James Harden Drops 42 as Rockets End Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers’ Win Streak

The Houston Rockets snapped the Portland Trail Blazers’ 13-game winning streak with a 115-111 victory at Moda Center on Tuesday night.

James Harden led the way with 42 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and he drilled a pair of step-back threes in the game’s waning minutes to put Portland on the ropes.

“He’s unique. That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said, according to the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen. “He has so many weapons and now he’s shooting those step-back threes. It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

Chris Paul added 22 points, eight boards and six dimes. However, his biggest contribution may actually have been a missed shot.

With Houston up two and less than five seconds remaining in regulation, Paul lofted up a floater that rattled off the back iron and deflected back out to the free-throw line. The Rockets’ floor general safely collected the offensive rebound, the Blazers were forced to foul with 1.3 seconds left and he swished a couple of free throws to seal the deal.

Now winners of six straight, the Rockets are 57-14 overall and four games clear of the second-place Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference standings. Their magic number to clinch the No. 1 overall seed sits at seven with 11 games remaining.

They’ll be back in action Thursday at home against the Detroit Pistons.

The Blazers (44-27), meanwhile, are holding steady in the No. 3 seed two games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Portland will attempt to strengthen its grip on home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs Friday when the Boston Celtics come to town.

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Kyrie Irving Is Irreplaceable for C’s, but Boston Is Built to Survive Adversity

Escaping TD Garden with a 100-99 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night does not make the Boston Celtics anything they weren’t before.

This win will not go down as some lasting referendum. It will not be a game the elders point to decades from now as the one that galvanized an improbable championship run.

In many ways, this victory isn’t anything too special. If you think about it, it’s more like a loss that wasn’t.

The Celtics don’t emerge on top if Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook don’t go 1-of-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch. And even then, they needed Marcus Morris to drill a one-dribble pull-up three to grab the victory:

Both sequences represent relative rarities. Anthony and Westbrook each entered the game shooting better than 73 percent at the charity stripe and a combined 64.6 percent in crunch time—not great, but also not miss-three-of-four-between-them bad. And fewer than 5 percent of Morris’ attempts this season have come as one-dribble treys. (To his credit, he’s shooting over 47 percent on such looks.)

If a few things go differently, the Celtics are beginning a four-game road trip talking about their fourth loss in five tries. Thus, this goes down as both a win and a near-miss. 

Yet at the same time, it does mean more. Heck, under the circumstances, it has to mean more.

The Celtics didn’t have Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart or Daniel Theis. They still don’t have Gordon Hayward. Theis is done for the season after undergoing surgery on a torn left meniscus. Smart is out indefinitely with a torn tendon in his right thumb. Brown is progressing through the NBA‘s concussion protocol, but that hardly masks perhaps the worst news of all: Irving’s left knee might be in worse shape than initially advertised.

Shortly before tipoff, league sources told Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania that the All-Star floor general will get a second opinion on his sore knee later in the week. He will not be joining the Celtics as they embark on their miniature road trip, and he still has no timetable for his return.

This latest development comes on the heels of team president Danny Ainge simultaneously delivering a murky outlook on the health of his point guard. 

“He has some surgery that may need to happen,” Ainge said during a recent appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show (via MassLive.com’s Jay King). “But maybe not this summer. Maybe the following summer or maybe the summer after that. I think that he could probably do it any time he wanted, but I’m not sure that it’s needed at this moment.”

Anxiety was tempered following these comments, if only because Ainge emphasized Irving’s apparently unavoidable surgery wouldn’t be taking place this season.

“We knew coming into this year that he probably wasn’t going to be an 82-game guy. He was going to be a 72-, 75-game guy in order to keep him fresh for the playoffs. And that’s what it’s been. And we’re just extra cautious. We have the good fortune of being extra cautious right now. And we want him fresh and healthy. And we think that he will be come playoff time.”

Perhaps this second opinion falls under the same umbrella—another extra precautionary measure by a team and point guard that can afford to take them. 

The Celtics aren’t catching the first-place Toronto Raptors without Irving. That’s fine. They weren’t overtaking them anyway. Five games separate the two teams in the win column, and the Raptors have not shown the faintest signs of loosening their chokehold over the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Forfeiting the No. 2 seed is equally unlikely. The Cleveland Cavaliers are within closest proximity, and they’re still seven wins off of second place. The Celtics and Irving have the luxury of slow-playing his recovery—or rather, his pain management—because there won’t be any repercussions. Their standing in the Eastern Conference is secure, no matter how impossible surviving without him may seem.

That’s precisely why this win over the Thunder can be seen as something more than just another victory.

OKC came into Boston winners of six straight, fresh off a Sunday upset of the Raptors in Toronto. The Celtics derailed that tear.

Sure, they needed a little luck on their side. But they kept things close through and through. The Thunder never led by more than 10 points, and the Celtics played them to a stalemate in the paint and on the break despite hosting an unsolicited turnover fest.

Reading too much into this lone outcome would be a mistake. One game is not the rest of the regular season. It sure as heck isn’t the playoffs. But this effort was an extension of the Celtics’ entire year—a microcosm of their depth in action.

As Action Network’s Matt Moore wondered aloud on Twitter (before getting unjustifiably mocked): 

This is a fair thought. The Celtics are not better off with Irving. He is their lone established isolation maestro and face-up killer with Hayward on the shelf.

Boston can’t rely on Al Horford for from-scratch buckets off the dribble with the game on the line, and Jayson Tatum isn’t ready to shoulder that responsibility yet. Irving is the foundation—the unparalleled lifeline—for everything the Celtics do and are capable of doing in crunch time.

That doesn’t mean they’re nothing without him. They aren’t. While Tatum isn’t comfortable enough working as the defense’s sole focus, he’s a scorer polished beyond his rookie-level experience. Greg Monroe gets buckets, period.

Boston still deploys plenty of switchable defenders even without Brown, Smart and Theis. Shane Larkin is playing the best basketball of his NBA career. Terry Rozier can shoot 5-of-15 from the floor, commit four turnovers and post tally a team-worst minus-16 and still make you believe he’s indispensable. Morris can  play the part of effective self-sustaining scorer for possessions.

Horford, meanwhile, fits into any iteration of any team, shorthanded or otherwise. He is the Celtics’ trump card in these situations. He isn’t conventional, but he’s a star, and he isn’t unaccustomed to going it alone.

In the 600-plus minutes Horford has played without Irving this season, the Celtics are outscoring opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions—a carbon copy of the Golden State Warriors‘ league-leading net rating. That differential almost goes unchanged when you remove every one of Boston’s other injured players from the equation.

This isn’t a knock on Irving, because Horford isn’t alone. The Celtics are a plus-15.6 points per 100 possessions in the time Tatum has played without either of them, Brown or Smart. This team just works—and not by accident.

Head coach Brad Stevens is one of the league’s best tacticians, and he’s been gifted with one of the deepest, most malleable rosters around. What else should we expect?

Playing without Irving eventually will bite the Celtics. They’re a net plus without him on the season, but their offensive rating dips by more than eight points overall when he isn’t in the game. 

If his precautionary second opinion becomes a protracted stay on the sidelines that spills over into the playoffs, the Celtics will be vulnerable. They don’t have another go-to scorer who marries volume and efficiency in isolation. He averages twice as many pull-up jumpers as anyone on the roster and still owns the team’s best effective field-goal percentage on these shots among guards and wings.

In this sense, Irving is irreplaceable. The Celtics will be held to a hard glass ceiling if he isn’t ready to rock in time for the postseason.

But even then, they’re playing like a team good enough to grind out a series victory. And above all else, that’s what makes them such a tantalizing contender through this season and beyond.

It isn’t because of who they are at their best, but because of what they’re still equipped to do even when they aren’t. 


Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comESPN.com or Basketball Reference and accurate leading into games on March 21.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Andrew Bailey.

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Isaiah Thomas Open to Lakers Return ‘If Things Work Out’

Isaiah Thomas is keeping an open mind when it comes to his impending free agency.

Speaking to the Los Angeles TimesTania Ganguli on Tuesday, Thomas said he will considering re-signing with the Los Angeles Lakers “if things work out.”

“I like it here, I like the situation I’m in, the system, coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Organization’s been great to me. If things work out I would love to be here. You just never know. With free agency you’ve got to keep your options open. I have no complaints since I’ve stepped foot and put a Laker uniform on.”


This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Kyle Korver Takes Leave of Absence from Cavaliers After Brother’s Death

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced Kyle Korver will take a leave of absence from the team after his brother, Kirk, died.

“We are very sad to share that Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver’s brother, Kirk, passed away today,” the team’s statement read. “Kyle has been excused from the team to be with his family. We extend our deepest condolences and heartfelt best to Kyle and his entire family as they go through this very difficult time.”

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com noted Kirk Korver was just 27 years old and “became seriously ill last week.”

Korver missed Saturday’s game against the Chicago Bulls to be with his brother, although he returned for Monday’s contest against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Cavaliers will be without Korver on Wednesday when they host the Toronto Raptors at Quicken Loans Arena.

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Marcus Morris’ 3 Leads Kyrie Irving-Less Celtics Past Russell Westbrook, Thunder

Aesthetics aren’t of the utmost importance to the Boston Celtics (48-23) at the moment. Instead, their focus has shifted to grinding out wins by any means possible with Kyrie Irving (sore left knee), Jaylen Brown (concussion) and Marcus Smart (thumb) all on the shelf.

On Tuesday night, they did just that.

Matched up against the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder (43-30), Boston overcame early offensive struggles, caught fire late and emerged with a 100-99 win at TD Garden behind Marcus Morris’ game-winning three-pointer with 1.2 seconds remaining in regulation.


This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Knicks Rumors: Mark Jackson Emerges as Candidate to Replace Jeff Hornacek

Former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson is reportedly a candidate to eventually succeed Jeff Hornacek as the coach of the New York Knicks.

Kurt Helin of NBC Sports passed along words from the weekly newsletter of Marc Stein of the New York Times suggesting as much:

“The former Knicks guard Mark Jackson keeps coming up as a hot name to succeed Hornacek, amid a growing belief the Knicks’ new front-office chief — Scott Perry — will want to install his own hand-picked choice heading into next season.

“It’s difficult to fault Hornacek for much of the chaos that has engulfed the Knicks during his two seasons in charge. But there’s no avoiding the fact he was a Phil Jackson selection, which could well doom him now that the organization seems intent on cutting every non-Porzingian tie to the Phil era as possible.”


This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Trae Young Imitates Lonzo Ball’s Jump Shot While Shooting Around in Gym

Oklahoma Sooners star Trae Young has yet to step foot in the NBA, but he already looks like a pro—Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball to be more specific.

Overtime shared a clip in which Young perfectly mimicked Ball’s unique jump shot. After taking a few shots, Young said he “[doesn’t] know how [Ball] does it.”

Young confirmed to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski he intends to enter the 2018 NBA draft after Oklahoma lost to the Rhode Island Rams, 83-78, in the first round of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Young averaged 27.4 points and shot 36.0 percent from three-point range in his only season with the Sooners.

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