When the Houston Rockets are clicking like this, it’s hard to imagine anyone slowing them down.
The Rockets, however, made light work of the Thunder with an offensive clinic that saw James Harden and Chris Paul combine for 48 points on 15-of-27 shooting, while the team as a whole hit 17-of-33 3-pointers (51.5 per cent).
“We’re so good offensively that every single night teams are going to throw different coverages at us,” Harden said. “We’ve just got to find different ways to attack them. Once we find something we can go to, we use it. Guys got open shots, and we just ride that wave.”
Houston don’t even rank near the top of the league in 3-point percentage – sitting 10th at 36.7 per cent – but the win over Oklahoma City marked the 26th time this season they’ve hit at least 17 triples.
Their 15.6 3-pont makes per game are far and away the most in the league, with Brooklyn’s 12.2 the next closest.
That type of firepower is a major reason why, with each passing win, they’re closing the gap with the prohibitive favourite Warriors.
But there’s also a sense that if the Rockets – who’ve failed to advanced past the second round of the playoffs the past two years – look too far ahead and concern themselves with the bigger picture too soon, things might unravel a bit.
“We just try to stay in the moment,” Paul told ESPN about the win streak. “Stay in the moment, not try to think about all that stuff. Just keep hooping and leave all that other stuff for everybody else to talk about.”
The All-Star guard has been on fire and taken his play to another level over the past month, propelling the Trail Blazers to a seven-game winning streak and nine victories in their last 10 matches.
Over that span, Lillard has put together games in which he’s scored 50, 44 and 40 points, but his most recent performance may have been his most impressive yet.
Facing an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, Lillard scored 15 straight – including four consecutive 3-pointers in less than two minutes – to lead the Trail Blazers to a 108-103 victory.
Overall, he scored 19 of his 39 points in the final period to maintain Portland’s sparkling run of form.
“It will probably be a while before I miss, that is what I am [thinking],” said Lillard. “Usually when I get on the road, I feel like every shot is going in. There have been times when it came down to a big shot, where I have been missing; but I think just knowing that I have taken these shots so many times, not only in games but in workouts, that I have been preparing myself.
“I expect things for myself. Regardless of how the game is going, I am always going to feel like when the time comes, I can make it happen.”
Since February 8, Lillard is averaging 33.5 points per game – second in the league behind Anthony Davis’ 34.7 – on shooting percentages of 46.3 from the field and 38.0 from long range.
His surge has pushed the Trail Blazers all the way to third in the West behind only Houston and Golden State. Though only two games in the loss column separate them from the Los Angeles Clippers in ninth, Portland have proven their playoff credentials.
If Lillard can sustain his play down the stretch, the Trail Blazers will be in a favourable position to not just reach the post-season, but hold home-court advantage in the opening round.
Kobe Bryant can now add ‘Oscar award-winner’ to his resume after the former basketball star won the Animated Short category at the Academy Awards and claimed the feeling was better than his NBA titles.
The retired Los Angeles Lakers legend earned the golden statue on Sunday for his animated short ‘Dear Basketball’, based on the poem he wrote in 2015 to announce his retirement from basketball.
Bryant, who finished a glittering 20-year career in 2016, walked away from the game with a full cabinet of trophies and accomplishments, including five championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, one league MVP, two Olympic gold medals, 18 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA First Team selections and having his Nos 8 and 24 retired by the Lakers.
Yet as dedicated as he was to the game, Bryant declared his Oscar win was a feeling like none other.
“I feel better than winning championships,” he said. “This is crazy, man, it’s crazy.”
As executive producer, Bryant accepted his Oscar from ‘Star Wars’ star Mark Hamill, alongside Disney animator Glen Keane.
Bryant thanked his wife, Vanessa, as well as his three daughters before delivering a message that athletes aren’t solely defined by what they can do on the court or field.
“As basketball players, we’re told to shut up and dribble,” Bryant said on stage. “I’m glad we did a little bit more than that.”
LeBron James, who was recently told by Fox News host Laura Ingraham to ‘shut up and dribble’ instead of providing political commentary, congratulated Bryant on Twitter, as did Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal.
Bryant’s Oscar win, however, seems to fly in the face of Time’s Up and #MeToo movements.
The Oscars celebrated Hollywood’s recent uncovering of sexual harassment and abuse on Sunday, but still rewarded Bryant, who in 2003 was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in a Colorado hotel room.
The criminal case was dropped after the woman was unwilling to testify in court, but the civil suit against Bryant was later settled out of court and included his apology to her, although he didn’t admit guilt.