76ers

Clippers top Rockets despite Harden's 2nd straight 51-point game

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Clippers top Rockets despite Harden's 2nd straight 51-point game

HOUSTON — After Austin Rivers scored just six points in the first half on Friday night against the Houston Rockets, his Los Angeles Clippers teammates had a message for him.

"Austin, you've got to be more aggressive," Rivers recalled them saying.

He certainly took their advice, scoring 30 of his career-high 36 points after halftime to allow the Clippers to withstand James Harden's second straight 51-point performance in a 128-118 victory.

"If we were going to win I had to start being in attack mode," Rivers said. "And right from the get-go my whole attention was to just be aggressive and take the fight to them."

The Rockets, who had a 14-game winning streak snapped by the Lakers on Wednesday, lost consecutive games for just the second time this season and the first since Oct. 28 and 30 (see full recap).

Westbrook's game-winning 3-pointer lifts Thunder past Hawks
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder like their chances with the ball in Russell Westbrook's hands at the end of a game.

Westbrook hit a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to cap a 30-point, 15-assist outing, and the Thunder held off the resilient Hawks 120-117 on Friday night. Carmelo Anthony added 24 points on 7-of-12 3-point shooting and Paul George scored 17 for the Thunder, who have won five of their last six after a 12-14 start.

"I think we know now how to close and where we're going to to close," George said. "Russ is our leader. ... We knew that we could kind of mess them up with the play that we had, cause some confusion. They backed off and Russ had an easy, open opportunity. Russ is as good as anybody when it's closing time."

Atlanta, in last place in the Southeast Division, made Oklahoma City work for this one, rallying after falling behind by 16 points in the first half, and again by seven in the final minutes. Marco Belinelli scored 30 points to lead Atlanta. Ersan Ilyasova added 22 points for the Hawks, who went 15 of 32 from 3-point range (see full recap).

Drummond's double-double leads Pistons over Knicks
DETROIT — For a few moments Friday, Stan Van Gundy thought his Detroit Pistons were going to fall back into the same bad habits that plagued them early in December.

After leading for most of the game, the Pistons found themselves trailing the New York Knicks by four with 1:48 to play. A loss would have dropped them to 3-9 in December and a game behind the Knicks in the Eastern Conference standings.

Instead, Detroit finished with a 9-2 run to post a 104-101 victory and a fourth win in five games.

"Down four in the last two minutes is a bad situation, but I was very happy with the way we closed out the game," Van Gundy said. "We made some big defensive plays and Reggie (Jackson) attacked on the offensive end." (see full recap).

Bucks close with 9-0 run to beat Hawks 
MILWAUKEE — With Dwight Howard going out early, Kemba Walker did his best to give the Charlotte Hornets a chance to grab a road victory against the Milwaukee Bucks.

But when Walker went down with an apparent injury late in the fourth quarter, the Bucks capitalized, closing on a 9-0 run for a 109-104 victory Friday night.

"This was a tough game," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "There were a lot of emotions in the last game we played. Charlotte is playing extremely well and hard, especially with their coach out. ... They were right there and we found a way down the stretch to make plays on both ends."

After Walker gave Charlotte a 104-100 lead with 2:24 remaining, Milwaukee held the Hornets scoreless the rest of the way. The Bucks tied it on dunks by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton and took the lead on Eric Bledsoe's layup (see full recap).

Sixers reportedly rebuffed in attempt to hire Rockets GM Daryl Morey

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Sixers reportedly rebuffed in attempt to hire Rockets GM Daryl Morey

Well, you can’t say the Sixers aren’t aiming high.

According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Sixers “have been rebuffed in their attempt to hire away Houston's Daryl Morey to take over as their new general manager.” Stein added that the team had great interest in Morey, but he couldn’t be lured away from the Rockets.

Morey, who has served as the Rockets’ general manager since 2007, was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year after Houston secured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a franchise-best 65-17 record during the 2017-18 regular season.

Morey obviously fits the Sixers from a surface standpoint with his analytics background, commitment to building a pace-and-space roster and desire to chase stars. However, what makes the Sixers’ desire in him really interesting is that Morey is the mentor of former Sixers front office executive Sam Hinkie.

Bryan Colangelo, the man who replaced Hinkie in the Sixers’ front office, resigned in June after a scandal involving multiple secret Twitter accounts rocked the franchise. Head coach Brett Brown took over as interim general manager following Colangelo's resignation.

The Sixers have been patient throughout their search as managing owner Josh Harris recently said there is no timetable to select a candidate.

“We’re just getting focused on it now, given everything with free agency and the draft, and also the other GMs are in the same place. We’re looking for the right person,” Harris told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Amy Fadool last week (see story). “One of the things that Bryan Colangelo did really well was we built a great staff, whether it be (vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff) Ned Cohen or (vice president of analytics and strategy) Alex Rucker or (vice president of player personnel) Marc Eversley or (Delaware Blue Coats general manger) Elton Brand, we have a lot of great people. It’s very consensus-oriented, there’s a lot of people in the dialogue, and we want to make sure we find the right fit for that. 

“It’s not going to be easy. My guess is it’s going to take awhile. And we’re obviously focused on doing it as quickly as possible, but at the same time I don’t want to set unrealistic expectations — it could take a little while. So we’re just starting that.”

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Sixers officially bring back Amir Johnson on 1-year contract

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Sixers officially bring back Amir Johnson on 1-year contract

The band is back together.

The Sixers are still making their offseason moves official, which is what happened on Monday when the team officially announced a one-year deal to bring back Amir Johnson. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is reportedly worth the veteran’s minimum, which would be $2.39 million for the center.

“Our experience with Amir last year confirms to us, on so many levels, that he is a perfect fit for our young and developing team,” Brett Brown said in a statement. “His work ethic, leadership and buy-in to team-first basketball all comes to mind when I think of his value to our ball club and his acceptance of a backup role to All-Star Joel Embiid is priceless. We are thrilled to have Amir and his family back in our program and I know this feeling is a shared by all of his teammates.”

Johnson, the last player drafted into the NBA straight from high school, spent his 13th professional season with the Sixers in 2017-18. The 31-year-old averaged 4.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 15.8 minutes a night.

However, it was the little things Johnson did that really added up for the Sixers. The big man had the highest aggregate hustle score, which measures screen assists, deflections, loose balls recovered, charges drawn and contested shots per contest, to win the league’s second-ever Hustle Award. 

“This is definitely an honor,” Johnson said after receiving the award. “I pride myself on doing the little things on the court and I just want to say thank you to my teammates and coaches. This award means a lot.”

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