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.


Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

Updated 18 October 2018
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Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

  • Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
  • Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.

LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”