Rockets rout Spurs for 12th straight NBA game victory

Houston Rockets James Harden, left, fouls San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker to stop a fast break in the second half of their NBA basketball game. The Rockets beat the Spurs for just the third time in their last 12 meetings. (AP)
Updated 16 December 2017
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Rockets rout Spurs for 12th straight NBA game victory

HOUSTON: Chris Paul delivered on a night James Harden had one of his worst shooting performances of the season.
Paul had 28 points, eight assists and seven steals to lead the Houston Rockets to their 12th straight victory, a 124-109 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.
Paul became the first player in NBA history to post 28 points, eight assists and seven steals in a game against the Spurs. In the past 11 seasons, that stat line has been achieved just 10 times — Paul has done it six of them. The Rockets are unbeaten when he plays this season.
“What I lack in athletic ability, I just try to make up for it in anticipation and knowing the game,” Paul said of his steals. “I’m not jumping and dunking on nobody and all that stuff like that, but I’ve got a pretty good idea how to play.”
Paul’s dazzling performance came with Harden making 6 of 18 from the field, including 2 of 11 from 3. Harden still had 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists, scoring half his points on 14-of-16 shooting from the free throw line.
“We complement each other, and we’re staying good at getting guys involved while we’re being aggressive as well,” Harden said. “Obviously, Chris had his shot going tonight, but he got Clint (Capela) dunks and Trevor (Ariza) and Eric (Gordon) 3s, and Ryan (Anderson) 3s. Nights aren’t going to be perfect, and we just got to figure it out. Keep pushing and keep grinding.”
The Rockets are on the fourth-longest win streak in franchise history and the longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in 2007-08.
The Rockets beat the Spurs for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 16 points.
“I thought our starting group, our veteran group, started out the game very badly with fouls that were unnecessary, bad communication, turnovers, that sort of thing,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “But as the game went on, I thought the younger guys and the guys that haven’t played as much, the energy was great. They took better care of the basketball and were more physical and focused. Our starting group let us down.”
The Rockets jumped to a 31-16 lead at the end of the first quarter and led 60-43 at the half. The Rockets entered the fourth quarter with a 92-72 lead.
At 23-4, the Rockets are tied for their best 27-game start in franchise history, matching the 1993-94 season when they won their first championship.
“We can get better,” Paul said. “The scary part is when you think you’ve arrived. We can get better offensively and defensively, but right now, it’s just about piling up wins.”
Kawhi Leonard played in his second game back after making his season debut on Tuesday night in Dallas after missing the first 27 games of the season with a right quadriceps injury. Leonard, who has been recovering from a quadriceps condition that causes pain and weakness in the knee, started and had 12 points in 17 minutes, all in the first half.
“I want to play and do what I can do to help the team win, but I know the situation I’m in and I’ve got to take the right steps to get back,” Leonard said. “Playing 16 minutes and not playing a full game, it’s hard to tell where I’m at. But I think we’re taking the right steps.”
Before the game, Popovich hinted that Leonard and Tony Parker were unlikely to play Saturday night in Dallas in the second half of San Antonio’s back-to-back.


Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

Updated 20 July 2018
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Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

  • Portuguese superstar has moved to Italian giants in deal worth nearly $120 million
  • Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid

LONDON: Love him or loathe him, you have to admire Cristiano Ronaldo’s character.
At a time of life when lesser mortals are lured by big paychecks to the likes of Qatar or China, the mercurial Madeiran has opted for what will be his biggest challenge yet at Juventus.
His career over the last decade has been played out under the cloud of the never-ending debate — “Ronaldo or Messi; who is better?”
Thankfully, that circus was quietened somewhat at the recent World Cup. Some flashes of pure brilliance aside, neither player made a big enough impact to lead their respective teams to glory and Messi’s wait for an international trophy goes on.
And, while both players are undeniably in a league of their own, the fact Ronaldo does have a European Championship title under his belt will always tip the argument toward the Portuguese — especially for those who measure greatness in statistics and trophies.
In fairness, Ronaldo’s statistics are mind-boggling. His stint at Manchester United, where he cut his teeth and started to show his potential as a great of the game, was instrumental in the club winning three Premier League titles and their third European crown. His staggering 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid saw him become the Spanish giant’s record goalscorer on his way to winning everything under the sun.
But the Premier League and La Liga are leagues in which attacking footballers flourish. With the dawning of wall-to-wall TV coverage, they have both been transformed to entertain the billions of people who tune in every week — and in this day and age, goalscoring superstars win you fans, not defenses.
The art of defending has all-but disappeared and the culture of building a spine through a team has slowly but surely been eroded away. Nobody wants to watch an engrossing, absorbing, end-to-end goalless draw anymore — it is all about 6-5 thrillers.
But not so in Italy.
Serie A, for all its scandals and fall from grace since its heady days of the 1990s, is still an extremely difficult league to win. It is a league in which fans and managers place great emphasis on defending, on building teams from back-to-front (not the other way around) and on the mentality of “you cannot lose if you don’t concede.”
Granted, Juventus have walked Serie A for the past seven seasons; it is to be expected from one of the richest clubs in the world. But rarely have they won it at a canter. Never once have they scored anywhere near 100 goals in a season to win it — unlike Manchester City in last season’s Premier League, or Barcelona and Real Madrid almost every season in the same period.
And not once has Serie A’s top-goalscorer reached the dizzying heights Ronaldo (and Messi) hit in La Liga season after season, nor has it always been a Juventus player claiming the golden boot.
This all points to a monumental challenge for Ronaldo. On paper, he should not find it as easy to score goals in Serie A and with the marked improvement of Napoli, Roma and Lazio recently, nor will it be an easy ride for Juventus to claim an eighth scudetto in a row this year.
So, while Messi prefers to stay in one country and within his comfort zone of the defense-shy Spanish league, if a 30-something Ronaldo succeeds in Italy — or, better yet, guides Juventus to the European glory the fans crave so much — it would be his most remarkable achievement yet.
And it would put the tiresome debate over who is the greatest ever to bed, once and for all.
No contest.