By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Dwight Howard, as usual, is listed by the Rockets as day-to-day.
Like the rest of us.
Coach Kevin McHale says Howard will not play tonight against the Nets in Brooklyn (8 ET, TNT).
Like the rest of us.
The difference, of course, is the rest of us won’t be expected out there on the court for the opening tip when the playoffs start in 18 days.
So begins the annual April debate in the NBA.
To rest or not to rest?
Sit or play?
Momentum or 100 percent fitness heading into the potentially long grind of the postseason?
The Rockets may just have dodged one bullet when point guard Pat Beverley was examined by respected orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews and told that the torn meniscus in his right knee would not require surgery. It means that the tenacious on-ball defender will immediately start rehab and could be back in the lineup for the start of the playoffs after all.
So now with their free agent jackpot/All-Star center scheduled to sit out for the fifth time in two weeks due to a nagging injury to his left ankle — a cyst was removed — and nine more games left in the regular season, now the question becomes a variation of an old one from Dirty Harry: How lucky do you feel?
You can tell from one glance at the long, sour puss on Howard when he’s not dressing that he wants to play now. But the Rockets need him to be able to play at the level that made him a nearly $89 million investment when the games really count.
It’s the juggling act among coaches and franchises at this time every year among teams headed to the playoffs.
Certainly we know the sentiments of one Gregg Charles Popovich on the matter: “!#*&$#! Go away.”
But seriously, his Spurs are currently sitting on top of the entire standings with the best overall record in the league in large part because Pop manages the minutes of his players throughout the season so scrupulously.
A result: Tim Duncan was just named Western Conference Player of the Week less than four weeks shy of his 38th birthday.
You can be sure that Popovich will find time for Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard to all put their feet up and just watch a game or two coming down the stretch. It wouldn’t even be a surprise if he left one or two of them home Thursday from what is supposed to be a glamor showdown in Oklahoma City, because it’s the second night of a back-to-back.
The Heat have been keeping Dwyane Wade and his aging knees on a short leash all season as he’s played in just 51 of 73 games and he sat out again Monday night against the Raptors.
Teams like the Trail Blazers can’t afford to sit a key cog such as LaMarcus Aldridge heading toward home after they took a nose dive without him following a hard fall in San Antonio.
On the other hand, the Clippers could be feeling good enough about their current position at No. 3 in the West to keep Blake Griffin sitting until he is well past any questions or confers about the back spasms that made him fall to the floor writhing on Saturday night in Houston. They also have to weigh how far to push their luck with bench spark plug Jamal Crawford going toward the playoffs. Griffin and Crawford were both held out of Monday’s win at Minnesota.
“It depends on your group,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “Honestly, if I felt like a couple other guys needed the rest, we’d sit them. I don’t have any problem with that. I’ve done that in the past.
“So far, our guys have been pretty good. They’re young, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need rest. We can get fooled by that as well. It’s a good case of ‘we’ll see.’ “
While the Pelicans are out of the playoff picture, there have been questions asked about whether they should shut down forward Anthony Davis for the rest of the season as he deals with a soft tissue injury in his left ankle. Do you want to get as much NBA playing time going head in or not take any career risks at all with a 21-year-old budding star? After playing just four minutes in the previous two games, Davis was back in the lineup against the Kings Monday night.
For the Rockets, the choice would seem to be no choice at all. They didn’t sign Howard to be the iron man that played the first 66 games of the season injury-free. He is in Houston for what he could do to lift them to contender’s status and give them at least a puncher’s chance for a championship.
A stated goal coming into the season was for the team to earn home-court advantage in the playoffs, and it would seem that could be kept in their grasp with their big man on the sidelines. At No. 4 in the West, the Rockets would have to like their chances in the first round against Portland, Golden State or Phoenix.
Any ensuing rounds would be a step up in class and require all they can get from Howard with no impediments.
Like the rest of us.
Then check back in a week or so.