76ers

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)

Sixers use stifling defense to blow out Trail Blazers

Sixers use stifling defense to blow out Trail Blazers

BOX SCORE

The Sixers blew out the Trail Blazers by 20 points and reached the 10-win mark, their 2015-16 total, 17 games into the season (see observations)

Still, when Brett Brown assessed their 101-81 victory, he did so with a non-complacent eye. Not getting wrapped up in a win in November keeps the team even-keeled and focused. 

“I would give us an A on defense and like a C-minus on offense,” Brown said. “We’re happy with [the record], but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The Sixers held the Trail Blazers scoreless for the first seven minutes of the game (16-0) (see video). They notably restricted C.J. McCollum to only five points, 16 below his average. 

“I think we’re just very consistent on defense,” Ben Simmons said. 

Brown noticed room for improvement on the other end: committing less turnovers (18), finding Joel Embiid (28 points) more often, taking better-advised threes (3 for 11 in the first quarter) and minimizing possessions during which they didn’t get a shot attempt. Expect the team to focus on these areas so it doesn’t get ahead of itself for the next game on Saturday. 

“If you said you could have offense versus bad defense,” Brown said, “I would take the bad offense and have good defense any day of the week.” 

Embiid surpassing Thanksgiving milestone
Brown uses different points in the season as milestones. He eyed Thanksgiving as a checkpoint when it came to Embiid’s fitness level. Well, the holiday is here and Embiid has been averaging 32 minutes in his last five games. 

“He has exceeded my expectations to date kind of all over the place,” Brown said.

Embiid has been playing minute restriction-free. He has sat out only two games after appearing in 31 last season. Embiid is averaging 22.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 blocks and 0.8 steals in 29 minutes per game. He delivered a monster block on Damian Lillard that nearly shot the ball out of the arena. 

“Not to be cocky, but I think I’m the best defensive player in the league right now,” Embiid said.

The big man projected his fitness level is at 81 percent with room to improve. 

“It’s not all the way there but I think it’s getting better,” Embiid said. “I’ve still got to work on a lot of things, but it’s getting there. I can’t wait to be at a hundred percent.”

“We-Want-Ok-A-For” 
With a 20-point lead and the game wrapped up, the Sixers' home crowd broke out into a chant. Only it wasn’t “Trust the Process.” It was “We want Okafor.” Brett Brown didn’t nudge out of consideration to Jahlil Okafor, who has appeared in two games this season. 

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Brown said. “I think you get into a playing rhythm, a playing routine and that’s fair. To just hoist somebody a little tiny window of minutes isn’t something that interests me. I say that out of respect to him. I don’t think that puts him in a position that I want to put him in.”

Okafor is out of the Sixers’ rotation and their future plans since the team declined to exercise his player option. Okafor has made it clear he wants to be traded or bought out so he can find an opportunity to play. 

Embiid heard the chants and would like his close friend to be the court too, but at the same time gets the team’s game plan at this point. 

“I just want what’s best for him,” Embiid said. “I think he’s really good offensively. Defensively I think he’s gotten so much better, even in rebounding. I think he deserves a chance. But it’s hard. It’s business. We’ve been playing so well and I understand the coaches and the front office want to keep the same lineup because we’ve been playing so well.” 

Best of NBA: Celtics' 16-game winning streak snapped by Heat

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USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Celtics' 16-game winning streak snapped by Heat

MIAMI — Goran Dragic scored 27 points, Dion Waiters had 26 with a pair of big 3-pointers in the final minutes and the Miami Heat held on to beat Boston 104-98 on Wednesday night, snapping the Celtics' 16-game winning streak.

Tyler Johnson scored 16 points for Miami, which saw what was an 18-point lead cut to one in the final moments. The Heat shot 49 percent and outrebounded the Celtics 48-37.

Kyrie Irving scored 23 points for Boston. Jayson Tatum added 18, and Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris each had 14.

The Celtics got down by 18 in the first half, which has been a very comfortable place for Boston so far this season. Boston had overcome 18-point deficits against Oklahoma City and Charlotte, a 17-point hole against Golden State, a 16-pointer against Atlanta and rallied from 13 down to win in Dallas this week.

They almost did it again (see full recap)

Barnes' 30-footer at the horn lifts Mavs over Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Harrison Barnes banked in a 30-footer at the buzzer to give the Dallas Mavericks a 95-94 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

Officials reviewed the play to make sure the shot got off in time. Memphis suffered its sixth straight loss after squandering an 18-point lead in the first half.

Barnes led the Mavericks with 22 points, nine of them coming in the fourth quarter to help Dallas thwart a late Memphis comeback. Dennis Smith Jr. finished with 17 points, and J.J. Barea had 10 points and 11 assists.

Tyreke Evans led Memphis with 18 points, and Marc Gasol and Deyonta Davis finished with 14 points each (see full recap).

Westbrook's 34 points lead Thunder past Durant's Warriors
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook scored a season-high 34 points and added 10 rebounds and nine assists to help the Oklahoma City Thunder roll past the Golden State Warriors, 108-91 on Wednesday night.

It was Oklahoma City's first win over the Warriors since Kevin Durant left the Thunder to join the Warriors after the 2015-16 season. Golden State won all four meetings last season by an average of nearly 20 points.

Westbrook said it was just another game in the buildup, but he didn't play like it. At one point in the third quarter, Westbrook and Durant went forehead to forehead and were called for double technicals.

Westbrook's new All-Star teammates came through. Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points and Paul George added 20 (see full recap)

Howard, Hornets rally to beat Wizards in overtime
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Hornets keep finding ways to win at home.

Now if Dwight Howard and his teammates can figure out how to win away from Charlotte they might become a very dangerous team.

Howard had 26 points and 13 rebounds, including a key block at the end of regulation and a crucial offensive rebound in overtime, in the Hornets' 129-124 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

The Hornets improved to 7-2 at home. But they're still below .500 overall because of a 1-7 road record (see full recap)