Kevin Durant, Basketball Twitter go nuts for Thomas ‘Snacks’ Lee, a Jackson State legend

Thomas “Snacks” Lee should be your new favorite basketball player.

The Jackson State senior guard, who had previously served as the team manager, took the floor for the first time in his career Monday night against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. His first few shot attempts failed to find the bottom of the net, but with less than a minute to go in regulation, Lee launched from way downtown and … splash.

Just listen to the reaction from the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center crowd.

Lee has a cool nickname in “Snacks.” He isn’t afraid to shoot from anywhere on the floor. He can electrify an arena. How could you not root for him?

Oh, and he got a shoutout from Kevin Durant, the reason why he wears No. 35. 

Durant isn’t the only who jumped on the “Snacks” bandwagon.

The legend of “Snacks” will live on forever.

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LeBron James posts heroic triple double as Lakers beat Pelicans

LeBron James posts heroic triple double to topple Zion Williamson’s highest-scoring game yet as star duo stage thrilling duel with LA Lakers beating New Orleans Pelicans

  • LeBron James scored 34 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds against the Pelicans 
  • The Lakers overcame New Orleans 122-114 on Sunday after James’s top display 
  • He beat Zion Williamson’s highest scoring game to help his team to victory 

LeBron James keeps finding ways to assert his supremacy over the upstart New Orleans Pelicans and rookie sensation Zion Williamson – with or without the help of fellow Lakers All-Star Anthony Davis.

James had 34 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and Los Angeles overcame both Davis’ absence and Williamson’s highest-scoring game to beat New Orleans 122-114 on Sunday night.

‘Obviously, spectacular performance by LeBron James,’ Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. ‘His shot-making was ridiculous from both in the post, with turnaround jump shots, and at the 3-point line.

LeBron James was in irresistible form as he scored 34 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds 

He left rival Zion Williamson, left, in the shade by overcoming his highest scoring game

‘When they brought double-teams, he is one of the best passers in the league,’ Vogel added. ‘He showed it tonight and picked their defense apart.’

Williamson finished with 35 points, but his largely productive and highlight-filled night was marred somewhat by six turnovers.

Kyle Kuzma scored 20, including a corner 3-pointer set up by James that put the Lakers up 113-109 with 3:40 to go. The Lakers gradually pulled away after that, aided by James’ 3 with 2:27 left.

‘He is who he is – incredible player,’ Williamson said of James. ‘I give respect when it’s due. He hit a big shot and it helped them seal the game.’

Davis, who spent the first seven of his eight seasons with New Orleans, sat out with a sore right knee, one night after playing in the Lakers’ 105-88 loss at Memphis. His injury did not appear too serious; he was on the bench in street clothes and routinely reacted to the action on the court by springing out of his seat and standing on the sideline.

James gets the better of Williamson by lifting the ball into the net as the pair went head to head

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 13 and JaVale McGee asserted himself inside with six blocked shots and eight points, including his layup in the final minute that made it 120-112.

‘We had one of the best players in the league out tonight; that is what makes the win feel that much better,’ Vogel said. ‘Kuz was great and our bigs were great. A lot of guys contributed on the perimeter, in particular on the defensive end. … Just a heck of a win for us.’

James punished the Pelicans on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter when double-teams arrived late, beating guard and former teammate Josh Hart with explosive dribble drives for a dunk and a layup. His dominance served as an emphatic encore to his season-high 40 points in a victory over New Orleans six days earlier in Los Angeles.

‘He just controls the whole game,’ Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. ‘You go down and double him, and he finds the open pass for 3. If you don’t double him, he’s so strong and so skilled that he just lays the ball in the basket. … I’m just amazed that they talk about anybody other than him for MVP.’

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the performance by James was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘spectacular’ 

Ex-Laker Lonzo Ball had 19 points, nine assists and nine rebounds for New Orleans. Derrick Favors added 12 points and 14 rebounds, but the Pelicans were done in by 7-of-33 3-point shooting.

The opening half was a crowd-pleasing affair in which James scored 19 and Williamson 17.

Moments after Williamson had cut to the hoop for a one-handed stuff, James pulled up from 35 feet for a 3 that tied it at 61.

‘Zion had a hell of a move right before that, got the crowd into it. I looked at the clock and saw we had an opportunity for a two-for-one,’ James recalled. 

Williamson finished with 35 points against the Lakers but it was James who stole the show

‘Nine times out of 10, maybe 10 times out of 10, a lot of guys are not going to contest that shot because they think I’m shooting that from too far. So I know I have some space. I work on it before the game and I was able to knock it down.’

Caldwell-Pope’s driving finger roll gave Los Angeles a 63-61 edge at halftime.

The Lakers widened their lead to nine in the third quarter, only to see New Orleans surge back in front, sparked by Williamson spinning free from Kuzma for a back-door dunk of Jrue Holiday’s alley-oop pass.

Early in the fourth, the Pelicans led by as many as six points – not nearly enough to prevent James and Co. from taking over late.




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76ers clipped as Philly folds without Simmons

Kawhi Leonard scored 30 points, Paul George added 24 and the Los Angeles Clippers extended their winning streak to four with a 136-130 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Reserves Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams also had 24 points. The Clippers — who shot 59.2 per cent from the field — trailed by two at halftime but took control in the third quarter, outscoring the Sixers 38-24.

Already missing the injured Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Philadelphia’s bad luck continued when Josh Richardson suffered a bruised nose in the second quarter that ruled him out for the rest of the game as he was placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

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The game was tied at 89 before Los Angeles went on an 18-5 run. Leonard scored 11 points in the period and George had eight.

Harrell’s dunk with 8:37 remaining in the game gave the Clippers a 117-103 lead.

Philadelphia made a final charge to close within 125-121 with three minutes left but Williams’ jumper and Leonard’s pull-up basket thwarted the rally.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers was glad to have his full roster available for the clash, saying: “We needed everyone tonight. Philadelphia played great and it felt like they made every shot, but our guys shot better. If we’re not at full strength, we don’t win the game for sure.”

Rivers’ counterpart Brett Brown said the Clippers forced Philly onto the back foot in the crucial third quarter, which ultimately cost the 76ers the game.

“They stood us up, they got into us on our back heels. I thought we had a hard time trying to find the rim,” coach Brown said.

“It was really our only blemish, that third period. Twenty-four points, given our other three periods, just wasn’t enough to cover their onslaught.”

The Sixers fell down when the game was on the line.Source:AP

Shake Milton led Philadelphia with 39 points, including seven three-pointers. The first-year guard had 26 points in the first half, which tied a team season-high.

Milton is seizing his opportunity to make an impact for the Sixers, who are without Embiid and Simmons. Embiid is out with a shoulder injury while Simmons has been laid low by a back issue.

“It kind of just happened randomly. I was ready, as soon as there was the opportunity,” Milton said. “Once the first couple of ones knocked down, especially the first three, I felt pretty good. It definitely feels cool.”

Former Clippers forward Tobias Harris had 25 points and Alec Burks 15. Philadelphia started fast, making 11 of its first 13 from the field to take a 25-11 lead midway through the first quarter as Milton scored 11, including seven straight at one point.

Los Angeles cut the margin down to five at the end of the first quarter and then scored the first seven points in the second to take its first lead at 41-39 on a pair of free throws by Harrell with 9:58 remaining in the first half.

The remainder of the quarter saw five ties and three lead changes before the Sixers went into the locker room with a 72-70 halftime advantage.

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NBL rocked by nuclear WhatsApp claims

The NBL has been rocked by a staggering series of social media posts from Adelaide 36ers guard Kevin White, accusing former coach Joey Wright of misconduct towards players.

White made a series of serious accusations against the veteran NBL coach, coming just one day after the American mentor’s split from the 36ers was confirmed.

The three-time NBL coach of the year departed after seven years in South Australia after a decision club officials claimed was “mutual”.

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One of the most celebrated and longest-serving mentors in NBL history, Wright leaves the Sixers after failing to make the playoffs for the second straight season.

White responded to Wright’s decision to part ways by going nuclear with allegations of misconduct against his former mentor.

Wright on Friday responded to White’s claims in an extended radio segment on SEN, where he revealed he made an apology to White in their final conversation before he left the club.

The 36ers have responded to White’s claims by confirming the club will investigate the accusations against Wright and senior figures in the team.

Joey Wright has moved on.Source:Getty Images

The Adelaide co-captain posted a bitter tirade at his former coach on Twitter, suggesting the coach’s attitude was responsible for the team’s broken culture.

“I’ve been told to shut my mouth & it will be handled for weeks,” White tweeted on Friday morning.

“Well it’s now getting out of hand and I won’t stand for my teammates getting belted in the media.

“You rise as a team and fall as a team!

“That’s a winning cultures MOTO, every time it’s been the players. Spare me!”

“8 weeks ago we sat in a team meeting…we were told “if we don’t make playoffs, people won’t think it’s because I’m a s*** coach, they will just think i had a s*** team”…another video session another meeting.

“This time “we have too many empath’s, too many guys soaking others emotions. Too many guys that care about their teammates situation and not worrying about themselves. I’m not built like that, I’m the opposite of an empath!”

“Google that and see what man is coaching this club.

“Still the guys shut their mouths and show up to train, play and do their jobs. All while copping this day in and day out….did any of the other coaching staff, ‘High performance team’ or office staff do anything. NO!!!! is the simple answer.

Joey Wright holding court.Source:Getty Images

“Another game day another inspiring pre-game talk….this time ‘a racial divide’ has split the group and we don’t function together. “if you don’t want to do it for your teammates go get 30 for yourself and then maybe you will help us win a game” Gee way to inspire young men!

“If you think this is something that has taken place over night… you’re dead wrong!

“I’ll leave you with a message to our coaches group. A message from our ‘high performance manager’ about guys ‘Well-being scores’ WELL-BEING let that sink in and then read it.”

White also posted a screenshot that he claims shows Wright posting to the a team group chat where he vents about his players, saying: “F*** all of them. Hopefully it gets low enough for them to hang themselves. F***ing d***s”.

WRIGHT RESPONDS TO STUNNING ACCUSATIONS

Kevin White says this is a screenshot from an Adelaide 36ers group message thread.Source:Twitter

51-year-old Wright appeared to label White “weak” and suggested a former 36ers assistant coach was the source of his WhatsApp leak when responding to White’s claims on radio.

Wright also said he does not expect to hear from the 36ers during the team’s investigation into White’s claims.

“The departing has nothing to do with Kevin’s comments,” Wright told SEN.

“It’s just an opportunity, now that I’m not the coach, for anybody weak out there to come at me because I really don’t have a voice or a stand to anything anymore. I’m just a regular Joe now at this point in time.”

He did not deny he sent the message White has accused him of posting, but is adamant the screenshot has taken his comments out of context.

He says the betrayal of having his private messages leaked to the public shows the “dysfunction” he was dealing with while trying to lead the team.

In an extraordinary development he suggested he has his own dirt on 36ers players from group chats that they are part of – but says he would never betray them, despite his messy exit.

Wright said he could make every Adelaide player look like an “idiot” if he chose to share some of the private messages they have shared. He says releasing other people’s private messages is something he will never do.

“My exit conversation with Kevin White was actually all about apologising to him for putting him under tough circumstances,” Wright said.

“I expected him to come in here and be a leader amongst this team and he kinda stood back. If I told the public, the media the reasons why he stood back, he wouldn’t look that great. But I’m not going to do that. I’ll never, ever, ever betray a player’s confidence or another coach’s confidence. What they say to me will always stay with me. What Kevin has said to me will stay with me, even though he’s already done that to me.

“It’s just disturbing that somebody would go in there, take a private message out of there and take it out of context.

“It was absolutely wrong to say. But it was only joking and for them to take it out of context, just shows you the dysfunction that I was dealing with this year.”

Kevin White went nuclear.Source:Getty Images

White’s claims have stunned the league and caught the 36ers on the back foot.

The team issued a statement on Friday morning to announce it is treating the accusations seriously.

“The Adelaide 36ers are investigating comments made in tweets from co-captain Kevin White,” the team said.

“The club takes the allegations seriously and will investigate further as part on an ongoing review. No further comments will be made until the conclusion of the review.”

The NBL also released a statement on Friday to confirm league officials are also treating the accusations seriously.

“The NBL is aware of comments made by Adelaide 36ers co-captain Kevin White on social media today,” the league said in a statement.

“The league takes the matter very seriously and is working closely with the Adelaide 36ers and the Australian Basketball Players’ Association to seek further information.”

Wright on Thursday further hinted at the relationship breakdown with his players, admitting it was time for him to move on.

“To get away from that situation is for me, health-wise, the best thing to happen,” he said, according to The Adelaide Advertiser.

“As far as mental health, dealing with the pressures and stresses of that situation.

“I’m just concerned our values were inconsistent with one another and not that mine were right and theirs were wrong, but they were inconsistent and we just weren’t heading in the right direction.

“The ones who it wasn’t good with, it wasn’t good. I’m not a halfway person, I can’t be lukewarm, you’re either with me or against me and there were four who weren’t really committed and by then the three imports and Harry didn’t give us what we needed. That was the reality of it,” Wright said.

“I would have loved for those guys to be a little bit more driven but we weren’t on the same page, and that’s not the club’s fault, that’s my fault and I tried everything I could to get them on the same page as everybody else.”

But the 51-year-old believes the 36ers are in better shape than when he joined in 2013.

“I feel like I have left the club in a better position than when I first arrived and I look forward to my next coaching challenge,” Wright said in a statement on Wednesday.

Wright coached Brisbane from 2002-08 and also was at the helm of Gold Coast Blaze from 2009-2012.

He was named the NBL’s coach of the year in 2004, 2007 and 2017, when Adelaide were beaten in the championship series.

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‘Kiss my a**’: LeBron schools Zion

When the prince takes on the king, the older statesman is always going to want to pull out his best.

In the second meeting between LeBron James’ LA Lakers and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans, both men put on a show but it was King James who came out the victor.

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The 122-114 Lakers win was only half the story though with Williamson knocking down a career-best 35 points and seven rebounds, only to be overshadowed by James, who knocked down 34 points, but also had 12 rebounds and 13 assists.

It was his 21st triple-double with the Lakers and tied with Kobe Bryant for the third most in franchise history.

It’s the second time the pair have played with James claiming both wins.

He also had 37 points, 9.5 assists and 10 rebounds per game against the heir apparent for his throne.

LeBron is on fire.Source:AP

The 35-year-old still has plenty to teach the 19-year-old Williamson, with the perfect response to a signature dunk.

While Williamson slammed it down right in front of James’ eyes, the King responded with an almost half court shot just two seconds later.

Zion throws it DOWN… LeBron responds with a near half-court BOMB. pic.twitter.com/B82MWFW0IM

Take that Zion!

But there was nothing but love between the two after the game, sharing an embrace with James sharing some advice for the youngster.

Nothing but respect between LeBron and Zion ✊

(via @NBATV) pic.twitter.com/5qMS3KP62N

LeBron has long showed plenty of respect for those trying to steal his throne over the years.

Just yesterday he gifted Memphis Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant with an autographed jersey with a message on it.

But it’s also seen him cop some criticism and The King had message for the critics.

“You know me, it’s my obligation, it’s my job to continue to pass on the game to those coming after me,” James said. “It’s just my responsibility. No one told me to do that, I just feel like it’s my responsibility to leave the game in a better place than when I had it. When you see the class of guys that are in our league right now — you mention Ja last night, you mention Zion tonight, you see Trae Young, you see Luka Doncic, you see Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell — the league is in a very good place. If I’m able to give my wisdom and game, pass it down while I’m playing or after I’m playing, I feel it’s my job because it’s the game I’ve been playing since I started playing when I was eight years old.

“Anybody that says that ‘LeBron, why would he do that while he’s playing, it’s a sign of weakness, he’s buddy-buddy with guys he’s going against’, tell them they can kiss my a** … with a smile too.”

And he added it with a smile.

“Tell them they can kiss my ass … with a smile, too.”

LeBron James has a message for those who think he’s buddy-buddy with opponents. (via @SportsCenter) pic.twitter.com/hF1Rgc7R0u

Zion wasn’t very happy about the loss.Source:FOX SPORTS

Williamson said it meant a lot for LeBron to put him up alongside some of the best young talent in the NBA.

“Definitely, it means something,” he said, although clearly frustrated by the loss. “He’s been doing this for 17 years and his resume speaks for itself. For him to say that, it’s something.”

Fans couldn’t get enough of the battle between Williamson with James with the elder statesman getting plenty of social media love for his performance.

I hope y’all all appreciating LeBron. There’s never been anybody this good for this long, ever. Ever ever. Nobody.

One day LeBron isn't gonna hoop anymore and I won't even know what's what

LeBron switching onto Zion for the final 4 minutes of a game in March is a sign of the ultimate respect typically reserved for established superstars in May or June.

LeBron and Zion put on a show. LSU is no-hit for the first time since before I was born. UL softball beats Florida, Southern no-hitter, Tulane cycle, college basketball hits March. What a time to be a sports fan in south Louisiana.https://t.co/cgFZHGzduJhttps://t.co/3KSbn4nbFf pic.twitter.com/Ur8NtPPF26

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Vanessa Bryant ‘devastated’ graphic photos of crash site were shared

Vanessa Bryant is "absolutely devastated" by allegations that Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies personnel shared photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others.

In a statement by her attorney that Vanessa Bryant shared on Instagram, Gary Robb requested an internal affairs investigation into the accusations and the "harshest possible discipline".

Vanessa Bryant released a statement through her lawyer describing her devastation at the alleged actions of personnel from the sheriff’s department.Credit:Getty Images

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that deputies had been accused of sharing graphic photographs of the January 26 hillside crash site, with one deputy reportedly showing an image in a bar. The Times reported that the department ordered deputies to delete photos but did not initiate a formal inquiry or internal affairs investigation. Deputies were told, according to the report, that they would face no discipline if they deleted the photos.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department also is investigating whether firefighters had shared the images, CBS Los Angeles reported.

"First responders should be trustworthy. It is inexcusable and deplorable that some deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff's substation, other surrounding substations and LAFD would allegedly breach their duty," Robb said. "This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families.

"We are demanding that those responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline, and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated. We are requesting an internal affairs investigation of these alleged incidents."

In a Facebook post, the sheriff's department said, "The facts surrounding these allegations are currently under investigation, as are the effectiveness of existing policies and procedures. The Sheriff [Alex Villanueva] is deeply disturbed at the thought deputies could allegedly engage in such an insensitive act."

In his statement, Robb said Vanessa Bryant had gone to the sheriff's office after the crash in Calabasas and asked that the accident scene be designated a "no-fly zone" to shield it from aerial photography.

"At that time, Sheriff Alex Villanueva assured us all measures would be put in place to protect the families' privacy, and it is our understanding that he has worked hard to honor those requests," Robb said.

It is not known whether deputies took the images or obtained them from someone else. "Every police department struggles with the same thing, where people take photos and they're not evidence," Villanueva told the Times. "So that's a practice we have to make sure that everyone walks away, and there is no evidence other than the official photos of evidence that are taken for criminal purposes."

In Robb's statement, he said "Mrs Bryant is grateful to the individual who filed an online complaint exposing these acts of injustice and for the choice to protect human dignity."

The Washington Post

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Russell Westbrook takes the lead with James Harden’s Rockets

BOSTON — Since the moment James Harden became a member of the Houston Rockets in October 2012, the team has been almost exclusively built around him and his prodigious talent. That has led to plenty of Rockets victories on the back of Harden’s incredible offensive displays. And when Houston has lost, it can generally be traced back to Harden having a rare off night.

Saturday against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden was one of those rare off nights. Harden finished with just 21 points on 7-for-24 shooting — including 4-for-17 from 3-point range — and took only three free throws. It was the kind of performance, with Harden’s Rockets, that would typically see them lose.

These days, though, the Rockets aren’t exactly Harden’s Rockets anymore. Yes, he still leads the league in scoring, averaging 34.9 points per game. But over the past few weeks, Russell Westbrook — in a way no player has since Harden was traded away from Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder more than seven years ago — has become a co-headliner on Houston’s marquee.

And after Westbrook finished with 41 points on 16-for-27 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in Houston’s 111-110 overtime victory, it was just the latest proof that the days of the Rockets being solely Harden’s team are over.

“You can’t go to the supermarket and buy heart,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Westbrook after the game. “You know he has that.

“It’s pretty impressive.”

D’Antoni: You can’t go to the supermarket and buy Russ’ heart

Mike D’Antoni is effusive in his praise for Russell Westbrook after the Rockets’ overtime road win over the Celtics.

When the Rockets chose to utterly transform their team at the Feb. 6 trade deadline, sending out center Clint Capela and a first-round pick as part of a multiteam trade that saw them get back combo forward Robert Covington, they said it was a move designed to allow them to go all-in on playing small.

In reality, though, it was also something else: an admission that Westbrook — an unreliable 3-point shooter in the best of times, and who is shooting 25% from deep this season — simply couldn’t coexist with another non-shooter on the court. But in committing to this style, the Rockets have also done the unthinkable: made their team something beyond one that orbits around Harden’s wizardry with the ball.

Consider D’Antoni’s response to a question before Saturday’s game about whether the days of Harden being relentlessly double-teamed — as he has been so often in recent years — are now over with the style Houston is now playing.

“I think in certain situations, what we’re seeing now is he gets doubled sometimes in the pick-and-roll,” D’Antoni said. “End of clock, they might double him.

“But I think the random, as-soon-as-he-crosses-half-court double, is gone.”

That would have been unimaginable even as recently as a couple of months ago, when Harden was bumping up against averaging an astonishing 40 points per game and continuing the same kind of absurd production he’s put up repeatedly in recent seasons — including finishing first or second in the NBA’s Most Valuable Player voting in four of the past five.

But given the way the Rockets — and Westbrook — are playing now, it’s understandable. By having five quick, interchangeable players spread around the 3-point arc, there are all sorts of driving lanes available for Westbrook to attack. And while he has his flaws as a player, his ability to explode past defenders in one-on-one situations — particularly without any size behind them to defend the rim — has never been one of them.

As a result, since Capela played his final game with Houston on Jan. 29, Westbrook’s 3-point attempts have dropped significantly, and his field goal percentage has shot well north of 50% — to the point where he’s now shooting a career-best 47% for the season. Meanwhile, his usage rate has shot up to a staggering 36.1% — putting him ahead even of Harden (34.2) during that same time frame.

“I don’t know, man,” Westbrook said, when asked if Houston’s stylistic changes have put him in better positions offensively than he’s ever been in during his NBA career. “I just try to find ways every year to be better and find ways to become a better player and teammate. Obviously based on the changes we made and the way we line up, I have to find ways to constantly keep being effective and help my team win games and that’s what I try to do.

“Right now I think I’m moving in the right direction. I’ve just got to stay locked in on what I’m doing and my craft and keep doing what I’ve been doing since I’ve been in the league, and that’s going out and competing every night.”

Houston’s gradual shift in Westbrook’s direction has also seen the Rockets take on an additional characteristic of his: the sheer physicality with which he plays. While Houston has played plenty of small ball and employed switching schemes across the board in the past, there is just something different about the relentlessness with which Westbrook batters into a defense like a sledgehammer over and over again.

It was no coincidence that Boston, after jumping out to a 17-point lead in Saturday’s first half, slowly began wearing down as the game went along, and that Celtics coach Brad Stevens repeatedly referred postgame to Houston’s physicality as the reason why.

“Their physical presence is real,” Stevens said. “I think that when they turned it up a notch physically in the second half, we got stagnant because they were imposing their will on the game, and they can do that.

“It’s not a knock on our guys necessarily by any means. It’s just that that’s the strength of their team.”

It’s obviously far too soon to make any sweeping conclusions about a team that has fully committed to playing this way for only a month — a month that included a lengthy All-Star Break smack in the middle of it. But there is more than enough data from the games the Rockets have played against elite competition since then — victories over the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, teams with elite big men (Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert, respectively), plus a pair of wins over the Celtics — to at least say that Houston’s bold gambit has some semblance of a chance of working.

And to say that Westbrook has erased Harden from the offense would be equally foolish. Since Jan. 30, Harden is still averaging over 32 points per game, and remains a singular force of nature when he gets going.

The difference now in Houston is that, when he doesn’t, the Rockets have the Plan B that throughout his tenure — even when playing alongside other future Hall of Famers like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul — both Harden and the Rockets have never fully embraced.

“I think we guarded [Harden] well,” Celtics shooting guard Jaylen Brown said. “I think we accepted his challenge. We just didn’t do a good enough job with Westbrook.

“We had a lot of attention on James Harden, and forgot about the other MVP over there. He came out and asserted himself early and took over and dominated this game.”

And, as a result, Houston won a game it rarely would have in the past. It’s a formula the Rockets will hope will translate to them finally breaking through this spring in a way they haven’t been able to previously, either.

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‘He stood up’: Didi Louzada in NBA sights after game-saving shot

Kings star Didi Louzada is shaping up to be the NBL's next NBA success story after single-handedly taking Sydney to victory in the dying minutes of Saturday night’s opening finals series match against Melbourne United.

After laying relatively low throughout the entire match, Louzada swooped in where it counted, nailing a three-pointer with just 40 seconds left in the game just metres away from NBA Pelicans president David Griffin.

Kings co-owner Paul Kind said Griffin came to Sydney to see how the Brazillian was tracking under the Kings, with the 20-year-old looking likely to join the Pelicans’ roster in the next two years.  Credit:Getty

Kings co-owner Paul Kind said Griffin came to Sydney to see how the Brazilian was tracking, with the 20-year-old looking likely to join the Pelicans' roster in the next two years.

"His simple statement was – in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line, he stood up," Kind said.

A draft-and-stash signing for the Pelicans in 2019, New Orleans retained the rights to Louzada as he signed with the Kings in July.

As a result of the three-pointer, the Kings believe Louzada will be heading to the United States after the NBL season to join the Pelicans in their summer league. The question is now whether he will return.

"I would assume that he will be part of [the summer league]," Kings chief executive Chris Pongrass said. "A big part of why the Pelicans are so comfortable with having him stashed down here … is because this is a great place for him to develop and be ready for the NBA. Alternatively, it's up to the Pelicans as to when they call him up and whether that will be next season."

Having another NBL player head to the NBA would be huge for the growth of the local league, Kind said, especially for the Kings, who managed the biggest crowds in history during the 2019-2020 regular season.

"If Didi is playing for the Pelicans in two years' time, and people connect him to the Kings, then that's going to draw more and more fans into the NBL," Kind said.

Not only was Louzada brought over to develop his basketball, he was also brought to Australia in an effort to improve his English skills. Louzada spoke no English when he arrived to the club in October.

"He gets tutoring multiple times a week and then we essentially have JP, his translator, with us on game days just as a backstop in case he needs further clarification," Pongrass said. "The way we've seen him develop this season we've needed him less and less because his English has come so far."

The Kings take on Melbourne United again on Monday night in the second game of their best-of-three series.

Head coach Will Weaver is adamant Casper Ware will not be shaken by playing his old team at home after Melbourne applied a mountain of pressure on the 30-year-old on Saturday night.

"The best thing about Casper is he measures his performance on whether his team has won and lost.  Even in the fourth quarter there was no doubt he would be making those couple of baskets to take us home," Weaver said. "[Melbourne] know from experience how dangerous of a scorer he is."

"In general, our mindset to begin the game [on Saturday] was strong and appropriate and will hold us in good stead. Melbourne will be loose and free at home … and by no means do we take them lightly."

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Bane, TCU stun No. 2 Baylor with late 18-1 run

FORT WORTH, Texas — Desmond Bane scored 23 points, including eight straight in TCU’s tiebreaking run as the Horned Frogs upended No. 2 Baylor 75-72 on Saturday.

Bane made a long tiebreaking 3-pointer with 4:42 left that put the Horned Frogs (16-13, 7-9 Big 12) ahead to stay. After blocking a shot by Jared Butler, Bane then made a turnaround jumper before adding another 3 to make it 63-55 with just over three minutes left. That was part of a bigger 18-1 spurt that Bane had started with another 3-pointer.

Baylor (25-3, 14-2) lost for the second time in three games since winning a Big 12-record 23 games in a row. The Bears were the nation’s No. 1 team when they lost a week ago to now-No.1 Kansas (26-3, 15-1), which is a game ahead of them in the league standings after beating Kansas State on Saturday.

This was only the third Big 12 game this season where Baylor, which is still in contention for its first Big 12 title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, trailed in the second half.

PJ Fuller added 21 points for the Horned Frogs, while Jaire Grayer had 13 points and nine rebounds.

Butler and Freddie Gillespie both had 18 points while MaCio Teague had 13 for Baylor, the highest-ranked team to visit TCU since then-No. 1 Kansas in December 2003 before the Frogs were in the Big 12. Gillespie also had 17 rebounds.

TCU was up 68-55 after Fuller made two free throws with 1:19 left, though Gillespie’s layup with nine seconds left cut the margin to three in the final 10 seconds before Diante Smith made two clinching free throws for the Frogs.

The Frogs were down by as many as 12 points in the second half, but shot 76.2% (16 of 21) from the field while scoring 54 points over the final 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: It was the first Big 12 road loss this season for the Bears, who were allowing only 58.7 points a game. They were looking for their sixth series sweep this season, having started February with a 16-point home win over TCU. Baylor was coming off 19-point home win over Kansas State.

TCU: The Horned Frogs were playing without second-leading scorer RJ Nembhard and guard Francisco Farabello. This was their third win this season over a Top 25 team. They have beaten a higher-ranked team in coach Jamie Dixon’s four seasons, with their win over then No. 1 Kansas in the Big 12 tournament three years ago.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bears will certainly fall out of the top two spots for the first time in eight weeks. They are still a top-five team.

UP NEXT

TCU now plays the only team ranked higher than Baylor. The Horned Frogs are at No. 1 Kansas on Wednesday night.

Baylor plays its home finale Monday night against No. 22 Texas Tech.

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