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Chris Paul always knew he’d fit in perfectly with James Harden. Now we know, too

In a cramped visiting locker room last October, Chris Paul tried to convince anyone listening that he really meant it Cheap Chris Paul Jersey. He had just completed a preseason game with James Harden, the first time in his career playing next to another dominant ball-handler guard of his echelon, something Paul had yearned for over the past years. It was thrilling.

But Paul also knew not everyone was convinced. It didn’t really matter some pundits believed his personality could clash with Harden’s, or his slow, ball dominant style would put him at odds with head coach Mike D’Antoni. The team would succeed or fail no matter what was said about them. But Paul was in high spirits, and still weeks away from the grind of the regular season. In this moment, he was happy to help steer the narrative cheap china jerseys.

Look at the guards he had played with in Los Angeles and New Orleans, the 32-year-old Paul said to those still lingering, even after his official media scrum had ended. He had even suggested the Clippers acquire another ball handler during his time there. Of course he wouldn’t clash with Harden, because Paul himself was the driving force behind assuming a smaller role, something that would hopefully lead him to his most successful postseason yet.

After an incredible season and a decisive Game 1 win in the second round against the Utah Jazz, it’s clear that Paul wasn’t exaggerating at all. Maybe his critics should have listened then.

With all that said, Paul isn’t here to gloat. It’s unlikely he cares about the talking heads who predicted doom enough to bother doing something like that, and it will require more than this for him to feel validation.

“It’s been fun,” Paul admitted after Game 1, “but we still got a lot of work to do.”

There are specific moments that stand out — “when you out the game and the lead increases,” Paul said. He didn’t finish his thought, but everyone can think back to moments when the Clippers nosedived whenever he went to the bench. On Sunday, the Rockets were plus-12 on the floor with Paul but also plus-two without him.

The success of Harden and Paul together wasn’t guaranteed, and a lesser team or coach could have screwed it up. But D’Antoni’s rotations are rigid: one of the two is always on the floor, and both are involved heavily when they don’t have the ball.

On Sunday, Harden finished with 41 points on 12-of-26 shooting, plus seven assists, while Paul turned in a statline that included 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting with six more dimes himself. The two traded buckets while the Rockets built a 13-point lead when the first quarter ended, and they never relinquished their double-digit advantage.

D’Antoni frequently refers to the two as a luxury, saying that he’ll take as many Hall of Fame point guards as possible on his team.

No matter what Paul thought, it seemed reasonable to question whether Harden’s lax demeanor would contrast with his more intense one at some point. In a 65-win season, there aren’t too many chances for that to happen. Who knows — maybe it’s still forthcoming — but there seems like genuine love between the two.

“Not to sound too mushy, but it was love at first sight,” Harden laughed at a practice late in the regular season when asked about the pairing.

After Sunday’s win, he added: “From the summertime to now, we communicate every single day. Even though sometimes we don’t want to, we just talk. You got a lot of teams that don’t do that, that don’t love and enjoy being around each other and being on the court with each other.”

It’s not a well-kept secret that Paul had a work-only relationship in Los Angeles with his biggest co-star, Blake Griffin. It’s no surprise that many pairings around the league work just like that, some with fantastic results. Liking each other isn’t a prerequisite, but the Rockets do. That can’t hurt.

For Luc Mbah a Moute, it was clear to him from the start.

“Preseason, we got together in the summer and we started working out and playing, and from then on you could tell it was a good connection between those guys,” he said after the Game 1 win.

“They are really, really good.”

The Jazz now are the latest team to find out firsthand.

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What does Chris Paul’s Game 1 no-show mean for the Rockets?

The Houston Rockets won Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Chris Paul almost lost it Cheap Houston Rockets Jerseys.

With under 10 seconds left, Chris Paul had the ball with the Rockets up three points, needing only to dribble the ball across half court, or make an easy pass, to seal the game. Instead, he threw the ball about 10 feet too high to P.J. Tucker. The Timberwolves got a chance to tie the game and, luckily for Paul, could not capitalize.

It was his sixth turnover, the most he has had in a playoff game since 2015, when he turned the ball over six times in a 27-point loss to the Spurs. He had 4 assists in that game, just like he had 4 assists Sunday night in Houston. The Clippers would eventually win that series because of, to this point, the signature moment of Chris Paul’s career: a series-winning shot over Danny Green and Tim Duncan.

Chris Paul’s legacy is defined by two things: being the greatest pure point guard of his generation, and never making it to the conference finals.

CP3 has a reputation, largely undeserved, of being a playoff choker. But he has, time and again, in 76 career playoff games, shown that he is capable of rising to the occasion and dominating on the biggest stage.

Thank god he’s done it before, because Sunday night, he looked like he never has.

Paul was tentative from the get-go, deferring (rightfully so) to Harden, who was dissecting Minnesota’s D to perfection, with Clint Capela his ever-present muse. This has become par for the course for him. When he and Harden share the court, Paul takes a distinct back seat while the MVP does what he does.

The formula then goes that, with 3 minutes or so left in the first quarter, CP3 re-enters for Harden and imposes his will on the game, slicing up the opposition’s bench without mercy. In Game 1 Sunday, that didn’t happen. Paul never looked comfortable. But more concerning than that, the man who is such an expert passes that he tries to get the laces just right when he passes to shooters was passing to the other team.

He finished with 6 turnovers, but had several more passes deflected. He made one three-pointer early, but missed his other five attempts. Other than a brief stretch to start the fourth quarter, he contributed almost nothing offensively.

CP3 played 34 points on the night and finished a -4, the only starter to finish with a net rating. Yes, part of that is the fact that no matter when Harden sits, he’s off the floor. But part of the reason they have worked so perfectly this year is that the team never dipped when that happened. In many games, Paul’s re-entrance with 3 minutes left in the first quarter would change the complexion of a game, focusing the Rockets with the two-way perfection Paul can play at the highest level.

That CP3 was not in Houston in Game 1. It is not gone forever, it appeared most of this season, and it was incredible. Maybe the realization that he can have a total meltdown and the Rockets can still win a playoff game will ease the mental burden that seems to be weighing on Chris Paul, because the man does have a lot of history riding on this run.

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In Paul’s first season in Houston, the team won more games than it ever has before. The Rockets have higher odds to win the championship than at any time since the turn of the century. He has helped elevate this team, but in doing so, he has reached closer to what must feel like the peak of a Sisyphean hill. The closer he gets to the top, the heavier the boulder weighs on him until it ends up crushing him.

That is one scenario. The other way this could go is, by realizing the MVP is on his team, not standing in his way, it could mentally free him. By knowing that his team does not rely on him the way it did in New Orleans and Los Angeles, he can dominate the possessions with the ball in his hands, communicate to his teammates and choke the life out of whatever guard who happens to be matched up with him.

The Rockets run one of the NBA’s most aggressive switching scheme, so he wasn’t usually guarding Derrick Rose when the disgraced former MVP went off for 16 inefficient points (14 shot, while Karl-Anthony Towns had 9. Unbelievable). But he could have had a stronger defensive imprint on the game.

The Rockets were excellent defensively in Game 1, and that is the only reason they were able to hold home court. The pressure should be off CP3 and he should relax and play better down the stretch.

This is the best shot this 32-going-on-33-year-old point guard has ever had at the title. He just probably shouldn’t think about it so much. Good luck to him, because the Rockets need him to forget about history, and just play.

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Steelers select T.J. Watt in 2017 NFL Draft Cheap T. J. Watt Jersey

T.J. Watt isn’t the sort of player that typically gets drafted in the first round. He had only one year of major production in college. He had only played defense for two years. If anything, coming into the draft, he was known more for having a famous brother, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, than for his own exploits. The former Wisconsin star linebacker had a long way to go in carving out an identity for himself that is independent of his brother. To do that, he would have to play great football on a great team. That isn’t exactly common for rookie defenders.

But Watt found the perfect home last April when he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He moved right into a starting outside linebacker job and produced incredible numbers. Seven stats. Over 50 tackles. An interception. Seven passes defensed. Watt did it all for a team that went 13-3 and hosted a Divisional Round playoff game. No matter what the awards said, he was the best defensive rookie of the 2017 season and he did it on a team that could have won the Super Bowl. And it all started last April, when Jerome Bettis announced that the team was taking the linebacker at No. 30 in the NFL Draft.

Watt’s fame is his own now. With his older brother playing in only eight games over the past two seasons and back injuries sapping much of his effectiveness, the Steelers may have the best Watt in all of football right now. If you’d have told Steelers fans that would be the case a year ago, they simply wouldn’t have believed it. But it’s all due to the incredible performance of a young defender who has worked hard to fit into the Steelers’ culture and contribute in any way that was asked of him. The Steelers knocked it out of the park at linebacker once again.

Of course, that shouldn’t be a surprise given their history. Half of the team’s first round picks this decade, Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro and Ryan Shazier, have become Pro Bowl players. Watt will be joining them in the not-too-distant future. As the Steelers continue to seek out talent at the top of the draft, ideally to fill in for the injured Shazier this season, their history of drafting and developing players like Watt sends a message. If the Steelers draft someone in the first round, he is going to be a productive player. End of discussion.

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T.J. Watt wants to be a vocal leader in 2018 Cheap Pittsburgh Steelers Jerseys

T.J. Watt is ready to take on a more vocal role in Pittsburgh’s defense in 2018.

After spending his rookie season watching and learning from the veterans, the Steelers’ No.1 pick last season wants to be a more vocal part of the team as he enters his second NFL season.

“I’m not learning now,” Watt recently told Steelers.com. “I’m not going to be sitting in the hotel room with Keion (Adams) trying to figure out plays and stuff. I know all the plays, and I have relationships with the players now. I can be a little more vocal. I know who I’m working with out there. I feel like I’m going to be able to take more risks being able to contribute more now that I have more leeway. I feel more comfortable in the system.”

Watt, who finished third on the Steelers with 7.0 sacks during his rookie season, can’t wait to get the 2018 season started.

“I’m more excited than ever to come back for a second year,” Watt said. “Everyone says the offseason is going to fly by. I didn’t have all the Combine training and all that stuff, so it’ll was a little bit of a relief to kind of get away from football for a little bit, but then I got back into training, and am getting ready to go for the season. I’m going to be grinding the whole way. I’m excited.”

Last season, the Steelers’ defense finished first in the NFL in sacks, seventh in scoring, fifth in yards allowed, fifth in pass defense and 10th against the run. The unit was gassed in their playoff loss to Jacksonville, however, as the Steelers gave up 38 points on defense.

“I think we’re making progress,” Steelers’ president Art Rooney II said of his defense, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We have a lot of young players on defense. We can get better . . . We need to add people to it, obviously.”

The Steelers did receive several strong individual performances on the defensive side of the ball in 2017. Cam Heyward earned his first Pro Bowl selection after recording a team best 12.0 sacks. Vince Williams enjoyed a solid first season as a starting inside linebacker, recording a career high 8.0 sacks. Watt looks like a star in the making after being the only player in the NFL this season to record at last 7.0 sacks, 50 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. Ryan Shazier was in the midst of an All-Pro season before going down with a season-ending injury in Pittsburgh’s Week 13 victory over the Bengals.

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But Shazier’s injury was too much for the Steelers to overcome, as Pittsburgh allowed an average of 134 yards per game during the final five games of the season. To help overcome the loss of Shazier and Mike Mitchell (who was released by the team last month), the Steelers signed linebacker Jon Bostic and safeties Morgan Burnett and Nat Berhe.

As they have for the previous five drafts, expect Pittsburgh spend it’s early picks on the defensive side of the ball, specifically on the inside linebacker and safety positions. The Steelers, a year after nabbing Joe Haden, may again look to big up a big name defender in free agency, as Pittsburgh wants to erase any holes in their roster heading into what they hope will be a championship-winning season.

“I think we have the pieces to the puzzle, and we know we can compete at the highest level,” Watt said. “We were in so many close games throughout the year that I think we just want to come back and make the margins a little bit bigger. We want to give ourselves a little bit more room. We want to do so many great things, and we know how close we were but at the same time, we do not like the taste it let in our mouths. I think that will drive us all individually and collectively as a group.”