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Style points do not necessarily lead to real points in the NBA and the stylish shots usually aren’t effective. J.R. Smith will attest to that. "I'd rather take a contested shot than an open shot any day,” Smith said on Thursday. "It’s kind of boring when you take open shots."
Well, James Harden and Stephen Curry can score with the best of them and have some of the most must-watch styles ever. Curry carried the Warriors on offense during a thrilling 99-98 victory at home over the Rockets on Thursday, scoring 33 points with three rebounds, six assists, one steal, six turnovers and five 3-pointers in 37 minutes.
The Rockets defended Curry differently early on and down the stretch. To start the game, they were very lackadaisical with keeping an eye on Curry on the perimeter. That led to Curry hitting three 3-pointers in the final four minutes of the first quarter. As the game went on, he attacked and counted on his floater much more. Curry is just so lethal on uncontested catch-and-shoots that the Rockets just have to rely on their help after the defensive breakdowns. Coach Steve Kerr seemed to have fall in love with pick-and-rolls, which put Curry on Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard a lot. The Rockets may try to trap him more, but the Warriors move the ball so well that it will likely work out for them. The bottom line is Curry is basically indefensible right now.
James Harden put on a show before a costly turnover on the last play of the game as time ran out. The Warriors kept Harden in front of them and he just killed them with his step-back jumper. The best way to keep Harden down was to let him get mid-range shots because they’re less efficient and won’t result in as many free throw attempts. Even with that formula utilized by the Warriors, Harden was still able to put up 38 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, three steals, one block, three 3-pointers and two turnovers on 13-of-21 from the field and 9-of-10 from the line. He’s showing why he was a legit MVP candidate.
Another big story was turnovers. The Warriors had a ton of sloppy turnovers with several lazy passes throughout the game. They actually turned the ball over seven times in the first 8:31, but kept it down to just 10 in the remaining 39:29. As mentioned, Harden ended the game on a turnover, but the Rockets only had 11 turnovers in the entire game. These two teams are so efficient that turnovers will continue to be a huge factor in every game.
Besides the MVP 1-2 punch, Andrew Bogut was huge. He battled with Dwight Howard, was fantastic on weak-side help and finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and five blocks. He was 7-of-9 from the field and took advantage of Dwight cheating too much to help. It’s always easy to talk about Bogut’s D, but his offensive post presence has been an unheralded and under-appreciated part of his game.
The Warriors didn’t get much scoring from Klay Thompson (13 points, four rebounds, one block and one 3-pointer) and Draymond Green (12 points, eight boards, seven assists, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer), but they both played well. We’re still waiting for a big Klay game and it’ll probably come soon with the Rockets focusing on Curry more.
Dwight Howard was a full-blown game-time decision, but you wouldn't know it based on his play. He played 40 minutes with 19 points, 17 rebounds, one assist, two steals and one block. He wasn’t slacking on defense and was actually almost too aggressive. Howard was also stepping out on defense and helping on the perimeter. He should be ready to go for Saturday.
Trevor Ariza finally struggled, scoring seven points with six rebounds, one assist, two steals and one 3-pointer. Josh Smith was also not very selective with his shot, making 5-of-17 from the field for 10 points with one rebound, two assists, one steal and one turnover. Corey Brewer (three points, no rebounds and one assist) also struggled. Coach Kevin McHale used a Harden-Ariza-Brewer lineup a lot and the extra size seemed to help. The Rockets would have been toast without Harden and the role players will need to be better. Game 3 is in Houston on Saturday.
As far as the news and notes, the big one is that DeMarre Carroll (knee) is questionable to play tonight. We should know more at shootaround, but the Hawks dodged a huge bullet. If he’s out, expect Kent Bazemore to play more while Dennis Schroder will play more, too.
The 2015 NBA Draft is a little over one month away. There will be a lot of information out there and Wednesday afternoon I added some noteworthy quotes from some of the top prospects on our Player News Page. Because everyone loves to do mock drafts, here’s a quick look at how I think things will go. I still have a lot of tape to watch and this is based mostly team need.
Wolves - Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky C - Coach Flip Saunders said he likes two-way guys, so KAT looks like the guy. Okafor could wind up being a defensive presence and honestly it would appear analysts are just beating that horse to death. This is not good news for Gorgui Dieng, who is really more of a backup center anyway. Obviously, fantasy owners loved him as a starter. Nikola Pekovic would also lose playing time. That’s a good thing. For now, Towns is probably a mid-round pick.
Lakers - Jahlil Okafor, Duke C - He has the highest offensive ceiling among any rookie and the Lakers desperately need frontcourt scoring. Okafor is going to have to share the ball with Julius Randle in what should be a very good, young frontcourt. Both guys have superior post presence and coach Byron Scott will likely run more of a Memphis-type offense, especially with Kobe Bryant a year older.
76ers - D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State PG - He’s probably the most exciting player in this draft. Russell loves to make plays and he’s likely going to be the most Vined rookie this season. The 76ers have been scouting him for a long time and trading away MCW for what is shaping up to be close to nothing — because they didn’t get the lottery pick from L.A. — won’t hurt them too bad. As for Russell’s fantasy value, he’s certainly on the radar and I would take him over Okafor right now. If Isaiah Canaan and Ish Smith can have some value, Russell definitely has upside. His FG% is going to be bad, though.
Knicks - Justise Winslow, Duke SF - The Knicks love him and they’re going to need some more wing help with Carmelo Anthony. They could wind up rolling the dice on Emmanuel Mudiay here as well. Winslow probably won’t make a big impact in fantasy.
Magic - Stanley Johnson, Arizona SF - He didn’t really dazzle in Tucson, but there were a handful of plays where it looked like Johnson could be a top-three pick. He has the size to play the four and is a complete player on offense. The Magic went with a UofA guy last year in Aaron Gordon, so maybe they go that route again. Bear down, Orlando.
Kings - Emmanuel Mudiay, China PG - The Kings got a lot out of Darren Collison before his season-ending injury, so they’ll be able to groom Mudiay with lower minutes. He isn’t quite as raw as Dante Exum, so he might be able to make an impact on Day 1. As mentioned above, he could wind up going to the Knicks. Although, his 12 games in China weren’t great.
Nuggets - Mario Hezonja, Spain SG/SF - The 6’8 swingman has it all. He can shoot it, he can get to the rim, he has quickness and length to defend, and he’s got a little flash and flare to his game, too. The Nuggets haven’t been shy about taking international players and not having extra depth on the wing was costly for them at times this season.
Pistons - Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky C - The Pistons have been looking for some extra size behind Andre Drummond. Greg Monroe is probably gone and you could argue the Pistons have more holes than any team in the draft. Thrill could make an impact right away with his three years at Kentucky. Plus, he’s improved on free throws and maybe he gets to 70 percent soon.
Hornets - Devin Booker, Kentucky SG - If you watched the Hornets down the stretch last season, you probably noticed how easily teams collapsed on penetration. That’s because they had nobody out there to space the floor because Kemba Walker was usually handling the ball. Booker is probably the best shooter in this class and he fills a huge need for the Hornets.
Heat - Kelly Oubre, Kansas SF - I’ll admit I was a little higher on James Ennis than I should have been and the Heat probably need more depth on the wing. They also could go with Cameron Payne here to get some more depth at point guard because Shabazz Napier didn’t work out. Sorry, LeBron. Anyway, Oubre has potential to be a plus scorer. The Heat are going to look solid next year with Chris Bosh back in action.
Pacers - Myles Turner, Texas C - The Pacers have to start worrying about post-Roy Hibbert. They did draft Shayne Whittington last year, but injuries and a low upside don’t give him much promise. Turner has a decent jumper and wants to expand his range, but he obviously won’t get the green light for a couple years.
Jazz - Kristaps Porzingis, Spain PF - The Jazz are pretty set and basically go two-deep at every position. Their last two top picks of Dante Exum and Trey Burke haven’t quite panned out. However, their other two first-round picks, Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood, look to be the real deal. Porzingis seems to be a couple years away.
Suns - Robert Upshaw, Washington C - The Suns are at their best when they get rim protection. Alex Len absolutely is capable of being that guy, but he’s been hurt far too often. They haven’t held up in the times they used Markieff Morris at the five and Brandan Wright is a free agent this summer. Upshaw is a project, but his 7’4” wingspan is alluring.
Thunder - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona SF - If you’re not sure of which guys you want to root for, Rondae is your guy. He raves about his defense, said he’s ahead of his generation on D, he’s all class, and he has by far the coolest free throw stroke in the NBA. Jefferson’s offensive game is a ways off, so he’s not going to be a fantasy factor.
Enjoy the games this weekend!