was watching Harden in a playoff game against the Warriors and he had like 10 turnovers. So it happens to everybody.” Yes, to everybody … and how prophetic, even to Mitchell, who rose to stardom by chopping down Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the first round, only to come close to pulling a Simmons in Game 3 of the Jazz-Rockets series Friday night (Saturday, PHL time). “I didn’t really do much as a whole,” he said. He struggled. He wasn’t a factor. This wasn’t the rookie who pulled the Jazz to the playoffs by commanding double teams and dunking with force and dropping shots from deep. This was different. This was … one of those games Mitchell spoke about. He missed 10 of his first 11 shots. His 10 points were his lowest for a game since Feb. 7 (Feb. 8, PHL time) when he scored seven against the Grizzlies. “I had terrible shots,” he said. “I don’t know how many shots I missed, but the shots I missed were terrible shots that weren’t good looks. I can’t do that.” Therefore, there were two factors which made for a strange and non-typical night for the Jazz. His disappearance, along with Utah’s No. 1-rated defense coughing up 39 points in the first quarter, gave the Rockets a breezy 113-92 victory and a 2-1 series lead. The Rockets finally broke 110 points for the first time this series, no major surprise given James Harden and Chris Paul and their three-point mentality. That’s too much fire to keep contained for very long. And whenever the Rockets break loose as they did, it puts massive pressure on the Jazz to keep up, which they couldn’t, if only because they’re not built for engaging in a scoring contest with most teams, let alone the Rockets. It’s the surest way to a quick basketball death. “For us,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, “the margin for error is not so great when you play a team [like Houston].” Just as alarming is Mitchell’s slow fade this series. He’s shooting 33 percent overall and 24 percent from deep, and this is sudden and unexpected, even against the No. 1 seed in the West. Maybe not for most rookies. But Mitchell raised the bar for himself after a strong regular season and a ballistic effort against Oklahoma City where he averaged 28.5 points and 7.2 rebounds and never once looked overmatched or uncomfortable in his first taste of the playoffs and high stakes. And isn’t that the ultimate sign of respect for a player, when a poor game, or a small string of them, are met with a surprise reaction? Mitchell has made himself into that special player already. He’s the rare dunk contest winner who’s just as dangerous from deep, a one-two combo that won over his Jazz teammates quickly and made him the club’s No. 1 option almost from the jump. Mitchell’s money move is a rapid burst off the dribble into the lane, where he’ll then execute a smooth spin move garnished with a gentle finger roll for the basket. OKC still has flesh wounds from that move. He delivered constantly in the final few months when the Jazz became one of the top three teams in the NBA, at least record-wise, and soared up the West standings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only rookies to hit 200 points faster in the playoffs than Mitchell, who did so in eight games. But those shots haven’t fallen with regularity here in the second round, and this was punctuated in Game 3. Either the Rockets have wised up -- which usually happens when a team sees the same player every other night in a playoff series -- or the rookie wall is playing a cruel trick on Mitchell by rising up in May. Snyder is betting on the former: “They shaded Donovan to his left hand and he has to adjust to that, and I think he can.” Mitchell doesn’t really have a choice if the Jazz plan to extend this series. There’s nobody riding shotgun on Utah that frightens anyone; Joe Ingles dropped 27 on Houston in Game 2 but followed up with six. Other than Mitchell, there’s no consistency, nobody who’s a big threat, and when others turn chilly, Mitchell is often forced to press, which he did Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Chris Paul said: “We just tried to make it tough on him. Donovan’s been great all year but Trevor [Ariza] is good defensively and Clint [Capela] is challenging him at the rim. He’s a tough cover and it’s hard to stop him with one person. Guys have to do it collectively. We try to make him feel crowded.” Which means the Rockets will take their chances on Ingles and Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert beating them, a wise strategy. Mitchell’s load is heavier than most rookies, even more burdensome than Simmons’ in Philly from a scoring standpoint. Simmons has Joel Embiid and JJ Redick. Mitchell must be the lead singer for Utah, or else. Those are the odds, anyway, and the Rockets exploited that Friday. “I think the biggest thing is, my mindset has always been the aggressor,” Mitchell said. “Now they’re playing me in a certain way where I’ve got to make certain passes that I just didn’t make the entire game. That will be what I’ll take away the most. It’s like I would’ve been better off not showing up, and that’s what I did. I didn’t show up for my teammates. I’ll fix it.” That’s some pretty strong accountability there. However, Mitchell can’t do it all against a team like Houston, even though he’s done exactly that up to this point of the season. He may not be a “rookie” anymore, or play like one, but he’s human. Much like Simmons and everyone else. Here’s more of what Mitchell said about Simmons: "It just so happens that it happened to him, and I expect him to respond back. He’s a good player. Good players respond back, and it's all about the response. It's a testament to his character. But it happens. He can't play great every night. It's not as easy as some people think.” No, it isn’t, and the league’s showpiece rookies discovered the hard way, on back-to-back nights, here in the playoffs where rookies don’t normally shine or at least for long before they’re figured out. Yet, as Mitchell said: It’s all about the response. Game 4 is Sunday (Monday, PHL time), a day for atonement. Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 5th, 2018

Game 2 win puts Jazz in position for upset anew

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — They’ve already sprung one upset this postseason. Do the Utah Jazz have another one in them? There’s no reason to doubt the fearless, short-handed Jazz after they toppled the Houston Rockets in Toyota Center Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) with a 116-108 win in Game 2 over the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, evening up this second-round series at 1-1. The Jazz led by 19 before halftime, surrendered that advantage and trailed by five in the third quarter before re-taking control with a decisive 16-2 run late to shock the Jazz and snatch home court advantage with Games 3 and 4 this weekend in Salt Lake City. “That to me was maybe the most important thing in the game,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of his team’s resilience. “To get off to a good start and play well and then you know they’re going to come back. It’s just a question of how far and how quickly, and I thought they cut the gap and not only made it a game, but basically took control of the game. "I think we could feel that. At that point, for our guys to keep their focus on what we’re trying to do, and continue to run and continue to shoot and try to defend says a lot about the team and how they function together and that they didn’t break at that point.” Playing into May wasn’t supposed to be in the cards for this Jazz team that lost All-Star Gordon Hayward to Boston in free agency. Only six players returned from the fifth-seeded squad that knocked off the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round last season and got swept by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals. There weren't necessarily any playoff expectations for this team at the start of training camp. But no one told rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who has led the Jazz all season and in their upset of Oklahoma City in six games in their first-round series. Mitchell shot just 6-for-21 from the floor, filling in for injured starting point guard Ricky Rubio, but showed up every time the Jazz needed him. He registered five assists in the first six minutes as the Jazz took control, finishing with 17 points, a career-high 11 assists, five rebounds and a jaw-dropping dunk on his own missed floater in the fourth quarter that helped ignited his team’s game-closing run. “Just being poised and staying under control was the biggest thing,” Mitchell said. “Understand how they were going to guard me and when you have the big fella [Rudy Gobert] rolling as fas he did, making the right plays to kind of predict what the defense was going to do next.” Clearly no one mentioned it to Joe Ingles, one of those six veteran holdovers from last season. The veteran forward smoked the Rockets for a career-high 27 points, drained 10 of his 13 shots, including 7-of-9 from beyond the three-point line, two huge ones in the final five minute to help hold the Rockets off. “Just sticking together and just keep executing,” Ingles said about what carried the Jazz down the stretch. “We knew they were going to make runs. So just sticking together, I think we did a really good job of that and we were able to make our runs when it was our turn.” It was the sort of group effort that has been the trademark of this Jazz team all season. Mitchell and Ingles served as the catalysts for an inspired bunch that jumped on the Rockets early, took the home team’s best retaliatory shots, and then pounced at the finish. Their confidence in each other and the rest of their teammates was obvious after two full days to study and digest how they wanted to attack the Rockets after getting drilled in the series opener. The Jazz bench nearly doubled up their Rockets counterparts in scoring (41-22) and got a career night from Alec Burks (17 points, six assists), a double-double from Jae Crowder (15 points and 10 rebounds) and quality work on both ends of the floor from Dante Exum, whose drive-and-dunk with 55.3 seconds to play closed the door on any hopes the Rockets had of a last-minute comeback of their own. “I thought Dante’s dunk was better than mine,” Mitchell said. The Jazz hit a franchise playoff-high 15 three-pointers and finally beat a Rockets team that had owned them in the five games (wins all by 11 or more points) they played leading up to Wednesday's (Thursday, PHL time) dramatic momentum shifter. It was the game Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni had been dreading as his team eased its way into this postseason. They played three outstanding quarters in five games against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round. They led the Jazz by 27 points in Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) opener but watched that lead dwindle to just 11 points after halftime, as the Jazz found some cracks in the Rockets’ improved defense down the stretch. He warned his team about thinking they could flip the switch in the postseason just because they’d won a league-best 65 games during the regular season. The real wake-up call didn’t come until now. “Yeah, we flipped it,” D’Antoni said. “We came back from 19 down. We flipped it and then they flipped it back on us. You've got to give them credit, they played great down the stretch. They hit shots, they did what they were supposed to do.” The Jazz did exactly what they did to the Thunder in the first round. They studied the film from their Game 1 loss, made the necessary adjustments and finished that series in six games, never allowing the Thunder to enjoy the home-court advantage they earned for that series. Duplicating that feat against these Rockets should prove to be a much tougher task, especially without Rubio, who was one of the most animated individuals on the Jazz bench all night while rocking Mitchell’s signature rookie sweatshirt. His hamstring injury might force Mitchell to continue working at the point for the remainder of the series. It remains to be seen, though, if that’s an advantage for the Rockets. For all the work Kia MVP frontrunner James Harden (32 points, 11 assists and six rebounds) and Chris Paul (23 points, five rebounds and three assists) did in Game 2, neither one of them could will their team to the win the way the rookie did the Jazz. “They were just too comfortable,” Paul said. “They were getting layups, dunks, free throws, a little bit of everything. We fought back hard. But give them a lot of credit, they did what they were supposed to do. They came in here and got a win.” The pressure is on the Rockets now to do the same in Utah. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 3rd, 2018

The curse of the Western Conference '4 seed

Here's a reminder for the Western Conference teams next season when they start jockeying for playoff seeding: Avoid the fourth seed at all costs. Sure you'll get home court advantage against the fifth seed, but that hasn't meant anything since the 2012 Playoffs. For the past seven years, all fourth seeds have lost to the fifth seeds, with the latest victims being the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were ousted in six games by the Utah Jazz. Is it sheer coincidence? A hardwood hex? A sign of parity? We'll run through the aforementioned seven series and let you decide for yourself. 2012 Playoffs - #5 LA Clippers (40-26) defeat #4 Memphis Grizzlies (41-25) in seven games The setup: It feels appropriate that this "curse" began during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. The Clippers were in year one of Lob City, having acquired Chris Paul during the offseason, while the Grizzlies were looking to build on their epic #8 vs #1 upset of the San Antonio Spurs from the previous postseason. What happened: The Grizzlies began this series in the worst possible way. In game one, they led by as much as 27 points, and were up 95-71 with 9:13 left to play. But then Nick Young happened. Swaggy P came off the Clippers bench and buried three straight triples, helping LA win game one, and build a 3-1 series lead. The Grizzlies won the next two though, sending things back to Bluff City for a game seven. Ultimately though, home court didn't help, as the Clippers broke the game wide open in the fourth, outscoring the Grizzlies 27-16, for an 82-72 victory. "That guy was on the team?": Reggie Evan led the Clippers in rebounding with 8.7 a night, while Gilbert Arenas played in six out of the seven games, totaling 23 minutes and four points for the Grizzlies. What next?: The Spurs swept the Clippers in the semis. 2013 Playoffs - #5 Memphis Grizzlies (56-26) defeat #4 LA Clippers (56-26) in six games The setup: The Clippers won their division for the VERY FIRST TIME in franchise history, while the Grizzlies were in full Grit 'N Grind mode, with Marc Gasol winning Defensive Player of the Year that season. What happened: Things started off well, with the Clippers winning the first two games in LA. However, the Grizzlies stood firm at home, knotting the series at 2-all. Things turned dire for LAC when star forward Blake Griffin suffered an ankle sprain during practice, limiting him to just 19:34 minutes in game five, which they lost. With their season on the line in the City of Angels for game six, Griffin could only play 13:56, and not even a career postseason-best 30 points by Matt Barnes could save the Clips. To add insult to injury, Chris Paul was ejected with 2:29 left, before the game ended with a 118-105 score. "That guy was on the team?": Tayshaun Prince was Memphis' starting small forward, while Grant Hill and Lamar Odom, both with the Clips, played their last NBA seasons. What next?: The Grizzlies dispatched the OKC Thunder in five games in the conference finals, before losing to the Spurs via a sweep in the West Finals. 2014 Playoffs - #5 Portland Trail Blazers (54-28) defeat #4 Houston Rockets (54-28) in six games The setup: The Houston Rockets added Dwight Howard to a roster that already had James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons, making them one of the top teams in the West. The Portland Trail Blazers meanwhile built on Damian Lillard's 2013 Rookie of the Year campaign and snapped a two-year postseason drought. What happened: While things were tightly contested, three of the first four games went to overtime, the Blazers seemingly had the Rockets' number, winning two of those OT games, en route to a 3-1 series lead. The Rockets managed to stave off elimination at home in game five, but in game six, Lillard truly made a name for himself, by canning a series-winning shot, allowing Rip City to advance for the first time in 14 years. "That guy was on the team?": Mo Williams was Portland's sixth man (8.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.8 apg), while Omer Asik teamed up with Howard in the Houston frontcourt. What next?: The Blazers managed to take one game from the Spurs, before bowing out in the conference semifinals. 2015 Playoffs - #5 Memphis Grizzlies (55-27) defeat #4 Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) in five games The setup: The Blazers won the Northwest Division, but the next two teams in the standings, the Grizzlies and the Spurs, both had notched 55 wins, four more than them. Portland's main problem though was swingman Wesley Matthews tearing an achilles tendon early in March, a season-ending injury. What happened: Portland struggled to find someone who could take the starting SG spot on their roster with Matthews out, cycling through CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Arron Afflalo. That trio, as starters, combined to shoot 4-of-22 for 10 points over five games, allowing the Memphis D to concentrate on Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Grizzlies won the first three games, before picking up the clincher in game five, despite starting point guard Mike Conley suffering a facial fracture in game three and missing the rest of the series. "That guy was on the team?": Nick Calathes wound up assuming the point guard duties for the Grizzlies, in what turned out to be his final NBA stint (he went back to playing in Greece after the season). What next?: The Grizzlies lost in six games in the next round to the Golden State Warriors, after the Dubs made their famous adjustment to use Andrew Bogut to guard Tony Allen. 2016 Playoffs - #5 Portland Trail Blazers (44-38) defeat #4 LA Clippers (53-29) in six games The setup: The LA Clippers came really close to losing center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason, but you all know what happened instead. As for the Portland Trail Blazers, the team rebuilt after losing LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum, among others, pairing Lillard with Most Improved Player winner CJ McCollum in the backcourt. What happened: The Paul-Griffin-Jordan trio looked splendid early on, going up 2-0 after games in LA. The Blazers struck back and won game three, but then disaster waylaid LA in game four, with BOTH Paul (broken hand) and Griffin (quad) exiting the game and the series. That paved the way for the Blazers to complete their run and advance. "That guy was on the team?": It was Chris Kaman's final NBA season, and he spent it as a locker room guy for the Blazers. It was also Clippers guard Pablo Prigioni's last stint in the NBA (not counting several preseason games with the Rockets the next season, before he got cut and returned to Europe). What next?: The Blazers advanced to the West semis, where they lost in five games to the Warriors, despite Stephen Curry missing the first three matches. 2017 Playoffs - #5 Utah Jazz (51-31) defeat #4 LA Clippers (51-31) in seven games The setup: It was a battle between two teams looking to go far in the postseason in the hopes of enticing their future free agents to re-up. For the Jazz, Gordon Hayward was the player in question, while for the Clippers, both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin had the ability to depart in the offseason. What happened: Iso-Joe Johnson did Iso-Joe things, stealing game one for the Jazz on the Clippers' home court. Undeterred, the Clippers proceeded to win the next two, for a 2-1 advantage, but game three turned out to be costly. The team the next day announced that Blake Griffin was out for the rest of the season due to a toe injury. Still, things went to a game seven, in LA, but the Clippers did not have the firepower to win out, and the Jazz were able to get the victory and advance. What next?: The Jazz got swept by the Warriors in the West semis. And ironically, both Hayward and Paul wound up departing their respective teams. In addition, Griffin did sign an extension with the Clippers, but they wound up trading him mid-way through the 2017-18 campaign. 2018 Playoffs - #5 Utah Jazz (48-34) defeat #4 Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34) in six games The setup: The Jazz equaled their postseason rank from last season, thanks to the brilliance of rookie Donovan Mitchell, while the Thunder formed a "Big Three" comprising Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. What happened: Paul George sizzled for 36 points to help the Thunder win game one, but Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell teamed up to help the Jazz win the next three. On the brink of elimination, Russell Westbrook led a dominant third quarter effort in OKC to force a game six, but in Salt Lake City, the Jazz managed to hold on, and earn the series victory. What next?: The Jazz will now test themselves against the top-seeded Houston Rockets. Should be a good one. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 29th, 2018

Rockets rout Timberwolves 102-82 in Game 2

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul had 27 points and Gerald Green came off the bench to score 21 as the Houston Rockets used a huge second quarter to cruise to a 102-82 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) that gave them a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series. Houston fell behind early, but went on top for good with a 37-point second quarter, powered by four three-pointers from Green, and the Wolves didn't threaten again. The top-seeded Rockets won the opener by three behind a 44-point performance from James Harden on a night when most of the team struggled offensively. Things were much different on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) when Harden had just 12 points as one of four Rockets who finished in double figures. Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns had another disappointing game, scoring all of his five points in the first quarter, after being criticized for finishing with eight in the series opener. The All-Star big man went to the bench with about seven minutes left in the third quarter and didn't return. Jamal Crawford scored 16 points for the eighth-seeded Timberwolves, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Harden said Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) that he knew Paul would have a big Game 2 after the nine-time All-Star scored 14 points and tied a season high with six turnovers in the first game. Early on, it was clear that Harden was right, as Paul had 15 points, three assists, two steals and a block by halftime. Paul, who joined the Rockets in an offseason trade from the Clippers, finished with eight assists and three steals. Houston was up by 22 points with about nine minutes left when Paul made two quick baskets to make it 91-65. The second came on a twirling off-balance layup over Nemanja Bjelica that earned him a standing ovation from the home crowd. The Rockets were up by 15 at halftime and opened the second half with a 10-2 run to make it 65-42 with about nine minutes left in the third. Harden made his first three-pointer to get things going after missing all six attempts in the first half, and P.J. Tucker added another one after two free throws by Jimmy Butler. The Timberwolves had scored seven straight points later in the third when Green, the hometown player who was signed off the street in December, hit his fifth three-pointer to leave the Rockets up 74-53 with about 2.5 minutes left in the quarter. The Timberwolves led by as many as nine early and the game was tied with about eight minutes left in the second quarter before Houston scored 16 straight points, highlighted by three three-pointers from Green, to take a 46-30 lead with about 4.5 minutes left in the first half. Minnesota missed six straight shots, including three that were blocked, and had committed two turnovers as the Rockets built the lead. TIP-INS Timberwolves: Justin Patton sat out with a sore left foot. ... Butler finished with 11 points. ... Andrew Wiggins had 13 points and eight rebounds. ... Minnesota shot 5-of-18 from three-point range. Rockets: Ryan Anderson, who returned to practice Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time), didn't play after also sitting out in Game 1. D'Antoni said Anderson, who has a sprained left ankle, is likely to play Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). ... Trevor Ariza had 15 points. ... Houston made 16-of-52 three-pointers. UP NEXT The series moves to Minnesota for Game 3 on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time)......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 19th, 2018

Harden, Rockets pass first postseason test

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — If the long road to June basketball is to come to fruition for the best regular-season team in basketball, it had to start like this for the Houston Rockets. That first step, that first foray into the great postseason abyss, required this sort of confirmation from the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament, so to speak. There’s no room for Cinderellas around here, no slaying of Goliath, not on Clint Capela’s watch. Not with James Harden on the case when the Rockets needed it most, and especially at crunch time. And not with Chris Paul, chip planted firmly on his shoulder as always, eyeballing bigger and better things than being the best from late October to mid-April. So it won’t be easy. Nobody said it would be. And let’s be clear, the Minnesota Timberwolves are not a normal eight seed. Not really. A healthy Jimmy Butler and the infusion of veteran talent that helped end the second longest playoff drought in NBA history this season makes that big a difference. They certainly did Sunday night (Monday, PHL time) at Toyota Center, when the Rockets were forced to battle until the very end for a 104-101 win despite a 44-point masterpiece from Harden. But like everyone else who dealt with these juggernaut Rockets all season long, Harden and his crew proved to be too much with the game on the line. With Harden on the bench and the game tied at 85 with 6:49 to play, the script was already written. He came in for Paul with 6:07 to play and the Rockets up a point, and promptly scored on a driving layup. He stole the ball and then scored on a driving floater. After a Capela block, he scored on a driving layup. By the time he knocked down a three-pointer with 4:27 left, the Rockets’ lead was back up to eight points, 94-86, and it was clear that Harden was going to do whatever it took — scoring, playmaking and even defending — to keep Game 1 from going awry. It was vintage work from the maestro who has owned the floor most every night since the season opener, when Harden and the Rockets went into Oracle Arena as the reigning champion Golden State Warriors hung another banner and collected those diamond-laced title rings and walked off the floor winners. “Another day for James,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said after Harden finished one point shy of his playoff career-high. “He’s done it all year and he really stepped up. We were struggling to make shots, struggling to really have any kind of rhythm of play and James put us on his back and he’s been doing it for a while now.” D’Antoni will have to forgive the rest of us, including the frontrunner for the Kia MVP this season, for not digesting his theory about the playoffs being something other than a referendum on his team’s magical regular season. Harden operated like someone keenly aware of what was at stake with the Timberwolves, each and every one of them, trying in vain to slow him down. “Honestly, I just try to be aggressive and make the right play,” Harden said. “Things got slowed up a little bit, just try to be aggressive with my shot and fortunately it went in.” Jimmy Butler is an All-Star and one of the league’s best two-way players. Derrick Rose is a former Kia MVP himself, and still has enough juice left to make things difficult for someone when he locks in the way he did on this night. And neither one of them had any luck slowing Harden down during his second-half blitz. He scored 25 of his points in the final 18 minutes, making play after play when the Timberwolves appeared to be on the verge of potentially pulling off a shocker. “There were several plays in which I thought we defended well and he made shots,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “James is that type of player and we’ve seen it all year, [he’s] very difficult to guard. Basically, you have to guard him with your whole team. And it’s not just his scoring, but his playmaking and all the things that he does.” The Rockets won on a night when they shot a brutal 27 percent (10-for-37) from beyond the three-point line, where they’ve feasted on the opposition all season. They roasted the Timberwolves from distance during their regular season match ups to the tune of 43.4 percent and more than doubled them up in three-point makes during those games, but made just two more Sunday night (Monday, PHL time). Harden was 7-for-12 from deep, a playoff career-high for makes, while the rest of the Rockets shot a combined 3-for-25. And he was draining his shots with hands in his face routinely. “He’s an MVP candidate and you know why,” said Timberwolves big man Taj Gibson. “Every time the game was ‘mono e mono’ and they were in a tight spot, he just took over the game. He made some tough shots, he played phenomenal tonight. We were trying to throw everything at him, he’s a talented player.” He’s clearly much more than that. “I mean yeah, he’s a hell of a player,” Butler said. “Everyone knows that. But you don’t just guard him with one guy. It’s everybody out there, everybody has to be in the correct position. Challenge shots; contest them at the rim, but more than anything, if there is a miss we’ve got to get the rebound and take off the other way. But we didn’t do any of that tonight, we’ve got to be better [in Game 2] on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time).” Thibodeau had to turn to his bench to stay in the game before halftime and they delivered, scoring 19 points and playing with an energy level that matched what the Rockets did regardless of who was on the floor. Rose (nine points), Jamal Crawford (seven) and Gorgui Dieng (three) did all that bench scoring, which was the only way to offset the furious 49 points Capela and Harden combined for before the break. Jeff Teague’s three fouls and Butler’s defensive task, trying to keep Harden under wraps, required so much of his attention that the scoring load had to be picked up by someone else. He went scoreless in the first quarter and just never seemed to get untracked early on, finishing with just 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting. It’s an issue the Timberwolves won’t be able to scheme their way out of in this series, not as long as Capela is the most energetic and effective young big man on either team. He outscored the All-Star Towns 20-3 before the break and out rebounded him 10-5, adding two blocks and a steal to drive home the point that he’s up for this challenge all series long. “Man, Clint was all over the place, both ends of the court offensively and defensively,” Paul said. “You see him defending KAT, who’s a tough cover in the post. You know I’m low, and I weak side and I’m watching him go up for the hook, and then I’m watching Clint block it, and then he’s running. he was unbelievable tonight and we’re going to need that all season.” Capela finished his night with 24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks while Towns didn’t crack double digits in the scoring column (eight points on 3-for-9 shooting, 12 rebounds in a team-high 40 minutes of action). Chalk it up as a lesson learned for the playoff rookie. That must-win game the Timberwolves won at home over Denver Wednesday night had all the hype and intensity of a playoff game, only it wasn’t. Thibodeau credited the Rockets’ defense, the swarming and double-teaming of Towns, for slowing the big man down. “He has to be more active,” Thibodeau said, before praising the Rockets for perhaps their most underrated trait this season: The ability to lock down defensively. “They’re good, they’re very good. They’re tied together, they do a lot of switching and after the switch they read the ball extremely well. They react, they swarm, and so you have ti make good decisions, you have to make good plays. You have to have the ability to read and react.” Funny, that’s what the Rockets’ best player does perhaps as well as any other player in the league right now. Harden reads and reacts accordingly, always seemingly coming up with the right play at the right time. That’s how you know he’s in the moment right now, as are the rest of the Rockets. No matter how many times and how many different ways anyone tries to deflect attention from the obvious, they comprehend every bit of what lies ahead for a team riding into the postseason on the strength of a 65-win regular season that saw them run away from the competition. They wouldn’t have souls if they didn’t. They wouldn’t be human if they hadn’t already calculated the weight of the best regular season in franchise history times a wide-open postseason equaling something that’s never been done here, which says a lot for a franchise that has two Larry O’Brien trophies to show off. They know how important each and every step on this current journey is, starting with Sunday night’s very first choppy ones. Any suggestion to the contrary is, shall we say, a distant cousin of the truth. But we’ll play along for now, at the beginning. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 16th, 2018

Harden scores 44 points, Rockets beat Wolves 104-101

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 44 points and powered a big fourth-quarter run that allowed the Houston Rockets to outlast the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-101 on Sunday night (Monday, PHL time) in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series. Minnesota scored four straight points to get within three with about 30 seconds left. Chris Paul added two free throws after that for Houston, but a tip-in by Karl-Anthony Towns got Minnesota back within three. After a bad pass by Paul gave the Timberwolves a chance to tie it with 1.5 seconds left, Jimmy Butler's shot was short. The Timberwolves had a one-point lead with about seven minutes left when Houston used a 9-0 run, with the last seven points from Harden, to make it 94-86 with about four minutes to go. Harden, who also had a steal in that span, capped the run with a three-pointer that prompted Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout. Jeff Teague ended Minnesota's scoring drought with two free throws after the timeout and added a three-point play after a basket by Harden. Harden made another shot to give him 11 straight points for Houston before another basket by Teague. Harden got Capela in on the scoring after that, finding him for an alley-oop that pushed the lead to 101-93 with less than three minutes left. The top-seeded Rockets had their hands full with the No. 8 Timberwolves on a night where Houston made just 10-of-37 three-pointers. Harden made 7-of-12 three-pointers, but Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Paul combined to make just three of their 22 tries. Houston kept All-Star big man Towns in check, limiting him to just eight points after he'd averaged 21.3 in leading the Wolves to their first playoff appearance since 2014. Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points to lead Minnesota. The Wolves scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 56-54 lead. Tucker made a triple for the Rockets after that, but Minnesota used a 6-1 spurt, with three's from Wiggins and Teague, to go back on top 62-58. The Rockets had managed just six points in the quarter when Gerald Green made a basket with to cut the lead to one with about five minutes left in the third. Derrick Rose added a bucket seconds later, but Houston scored six straight points after that to put Houston up 68-65. Harden got things going when he made a three-pointer while being fouled by Rose and also made the free throw. Minnesota led by a basket after a jump shot by Towns with about two minutes left in the quarter. Harden took over after that, scoring the last six points of the quarter to leave Houston up 76-72 entering the fourth. Harden hit a three-pointer before making a driving layup he was fouled on by Gorgui Dieng. Harden flexed each bicep twice while peering down at the muscles after the shot before making the free throw. The Rockets swept the regular-season series 4-0, winning by an average of 15.8 points a game and it looked like this one might be another blowout early as the Rockets raced out to a 17-6 lead behind 10 early points from Clint Capela. But the Timberwolves got going after that and had tied it up by late in the first quarter. The Rockets led 54-47 at halftime. TIP-INS Timberwolves: Butler, who led the team by averaging 22.2 points in the regular season, finished with 13 points. ... The Wolves made 8-of-23 three-point attempts. ... Towns had 12 rebounds and two assists. Rockets: Ryan Anderson missed the game with a sprained left ankle. Coach Mike D'Antoni said there was a chance he could return for Game 2, but that he would know more in the next couple of days. ... Capela had 20 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, but was limited in the second half and added just four more points and two rebounds. UP NEXT Game 2 is Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) in Houston......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 16th, 2018

D’Antoni, Harden and Paul poised to capture trio’s 1st title

HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul has a long history of playoff heartbreak. So does James Harden. And Mike D’Antoni has more than either of them combined. Separately, they’ve never gotten it done at playoff time. Together, their fortunes might change. They’ve led the Houston Rockets to the NBA’s best record going into these playoffs, and in a league that Golden State and Cleveland have dominated in recent years, it may not be overly surprising to see the Paul-Harden-D’Antoni triumvirate win it all this spring. With two regular-season games left, the Rockets have already piled up a franchise-record 64 wins to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. But this group — perhaps fueled by past playoff shortcomings — knows it has much more work to do. “The ultimate goal is holding that trophy up,” Harden said. “So until we do that there’s no celebrations ... we haven’t done anything yet.” D’Antoni, who’ll turn 67 next month and would be the oldest coach to win an NBA title if Houston gets it done, has revived his career in Houston. He got the Rockets to the West semifinals in his first year with them last season. And on the eve of these playoffs, D’Antoni insists he won’t spend a second thinking about all the times things went wrong in his previous postseason trips. “Zero,” he said when asked how much he thinks about his playoff failures. “Twenty-nine teams look back every year. It’s hard to win.” D’Antoni might know that better than most. In 2004-05, his Phoenix Suns won 62 games in the regular season and reached the conference finals before losing to eventual champion San Antonio in five games. The Suns advanced to the conference finals again the following year, but were eliminated by Dallas in six games. They lost in the second round in 2007, the first round in 2008. More failures followed in his stints with New York and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks were swept by Boston in 2011, the Lakers swept by the Spurs in 2013, both of those coming in the first round. Before last season, D’Antoni hadn’t won a playoff game in nine years. “We’ve had a great regular season, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “But what it does mean is that we’re pretty good and if we make big shots and do what we’re supposed to do ... then we’ll see if we can do it.” Paul’s failures in the postseason may be even more scrutinized. The nine-time All-Star, who came to Houston in an offseason trade, has made nine playoff trips without advancing past the second round. The worst of those flops came in 2015, ironically against Houston, when Paul and the Clippers had a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals. They got blown out in Game 5, wasted a 19-point second-half lead in Los Angeles in Game 6, then fell in Game 7 at Houston. That was then, Paul said. “It is cool when you stop and think about it,” Paul said. “But for us right now we’re trying to enjoy the moment. Trying to enjoy the process and not worry about all that stuff. Maybe after it’s all said and done you can reflect on it.” Harden knows playoff pain as well. His splendid 2016-17 season was so promising, especially after Houston routed San Antonio, on the road, in Game 1 of the West semifinals. The Spurs won four of the next five, including a 114-75 embarrassing series-clincher in Houston where Harden was held to 10 points. “These last few years I’ve learned that obviously you can’t do it by yourself,” Harden said. “You need guys to step up, make big shots, make big plays and so we have enough guys in here on any given night that can change a playoff series. So that’s what you need. That’s what puts you over the top.” Paul might be the topper Harden needed. From the moment Paul arrived in Houston, Harden raved about what he would bring to the team. After playing with him for a season, the normally reserved Harden was even more effusive in his praise of the fellow guard. “I don’t mean to sound too mushy or what-not but it was like love at first sight,” Harden said. “It was just meant to be.” This will be Harden’s ninth playoff appearance after three trips with the Thunder and five in Houston. He’s led the Rockets to the postseason in each of his seasons in Houston, but his failure to shine in big games has dogged him for years. Bringing a title to Houston, which hasn’t seen the Rockets hoisting a Larry O’Brien Trophy since the back-to-back crowns in 1994 and 1995, will render all those criticisms moot. “We’re all in this together,” Harden said. “That’s what it’s all about. We talk about it every single day. We’re in this together and if one fails we all fail. So we’re going to ride this thing out together.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 10th, 2018

Green s 3-pointer at buzzer lifts Rockets over Suns 104-103

HOUSTON (AP) — Gerald Green made a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Houston Rockets rallied from a 21-point, second-half deficit for a 104-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. The win was Houston's 11th straight and extended Phoenix's skid to 14 games. James Harden hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 101-all with 12 seconds left before rookie Josh Jackson put Phoenix on top with a basket with 1.4 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Trevor Ariza found Green in the corner and he knocked down the shot to extend Houston's streak. Green's teammates mobbed him after the shot and he ended up on his back on the court with a huge grin on his face. Houston rested Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Nene after clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on Thursday with Golden State's loss to Milwaukee. The Rockets that did play looked uninspired early against the team with the NBA's worst record, and Houston trailed by 17 at halftime. They began chipping away at the lead in the third, but never led in the second half until Green's game-winner. Harden had 28 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. P.J. Tucker added 18 points and made a career-high five 3-pointers. Jackson had 27 points for the Suns, who haven't won since Feb. 28, and Troy Daniels added 23. The Suns were up by four with about a minute left after a basket by Daniels. Harden missed two free throws soon after that and Tucker made one of two to cut the lead to 101-98 with 46 seconds remaining. Phoenix was up by 11 to start the fourth and remained up by that margin with about 8 minutes left before Houston scored seven points in a row to cut the lead to 89-85. Jackson made a layup after that, but Houston scored the next five points, capped by a 3 from Tucker, to get within one with about 5 1/2 minutes left. The Suns were up by 17 at halftime and had a 14-point lead early in the third when Daniels made three 3-pointers to power a 9-2 run and push the lead to 71-50 with about 8 minutes left in the quarter. The Rockets finally found a bit of rhythm after that, using a 10-2 spurt to get within 73-60 midway through the quarter. Joe Johnson scored the last four points of the third to cut Phoenix's lead to 86-75 entering the fourth. Tucker got Houston within 3 midway through the second quarter before Phoenix scored the next 12 points to push the lead to 49-34. Danuel House got things going with a 3-pointer and Jackson wrapped it up with seven straight points. A free throw by Harden cut the lead to 12 later in the quarter, but the Suns scored the last five points of the second quarter to make it 57-40 at halftime. TIP-INS Suns: Devin Booker missed his seventh straight game with a sprained right hand. ... Alex Len sat out for the second straight game with a sprained left ankle. ... Phoenix had 17 turnovers. Rockets: Luc Mbah a Moute returned after missing the last three games with a sore left knee. ... Houston signed Tim Quarterman for the rest of the season on Friday. He appeared in 11 games for the Clippers' G League team this season. ... Green finished with 15 points. UP NEXT Suns: Visit Warriors on Sunday. Rockets: Visit Spurs on Sunday......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 31st, 2018

New era, new challenges emerge for Warriors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst "It’s the lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself. He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest." -- Muhammad Ali Ali defended his heavyweight championship 20 times, during two eras: when he was young and unstoppable, after beating Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964, and when he was old and vulnerable, after beating George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. He was the fastest heavyweight ever in the first era; he was smart and could take a punch in the second. A generation later, the Golden State Warriors are defending their NBA title for a second time, in three years. But they, too, are doing so in two eras. In 2014, no one had seen anything like what Golden State did on a basketball court, and how Stephen Curry’s and Klay Thompson’s shooting range changed the geometry of NBA defenses. They stretched to the breaking point trying to get out to Curry and Thompson. They couldn’t figure out how to handle the Warriors’ five-man switching defenses. They couldn’t stand up under Golden State’s withering pace. There is no need to hold a telethon yet for the Warriors, three years later. They are 49-14 today, with four All-Stars among their five starters, including Kia MVP candidate Kevin Durant, in the prime of his career, who wasn’t there when the Warriors first beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals. They are still first in the league in Offensive Rating, first in True Shooting Percentage, first in Effective Field Goal Percentage. They still are unsolvable to most opponents. But maybe not all, not anymore. The margin of separation between Golden State and the rest of the league is still there, most of the time. But there are tiny signs of slippage. Tiny. You recall what Warriors assistant coach Bruce Frasier said in the preseason, when no one is injured and everyone thinks they’re going 82-0. “Teams are starting to figure us out a little bit,” he said then. “We’re talented, so that sometimes overrides strategy. But I feel like teams are figuring certain things out to do to counter what they’ve seen. Year one, it was really hard, because it was all new. The pieces have changed a little bit, but I feel like our challenge will be to see if we can layer on some of the offense, our fluid movement, and counters, and change things up, and execute better. Defense is always big, too, so I wouldn’t go into the complacent (problem). I think it’s going to be more execution, and how smart can we really be, and can we keep that energy up through this year?” In each of their previous three seasons, the Warriors led the league in margin of victory -- 10.1 points in 2014-15, 10.8 points in 2015-16 and 11.6 points last season. This year, though, they’ve fallen to third, behind the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors -- and their win margin is down to 8.5 points per game. Two years ago, the Warriors were fourth in the league in Defensive Rating (100.9). Last season, Golden State was second (101.1). This season, the Warriors are fifth, at 103.4. In 2014-15, they were 14th in the league in points allowed in the paint; this year, they’re 24th (to be fair, they were 23rd last year, when they won it all anyway). Are they bored? Tired? Aging? Is their bench inconsistency this year the result of vets saving themselves for the playoffs, or guys just getting old? And will it matter against anyone other than Houston? “Once you start getting a little older, it’s harder and harder,” guard Shaun Livingston said last week. “We definitely need the youth, we definitely need the health. We’ve got to be healthy. We’ve got to be healthy. Sometimes you see teams that maybe are over the hill -- they have the experience, but maybe not (the ability). It’s human nature. Obviously, I don’t think we’re there yet. We’ve got guys that are still in their prime. It’s mental now.” In the Jean-Pierre Coopman phase of their latest title defense (oh, how one misses spectacles like Ali fighting Coopman, the “Lion of Flanders” -- with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier on the call!), the Warriors came to Washington last week. There was no White House visit on the docket, only time with D.C. area kids and a trip to the African-American History Museum, with owner Joe Lacob and GM Bob Myers on the trip as well. They have been in the public eye for five years now, back to Mark Jackson’s last season as coach, when the Splash Brothers exploded into the national consciousness. That’s a long time for one NBA team to have all that light and heat on it. For a minute, the Warriors tried to convince themselves that there was a backlash building against them nationally, that people had grown tired of their 3-pointers and video game point totals. It was, of course, a ridiculous posit -- Golden State and its players are more popular than ever, the love for Curry such that he felt perfectly comfortable posting a photo of the glass table he accidentally smashed in his hotel room on Instagram, any criticism surely to be muted amid America’s love for the two-time MVP.   when you feel like you’re on the @pgatour so you gotta get some swings going in the hotel room 😂😂😂 #idiot A post shared by Wardell Curry (@stephencurry30) on Mar 1, 2018 at 1:33pm PST “There was a little guy who was probably eight years old, and he came up and introduced himself,” Steve Kerr said. “His name was Ryan, and I’m talking to him, and he goes ’oh, my God, there’s Quinn Cook!’ And he ran over to Quinn Cook. Not Steph, not me -- he loved Quinn Cook. That was cool.” Throughout the Warriors’ run, they’ve faced down different challengers in the Western Conference -- the first iteration of the Rockets with Harden, a hybrid inside-out attack where Houston unhappily and unsuccessfully tried to meld Harden and Dwight Howard in the post. The Durant/Russell Westbrook one-two combo in Oklahoma City. The Spurs, morphing from the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker-led team to the Kawhi Leonard-dominant one. The “Lob City” Clippers, followed by the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin halfcourt version. But this season’s Rockets, with Paul at the point, may be the most unique and dangerous threat to the Warriors. They are much more than a team that just rains 3-pointers on you -- though they most certainly do that, and do it historically well. They’re also an outstanding defensive team, with the additions of P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute giving them a grit they haven’t had in past seasons to pair with the shot blocking and rim presence of Clint Capela. The numbers are stark: Houston is 32-1 this season when Paul, Harden and Capela all play, including two wins over the Warriors The Rockets have no obvious weakness. They have no fear of Golden State, either, having won two of the three meetings with the Warriors this season. It’s not just that they’re good, it’s how they’re good that makes them look like the greatest challenge yet to Golden State’s hegemony in the West. “I mean, yes, because they do it a different way, I guess,” Curry said last week. “They adopted the power of the three ball and try to use it as a main weapon, and obviously with James and CP together. Honestly, we know that they’re playing well. We’re chasing that number one seed and keeping tabs on how they’re playing and whatnot. But at the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of time left before we have to face them again. We know they’re serious. But so are we.” The Warriors have had to deal with great adversity during their run, to be sure. The biggest challenge came about this time last year, when a collision between teammates -- Zaza Pachulia and Durant, in D.C., ironically -- culminated in a Grade 2 MCL sprain and bone bruise for Durant, taking him out of the lineup at the worst possible part of the season. Golden State had just ripped off wins in 23 of its previous 27 games since a lamentable Christmas Day loss to the Cavs. Curry had started to figure out how to play with KD, and vice versa. They were in the middle of a brutal stretch of seven road games in eight overall, with the one brief return home to play the Celtics. When Durant went down, the initial fear was that he’d torn his ACL and would be out for the season. The Warriors’ locker room was funeral after the Wizards game. “Obviously, we were trying to figure out if he was like ’done-done’ for the year, or whether or not there was going to be a chance he’d return,” forward David West said. “We were, at the time he got hurt, we were just starting to figure out the sort of roles, everybody was getting comfortable with roles. We basically had to reset., change some of the functions we were doing. We lost a few games  trying to literaly just figure out and recalibrate and re-balance. That was one of those periods where we were just looking at each other, trying to start this thing -- we lost this huge, huge piece.” Yet the Warriors figured it out on the fly. And how they responded then provides a big clue to how they might respond to the challenge the Rockets present to them now. “It took us, I think we needed to get home before we were able to stablize,” Kerr said. “I want to say we lost three of the last four on the trip or something  (they did lose three of four, but one of the three losses was at Oracle in that one home game with the Celtics). We got home and righted the ship and got going. But sometimes (an injury is) a galvanizing force when a guy gets hurt, and you have to do certain things. Like, for us, when Kevin got hurt, we talked about it and we said we have to be the best defensive team in the league. We don’t have that luxury of throwing the ball to Kevin and saying ’get us 30 points tonight.'” During that stretch without Durant (March 2, 2017 to April 5, 2017), who returned just before the start of the playoffs, the Warriors led the league in the league in Defensive Rating (100.0, just head of San Antonio’s 100.2), first in opponent field goal percentage (.429), tied for second in opponent 3-point percentage (.316) and fourth in opponent points allowed per game (100.9). And once Durant returned for good, the Warriors again flexed. They tore through the West, winning all but one game en route to a third straight NBA Finals. And they took the Cavaliers apart in five games for their second title in three years. “You could see Draymond, Klay, Andre, Shaun, those guys, even Loon (Kevin Looney), were like, ’we didn’t have KD last year,’ ” West said. “For someone like myself, I just followed their lead. Klay got a little more aggressive. Draymond sort of settled everybody defensively. And we started winning.” That muscle memory will come in handy this year. Durant and Curry have missed time with injuries, and Golden State hasn’t figured out things at center just yet. (Would it shock me if rookie Jordan Bell played a big role there down the stretch? No, it would not.) But the Warriors still are smoking people in the second halves of games; per teamrankings.com, the Warriors lead the lead in third-quarter scoring margin at 5.3 points per game, more than double the margin of the second-place Denver Nuggets. Whether it’s adjustments or something else (“mainly, fiery halftime speeches, Knute Rockne style,” Kerr opines), they have again put a lot of opponents away with 12 minutes to spare. Since the All-Star break, they’re fourth in the league in opponent field goal percentage (.433) and Defensive Rating (100.3). “This year, obviously, knock on wood, we want to stay healthy,” Curry said. “We want to continue to push in the right direction. Every year’s different. That’s the fun part about this league. No matter how much success you’ve had and what your expectations are, it’s a different journey every year. We’re right in the middle of that right now. We have an amazing record, considering how we’ve played. I think we’d all say we haven’t lived up to our own expectations. That’s okay. We have an opportunity to build the right habits and the right momentum going into the playoffs this year and do it, all 15 guys.” Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 6th, 2018

Superteams and superpowers: Basketball in 2017

The common theme in basketball as of late is rather simple: build yourself a superteam and see where it goes. 2017 saw a bunch of superteams take the court in all levels. Some panned out and some did not. Nevertheless, we live in a world of superteams. Either your favorite basketball team is one or it's not.   Warriors World For the 2016-2017 NBA Season, the 73-win Golden State Warriors, a superteam in their own right, added former Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant. Oh my goodness. The Dubs then proceeded to decimate the NBA, winning 67 games in the regular season. Golden State was even better in the playoffs, making a serious play for a postseason sweep before finishing with a 16-1 record and a second title in three seasons.   Seriously, it's a Warriors World that we live in Golden State's success has prompted other teams to try and create their own superteam. Houston snatched Chris Paul away from the Los Angeles Clippers and now the Rockets have a potent backcourt combo that also feature MVP contender James Harden. Oklahoma City completed two incredible trades that made Paul George and Carmelo Anthony members of the Thunder. Oh, OKC also has MVP winner Russell Westbrook running point. The Timberwolves also have something going on in Minnesota as Jimmy Butler joined Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for a young and intriguing Big 3. The Eastern Conference landscape changed when Cleveland traded Kyrie Irving to Boston. The Celtics previously signed Gordon Hayward and all of a sudden, the winningest NBA franchise is in position to take over the East now and the forseeable future. Speaking of Cleveland, LeBron James is still with the Cavs and they've added Dwyane Wade of all people to join an aging but still scary superteam. The King started this whole superteam craze. Golden State just happened to perfect. We all live in a Warriors World.   Feer the Beer Over in the PBA, the Philippines' premier superteam is still pretty effective despite its stars each playing almost 40 minutes per game. A year removed from the "Beeracle Run," San Miguel made history by being only the second team to capture the Perpetual Trophy following three straight Philippine Cup titles. Then the Beermen, with the top-3 MVP candidates in June Mar Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot, and Chris Ross, plus Arwind Santos and Marcio Lassiter, ended the franchise's 16-year championship drought in the Commissioner's Cup. With the help of import Charles Rhodes of course. San Miguel had legitimate chances to win the Grand Slam of course, but the team ultimately fell short in the Governors' Cup. However, the Beermen did add 6'8" Fil-German Christian Standhardinger to the fold. Superteam.   Return of the Kings It was the perfect set up. Meralco earned the number 1 seed and was rolling all the way to the Finals. Meanwhile, the Gink Kings had to go through yet another emotional and heated series against rival TNT in the semifinals in order to have a chance to properly defend their title. The series before that? The Gin Kings had to end San Miguel's Grand Slam dreams. In the 2017 Governors' Cup Finals, Meralco was in perfect position to take The Rematch and allow the birth of a new PBA rivalry. After seven games, none of that happened and Ginebra won back-to-back titles by virtue of their quote unquote superteam. Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, Joe Devance, Justin Brownlee, LA Tenorio, Sol Mercado, and Scottie Thompson. How is that not a superteam? The Kangkong jokes sure died a slow death.   Systematic Mayhem Even in college hoops, superteams are the way to go. However, in the amatuers, you just have to recruit your way into building one. La Salle has perfected this method and the Green Archers are certainly the biggest --- and loudest and most aggressive ---- recruiters. The Taft superteam featuring Ben Mbala and co. got the Green Archers to two UAAP Finals and one championship. Only one championship because another superteam, quietly built in Katipunan with surgical, perhaps even robotic, precision, beat them this year. That's right, Big Bad Blue is once again on top of the UAAP as the Ateneo Blue Eagles scored a sensational, near-sweep of UAAP Season 80. Coach Tab Baldwin has a collection of incredible players that may not look like it on first glance but they do certainly qualify for superteam status. Dom't believe it? Maybe you will after they complete a five-peat. It could happen.   Sweep In the other collegiate league, two superteams dominated the NCAA for two separate periods in one season. First, Lyceum, the surprise superteam, made history by completing an 18-game sweep of the elimination round. However, the Pirates ran into the league's decade-old superteam in San Beda and the Red Lions ended up sweeping the Finals for yet another title. Most of the major characters from both squads will return for a new season and if a San Beda-Lyceum rematch does not happen, well, that's just disappointing isn't it?   OVERTIME 2017 also saw the rise and fall and rise of the Gilas Pilipinas program. Well sort of. The Philippines got off to a great star this year by absolutely dominating the SEABA Championships. Then, disaster struck in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup when Gilas was embarassed by an old foe in South Korea. To end the year, the Philippine national team recovered, albeit in an ugly fashion, to take an early lead in the 2019 World Cup Asian Qualifiers. Gilas is more than capable of forming a Pinoy superteam that could compete, and even beat, the best of Asia. Let's hope we get that in 2018. Finally, 2017 also saw the Civil War PBA edition. It wasn't funny and it wasn't good. Fortunately, it seems that bright and peacuful days are ahead of our beloved league. Let's hope that's the case and let's just leave the bad memories behind this year. Time to move on and forget about that stuff. There are basketball games to be played.     --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 28th, 2017

24 NBA questions before 17-18 tips off

By David Aldridge, TNT analyst The season starts on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). You’ve been waiting patiently all summer with your questions. Fire away.     1. So … what’s the point of playing this season? The Golden State Warriors are still the prohibitive favorites to repeat this season, next season and into the foreseeable future. But it was good to see a good chunk of the Western Conference -- the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, to name three teams -- not fold before the first card is dealt. That fact alone is incredibly important. The Warriors are still the best team in the West, without question. But if teams don’t even try to get better, or spend money to compete, the whole rationale for playing fades away. The Thunder could have rode Russell Westbrook alone to another first-round playoff loss, watched him walk out the door in free agency next summer and thrown up its hands, plead ‘woe is us and all small-market teams,’ and enjoyed a luxury tax-free life for the next few years. The Rockets could have just kept selling tickets to fans to watch James Harden and his pals shoot 50 threes a game for the next two or three years. It’s an appealing brand of basketball. Denver could have just kept building through the Draft, climbing a few more wins here or there for a while, and snuck into the eighth seed, choosing to be comfortable rather than bold. But they didn’t. They’ve called and raised. In all likelihood, it won’t be enough to beat Golden State. But those teams can sleep well at night. They’re not cheating their players, or fans. 2. So, is OKC now a legit threat to the Warriors? The short answer: no. But it’s closer. Carmelo Anthony will be as good a third option as anyone in the league has, though; he will eat regularly on the weak side as defenses scramble to handle Westbrook-Paul George pick and rolls; a quick seal and ‘Melo will be off to the races. If coach Billy Donovan goes small ball with Patrick Patterson at the five, there will be many nights when OKC drops a 130 spot. Yes, the Thunder’s defense is going to be an issue; while Enes Kanter was a sieve off the bench, he was coming off the bench, playing behind Steven Adams. Anthony will be starting and playing big minutes, many at the four. But it won’t matter most nights when the Thunder is up 20 to start the fourth quarter, after 36 minutes of Westbrook sorties, George 3-pointers and transition dunks, and Carmelo post-ups and spot-ups (he shot 44.8 percent last season on catch and shoot shots. Among forwards who played 30 or more minutes last season, per NBA.com/Stats, only Kevin Durant, Otto Porter and Kawhi Leonard shot better). The Thunder can guard you with George, Andre Roberson and Adams and they can outscore you with Westbrook and George and ‘Melo. They have a solid bench (Patterson, Ray Felton, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines) and Westbrook won’t be physically spent by the end of the 2018 playoffs. Wait; what am I saying? Of course he’ll be spent. But he’ll also be playing way deeper into May. 3. Did not getting Anthony hurt Houston or nah? The Rockets -- okay, Chris Paul -- wanted this done bad. It won’t hurt Houston in the regular season, when Paul and James Harden will dominate. And while Harden didn’t like Kevin McHale’s critique of his leadership, Mac was spot on. That doesn’t make “The Beard” a bad guy or teammate -- people gravitate to their comfortable roles in life, and CP3 is a natural-born leader. Harden will, one thinks, be more comfortable with slightly less light on him. They’ll do fine playing together and off one another. But the shadow of the Rockets’ implosion from deep -- 29 of 88 on three-pointers the last two games against the Spurs in their Western Conference semifinals series -- still hangs over them. Ryan Anderson was negated in the postseason. There’s a reason CP3 pushed for ‘Melo so hard. The Rockets will need unexpected consistent offense from a P.J. Tucker or Luc Mbah a Moute in May if they have any hopes of playing in June. 4. Can we just start the Cleveland-Boston East finals now? Maybe Toronto, with C.J. Miles shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers to complement Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, will break up what seems inevitable. Maybe Washington, with its super-solid starting five intact, now has the mental toughness to bust past the second round, where it’s been beached three of the last four postseasons. But it doesn’t feel like that. Boston, ultimately, should be a lot better this season than last. It will take a while for coach Brad Stevens to figure out the rotation and whether Jaylen Brown can really stick at the two, but ultimately, the Celtics have two dynamic playmakers/scorers in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and with Al Horford providing the glue at both ends, they’re going to be a load by the end of the season. And while Cleveland will have to wait a while for Isaiah Thomas, the Cavs have more than enough firepower until Thomas can make his debut. Whatever Dwyane Wade has left will be accentuated playing with James, and Kevin Love (holy moly, is he underrated) will feast drawing slower, bigger centers out to him on the perimeter. J.R. Smith doesn’t like losing his starting job to Wade, and he should be ticked. But he nonetheless will help Cleveland’s bench, which will be incredibly difficult in its own right with Tristan Thompson and Kyle Korver complementing Smith. And that’s before Thomas returns, which will put Derrick Rose on that second unit. There won’t be any rest for defenses who’ll then have to contend with a rested James, et al, coming back. It says here that not only will the Cavs not miss Irving offensively, they could be even more diverse and difficult to guard this season. Not to mention that James is supremely motivated to make an eighth straight Finals. 5. Could Curry break his record of 402 3-pointers in a season? At first glance, with Durant and Klay and Draymond (and, now, Nick Young) all needing to get fed as well, it would seem impossible for Curry to best the mark he set two years ago, on the 73-9 regular season team. But consider: coach Steve Kerr thinks a new guy always blossoms in his second year with the Warriors, which means Durant should be even more lethal offensively this year, as the Warriors’ offense reaches an even higher level of efficiency. And the way they move the ball, it’s not a stretch to think that with defenses tripping over themselves to get to Durant, Curry could get into one of those ridiculous grooves that could leave him within striking distance of 402 by the end of the season. 6. Could the last one in the Eastern Conference turn out the lights? The New York Knicks were hardly a power in the East before trading Anthony, but his departure creates one more team that will struggle to win 35 games this season. With the paucity of talent there should be at least four 50-win teams in the East -- Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington -- with the Milwaukee Bucks knocking on the door. 7. Who’s going to regret their offseason? The Bucks were fine off the court -- their new arena is already more than halfway constructed and looks like it’s going to be a gem -- although the surrounding mall that is supposed to be part of the complex is not going up as quickly. But the Bucks didn’t address their bigs-heavy roster and move some of the surplus -- how can coach Jason Kidd keep all of Greg Monroe, Jabari Parker and John Henson happy with Thon Maker scarfing up more and more frontcourt minutes? -- for the shooting Milwaukee still needs. The East is so open, and Milwaukee is so close to breaking through into elite status with Giannis Antetokounmpo an elite performer. 8. Rudy Gay -- sneaky good pickup? Gay says he’s cool starting or coming off the bench for the Spurs, but he’d best as San Antonio’s sixth man, at least to start things. Bringing Pau Gasol off the bench didn’t work so well, so if he’s starting at center, coach Gregg Popovich can’t go small ball with “Cousin” LaMarcus Aldridge at the five and Gay at the four alongside Kawhi Leonard. (Current state of Spurs fans’ cuticles here and here as they consider a season with an extended Klaw absence if this quad injury doesn’t improve soon.) The Spurs could have some serious firepower in reserve if Gay and Patty Mills come off the bench, but Mills or Dejounte Murray will likely have to start at the point until Tony Parker comes back. 9. Speaking of Popovich … Should he and Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy stick to sports? No. 10. Who’s gonna be Kia Rookie of the Year? I say Markelle Fultz. What, you thought I was gonna pick against a DeMatha Catholic man? (Actual unretouched photo of me as a sophomore at the most successful high school in the history of the United States may or may not be here). Playing off of Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington … it’s hard to see Fultz not looking really good when he should have all kinds of room to operate. Lonzo Ball will put up bigger numbers, and Tatum will be on a better team. But Boston was good last year, and Jayson Tatum will likely not play as much as the others. The Sixers are poised for a big jump up in the standings, and that’s always a narrative that voters like and get behind -- which is what will hurt Dennis Smith Jr.'s chances in Dallas. 11. What does Dwyane Wade really have left? Now that the inevitable buyout of Wade’s $24 million deal by the Bulls has led to the equally inevitable trek to Cleveland to play with James, can the 35-year-old Wade still be a significant contributor on a title contender? Given the general dysfunction in Chicago last season, you can dismiss most of the good and bad numbers Wade put up, with two exceptions: he still averaged almost five free throw attempts per game, and he shot 31 percent on 3-pointers -- not great, but more than double his anemic 15.9 percent behind the arc in 2015-16, his last with the Miami Heat. Wade obviously knows the cheat code for how to most effectively play off of James, so he’ll use the regular season to learn his teammates and be ready for the playoffs. But can Wade hold up over seven games defensively if he has to chase, say, Bradley Beal around, or try to deny DeRozan his preferred mid-range spots, and still be productive offensively? 12. Back to the Sixers -- how good will they be? My guess is they’ll pretty good in the 60 or so games I anticipate Embiid will play this season -- I’m assuming several designated off days for him during the season, not another injury. The mix of young talent (Fultz, Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Covington) and crafty vets (Redick, Amir Johnson) should mesh to make the 76ers a very tough team to defend. But Philly has to resolve the Jahlil Okafor situation, and in fairness to him, give him a fresh start somewhere else with a trade as soon as possible. If I were a good team that would be hard-pressed to add a free agent any time soon and feels a player short of true contention -- I’m looking at you, Memphis Grizzlies and Wizards -- I’d work hard to get the new, slimmed-down Okafor on my squad while he’s still on his rookie contract and make him the focal point of a kick-ass second unit. 13. Should we feel some kind of way about the Trail Blazers? I’m picking up what you’re putting down. A full season of the “Bosnian Beast” in the middle, it says here, will vault Portland into the top four in the West. Note I said “full season.” That means Jusuf Nurkic has to give coach Terry Stotts between 65-70 starts for the above premonition to be, as they say in the legal world, actionable. If so, Nurkic’s underrated scoring and passing out of the post will only make Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum that much more deadly out front, along with improving Portland’s defense. Per Basketball-Reference.com, the Blazers were 11.6 points per game better than the opposition with those three on the floor together and a +5 when their regular five-man lineup with Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu joined the guards and Nurkic. And that’s pronounced, “Noor-kitch,” accent on Noor. 13. A little movie break ... Kevin Costner’s accent in “Robin Hood” -- worst ever, right? Yes, but Natalie Wood’s in “West Side Story” was painful, too. 14. Many have written the post-CP3 Clippers off. Should they? The Clippers are my darkhorse this season -- if they do the right thing and go small more often. They’re doing it more in practice so far than in games because Danilo Gallinari is working through a foot injury, but Blake Griffin at the five and Gallinari at the four could be spicy during the regular season. That would mean Sam Dekker and/or Wes Johnson would have to become credible and dependable at the three, allowing coach Doc Rivers to play a Pat Beverly-Milos Teodosic backcourt more often, which will just be fun. This would, of course, mean less DeAndre Jordan, and … that may not be the worst thing. Nothing against DJ, who is the best defensive big in the league, bar none. Unfortunately, the NBA isn’t about defense any more -- at least not in the traditional sense. Even someone like Jordan who doesn’t just block shots, but also helps snuff out opposing pick and rolls, becomes less valued by the league’s advanced stats crowd if he doesn’t contribute more offensively. The three has gone a long way to tyrannizing the defense-dominant big man out of the game. (Zach Lowe recommends the Wizards try to get Jordan via trade, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard that name mentioned in connection with Washington, the idea being the only chance the Wizards have of beating Cleveland or Boston is to slow them down enough defensively that Wall-Beal-Porter can try and keep up offensively. Washington is definitely a load when Wall gets locked in on D and creates turnovers, and the idea of Jordan inhaling lobs from Wall is enticing to think about. But the Wizards are not -- not -- going to take on a fourth big contract, and Jordan’s surely going to opt out after this season; he’s rightly expecting a massive payday in 2018, and the Clippers certainly now have motive and means to retain him.) Anyway, some Lou Williams, Austin Rivers and/or Teodosic and Willie Reed off the bench isn’t bad, either. 15. Could Kyle Kuzma be the best rookie on the Lakers this season? Don’t @me, LaVar. Kuzma has followed up a very strong Vegas Summer League with high notes in preseason, averaging better than 19 points per game for the Lakers. He’s been dazzling at times, displaying in-between skills that intrigue, and showing why so many teams were trying to trade back into the first round to get the Utah forward before L.A. snagged him with its second and much less heralded first-round pick last June. And there will be minutes available at the four this season. So far, Kuzma has displayed unusual strength for a rookie and confidence in his ability to score. Of course, he’s inexperienced, and like all rookies, has to differentiate between an open shot and a good shot. The other, more famous first-rounder, Lonzo Ball, will almost certainly be the better all-around player in time. For this year, though … hmmm. 16. What does a Hawks fan have to look forward to this season? Honestly, not much. But they’ll always be well-coached and get better. I’d pick one of the young players, like rookie John Collins or second-year small forward Taurean Prince, and concentrate on them during the season. See what they do with their minutes on the floor, and watch how they gradually expand their games at both ends. Seeing a young guy get better as he gains experience and accepts coaching is one of the great joys of watching the NBA every night. 17. Orlando? What gives there? The team’s new braintrust of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond will need some time to fix the roster -- a mélange of athletic wings that have trouble defending and guards that have trouble shooting. The former is addressed somewhat with the signing of Jonathon Simmons from San Antonio, but I don’t see a solution to the latter with any of the existing backcourt contributors. Unless coach Frank Vogel figures out some way to get more turnovers/runouts from his group, they just can’t get in transition enough for their length and legs to make a difference. 18. New Orleans? What gives there? The short answer is, I have no idea. All of NBA Earth has DeMarcus Cousins out of there one way or another (he’s an unrestricted free agent in ’18 and wants to be on a contender/the Pelicans will never pay him what he wants and will have to trade him by the deadline/no way he and Anthony Davis fit together/Wall agitates for a reunion with his former Kentucky big man in D.C./your departure theory here) by this time next year, but we’ll see what coach Alvin Gentry has come up with for “Boogie” and “the Brow” after a summer to think it over. Rajon Rondo being out hurts their depth, but I have to be honest -- I don’t see how he and Jrue Holiday can possibly work together in a backcourt, and Holiday’s the guy the Pelicans just gave $125 million to, so he should probably have the ball in his hands every night, shouldn’t he? I like Ian Clark and Frank Jackson down there, but that untethered three spot burns a hole in the New Orleans sun. Well, at any rate, should be more fun than watching reruns of My Life on the D-List. 19. Favorite D-List Muppet? Beaker. 20. LeBron is leaving Cleveland again after this season, isn’t he? Everything points to yes, and a relocation to Los Angeles to play with the Lakers or Clippers next year – except … what if the Cavs win it all again this year? That’s not an impossible scenario -- in fact, it’s a pretty simple one to lay out: Cavs run roughshod through the Eastern Conference in the playoffs again, get through a good but hardly great Boston team in the conference Finals and set up a fourth straight encounter with Golden State. It’s easy now to say the Warriors dominated the Cavs in last season’s Finals -- but only if you ignore the fact that Cleveland led by six with just more than three minutes remaining in Game 3, only to see the Warriors score the game’s last 11 points to take a 3-0 lead instead of 2-1. And given that Cleveland vaporized the Warriors in Game 4, a 2-2 series would have meant the Cavs just needed to win once in Oracle -- which they’d done twice in the 2016 Finals -- to have a real shot at repeating. The point is, the difference between the teams isn’t as big as Draymond Green would have you believe; the Cavs have no fear of the Warriors, and Jae Crowder gives coach Tyronn Lue a viable on-ball defender for Kevin Durant, leaving LeBron free to play off of Green. And: that unprotected Nets pick, whether one or three or five or seven, is Cleveland’s best recruiting tool. LeBron knows everyone in college basketball and he can literally pick whoever he’d like to finish his career with in Cleveland before handing over the reins. I’m not saying he’s definitely staying, either -- only that his departure isn’t the lead pipe cinch some would have you believe. The season to come will have a lot to do with his next decision. 21. So, how will the playoffs go this season? Eastern Conference (seeds No. 1-8): Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee, Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia Western Conference (seeds No. 1-8): Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Portland, San Antonio, Memphis, Utah, Minnesota Eastern Conference semifinalists: Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Milwaukee Western Conference semifinalists: Golden State, Houston, OKC, San Antonio Eastern Conference finals: Cleveland over Boston Western Conference finals: Golden State over OKC (you heard me) NBA Finals: Golden State over Cleveland (in seven games) 22. Tell me something crazy that’s going to happen this season that no one’s predicting! Giannis Antetokounmpo. NBA MVP, 2017-18. 23. Are you high? No, ma’am. 24. So, why 24 questions? As always, we start the season with 24 questions (or predictions, or issues, whatever) in honor of Danny Biasone, the late owner of the Syracuse Nationals, whose discovery in 1954 helped save the league. At that time, the NBA was in the midst of a literal slowdown, in large part by teams that were desperate to figure out some kind of way to stay competitive with George Mikan, the league’s first superstar big man, and his team, the Minneapolis Lakers. Teams would hold the ball for minutes at a time without shooting in an effort to shorten the game and give them a chance to beat Minneapolis late. But the end result was boring -- very boring -- basketball. At the owners’ meetings that year, Biasone came up with an idea. NBA games were 48 minutes long. Biasone figured out that in a normal game, one not waylaid by the slowdown tactics, about 120 shots -- 60 per team -- were taken. So, why not just divide the number of minutes in every game -- 2,880 -- by the number of shots in an average game -- 120 -- to come up with some kind of a time limit in which a team had to shoot. And thus, the 24-second shot clock (2,800/120) was born. With the implementation of the shot clock in the 1954-55 season, scoring went way up, as did the quality of play. Teams were now running up and down the floor in order to try and beat the shot clock, complementing the “fast break” game that many colleges had played for years. But the new style in the pros was immensely popular with fans. And it still is. Plus, there’s just something iconic about that clock counting down every 24 seconds. It’s unique to the NBA. Thus, we ask 24 questions, in honor of the guy who owned a bowling alley as well as the Nationals for much of his adult life, and probably enjoyed the bowling more. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 17th, 2017

Thompson, Warriors force inevitable Game 7

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com OAKLAND, Calif. -- The final game of the Western Conference season will tip on the last Monday in May (Tuesday, PHL time) at the Toyota Center in Houston, as it should. This is the route the GPS mapped out back in October and never had any reason to recalculate from since. Warriors at Rockets in a winner-take-all. Never in doubt, no? A pair of championship-quality teams will go 48 minutes and the previous six games in this series tells us to expect a tense jump ball-to-buzzer affair. With or without Chris Paul. Paul’s inflamed right hamstring is a significant flaw, no question, yet the Rockets do have home-court advantage and will hear a crazed crowd trying to fill the void with noise if as expected Paul misses a second straight game. The Rockets didn’t have their point guard and spiritual leader Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) and still sent an early chill through the defending champions on enemy soil, going up 17 after the first quarter and 10 at halftime. Oracle Arena and the Warriors were confused. Then Game 6 flipped suddenly and drastically in the second half, as the Warriors rolled to a 115-86 victory. and here we are. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: “We got what we want, a seventh game on our home court, now it’s up to us to go get it.” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said: “I feel like we’re the best team in the world.” The Rockets constructed this team specifically to challenge and beat the Warriors. Meanwhile, the Warriors paced themselves through the regular season partly to conserve their attention and energy for Houston, which has Golden State’s attention like no team before in the West playoffs. Both are causing each other irritating problems. The Rockets’ defense with its switching and hand-in-the-face pressure is forcing Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry to work hard for their shots. The Warriors’ ability to thrive even if not all four of their All-Stars are clicking is testing Houston’s limits; such was the case in Game 6 when Thompson, the No. 3 Guy, broke loose for 35 points with nine threes. That’s what makes the Warriors tough to erase: They don’t need to be perfect, and good for them, because they haven’t been in this series, with the exception of their 41-point victory in Game 3. About Thompson: He was locked in, emotionally and physically, popping off screens, catching and shooting, creating space to get good looks and punching the air after big three's. The energy and the shots saved the Warriors from a lackluster and potentially deadly start. Thompson stayed in rhythm most of the night while Curry (29 points) and Durant (23) went through off-and-on cold stretches and afterward joked how he was “born” for this. “Man, that felt good, to be honest,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to play with as much passion as I could. I probably sounded more vocal than I am.” There was a natural link to the last time Thompson was this splashy in a Game 6 elimination game, two summers ago when he dropped 41 on Oklahoma City to trigger a comeback from 3-1 down. Durant was on the wrong side of that performance. “Please don’t go there,” begged Durant, bowing his head. “Next question.” Mindful of what happened right after that series -- the Warriors would blow a 3-1 lead of their own to Cleveland -- Curry said: “I think we both blocked that whole year out of our memory.” Actually, that volcanic performance by Thompson helped convince Durant to leave Oklahoma City, which led to last year’s championship and helped build a solid case for the Warriors to repeat next month. Thompson’s latest piece of work helped awaken the Warriors from being trapped in an extended state of stun, courtesy of how fierce the Rockets came at them right from the start. The Houston lead grew to double digits within minutes and stayed that way through the break. This was further evidence that the Rockets, in this game and actually for the series so far, refuse to concede anything and believe this West title is realistic even with Paul’s status uncertain. “I saw a lot of things that I liked,” said D’Antoni, “and I think we’re in a good position.” Eric Gordon, a strong candidate to win the Kia NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, started in place of Paul and was a concern for the Warriors, drilling deep shots and scoring 19 points. Also, Harden rediscovered his own touch from that distance; he’d missed 22 straight threes in this series but made four and scored 32 points. Houston missed Paul’s composure and steady point guard hand, which could be expected. The Rockets had 22 turnovers, with the Harden-Gordon backcourt combining for 14. The other issue for the Rockets was depth. With Gordon in the starting lineup, D’Antoni was forced to give minutes to Luc Mbah a Moute, still struggling after hurting his shoulder just prior to the playoffs. He wasn’t a factor and neither was the bench. Assuming Paul sits another game, the Rockets will undoubtedly need major scoring and playmaking from Harden, solid shotgun work from Gordon and at least two members of the support group -- Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela -- to break loose in order to make Game 7 interesting. Remember, the Rockets have now gone four straight games without breaking 100 points, and Harden appeared beaten in the fourth quarter Saturday where he went scoreless. The Warriors are also dealing with a missing part, with Andre Iguodala’s inactive streak now at three. They’re crossing fingers whenever Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or Nick Young are pressed to play more than 15 minutes. None of them have distinguished themselves since Iguodala suffered a bone bruise on his left knee in Game 3. So that’s the tale of the tape. Between now and tipoff, the Rockets’ therapy staff will work on Paul’s hamstring, hoping for some intervention from the Medical Gods. In the perfect basketball world, Paul and Iguodala would be fit to play; why should the finish of this series be deprived of them, of less than what it should be? Last fall, before training camp, Paul, Harden and Tucker vacationed in the Bahamas for one last moment of chill before preparations for a season of big expectations. Obviously, they talked shop. They set goals and their sights on the Warriors. Tucker asked Paul and Harden: Imagine if we get them on our court for a Game 7. They all nodded and agreed it would be a logical scenario to launch themselves into the NBA Finals. “Obviously we hope to have our starting point guard back,” Tucker said. “If not, we need to be ready.” The Warriors held no such pre-camp huddle -- champions have what others want -- yet knew that once the Rockets added Paul, Houston would be their toughest test since Durant signed up. Warriors vs. Rockets in a single-game elimination is the proper stage, then, to determine who reps the West in the NBA Finals. D’Antoni said: “It should be a great game.” Curry: “It should be fun. This is what you play for, to be in a situation where you’re one win away from going to The Finals. You’ve got to want it.” Truthfully, neither team would rather be in a winner-take-all. Sweeping would be vastly preferred. But the other part about what Curry said is definitely true: Who wants it? Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated News16 hr. 33 min. ago

Rockets escape late anew, go up 3-2 on Warriors

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — Eric Gordon came off the bench to score 24 points and his steal on Golden State's last possession secured a 98-94 victory Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) that gave the Houston Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals. The Rockets head into Game 6 on Saturday night (Sunday, PHL time) in Oakland, California one win away from knocking off the defending champions and advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 1994-95. Chris Paul scored 20 points and James Harden struggled for his 19, but Paul had to leave the game in the final minute with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. Kevin Durant scored 29 points for the Warriors, who lost in Game 5 of a playoff series for just the second time since 2015......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 25th, 2018

Paul paves way for Rockets, but will he be there in the end?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — If he doesn’t take another step on that tender right hamstring in these Western Conference finals, Chris Paul did what he came here to do. That won’t be enough for him, of course. No Hall of Fame-level competitor is ever satisfied with just reaching the precipice of a dream. They want it all. And you know Chris Paul’s every intention is to get to the summit. You don’t wait as long as he has, fight through as many barriers as he has throughout his career and get to the final seconds of a defining game like Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, and not feel the burn when you have to watch the outcome from the bench. Paul’s right hamstring didn’t allow him to take in the final, frantic 22.4 seconds of the Houston Rockets’ 98-94 win over the Golden State Warriors Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) at Toyota Center. He tweaked it trying to drive to the basket on Quinn Cook with the Rockets clinging to a 95-94 lead. Another injury for the man who has seen so many of his playoff dreams vanish in a haze of different injuries over the course of his career. It has to sting. He went from shimmying at Stephen Curry after knocking down a wild three-pointer to being forced to watch the end unfold without him on the court to finish what he’d started. But the Rockets are here, up 3-2 in this series and four quarters away from dethroning the defending three-time Western Conference champion Warriors. Paul's availability for Saturday’s (Sunday, PHL time) Game 6 remained a mystery late into the night; he received treatment after the game and did not speak to the media. “He’ll be evaluated tomorrow,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who for the second straight game in this series relied on just a seven-man rotation. “But obviously you saw him limp off, and he’s a tough guy. So they’ll do whatever they can do. If he’s there, great, good for him. If he isn’t, we have enough guys, it’s time for somebody else to step up. We’ve got plenty of guys over there that will have some fresh legs, that’s for sure. So we’ll be alright. We’ve just got to continue doing what we’re doing and we’ll find our way.” The Rockets found their way with Paul lighting the path of another heavyweight fight. Rockets fans left the building on an emotional high thanks to Paul, who scored 18 of his 20 points after halftime, after a brutal 1-for-7 shooting performance in the first half that made you wonder if he came into this game injured already. Once again he willed these Rockets past adversity, the same way he did in the close-out game of the conference semifinal against Utah when he piled up 20 of his playoff career-high 41 points down the stretch of a Game 5 masterpiece. “Well his spirits aren’t great,” D’Antoni said. “He wanted to be out there, and for sure he’s worried and all that. That’s normal. And like I said, we’ll see [Friday] how it goes. But what he did was remarkable. When we were kind of teetering, he made two or three three's. That’s just his heart. He made something out of nothing. His heart, his will to win, I don’t know how many times everybody’s got to see it in this league. He’s one of the best players that have played the game. Just his will alone and what it means to basketball, I don’t know. If you can’t root for him, I think you’ve got some problems.” The Warriors are loaded with problems then. Because they’ve surely seen enough of Paul in the deciding moments of the last two games in this series. Paul led the charge in Game 4 at Oracle Arena and did it again in the third quarter of Game 5, keeping the Rockets right with the Warriors during the period they’ve owned by draining three of his four attempts from beyond the three-point line during an unconscious third-quarter stretch. “It was well-deserved,” Curry said, a showman tipping his cap to a fellow showman. “It was a tough shot. If you can shimmy on somebody else, you’ve got to be alright getting shimmied on. So I’ll keep shimmying and maybe he will too, so we’ll see what happens.” It was more than just the shimmying, though. Time after time Paul got the switch he wanted, backed up and went at bigger Warriors defenders and got whatever he wanted. “Well, Chris is a Hall of Fame player, this is what they do,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “They put James [Harden] and Chris in pick-and-roll every single time. So they’re going to challenge you. We did a great job. They combined to shoot 11-for-40. He hit two 35-foot three's that were just unbelievable. You’ve got to live with that.” The Rockets have lived off of it all season. They knew it would the moment Paul was acquired in that blockbuster trade with the LA Clippers that set this Rockets’ Western Conference takeover attempt in motion. The aesthetics be damned. Keep your analytics. Sometimes the biggest moments require the unthinkable, unbelievable shots Kerr spoke of. “That’s the most difficult shots you can imagine,” Harden said of Paul’s three-point heroics and his entire arsenal of shot-clock beating artistry. “He’s been doing it all year, and he just manages to get those shots off and make big plays. He was built for it.” If only his body was built for the pounding that comes with the work he has to do, often as the smallest man on the floor. Paul’s body always seems to betray him at the very worst times. Dragging up the long list of bumps, bruises and season-derailing instances won't do any good now. It won’t do the Rockets any good, with or without him in Game 6, or even a Game 7, back here Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) if needed. Paul’s right leg will be on the minds of each and every one of his teammates as they prepare for the next step on this wild ride that began with a humbling Game 1 defeat that temporarily cost them home court advantage they’ve since snatched back. Can they win three straight and finish this? Is it even a realistic possibility without Paul available? “There is concern, obviously,” Rockets veteran Trevor Ariza said. “I hope he’s healthy. I hope he gets better and if not, somebody else has to step up and do what we’ve been doing all year, step in and try and help this team win.” Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 25th, 2018

Miscues push Warriors to brink of elimination

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com HOUSTON — The hefty equipment bag sitting next to the visitor’s locker room entrance after Game 5 of the Western Conference finals never had a chance. Whack! went Draymond Green’s fist against it as he walked by. Well, at least the Warriors hit something as the night grew late. Once again, the defending champions, the team with four All-Stars, the franchise with a pair of former MVPs still in their prime and two of the most efficient machines of this generation went flatter than Texas when it counted. Missed shots, failed stops and poor decisions all piled on their heads. That fourth quarter was mostly a 12-minute mess. It doomed them at the finish, for the second straight game, and now has them on the brink — really! — in the conference finals. The Warriors awaken today with a pair of potential saving graces: Game 6 is in Oakland and Chris Paul is gimpy, and might be done for good. That could be enough to push this series to seven games. Yet nothing is for certain anymore in the Warriors’ world, if only because of the weird and uncharacteristic — for them — developments in the clutch. Simply put, their lack of composure and smarts is the reason they’re in a bind. Imagine: The Rockets don’t score 100 and James Harden missed all 11 of his three-pointers and the Warriors still lose. It was a strange, empty night for the Warriors where nothing made sense for them. Yes, Paul went nuts in the fourth quarter and Houston’s defensive rotations and traps are catching the Warriors — and especially Kevin Durant — by surprise, and yet the Warriors are also doing a good job of stabbing themselves. Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) 98-94 loss was another blown opportunity, another one that got away, and for the first time since The Finals two summers ago the Warriors are staring at elimination. The face of the Warriors in these back-to-back losses belongs to Durant, and it wears the look of a man confused and dumbfounded. He is 1-for-9 shooting over the last two fourth quarters, reduced to a supporting actor, a backup singer, instead of a beast. He’s not the total reason for this, but a strong symptom nonetheless. Could they fall short of The Finals, a place where they were all but destined to go? It’s a reality, obviously, and their margin for error is toothpick-like. But that’s not what coach Steve Kerr’s gut tells him. “I feel great about where we are right now,” he said. “That may sound crazy, but I feel it. I know exactly what I’m seeing out there … we got everything we needed. Just too many turnovers, too many reaches. If we settle down a little bit we’re going to be in really good shape.” Maybe some of Kerr’s mood has something to do with Paul grabbing a hamstring in the final moments, perhaps stripping the Rockets of their best player in this series. Maybe it’s just hard to fathom the Warriors losing four times in a best-of-seven. All that talent and past success can make a man stubborn, almost refusing to ponder the possibility of defeat. Fine, but Kerr and crew must find a way to clean up the bad choices they’ve made with the game on the line, before it becomes habit-forming. Eighteen turnovers isn’t a recipe for winning. “We can learn from it,” said Durant, “and we’ve got another opportunity at home. We’ll be ready to play.” Trailing by a point with 49 seconds left, here’s what the Warriors coughed up: * Quinn Cook missed a three-pointer. The big surprise is that the ball found Cook and he actually took a shot at that stage of the game. * Curry missed a driving layup, and rather than grab the rebound, Green slapped it out toward the perimeter, hoping a teammate would grab it. Trevor Ariza scooped the lose ball instead. * Then: Down three points and seconds left, the play was designed for Curry to spring loose for a three, but Green fumbled a pass that hit him in both hands. Game over. “We were supposed to score,” said Green. “I lost the ball. Nothing more, nothing less.” Before these self-inflicted misadventures, the Warriors were repeatedly punished by Paul, who recovered from an 0-for-7 first half with 18 points in the second half — complete with a payback shimmy aimed at Curry — before pulling up lame with 22 seconds left. Also, Eric Gordon dropped 24 points and went to the line 10 times, thanks to reach-in fouls by beaten Warriors defenders. “What we can’t live with is reaching and jumping on Eric Gordon’s pump fakes,” said Kerr. “We reached on James and he shot nine free throws. We’ve got to be a little more disciplined.” Overall, the Warriors withstood a manic Toyota Center and were locked in a tight finish against a 65-win team, but never led after the eight-minute mark and weren't nearly sharp enough to capture the lead. They were without Andre Iguodala again, but he’s a defensive specialist and for much of the night defense wasn’t a big issue for the Warriors; the Rockets shot 37 percent and Harden didn’t hurt them. Their problems were mistakes and missed shots. Anyway, Golden State has four All-Stars to Houston’s two, and now with Paul’s status questionable, maybe just one. That means, although the Warriors trail 3-2, they’re in a reasonably good position to keep the series alive. They’re not worried. There’s another emotion running through their bodies. “I think they’re angry,” said Kerr. “As they should be. They’re competitors.” This is new territory in the Durant Era. Remember, the Warriors lost only once last season and until the West Finals didn’t perspire much. As expected, the Rockets are indeed the biggest threat they’ve faced. It’s the series that’s meeting the high expectations for drama and suspense and a chance to see the mighty Warriors ousted. Does Paul’s injury linger and ultimately bail out the Warriors? Can Durant rediscover his touch in the clutch? Will the Warriors wise up or once again wig out? There’s nothing at stake, really, except a dynasty that a loaded team was created to become. Curry plans to remain cool and confident, and the Warriors really don’t have any other choice but to adopt that mentality. “We’ve played the last two games good enough to win but just haven’t gotten the job done," he said. "The way we played tonight, if we can repeat that, take care of turnovers, just stay mentally locked on the details for 48 minutes, we know we can get a win. “Just the talent we have on this team and the resiliency, you know we can get the job done. We know we haven’t been in this position before, so it’s a chapter we need to figure out and finish the story.” Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 25th, 2018

Rockets return home for Game 5 against Warriors

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets have a chance to take their first lead in the Western Conference finals with a victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time). To do that they’ll need their superstars to step up again, with the pressure on James Harden and Chris Paul to deliver after their big performances in Game 3 spurred Houston to the road victory that tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2. “We’re back to even,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We know what we have to do and see if we can do it against a great team.” After two blowout losses in this series, including an embarrassing 41-point rout in Game 3, the Rockets know they don’t have any time to celebrate Tuesday’s (Wednesday, PHL time) win. It was a victory that snapped Golden State’s NBA-record 16-game home playoff winning streak. “We have to get down to normal sea level real quick, because we’ve got a lot of work left,” D’Antoni said. “We know it’s not going to be easy, but also they know now it’s not going to be easy. We’re looking forward to it ... with the right type of fear and the right type of excitement.” It’s a huge opportunity for Harden and Paul, who’ve both had their fair share of playoff disappointments in the past, but combined to score 57 points Tuesday’s (Wednesday, PHL time) 95-92 win that put the top-seeded Rockets back in the driver’s seat in this series. The 33-year-old Paul is a conference finals rookie after failing to get out of the second round in his previous nine playoff trips. Though he’s never reached this level in the postseason before, his 13 years of NBA experience have proven invaluable as the Rockets try to knock off the defending champions and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning consecutive titles in 1994-95. Though the Rockets are heading to Houston for Thursday’s (Friday, PHL time) game, they know that playing at home doesn’t give them an excuse to let up. “Both teams have the ability to win on the road,” Paul said. “We had to prove that to ourselves. Weathering the storm, the runs that they made, and knowing that now we get a chance to go back home, we knew we had to get at least one win here. We got it, so now it’s a three-game series.” Though the pressure to perform is heightened for Harden and Paul, Rockets players and D’Antoni agree that they can’t get it done without plenty of help from Houston’s supporting cast. P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela combined for 29 rebounds on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time), and in Houston’s Game 2 victory the Rockets had five players score 16 or more points. “It’s a close series so without any of them you don’t get there,” D’Antoni said. “So everybody has their role and some play a bigger role — bigger meaning they shoot the ball more so we as a society give them a bigger role — but everybody is just as important.” While the Rockets are thrilled to see the momentum of the series swing their way for perhaps the first time in the series, the Warriors are upset that they let what they feel like was a winnable Game 4 get away. Draymond Green is OK with his team having its back against the wall and believes the Warriors play well when faced with adversity. “I know what we’re capable of and I know the level of focus and intensity that this team brings when that is the case,” he said. “We blew a golden opportunity but it’s not one that we can’t get back. We can get it back. So there’s no panic.” Stephen Curry said he spent much of Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) going over each possession of Golden State’s 12-point fourth quarter in his mind and thinking of ways he and the team could have done things better to close the game out after leading by double digits early in the period. “It’s a frustrating feeling obviously ... but we’re great at turning the page and being resilient and finding a way to bounce back,” he said. This series has already had so many ups and downs that it could give a young person gray hair. For the already silver-locked D’Antoni, who at 67 would be the oldest coach to win an NBA title if Houston gets it done, the exhilaration of this journey has been well worth any stress it has caused. “It makes me feel alive, I know that much,” he said. “It feels good. You coach all year for this or even your whole career to get here or get as close as you can. It’s great competition, against one of the best teams ever.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 24th, 2018

Curry comes alive to score 35, Warriors rout Rockets by 41

By Janie McCauley, Associated Press OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry got his groove back to score 35 points with five 3-pointers, shooting over James Harden and driving past the Houston star as the Golden State Warriors made a second-half statement to beat the Rockets 126-85 on Sunday night (Wednesday, PHL time) for a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Draymond Green grabbed 17 rebounds to go with 10 points and six assists. The Warriors won an NBA-record 16th consecutive home postseason game, surpassing the Chicago Bulls' mark of 15 in a row from April 27, 1990-May 21, 1991. The defending champions got defensive — and maybe a little mad — after a 127-105 Game 2 defeat Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at Houston, determined to make stops to ignite the transition game and open up three-point shooters. And they eventually got Curry going with 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the third quarter. Harden had 20 points and nine assists, while Chris Paul added 13 points and 10 rebounds as they combined to shoot just 12 for 32. Game 4 is Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time) at Oracle Arena. Curry and Durant each scored five quick points as Golden State opened the third quarter with a 10-0 burst to go ahead 64-43. Under pressure from Paul, Curry swished a three from way back with 5:06 left in the third. He struggled with his long-range shot again early but drove through the paint at every chance. Curry hit a baseline three-pointer at the 9:02 mark of the first but missed his next five three's before going 4-for-5 in the second half. He is now 7-of-25 from long range — he made one in each of the first two games. The Warriors' five starters all scored in double figures, the first time they've done so this postseason. Trevor Ariza and Green received a double-technical with 6:49 to play when Ariza shoved Green as they traded words. Both potent offenses were slow getting rolling as the teams played strong defense. Harden and Paul began 3-for-14 with Paul missing six shots before getting his first basket on goaltending against Andre Iguodala 2:39 before halftime. Golden State began getting the looks it liked after halftime. The Warriors faced more stingy, in-the-face pressure from Houston, making it hard to get any early flow shooting. Durant hit his first 3 6:27 before halftime then missed from the deep the next time down. A moment of silence was held before the national anthem for victims of the Houston school shooting. TIP-INS Rockets: The Rockets surrendered 10 fast-break points in the first period while getting none of their own. ... They were out-rebounded 49-41 and shot 32-for-80 from the floor. Warriors: Kevon Looney had two key blocks off the bench in the first. ... Durant notched his 20th straight postseason game with 20 or more points. ... Golden State is 36-5 at home in the playoffs since the 2015 postseason. ... Thompson (1,786) moved past Rick Barry (1,776) for second place on the Warriors' career postseason scoring list. ... Curry (712) moved past Barry (699) into sole possession for most postseason baskets in franchise history. ... The "Run TMC" trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin were honored with a standing ovation during a first-quarter timeout. On Monday (Tuesday, PHL time), Richmond will introduce Hardaway as he goes into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame of which Richmond and Mullin are already members. PAUL'S HEALTH Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni made the point once again about Paul being healthy: "There's nothing wrong at all." "We're not going to win without him," D'Antoni said. "So if he's got to limp and drag his leg to the finish line, so be it. And he's ready to do that." ORACLE AURA That deafening, bright yellow sellout crowd was imposing once again. "Somebody asked me, 'Is Oracle tough to play?' Yeah, because the Warriors play here," D'Antoni said. "There's a certain energy that their fans will give them and moments they hit two or three 3s you can get a buzz going that helps the home team. You just have to try to keep that crowd out as much as you can.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 21st, 2018

Warriors need just one game to establish superiority

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — Months of building up the hard shell required to wade this deep into the NBA’s merciless playoff waters can evaporate in a snap. One bad rotation, followed by a missed layup on the back of yet another dagger from the other team and even a mighty, 65-win juggernaut can see it all unravel. The Houston Rockets know the feeling now, after living through it on what could turn out to be the biggest night of the best [regular] season in the history of the franchise. They invited the Golden State Warriors in, dared to beat the reigning NBA champions at their own game in these Western Conference finals with an emphatic win and came up woefully short of that goal in the opener. The home court advantage they worked for all throughout a brilliant season is gone. The comfort provided by a 2-1 record against the Warriors during the regular season series the Rockets held tight since January was blown away after just four quarters. Whatever aura they thought they owned heading into the Toyota Center Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time) for Game 1, they shed long before the final seconds of their decisive 119-106 loss to the Warriors. It looked good early, when James Harden had the Rockets rolling to a nine-point lead in the frenzied opening minutes. But Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and the rest of a Warriors team making its fourth straight appearance in the conference finals, they don’t fold at the first sign of danger. “You’re not going to just come in and knock them out,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I mean, there’s just too many times we had mental lapses. We either didn’t switch properly or we didn’t switch hard enough. We turned the ball over  little too much. Every time we missed a layup, which we missed a lot of layups, they ran out. “They’re really devastating. We’ve got to make layups, don’t turn it over and do a little bit better job of mentally just staying up on people.” The fact that they were starting this series away from the friendly confines of Oracle Arena for the first time during their recent run did nothing to shake their belief in themselves. And if there is anything that is clear after just four wild quarters of this most anticipated series, it’s that the Warriors’ collective confidence is far superior to the artificial skin the Rockets wrapped themselves in leading up to the opening round of this heavyweight fight. Harden played inspired, for most of his 35 minutes, finishing with a game-high 41 points and seven assists. Chris Paul’s 23 points, 11 rebounds and three assists look good on paper. But it wasn’t enough. It was nowhere near enough to offset the Rockets’ self-inflicted mistakes or the fury the Warriors can rain down on their opponents this time of year. “They’re obviously champions for a reason,” D’Antoni said. “If we want to beat them, we have to be mentally sharper. KD, he’s tough. Obviously, he was on tonight. Hey, you can live with that. But you can’t live with that and then make mental mistakes, and that's what we do. The combination of the two was devastating.” Durant was hell bent on devastation, torching an assortment of Rockets defenders for his 37 points. Thompson drilled the Rockets for 28 points of his own, his 15 attempts from beyond the three-point line serving as a more demoralizing dagger for a Rockets defense designed to limit those attempts. With so much attention on them, the Rockets seemed to lose their defensive focus on basically everyone else. “Defensively, we’ve got to be better,” Paul said. “You know it’s funny, I got caught helping a couple times in the first half and I think Nick Young hit three [three-pointers] off those plays. Some games, some series, you may make those mistakes and guys don’t make the shots. But tonight, every time we did it, they made the shot. They make you pay when you make mistakes.” Just to be clear about what kind of armor the Warriors travel with these days, they’ve won a game on the road in 18 consecutive playoff series, well before the Durant era. So as much as this is about the back and forth between Durant and Harden, the former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates who once got this point in a season together and elbowed their way into The Finals in 2012, it’s about Curry, Thompson, Green and Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP. Those are the other four members of the Warriors’ “Hamptons Five” lineup that started the game, the group that withstood everything the Rockets threw at them Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) and then beat them up over the final 15 minutes of a must-have game on their home floor. “They’re a good team,” Eric Gordon said, stating the obvious. "They’ve been playing together, they know who they are. They’ve been to four straight Western Conference finals. We just got to be a little better.” The Rockets’ must-win game is now Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). The pressure shifts to a Game 2 effort that has to be much better offensively if they want to keep pace with the Warriors. They’ll also need a much cleaner effort that doesn’t include sloppiness (the Warriors converted 16 turnovers into 17 points) and deficient defense (the Warriors shot .525 from the floor and .394 from the three-point line) that was on display in Game 1. These are all things D’Antoni believes to be correctable. And they could be. Indeed, they better be if the Rockets plan on stretching this series to the limit. Because there is still no way to account for the experience factor, the muscle memory edge the Warriors have when it comes to recognizing the time and place to apply the ultimate pressure on an opponent that’s ready to break. They sniffed it late in the third quarter, when the Rockets were reeling under a relentless barrage of Durant buckets. The only thing that saved them then were crucial baskets of their own from Eric Gordon and Gerald Green, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr subbing Durant out for a breather the Warriors closer did not want. “Yeah, he wasn’t really thrilled and I probably should have left him in,” Kerr said. “Late third he was going pretty well. I knew I had to get him some rest at some point. As soon as I took him out, they went on a quick run, so he was not thrilled. But he came back in and got us back on track.” You can toy with a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round, dropping Game 3 on the road only to come back and close out the series with back-to-back wins, especially when you are clearly the superior team and own that coveted home-court advantage. You might be able to get away with it in next round against a team like the Utah Jazz, when you lose home-court advantage in Game 2, but are are once again clearly the superior team and win three straight games to squash that challenge. Slip up a third time, as the Rockets did Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time), against a team that has won two of the last three Larry O’Brien trophies, a team with their sights set on a third, and … and there might not be another chance. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 15th, 2018