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Rockets extend streak as Butler exits with injury

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Rockets extend streak as Butler exits with injury

HOUSTON -- James Harden scored 31 points and the Houston Rockets won their 11th straight game with a 120-102 victory Friday night over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who lost All-Star Jimmy Butler to an apparent right knee injury.

Butler left the game late in the third quarter. After grabbing a rebound late in the third quarter, he pivoted and planted hard on his right foot before collapsing and grabbing his right knee. He was on the floor for at least three minutes before he was carried off the court by two teammates. He appeared to avoid putting weight on his right leg when heading to the locker room.

A Timberwolves official said during the fourth quarter that Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau would provide an update on Butler's injury following the game.

Clint Capela had 25 points and 11 rebounds for Houston, getting his 10th double-double over the past 13 games. Chris Paul added 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

The Rockets trailed for much of the first half before going ahead to maintain the NBA's best record.

Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 21 points, and Jeff Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns both had 18 points. Towns added 13 rebounds (see full recap).

Davis sensational in Pelicans’ OT victory over Heat
NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami's third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans' winning streak -- and 42 or more three times -- raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points (see full recap).

Balanced Celtics rout Pistons
DETROIT -- Kyrie Irving scored 18 points and rookie Daniel Theis added a career-high 19 to lift the Boston Celtics to a 110-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.

Jayson Tatum scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half for the Celtics, who went into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak but returned with a solid win on the road. Boston took control by outscoring the Pistons 38-21 in the second quarter.

Blake Griffin scored 17 points for Detroit but shot just 5 of 19 from the field.

Theis eclipsed his previous career high of 12 points. He played an important role after Aron Baynes, the starting center for the Celtics, went to the locker room in the first half with left elbow soreness. Baynes ended up playing only 2:39, but Theis shot 8 of 10 from the field and had seven rebounds.

Ish Smith made his first eight shots and finished with 20 points for the Pistons. Detroit led 39-37 in the second quarter before a 21-5 run by Boston. The Celtics were ahead 61-49 at halftime.

The lead was only four late in the third before Boston scored seven straight points -- five by Irving. The Celtics broke the game open at the start of the fourth (see full recap).

NBA draft profile: Bosnia F Dzanan Musa

NBA draft profile: Bosnia F Dzanan Musa

Dzanan Musa

Position: Forward

Height: 6-9

Weight: 190

Team: Cedevita Zagreb (Croatia)

You hear stories all the time about what prospects in different sports sacrificed to chase their dreams. Few of them can match Dzanan Musa.

At 11 years old, the Bosnian Musa moved from his hometown of Bihac to capital city Sarajevo (a nearly five-and-a-half-hour drive) to attend a basketball academy. Musa lived in an apartment by himself and trained several times a day until he turned professional at age 16.

“I know how to manage myself,” Musa said after a recent workout with the Denver Nuggets. “Especially when you’re from a small town as I am and you go in the main city, you have people looking at you like you’re nothing. You have to fight through that, so I fight. I fight all the time.” 

That hunger has placed the offensively-gifted wing among first-round talents in the 2018 draft class even if it takes a couple more years for Musa to suit up in the NBA.

Strengths
Musa has been getting buckets since he picked up a basketball. Look no further than his prolific scoring numbers with the Bosnian national team. 

In the 2014 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship, he put up 23.0 points a game and followed that up in the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship with 23.3 points a contest. Musa took it up a notch in the 2016 FIBA Under-17 World Cup when he racked up 34.0 points a night en route to being named tournament MVP.

Of course, that was against players his own age. But Musa has held his own against grown men in the professional ranks as well. In 71 total games for Cedevita Zagreb this past season across the Croatian Leagues and EuroCup, the 19-year-old averaged 12.3 points on 47.0 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 from three-point range in addition to 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 23.1 minutes (see highlights).

Overall, Musa is an offensive-minded player that can score in bunches at all three levels when on his game and handle play-making duties as a point-forward.

Weaknesses
Like plenty of European prospects before him, Musa has two huge areas to focus on if he wants to make it in the league: physique and defense. 

“In Europe, we don’t have people around here who are these kinds of athletes,” Musa said after a recent workout with the Indiana Pacers. "I have to develop myself into that kind of player to finish through contact.”

Notice he didn’t mention bulking up to help play defense. That’s because Musa apparently isn’t all that concerned with that end of the floor, which will be a major problem when the talent level spikes in the NBA.

Also, Musa apparently has a competitive side that boils over on the court and gets the best of him at times. That works when you’re someone like Draymond Green, an All-Star and multiple-time champion. Not so much when you’re a young player from overseas trying to find his way.

NBA comparison
While Musa would love to be compared to idol Manu Ginobili, we’re not about to make that link. Sorry, kid. 

However, another recent European prospect that was versatile offensively and was confident in his ability to the point of being cocky is Magic forward Mario Hezonja. That seems like a much better pairing. Like Hezonja, it will take time for Musa to adapt his body and game to the league before he is ready to contribute.

How’d he fit with Sixers
Offensively, Musa would appear to fit in pretty well with the Sixers. He likes to get out on the break and can knock down shots. He also would be able to take over ball-handling duties at times if needed.

On the defensive end, the Sixers have studs in Robert Covington and Joel Embiid that can cover up some deficiencies from others, but even they can only do so much.

Draft projection
Musa is projected to go anywhere from the late teens to near the end of the first round. With the Sixers holding the No. 26 pick and already having 11 players under contract for next season, he could be a serious candidate for a draft-and-stash selection.

More on the Sixers and the NBA draft

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Brett Brown knows only one way to go about his business in the basketball world: attack.

That is evident from his pace-and-space style of play the Sixers have displayed since he took over as head coach. Now he has vowed to do the same thing as the team’s interim general manager.

“We are completely exploring aggressively all options, and I think we just know we need a little bit more,” Brown said Friday.

It’s evident the Sixers need help to become a championship-level team, but we’re not so sure it should come in the form of a man wearing black and silver hitchhiking his way out of San Antonio.

Kawhi Leonard sent shockwaves around the NBA when he reportedly made it clear he wants a split from the Spurs. Per the reports, Leonard has Los Angeles — specifically the Lakers — as his top destination for a trade.

And while there’s no guarantee the Spurs send the former Finals MVP and two-time All-Star to Hollywood, the Sixers would be better served to stay out of the hunt. That’s because if the quiet superstar has proven anything over the past year, it’s that he can do a lot of damage to an organization without saying a word. 

Leonard missed the first 27 games of 2017-18 with a right quad injury. He returned on a heavy-restriction plan only to play seven contests before suffering a tear in his left shoulder. The swingman played one more game before being shut down indefinitely because of the nagging quad. 

After more rehab and eventually being cleared by the Spurs’ medical staff, Leonard opted to leave the team for a second opinion in New York. He stayed away from San Antonio while getting treatment, which allegedly caused friction within the organization that eventually blew up in a players-only meeting.

That didn’t deter Leonard from his plan. He didn’t suit up again nor did he show support for the squad in its first-round series against the champion Golden State Warriors. (Oh, by the way, Leonard has missed time in three straight seasons because of his right quad and reportedly still isn’t 100 percent).

Now if that’s enough to shake up the locker room of arguably the most stable franchise in all of sports, what impact do you think Leonard’s methods would have on the Sixers’ impressionable roster?

Could it be that Leonard just reached his tolerance level with the legendary head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs and simply needs a change of scenery? Of course.

But that’s not a risk the Sixers should be willing to take. Not for virtually the only player in recent memory to ever clash with the highly-respected Spurs. Not for a guy that’s willing to potentially walk away from a $219 million supermax extension for a $188 million maximum just to escape to his hometown of L.A.

Certainly not when it could mean parting with key pieces of your core (Dario Saric, Robert Covington and/or Markelle Fultz) in addition to the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. All for what could be a one-year rental player, as Leonard is able to opt out of his current deal after next season.

Surely the Sixers would want a guarantee Leonard plans to stay before pulling the trigger on a trade, but that’s not a handshake agreement they should be willing to trust. Even if old buddy Brown is the one shaking hands with “The Claw.”

“He’s a great guy,” Brown said. “I’ve spent years with him, as you know, in San Antonio. I’m reminded of the recruiting process we went through to identify him and the sort of pain we went through to give up George Hill to move up and target him. He’s good people, he’s obviously an elite talent and I enjoyed my time with Kawhi in San Antonio.”

Things could be even more painful for Brown this time around if he’s not careful.

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