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The Houston Rockets spent almost no time celebrating their first-round playoff series win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

For the top-seeded Rockets Minkah Fitzpatrick Color Rush Jersey , it simply moved them a little closer toward their goal of bringing the franchise its first title in more than two decades.

”This was a pretty good step for us, a step in the right direction, but we’ve got a long way to go,” James Harden said. ”We (don’t) have this team just to win one playoff series.”

From the moment Chris Paul joined the Rockets in a blockbuster trade from the Los Angeles Clippers last summer, the Rockets have talked incessantly about their desire and belief that the pairing of the two star point guards could propel this already good team into contender status.

A 65-win regular season led by Harden’s MVP-caliber play and Paul’s work in a top supporting role gave the Rockets the NBA’s best record for the first time in franchise history and added to the belief that this could be the year they win it all.

Despite not playing their best at times, the Rockets easily handled the eighth-seeded Wolves, turning in three blowout wins in the 4-1 series triumph, capped by Wednesday’s night 122-104 victory.

”We’ll continue to get better Authentic Lamar Jackson Jersey , work on some things, figure out who we play and take it from there,” Harden said.

They move on to the Western Conference semifinals for the second straight season and look to return to the conference finals for the first time since losing to the Golden State Warriors in 2015.

But first they’ll get a few days to rest as they await the winner of the series between the Thunder and Jazz. Utah leads 3-2 after Oklahoma City overcame a 25-point second-half deficit to avoid elimination Wednesday night.

Coach Mike D’Antoni said it’s difficult to do too much preparation before they know who they’ll face.

”We’ll watch it. Get some popcorn and enjoy the NBA like everybody else does then we’ll break it down,” he said. ”We’ll have plenty of time to prepare and get in there and do what we do.”

While the Rockets have their eyes on winning their first title since taking back to back trophies in 1994-95, the next round will be a benchmark of sorts for Paul considering his disappointing playoff history.

The nine-time All-Star has faced criticism after making nine previous playoff trips without advancing past the second round. The worst of those flops came in 2015 against Houston, when Paul and the Clippers had a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals. They got blown out in Game 5 and squandered a 19-point second-half lead in Los Angeles in Game 6 before falling in Game 7 at Houston.

He bristles when the subject is brought up by reporters, but both Harden and Trevor Ariza said Paul discussed that series this week as a cautionary tale when Houston took a 3-1 lead over Minnesota.

Paul carried the Rockets with a 27-point performance in a Game 2 win against Minnesota and scored 25 points in Game 4 when he and Harden fueled a 50-point third quarter that allowed the Rockets to come back to Houston a win away from wrapping up the series.

While his scoring helped Houston through this series, perhaps more important to Houston’s success was what he did to facilitate scoring by others like Clint Capela Gleyber Torres New York Yankees Jersey , who led Houston with 26 points on Wednesday night. Paul had a tough time in the first game of the series when he tied a season-high with six turnovers. In the next four games he piled up 29 assists with just three turnovers to help Houston advance.

Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau marveled at how difficult it is to deal with both Harden and Paul after the pair combined for 21 assists on Wednesday night.

”They can hurt you a lot of different ways,” he said. ”They hurt us with the pass tonight. They’re not worried about their shots. They’re worried about the team getting good shots.”

While Houston’s offensive prowess was evident throughout the year, the Rockets hope that their work on defense against Minnesota shows that they’re solid on that side of the ball, too.

”We’ve been saying it all season long and in order for us to get where we want to go defense is going to have to be our backbone,” Harden said. ”We’re going to have to get stops.”



With a quarterback or two finally on the way, the Arizona Cardinals were acting quickly to shore up their lineup with some early free agency moves.

A person familiar with the situation said quarterback Sam Bradford had agreed to a one-year contract worth up to $20 million, with a second year at the club’s option. The person requested anonymity because the signing had not been announced.

Before Bradford’s acquisition, there were no quarterbacks on the roster for first-year coach Steve Wilks and his offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

The Cardinals apparently will have Bradford’s backup Kolton Miller Color Rush Jersey , too. A person familiar with the situation confirmed Mike Glennon had agreed to a two-year, $8 million contract with Arizona. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the signing had not been officially announced.

Meanwhile, ESPN reported that Arizona had reached a two-year deal with ex-Cincinnati offensive tackle Andre Smith. That could clear the way for the release of right tackle Jared Veldheer, which would clear about $6.9 million in cap space.

The day began with the Cardinals announcing they had released one of their most popular players, safety Tyrann Mathieu, after the two failed to work out a pay cut.

”I’ve never made a secret that Tyrann has always had a special place in my heart and always will,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said in a statement.

”While we all understand this is a part of the business, that certainly doesn’t make it any easier. We all wish Tyrann nothing but continued success in his career and beyond.”

Mathieu was due for $18.75 million of his contract to be guaranteed when the league year began Wednesday afternoon. By cutting him http://www.falconsauthorizedshops.com/a ... sen-jersey , Arizona saves close to $5 million in cap space.

At least one player is coming back. Free agent inside linebacker Josh Bynes tweeted that he had agreed to a three-year deal to return to Arizona after a strong 2017 season.

”3 more years in AZ!,” he wrote. ”Thank you (at)AZCardinals and my family for all the support! Glad to be back in Red and Black!”

Bradford, 30, is a former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma who has a strong, accurate arm but has been besieged by injuries in his pro career.

He has torn the ACL in his left knee twice and, after earning the starting job in Minnesota, missed most of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

The Cardinals are counting on his injury problems to end.

Glennon, 28 http://www.texansauthorizedshops.com/au ... kin-jersey , spent four seasons with Tampa Bay, mostly as a backup, before signing a three-year, $45 million contract with Chicago a year ago. His stint as Bears starter lasted just four games before he was replaced by rookie Mitchell Trubisky. Glennon didn’t play the rest of the season.
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NFL Network first reported Glennon’s deal, moments after the Bears announced he had been released.

The plan now appears for the Cardinals to draft a quarterback to develop as the long-term solution.

The team was left without any signal caller when Carson Palmer retired and Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert left as free agents, just as then-coach Bruce Arians announced he was calling it quits.



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