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NBA Notes: Rockets sign James Harden to NBA-record $228 million extension

NBA Notes: Rockets sign James Harden to NBA-record $228 million extension

LAS VEGAS -- The Beard has the richest contract in NBA history.

The Houston Rockets signed guard James Harden to a four-year, $228 million contract extension Saturday. The extension will run through the 2022-23 season. But with Harden under contract on his existing deal for another two seasons, it will not affect Houston's aggressive pursuit of free agents this summer as the Rockets try to make a run at the Golden State Warriors.

"Since he arrived in Houston, James has exhibited the incredible work ethic, desire to win, and passion to be the best that has made him one of the most unique and talented superstars in the history of the game," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said in a statement issued by the team. "Additionally, the commitment he has shown to our organization, the city of Houston, and Rockets fans all over the world makes him a perfect leader in our pursuit of another championship."

Harden is coming off of his finest season. Moving to point guard for new coach Mike D'Antoni, Harden averaged 29.1 points, an NBA-leading 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds and finished second in the MVP race to former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook.

Harden's do-it-all season helped the Rockets bounce back from a massively disappointing 2015-16 season that collapsed under the weight of chemistry issues with the All-Star guard and big man Dwight Howard. With Howard gone, the Rockets put Harden at the center of everything they do on offense, and it paid off in a major way.

Houston went 55-27 in the regular season and beat Westbrook and the Thunder in the first round of the Western Conference semifinals.

"Houston is home for me," Harden said. "Mr. Alexander has shown he is fully committed to winning and my teammates and I are going to keep putting in the work to get better and compete for the title." (see full story)

AP Source: Jamal Crawford agrees to 2-year deal with Wolves
LAS VEGAS -- A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that Jamal Crawford has agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The cap-strapped Wolves only had the room exception left to use for the deal, worth about $4.2 million for the upcoming season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Crawford has to clear waivers before signing the deal.

The 37-year-old Crawford averaged 12.3 points in 82 games for the Clippers last season. He was traded to Atlanta to help make room for Danilo Gallinari and reached a buyout agreement with the Hawks.

Crawford gives the Timberwolves a much-needed scorer off of the bench. It continues an aggressive summer that has also seen the additions of Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson (see full story).

Knicks sign free-agent guard Tim Hardaway Jr.
NEW YORK-- The New York Knicks have signed free-agent guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million contract.

The team announced the deal Saturday.

The 6-foot-5 Hardaway returned to the Knicks after two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. Last season, he had career highs in scoring (14.5), assists (2.3), rebounds (2.8), minutes (27.3) and field-goal percentage (.455). In four seasons with New York and Atlanta, he has averages of 11.0 points and 23.4 minutes.

"Bringing back Tim to his original NBA home is an exciting time for him and this franchise," general manager Steve Mills said in a team statement. "As a versatile wing whose game continues to improve, he will fit right into the core of players that make up a roster emphasizing youth, athleticism, accountability and unselfishness."

His father, five-time All-Star Tim Hardaway, is an assistant coach for Detroit (see full story).

Timberwolves' Taj Gibson arrested after NYC traffic stop
MINNEAPOLIS -- New Minnesota Timberwolves player Taj Gibson was arrested for a traffic violation in New York City.

The New York Police Department says a 2016 Mercedes Benz sedan made an illegal U-turn in Queens early Thursday. Police stopped the car and Gibson, who was driving, produced a suspended Illinois driver's license.

The Star Tribune reports Gibson was arrested for driving with a suspended license and a moving violation. He's due in court on Sept. 1.

Gibson recently agreed to a two-year, $28 million contract to play in Minnesota. The deal reunites the 32-year-old power forward with Tom Thibodeau, who coached him for five seasons in Chicago.

The Timberwolves said in a statement Saturday they're aware of the incident involving Gibson and are "confident that the matter has been resolved." (see full story)

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

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USA Today Images

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

MIAMI — Tyler Johnson scored 23 points to lead six players in double figures, and the Miami Heat stopped a three-game slide when they beat the reeling Memphis Grizzlies 115-89 on Saturday night.

The Grizzlies lost their ninth game in a row, the longest active streak in the NBA, and their second in as many nights.

Justise Winslow scored a season-high 17 points for the Heat. Reserve Wayne Ellington went 5 for 10 from 3-point range and scored 15.

Miami's Dwyane Wade was limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble and scored six points. But the Heat, scrambling for a playoff berth, still managed to win for only the second time in the past 10 games.

Andrew Harrison scored 17 points for the Grizzlies, who played without leading scorer Tyreke Evans. He'll undergo a precautionary MRI Sunday on his injured right ribs.

The Heat took the lead for good at 28-26. Their margin reached 92-70 by the end of the third quarter.

Miami outscored Memphis 50-30 in the paint, 13-2 on fast breaks and 26-8 off turnovers (see full recap).

Irving's 31 powers Celtics past Knicks
NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn't win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Warriors avenge pair of blowout losses to OKC
OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant's pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third -- when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George's 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant's hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22 (see full recap).

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

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AP Images

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers’ 116-105 victory over the Magic (see observations) was just that: a complete “Sixers” victory.

This wasn’t about one player taking over or the starting five carrying the weight. From players one through 10 who stepped on the court, everyone contributed. 

“It doesn’t matter who scores all the points as long as we win,” Ben Simmons said. “We all know that to get to the next level, that’s what it’s going to take.”

Enhancing the bench is a priority for the Sixers as they look to the playoffs. They are going to need depth in a postseason series, having different weapons as they face the same opponent night in and night out. 

Brett Brown was committed to counting on the second unit. The Sixers held a 22-point lead halfway through the fourth, an opportunity for starters to get a significant period of rest ahead of Sunday’s back-to-back on the road against the Wizards. 

So as the Magic chipped away at the differential and got within nine, the reserves stayed on the court. Even when Mario Hezonja attempted a trey that would have cut the lead to six with 1:21 remaining, Brown had decided the starters would remain on the sidelines.

“I wasn’t going to do it," Brown said of subbing in the starters. "I was going to go with those guys. Some of it’s just gut feel, maybe some of it’s stubbornness. But we have to grow our bench. We have to give those guys confidence that they can close out games and they did. My intention was to going to be to let them see it through.”

In total, the reserves combined for 32 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists. The bench stepped up in different ways. Marco Belinelli provided a boost on the scoreboard with 15 points. T.J. McConnell absorbed extra playing time and clocked a team-high 31 minutes. (None of the starters played more than 29 minutes.) 

Brown determined before the game he would give Richaun Holmes the nod to back up Embiid instead of Amir Johnson. He wanted Holmes, who has played in only three of his last 10 games, to get the opportunity for time on the court (see video). Holmes grabbed eight rebounds with four points in 21 minutes. 

“It shows (the bench) can hold it down,” Simmons said. “We have guys who are capable of doing that, it doesn’t have to be the starting five.”

The bench's production in this win over the Magic is only a small glimpse into what the Sixers believe they will need to succeed in the postseason. 

"Our objective is, in general, playoffs, but I want homecourt advantage," Joel Embiid said. "To know that going into the playoffs you have a bench that can come in and keep the lead or keep building the lead, it's great. In the playoffs you need that, you need a bench to come in and keep it up for the starters, and finish it."