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Rockets land 'foundational' player in James Harden

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Rockets land 'foundational' player in James Harden

HOUSTON (AP) Now that they've landed James Harden, the Houston Rockets have grander aspirations in mind.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey officially introduced Harden on Monday, calling him a ``foundational'' player for the team's ultimate goal of returning to title contention. Harden, last season's Sixth Man of the Year, joined Houston in a stunning trade with Oklahoma City on Saturday night.

``James Harden is a player we can build around, and continue to improve the team around his skills,'' Morey said. ``He's an elite offensive player, a complete player. He can pass, shoot, attack the basket. Even though he's a gold medalist, an Olympian and made the Finals, I still think he's an underrated player. He's absolutely someone who, when they see him step into the role of a star for the Houston Rockets, people are going to realize just how good he is.''

The Rockets traded shooting guard Kevin Martin and first-round draft pick Jeremy Lamb to Oklahoma City, along with future draft picks.

Coupled with Jeremy Lin, Morey is hoping that Houston's new high-profile backcourt and the salary cap space created by the deal will attract another star to Houston in the near future.

The Rockets have overhauled their roster since finishing 34-32 last season and missing the playoffs for the third straight year. Houston added Lin and center Omer Asik to join Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson in the projected starting lineup.

``Now our job is to add another significant player or have one of our young guys develop into an All-Star-caliber player,'' Morey said. ``You probably need two to really be a championship contender. We're not there yet, but we've got multiple young players who can take that step forward.''

Harden was finalizing a long-term contract with Houston on Monday. He says he'll be ready to play when the Rockets open the regular season in Detroit on Wednesday.

``I'm excited to be here,'' Harden said. ``The organization has done a great job, they've made me feel welcome. I think we have something special here. We're young, but those guys want to work and get better, so we want things days at a time.''

Not long after news of the trade leaked out, Harden heard from Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who were also his teammates on the Olympic team. The Rockets visit Oklahoma City on Nov. 28.

``I actually talked to Kevin (Sunday) night. He's still in shock,'' Harden said. ``It's a business, it happens that way. We had something special there. It didn't work out. In a business, you've got to move on. We're still going to be brothers.''

Morey acknowledged he was ``shocked'' that Harden was available, and said the deal came together within a few days last week. The Rockets have been trying to land a first-tier star for years, failing in an aggressive bid to sign Dwight Howard over the summer.

The Rockets were close to getting Pau Gasol before last season in a proposed deal that also would have sent All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Lakers. But NBA Commissioner David Stern, acting on behalf of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, vetoed the deal that would have brought Lamar Odom to the Hornets, along with Luis Scola, Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.

``A GM in 1950 would say to win the title, you've got to have an All-Star player,'' Morey said. ``We feel like we have one now, and frankly, we want more than one. But you've got to get one first, and we're going to move forward from there.''

Harden says he'll wear the same No. 13 in Houston that he wore in Oklahoma City.

``It's a new journey for me,'' Harden said. ``It's a new growth for me, to do something special, being one of the focal points of this offense. It's a great opportunity.''

Morey expects Harden to start Houston's regular-season opener, a decision ultimately up to coach Kevin McHale. Harden said he's ready to play, even though he was practicing with his new team for the first time on Monday afternoon.

``I mesh with anyone,'' Harden said. ``It shouldn't take that much time, especially with our offense and our strategies aren't too difficult. I'm a very fast learner, so it shouldn't take too long.''

Later Monday, the Rockets waived forwards Jon Brockman and JaJuan Johnson, guards Gary Forbes and Shaun Livingston and guard/forward Lazar Hayward, who was acquired along with Harden from Oklahoma City.

McHale and Morey said before training camp began that the objective this season was making the playoffs. That remains the same, although with Harden on board, it seems much more reachable.

``We're going to be much better this year, and we've upped our playoff odds,'' Morey said. ``Our goal isn't to stop there. We're looking to be a championship contender, and that's going to require focusing on the future, at least a little bit longer.''

Harden started only seven games in three seasons in Oklahoma City, as he developed into an indispensable reserve. Morey, like McHale, expects Harden to make a seamless transition into a featured role with the Rockets.

``He's had plenty of minutes and we've studied him, believe me,'' Morey said. ``I don't see it as an issue at all.''

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Bradley Beal fouling out nearly changed the series, but Wizards rallied

Bradley Beal fouling out nearly changed the series, but Wizards rallied

After calling an inconsistent game throughout the night, the referees made a decision with five minutes to go in Game 4 that nearly altered the entire series between the Wizards and Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan was chasing a rebound on the baseline and ran into Bradley Beal. Beal, who had a team-high 31 points, was levied a sixth foul. He was out of the game with the score tied.

Beal had unloaded for 20 points in 12 minutes in the second half, but now the Wizards would have to close it out without their All-Star shooting guard. Somehow, they were able to seal the win and tie the series.

Beal heard the whistle as he laid on the ground. He immediately hopped up and unleashed a tantrum that nobody could blame him for. He jumped up and down, screaming at the referees, who had just called by all accounts a questionable foul and in a key moment of a playoff game.

Both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were incensed and with good reason.

“I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated," Beal said. "I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that."

Beal is probably lucky the referees didn't take offense to his reaction because it continued when he was on the bench. He walked past his teammates and leaned over with his hands on his knees, still furious. Then he returned to the sideline to yell at the refs. Center Ian Mahinmi helped convince him to step back and cool off.

Beal has made a major difference in this series. He averaged 14.0 points in the first two games, both losses. He has averaged 29.5 points in Games 3 and 4, two Wizards wins.

Getting him out of the game was a major break for the Raptors, but they couldn't take advantage. The Wizards closed the final five minutes on a 14-6 tear. John Wall stepped up to lead the charge with eight of those points.

The Wizards still had one star on the court and he played like one.

“Just go in attack mode," Wall said. "When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took... I just wanted to do whatever, so that we could advance to Game 5, tied 2-2.”

Once Beal composed himself, his confidence grew in his teammates. He and Wall feel comfortable playing without each other because they have done so often throughout their careers.

This year, Wall missed 41 games due to a left knee injury. Two years ago, Beal missed 27 games. Early on in his career, he had trouble staying healthy. Now he is an iron man who played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

Beal has grown accustomed to being on the floor a lot, but he realized he can still affect the game from the sidelines.

"I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances," Beal said. "Face the adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

Wall and others did the heavy lifting in the end. The Wizards used Kelly Oubre, Jr. as the shooting guard with Beal out and he made key plays down the stretch, including a steal on Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds.

The Wizards were thrown a significant curveball and they overcame it to put themselves in good position now having won two straight.

“You have to have resolve to win in this league," Brooks said. "You win playoff games and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games and one of them has to be on the road."

When it comes to the officiating, the Wizards deserve credit for their resilience and restraint early in Game 4. The Raptors had 16 free throws in the first quarter compared to the Wizards' four. Washington perservered and ended up with more free throws (31) than the Raptors (30) did for the game.

In Game 1, the Wizards appeared to be affected by a lack of foul calls. That came was called loosely by the referees, while this one was officiated tightly. Though Beal went off, the Wizards for the most part stayed the course and were rewarded for it.

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.

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WIZARDS DOMINATED GAME 3 BECAUSE EVERYONE ATE... LITERALLY