Tagged in: NBA

Rockets rally past Spurs 109-105 in 1st game without Harden

Houston’s first game without James Harden went better than anyone could have expected.

Christian Wood had 27 points and 15 rebounds, and the Rockets rallied to defeat the San Antonio Spurs 109-105 on Thursday night in their first game since trading away the franchise cornerstone.

“It was fun. It was really cool stuff,” Houston’s first-year coach Stephen Silas said.

Sterling Brown, who took Harden’s spot in the starting lineup, had 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes. Jae’Sean Tate added 13 points, 10 assists and five rebounds.

San Antonio forward Keldon Johnson had a career-high 29 points and Lonnie Walker IV added 16 points while tying a career-high with four 3-pointers. Houston sent Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a four-team blockbuster trade on Wednesday. 

Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs, who the Rockets acquired along with numerous draft picks and draft swaps for Harden, are not with the team yet.

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It was Houston’s first match without Harden since 2012, when Oklahoma City traded its young guard to the Rockets primarily due to salary cap constraints.

Harden remained publicly quiet through months of rumors about his unhappiness with the Rockets, but he broke that silence following a second blowout loss to the Lakers on Tuesday. He bluntly said the Rockets were “just not good enough” and that he did not believe the situation could be fixed.

Houston showed otherwise, at least in their first chance to do so.

“We had a team meeting after that last game against the Lakers and we drew the line there,” Tate said. “Everybody has so much to prove.”

The Rockets were also without John Wall and Eric Gordon due to injuries. The upheaval led to more minutes for the remaining roster, and they took advantage of it.

“Spirit is something I believe a lot in and talk a lot about,” Silas said. “We had spirit tonight.”

Seven players scored at least nine points, with Mason Jones scoring a career-high nine points.

The Rockets staged a 15-2 run to lead 105-101 with 1:46 left.

“It’s got nothing to do with defense (or) offense,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the late swoon. “It has to do with between the ears and being ready to play. And we had four or five guys who were out to lunch.”

Brown had a wild, overhead shot land on the top of the backboard for an out-of-bounds call with 9.5 seconds remaining. San Antonio veteran DeMar DeRozan missed a 15-footer with 0.4 seconds left, and the Spurs fouled P.J. Tucker, who made two free throws to seal it.

DeRozan had 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his return from a two-game absence due to personal reasons.

The teams meet again Saturday at the AT&T Center in the finale of a two-game set in San Antonio.

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Kyrie Irving not expected to rejoin Brooklyn Nets this week; NBA reviewing maskless videos

As the NBA is reviewing videos circulating on social media of a maskless Kyrie Irving at what appears to be a family birthday party, there is no belief the Brooklyn Nets guard will return to the team’s lineup this week, sources told ESPN.

Irving was already ruled out for the fourth consecutive game Tuesday night versus Denver, and sources said that, at a minimum, he is expected to miss Wednesday’s game against New York and Saturday’s against Orlando. His absence has been attributed to personal reasons.

In the videos — which started being widely shared Monday night — a smiling Irving is dancing with his sister Asia on a confetti-covered floor and clapping as she blows out candles. If the video is found to be recent, that behavior could be a breach of the league’s coronavirus protocols.

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The league’s COVID-19 guidelines forbid players from going to clubs, bars and lounges.

They also ban players from attending social gatherings of more than 15 people.

“We are aware of a video on social media featuring Kyrie Irving at a family gathering,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a statement Tuesday. “We are reviewing the circumstances with both Kyrie and the NBA in order to determine compliance with health and safety protocols.”

“Kyrie will have the opportunity to address his absence when he is ready to do so,” Marks added.

Nets coach Steve Nash, during his pregame media availability Tuesday, said he hadn’t seen the video in question and wasn’t going to expand on Marks’ statement.

Asked if he is confident Irving will return at some point this season, Nash replied: “Sure.”

On Tuesday night, Irving appeared to attend a virtual fundraiser for Manhattan District Attorney candidate, Tahanie Aboushi. Aboushi shared a photo from the event, which started at 7 p.m. ET, on social media.

The photo appeared to show Irving in one of the video boxes. The Nets tipped off versus Denver at Barclays Center 30 minutes after the fundraiser’s start time.

The investigation into the Irving videos at the family event comes during a turbulent week, as the league is reevaluating its coronavirus health and safety rules. The league has postponed three games this week as positive COVID-19 tests and contact-tracing quarantines mounted.

The NBA in conjunction with the NBPA announced tightened coronavirus protocols Tuesday, including further limiting movement for players and staff members on road trips. If a player misses a game for a COVID-19 violation, he would lose 1/72nd of his salary, according to league rules.

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Tatum lifts Celtics past Pistons for weekend split

Jayson Tatum hit a fallaway as Blake Griffin stumbled with 2.9 seconds left, then tied up the Detroit veteran on the other end to help the Boston Celtics defeat the Pistons 122-120 on Sunday for a weekend split.

Jaylen Brown led Boston with 31 points. He hit a late 3-pointer and was 13 of 16 from the field, two nights after his late miss sealed a loss in the opener in Detroit.

“We haven’t been good, especially down the stretch, executing-wise,” said Marcus Smart, who added 17 points and eight assists. “We got to our spots, we got the ball where we wanted it, and those two players made great shots and great reads. They won us the game.”

Tatum had 24 points and 12 assists for Boston. The Celtics shot a season-best 57%.

“It seems like they made every shot, especially Brown,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “I want to see how many teams do a good job on Jaylen Brown and Tatum. They’re probably two of the most dynamic players I’ve seen in a while.”

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Jerami Grant scored 22 points for the Pistons, his career-best fifth consecutive game with at least 20. 

Svi Mykhailiuk had 15 points despite not entering the game until under four minutes left in the third quarter.

Semi Ojeleye hit three 3-pointers in less than five minutes to open the fourth quarter for Boston. Sekou Doumbouya and Mykhailiuk responded with back-to-back 3s to give Detroit a 108-106 lead with 6:01 left.

Mykhailiuk scored eight straight Detroit points, and the Pistons took a 118-117 lead on Mason Plumlee’s free throws with 42.2 seconds left. That set up Brown’s 3-pointer with 34.0 seconds to go, and Grant made two free throws 12 seconds later to tie it at 120.

On Friday night, Detroit defeated Boston 96-93 for its only win of the season, with the Celtics missing their final 10 shots and going scoreless for the final 4:15.

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Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James says he’s ‘ready to go’ on Christmas Day after rolling ankle

LeBron James says he will be “ready to go” for the Los Angeles Lakers’ game versus the Dallas Mavericks on Friday despite rolling his left ankle in the season opener.

“I’ll be ready to go tomorrow on Christmas Day,” James told reporters Thursday. “I’ve never missed a Christmas Day match, and I don’t plan on missing one tomorrow.”

James sat out the final eight minutes of the Lakers’ 116-109 opening night loss to the LA Clippers on Tuesday after rolling his ankle but indicated after the game that he planned to play versus Dallas.

His ankle buckled when his sneaker appeared to catch on the court when he and Markieff Morris converged on Clippers center Ivica Zubac to defend the big man in the paint.

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James exited with 7:51 left in the fourth quarter and the Lakers trailing 99-92. He ended with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 turnovers in 28 minutes.

He elaborated on the experience of playing in Christmas Day games.

“People have opened their gifts. Everyone is excited. It’s a day of giving for a lot of us,” James said. “And then being at Staples Center, I’ve gotten the opportunity to play here on Christmas as a Laker and also as an opponent. It’s just a beautiful feeling being here.

“But it’s not the same without the Laker faithful, without the fans, without celebrity row, without the bright lights. It’s just a totally different feeling. It’s just strictly basketball, which is fine. But our game is entertainment as well. And when you’re out there, you hope to entertain some people live as well. But we have to do it. Hopefully we know we’re making a mark while they’re watching the game.”

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Washington Wizards teammates laud Russell Westbrook’s ‘great’ overall impact in his debut

Russell Westbrook drove the lane, found Thomas Bryant open for an easy dunk as the Washington Wizards’ big man drew a foul and then immediately ran to Bryant to scream his approval.

In his first match with the Wizards, Westbrook logged only 17 first-half minutes in Washington’s 99-96 triumph over the Detroit Pistons. But his impact was felt with his energy, pace and ability to get the ball moving and draw the defense’s attention.

“You could see in the first half really how many open shots we got,” Wizards forward Davis Bertans said of Westbrook’s impact. “And how many good looks we had and it was all I would say Russ.

“He set the tone for driving and kicking … I am pretty sure it is going to get better from here.” After being held out of the Wizards’ first two preseason games, Westbrook played in the team’s final tuneup before the regular-season opener at Philadelphia on Dec. 23. Westbrook ended with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and shot 4-for-10, including 0-for-3 from behind the arc.

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“It was good,” Westbrook said of his first game as a Wizard. “We won, the most important part … I like where we were tonight.

“My job is to try to set the tone. Have them be ready to play.”

The Wizards saw Westbrook’s encouragement on offense in the ability Bradley Beal had to work one-on-one against defenders and how much the Wizards tried to push the pace. Washington led by as much as 16 and had 10 fast-break points in the first half when Westbrook played.

“It just felt great,” Beal said of playing with Westbrook. “It was great energy … I don’t think it will be tough as people are trying to make it out to be. We both do a really good job off of feeding off of each other, just adjusting to how each other plays.

“The most important thing is his pace and energy he brings to the table … it just works out well. We just continue to play off each other, feed off each other and push each other.”

While Beal missed all seven of his 3-point attempts, he scored 15 points and hit seven field goals.

Beal averaged 30.5 points last campaign but drew the majority of the opposing defense’s attention as the Wizards’ lone star.

“Our job is to make the game easier for him,” Westbrook said. “Find a way to constantly feed him the ball so he can score at a high rate. He has shown he is able to do that. He is going to be great. I am not worried about Brad one bit.”

Bryant benefited from the attention Westbrook drew, scoring 22 points and making 7 of 12 shots. And Wizards coach Scott Brooks loved seeing an animated Westbrook celebrating Bryant’s dunk with the foul and encouraging the big man in the first quarter.

“Really good,” Brooks said when asked about Westbrook’s first preseason action. “He’s been looking like that all training camp. His spirit is about winning, not about stats. He plays the right way and teaches our young fellas the right things. He’s great. “He’s nothing short of spectacular, what he tells the guys, how he coaches his teammates and they listen. What he’s done, how he prepares and how he trains and how he looks at the game is priceless.”

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Harden returns to Rockets, scores 12 in preseason debut

James Harden was back in a Houston uniform.

It’s still uncertain how many more times that’ll happen.

The three-time defending NBA scoring champion made his preseason debut with the Rockets on Tuesday night, after practicing only one time with his team following a late arrival to training camp amid incessant trade speculation. Harden scored 12 points in 21 minutes and the Rockets beat the San Antonio Spurs 112-98.

Harden also had four assists, three rebounds and two steals. He checked out for the final time with 5:02 left in the third quarter, having missed his final four shots.

John Wall and Ben McLemore each had 15 points for the Rockets, who got 11 points apiece from Eric Gordon and Jae’Sean Tate and 11 rebounds from DeMarcus Cousins. Lonnie Walker IV scored 17 for the Spurs, who got 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds from Dejounte Murray. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 12, while Rudy Gay and Devin Vassell each added 11 for San Antonio.

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Harden seemed anything but disinterested to start his first live game action of the season.

He stood immediately to the right of new Rockets coach Stephen Silas in the pregame huddle, his eyes staring intently at whatever Silas was sketching up before taking the floor.

His first shot was a made straightaway 3-pointer, his second attempt led to him getting fouled from beyond the arc and making three free throws.

So, his shooting touch was there, at least at the outset — as was his touch on passes. He connected with Danuel House on a three-quarter-court chest pass to set up a dunk late in the opening quarter, timing clearly not much of an issue after a couple months off.

Harden went 3 for 10 from the field, including 2 for 6 from 3-point range. He also went 4 for 5 at the free-throw line.

The Rockets lost guard Chris Clemons with 9:58 left, after he was taken off the court in a wheelchair. Clemons made a 3-pointer for an 87-74 Houston lead, and after retreating to the defensive end for the ensuing possession, appeared to take a bad step and immediately started reaching for his right Achilles area.

There was no immediate diagnosis of Clemons’ injury. There are four matches Wednesday, followed by seven on Thursday, eight on Friday and then three in the preseason finales Saturday. The regular season starts on Dec. 22.

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‘Nervous’ Kevin Durant shines in return from injury, calls Brooklyn Nets debut ‘good step’

After a year and a half of Achilles rehabilitation, Kevin Durant returned to the basketball court for the first time on Sunday for the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason game versus the Washington Wizards.

“I was anxious, nervous,” Durant stated afterward. “I visualized this moment for so long — nine, 10 months of thinking about how it would be, this next phase of my career. I felt like I was chomping at the bit, especially once COVID hit because I didn’t see a future — when the season was going to start in the future. I was going through it.

“So to go through this felt solid.”

The first points in the game came from an authoritative Durant dunk. He followed that with an assist to DeAndre Jordan for a dunk.

The Nets went on to defeat the Wizards 119-114. Durant concluded shooting 5-of-12 from the field with 15 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 24 minutes of play. “It felt great, you know, to be back in a routine and get back on the floor and feel like a player again,” he said. “I didn’t think I played great. I felt I had some solid moments.”

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One of them was when he drew a charge on Washington’s Rui Hachimura early in the game.

“I definitely am feeling it right now,” Durant said with a laugh. “It’s good to get back in the flow of things, and it definitely gives me some confidence. … It’s a good step, and I am trying to build on it.”

Before the match, first-year head coach Steve Nash said he hoped to play both Durant and Kyrie Irving “north of 20 minutes” in each of Brooklyn’s two preseason games.

“When you have that type of injury,” Nash said of Durant after the game, “it is kind of remarkable he’s at the level he’s at.

“It’s amazing. This is an injury that very few people have conquered, so to speak. … It’s beautiful to see him back on the basketball court. I think the world missed him — I certainly did.”

Irving, who hasn’t played since February after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, finished with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field.

Irving, who played for 18 minutes, declined to speak to reporters after the game, continuing to break the league’s media rules despite his being fined $25,000 on Friday for not speaking to reporters.

During the Nets’ weeklong training camp, Durant was not ready to make any proclamations about how much he would resemble his pre-Achilles injury self before actually playing in a game. After one preseason game, Durant stated he still isn’t ready to make any declarations.

“I want to play at the highest level of basketball — the highest intensity of basketball, and that’s not in the preseason,” Durant said. “I want to play at an elite level late into the season, playoffs. That’s when I want to play my best basketball, so I’m working toward that point.”

Since the game ended, Durant said he has been fielding texts and phone calls from friends, colleagues and acquaintances asking how he is feeling.

“I can’t wait ’til that’s over with so I can get back into the swing of things and just feel like one of the guys again,” Durant said. “So it was a good first step.”

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Giannis Antetokounmpo says focus not on extension with Milwaukee Bucks

There’s a multimillion-dollar question looming over the NBA that only Giannis Antetokounmpo has the answer to.

However, the Bucks superstar didn’t put to bed any speculation on his long-term future in Milwaukee on Wednesday, instead saying that he will put faith in his agent and the team’s front office to reach a potential supermax contract extension.

“I’m not focused on that,” Antetokounmpo stated. “I know my agent, Alex [Saratsis], and [Bucks general manager] Jon Horst and the Bucks ownership are focusing on those discussions, but I’m just trying to focus on myself — how I can get better, how I can help my teammates get better, how can we be ready Saturday to play our first preseason game?”

Antetokounmpo has until Dec. 21 to sign a five-year, $228 million supermax extension.

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On Wednesday, he wouldn’t go into the details of his process, though he admitted that “it’s probably one of the big decisions that I’m gonna make.”

He could play out the season in Milwaukee and enter free agency as an unrestricted free agent next summer, or he could sign the same deal with the Bucks next offseason.

One thing is for sure: His communication with his agent will stay private.

“I think about everything,” he said. “I think about Milwaukee. I think about my teammates. I think about my family. I think about what’s the best decision for me, but that’s pretty much it. Then, after that, I realize that I’ve got so far because I’ve focused on how I can improve every single day.

“I love the city of Milwaukee. I love the organization. I love my family to death. I love winning, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be in this situation if I wasn’t working hard, I wasn’t winning games, I wasn’t improving every day and I didn’t have this mentality”.

Milwaukee was eliminated by the Miami Heat in five matches in the Eastern Conference semifinals in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida. This campaign, Antetokounmpo won’t put any additional pressure on himself or the team.

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Draymond Green, James Wiseman absent from Golden State Warriors practice

Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green and No. 2 overall draft pick James Wiseman missed Day 1 of the team’s training camp Monday.

Coach Steve Kerr didn’t detail why the two were absent but did say they were the only two players not to take the court. Kerr noted that he couldn’t elaborate on what Green and Wiseman are able to do at the moment.

“I will not comment on that any further,” Kerr said. “I’m not allowed to comment on that. You can make your own deductions. I know it’s really tricky.”

Last week, general manager Bob Myers acknowledged without providing names that two players had tested positive for COVID-19 and said they would be out at least 10 days before being tested again. Kerr noted the awkwardness for both coaches and media in trying to give an update on the health of his team without revealing who tested positive.

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“I’m just trying to figure out which one of you has put all the pieces together and figured out what’s happening here,” Kerr said. “I think you guys all got it.”

It’s the same awkward dance that is going on throughout the NBA this season concerning to injury updates and players’ privacy. Kerr knows that the uncertain nature of the virus makes it something that will hover over the league all season.

“This is the nature of this season, so everybody’s going to be dealing with it,” he said. “Every team in the league. I think the way we’re looking at it is we’re lucky to be playing basketball. We’re grateful for the opportunity to compete and play, and any difficulties to the season pale in comparison to what’s happening out in the world, so there won’t be much talk from our end about COVID and the protocols and what it means to our team … What matters is the protocols and being healthy and safe and keeping everybody that way.”

Kerr isn’t worried about Green’s readiness to play as soon as he is medically cleared to hit the floor.

“When he’s ready to go, he’ll be out there,” Kerr said. “I’m not worried about Draymond. He’s got a better feel for what we do than anybody, so he’ll be fine once he gets rolling with practice.”

As for Wiseman, getting him prepared for the condensed season will be trickier. Kerr knows that it will be hard to get the second overall pick in last month’s draft ready after his training camp absence, but he isn’t going to complain about the hand the Warriors have been dealt. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way it goes,” Kerr said.

“Our coaching staff has been showing him tape the last few days, and he’s still getting some homework in between now and the time he’ll be able to play again. So it’s not ideal, but nothing’s ideal for anybody in 2020.”

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Boston Celtics’ Kemba Walker out until January after stem cell injection in knee

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stated Tuesday that the upcoming NBA season will indicate how much of a long-term problem Kemba Walker’s left knee will be moving forward.

“I think this year will tell us a lot more,” Ainge said Tuesday morning of Walker, who the team informed will be out until at least January after he was given a stem cell injection and put on a 12-week strengthening program after last season ended.

“He saw some specialists over the last six or eight weeks, and they all came to the same conclusion, and I think that gave Kemba a great peace of mind as he went to different, really good doctors in our country and got the same opinions. He’s on a program, and he seems to be in a very good, happy spot.”

Ainge said the anticipation from those meetings was that surgery would not be necessary.

After the Celtics signed Walker as a free agent to a four-year max contract in the summer of 2019 to replace Kyrie Irving, he spent the latter portions of the regular season dealing with ongoing soreness in his left knee — particularly after the All-Star break — before the season was suspended March 11.

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Then, once teams resumed on-court work in late June ahead of the NBA restarting its season in late July, Walker had another setback with his knee, and was put on a minutes restriction both during the weeks leading up to the restart and throughout the seeding games inside the league’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Walker looked very good versus the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, but he struggled as the Celtics progressed throughout the postseason — particularly after taking a hard fall during the second round versus the Toronto Raptors when he appeared to tweak the knee.

Ainge stated it was possible Boston rushed Walker back too quickly for the bubble — a touchy subject in Boston, given the history surrounding Isaiah Thomas after his hip issues following Boston’s run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2017 — before almost immediately walking back his own statement.

But just when Walker’s season will start — and when he will be a full participant for the Celtics — remains very much up in the air. The Celtics said in their statement that Walker’s game-availability status will be updated in the first week of January, which is roughly when his 12-week strengthening program should end.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Walker is going to start playing 30-plus minutes a game. Instead, the expectation is that Walker will slowly be ramped up over time, in a similar fashion to the restart in Orlando.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Walker’s return was affected in part by the fact that the NBA season is getting started sooner than everyone had anticipated.

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