30 teams in 30 days: Rockets get James Harden another star


30 teams in 30 days: Rockets get James Harden another star

James Harden’s status as a star in the NBA took yet another leap forward last season with the 28-year-old finishing second to Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook for the league’s MVP award.
Despite finishing with the third-best record in the NBA last season, the Rockets were bounced in the second round by San Antonio which was a clear signal that as good as Harden was, he would need help in the form of another superstar to truly establish a perch among the game’s elite.
In comes future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, who needs a team like the Rockets as badly as they need him.
Despite a war chest full of individual accolades as well as being a well-respected leader, the 32-year-old Paul has never led a team past the second round of the playoffs.
There’s no questioning the talent assembled in the Houston backcourt with Harden and Paul, but there are legitimate concerns as to how they will mesh together, especially with both being ball-dominant playmakers who have thrived in those roles.
You have to believe at some point head coach Mike D’Antoni will figure out how to mesh their games, and from there things could get real scary for opponents.
Because in addition to having what looks to be one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA, the Rockets also added some legit toughness and versatility with P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. Both players provide some much-needed toughness for a Houston team that shot the hell out of the ball last season in setting an NBA record in made 3-pointers with 1,181.
Scoring is not an issue for the Rockets. Houston averaged 115.3 points per game which was second only to Golden State (115.9) in the NBA last season.
Now defense? That’s another story.
The Rockets defensive rating (106.4) ranked 18th in the NBA and allowed 109.6 points per game, which ranked 26th in the league.
In addition to Tucker and Mbah a Moute, the Rockets also have Trevor Ariza to help form a strong 1-2-3 defensive punch on the wing.
Houston’s interior defense is an area of concern, but if they hold their own defensively while still creating problems for opposing defenses because of the Paul-Harden backcourt as well as Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon who can both shoot the ball well, the Rockets have a legit shot at doing what no Paul-led team has done which is get to the Conference finals.
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers); P.J. Tucker (Toronto); Luc Mbah a Moute (Los Angeles Clippers).
Key losses: Patrick Beverley (Los Angeles Clippers); Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers); Sam Dekker (Los Angeles Clippers); Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers);
Rookies of note: Zhou Qi.
Expectations: 57-35 (1st in the Southwest Division, 2nd in the West).

Second-quarter struggles doom Celtics in 107-95 loss to Jazz

Second-quarter struggles doom Celtics in 107-95 loss to Jazz

BOSTON – It’s going to come. It always seems to come, sooner or later.

The run, whether it’s fueled by the Boston Celtics’ scoring or their defense, is on its way, right?

Not tonight.

After falling behind in the second quarter, the Celtics were never able to muster up enough plays at either end of the floor to regain control of the game, ultimately resulting in a 107-95 loss to the Utah Jazz.

The Celtics (24-7) still have the best record in the East, but they are trending in the wrong direction now with losses in two of their last three games and three of the last five.

Meanwhile, Utah (14-15) snapped a four-game losing streak in addition to nine straight defeats to the Celtics.

Kyrie Irving was brilliant again, scoring 33 points. Al Horford had a nice game for Boston with 21 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Other than those two, the Celtics didn’t get much production.

Meanwhile, the Jazz were led by Ricky Rubio’s 22 points. And rookie Donovan Mitchell had a near double-double with 17 points and nine assists with six rebounds. Rodney Hood provided a nice spark off the Jazz bench with 17 points.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, whose team was down 101-86 with about two minutes to play, sent four players – Shane Larkin, Abdel Nader, Guerschon Yabusele and Semi Ojeleye – to the scorer’s table, clearing looking ahead to Saturday’s game at Memphis.

Sluggish play through most of the second quarter put Boston in come-from-behind mode, which is a place they are familiar with this season. 

But the third quarter burst they’re used to getting, just wasn’t there early on as Boston’s seven-point deficit to start the third soon ballooned to a 16-point hole that Boston struggled to climb their way out of.

Irving was scoring consistently once again, but he had very little help other than Horford.

And the Celtics’ defense was never able to slow down Utah’s red-hot shooters who finished the game connecting on 48.3 percent of their shots.

The usually reliable Jayson Tatum had a rough game, missing all four of his shots from the field through three quarters of play without a single point to his name. His first points didn’t come until a pair of free throws with 9:32 to play. He had seven points, but missed five of his six shots from the field.

After a relatively close first quarter which ended with the Celtics ahead 26-21, points were few and far between for both teams through most of the second quarter. Nearly eight minutes of the quarter was in the books and the Celtics only had two made field goals in the quarter, the second of which was made by Jaylen Brown which cut Utah’s lead to 35-32 with 4:06 to play.

Boston’s struggles in the quarter continued with the Jazz pulling ahead by as many as 10 points (46-36) after a 3-pointer by Hood.

However, Irving’s 3-pointer moments later would be the final points of the half which ended with Utah on top 46-39.


Hayward wishes he was playing Jazz, a game he circled on his calendar

Hayward wishes he was playing Jazz, a game he circled on his calendar

BOSTON – On the road, Utah’s Joel Ingles had dinner last night before with Gordon Hayward, an all-too-familiar routine.

But nothing has been normal or routine about the Jazz and Hayward, not after he left after seven years to sign with the Boston Celtics this summer.

And with tonight’s game being the first time the two teams have squared off since Hayward’s decision, there was indeed a noticeable build-up to it even with Hayward (dislocated left ankle) unable to play.

“It makes it harder for me. I wish I was out there,” said Hayward who suffered his ankle injury in the season-opener at Cleveland on Oct. 17. “It makes it harder just to sit back and watch. This was a game I circled as well. I know they did. In front of my now-home crowd, it would have been a lot of fun.”

Ingles enjoyed his time playing with Hayward in Utah, but says he and the team have moved on and are now focused more on what they can do as a team to improve from one day, one game to the next.

Without Gordon, Ingles says things are “obviously different,” adding, “But I really like who we have and what we have. Nothing really changes for us. We play a very similar style. Obviously different personnel. You draft guys, you sign guys, whatever it is. It’s a little different, but adding all those new pieces is a little bit of an adjusting time we’ve kind of gone through. We’ve had some great games, we’ve had some bad games. At the end of the day, you want to keep evolving, keep getting better and I think we’ve done that. That’s not going to result in wins all the time, but I think in the long run, the long-term for this team it’s gonna really help us.”

And Hayward’s decision, he believes will also pay off for both him and the Celtics.

“I don’t regret anything,” Hayward said. “I unfortunately got injured, but happy to be here in Boston and happy to be part of this team.”