1) James Harden, Nets brings “Scary Hours” to Bucks, East
What is the mood in Brooklyn?
It should be after a dramatic win in a showdown atop the East on Monday, one hoop fans can only hope becomes a playoff series if this is what it’s going to look like.
Brooklyn — still without one-third of its big three (Kyrie Irving missed his seventh straight game) — announced its presence with authority in a showdown of teams atop the East Monday. James Harden and Kevin Durant both had 30 or more points, ran their pick-and-roll to continue to confound defenses, and when it came time to stick the dagger in the Bucks Harden made the hustle play, found Durant, and he buried it.
Brooklyn’s offense with Durant and Harden is nearly impossible to stop — it put up a 120.1 offensive rating in this game against a top-10 defense in Milwaukee (the Bucks defense has improved after a rough start to the season). Brooklyn’s passing and ball movement have jumped to an elite level. Harden finished with 34 points and 12 assists — he’s the first player in NBA history with 30+ points and 10+ assists in his first two games with a new team — while Durant had 30 and nine. The role players also stepped up big: Joe Harris had 20 points and a clutch three late, and DeAndre Jordan shot 6-for-6 on his way to 12 points, 12 rebounds, and he was strong on the defensive end.
The Nets were merciless in hunting mismatches all game (and the Bucks switching more on defense this season made that job easier). When Jrue Holiday got a rest in the fourth, Harden and Durant hunted Pat Connaughton and Dante DiVincenzo and pushed their lead up to eight until Holiday returned. Add another brilliant isolation player in Irving to the mix and the Nets will be unguardable.
It’s just one early-season game, but doubters about these Nets will now have to admit this team has a real shot to come out of the East.
So do the Bucks, who got 34 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, 25 from Khris Middleton, who took over down the stretch, and watched Jrue Holiday show why he will make this a more dangerous playoff team. Their offensive tweaks this season — playing someone in the dunker spot more, giving Antetokounmpo more passing options if teams form a wall in front of him — make this team more dangerous.
The questions are there still for both sides. Will Brooklyn’s offense keep the ball moving and continue to be this selfless when Kyrie Irving is added to the mix, and once the honeymoon of this superstar trio wears off? More than that, the Nets defense continues to be an issue — they won their two games with Harden by putting up incredible offensive numbers, not by getting a lot of stops, and that could be a real problem come the playoffs.
On the other end, the Bucks are still very reliant on the three, and when it goes missing — Milwaukee was 11-for-37 (29.7%) from deep in this game — they are vulnerable. And it goes missing too much in big games. Milwaukee’s depth and newfound defensive strategies are both still being tested. Ultimately, the Bucks and their coach’s real questions are about performing under pressure in a playoff series, questions that cannot be answered until the second round of the playoffs and beyond — we know the Bucks are good in the regular season.
This showdown saw 20 lead changes, 10 in the fourth quarter, and might be the early leader for the most entertaining game of the season.
If that’s a playoff preview, sign me up for seven games.
2) Curry, Warriors will not go quietly into that good night (at least against L.A. teams)
This edition of the Warriors may not be contenders in the West this season, but this team still fights like a champion. And, it still has a weapon — the Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll — that was the heart of a couple of titles and remains nearly indefensible.
Golden State leaned on that Curry/Green play in the fourth quarter as the Warriors came from 14 down in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers 115-113.
The Warriors trailed the Clippers by 22 in the third quarter 10 days before and came back to win. There’s something about the water in L.A. that Golden State likes.
“It was similar to the Clippers game. We’ve done it twice now, but want to get leads early,” Curry said postgame.
For the Lakers, this is a one-off loss where they got complacent up early. It happens over the course of 72.
Golden State is not a contender this season; it’s more about getting James Wiseman experience, finding where Andrew Wiggins fits, and building up a foundation that can contend next season when Klay Thompson returns.
Except the Warriors don’t see it that way — this team still has weapons and will be a tough out for whoever lands them in a playoff series.
3) Kevin Porter Jr. on his way out in Cleveland after locker room tantrum
There comes a point where the talent is not worth the trouble. Kevin Porter Jr. has reached that point in Cleveland.
Porter showed real promise as a rookie, averaging 10 points a game in a limited role, and he looked like he could be a third part of the long-term backcourt rotation with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland for the Cavs. Porter had been out for the start of this season due to personal reasons and hadn’t been around the team much, but was working his way back (he had been arrested in the offseason on a weapons charge, but it has been dropped).
When Porter showed up Friday, he found his locker had been moved, his old spot given to veteran Taurean Prince, who came over with Jarrett Allen in the four-team James Harden trade. Porter had his locker moved over to the part of the room with younger, end-of-the-bench guys.
Porter lost it and threw a tantrum — and reportedly even threw some food, according to reports.
GM Koby Altman came in the locker room, confronted Porter, and would not back down. Reportedly words were exchanged (and not just food).
Now the Cavaliers are reportedly looking to trade Porter, and if that doesn’t work, they are going to cut him outright. Porter, the No. 30 pick in the 2019 draft, has a guaranteed contract for this season and next, totaling $4.1 million. Cleveland may be willing to eat that to get him out of the locker room.
Getting rid of a talented young player is not something the Cavaliers should do lightly, but there comes a point when the talent isn’t worth the distraction and problems. If Porter is there for Cleveland — and trying to start the food fight scene from Animal House might cross that line — it’s time to move on.
You can be sure Porter will get another chance with another team. If a franchise has strong veteran locker room leadership, it should consider adding Porter Jr. The talent is there, and talent is too hard to come by in this league.