VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 16
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Rockets a mess after latest loss — After reaching the Western Conference finals a season ago, the Houston Rockets entered 2015-16 with hopes of a Finals run. Eleven games into the season, they sit at 4-7 after last night’s home loss to the Boston Celtics and are searching for any kind of answers. Our Fran Blinebury was on the scene in Houston last night and has more on the state of the Rockets:
The Rockets are a team that won 56 games last season without ever losing more than two in a row. Now they’ve already had a three-game losing streak, followed by the current four-game skid and, even worse, they’re making a habit of getting blown out, perhaps giving up. The second half at Miami, the first half at home against Dallas, surrendering a 32-13 third quarter to the Celtics.
“I wouldn’t say full effort all the time, no,” said coach Kevin McHale. “We’re hanging our heads. Things aren’t going our way and we hang our head. We haven’t put together really good basketball all year long.”
Can anybody remember the last time a team that had advanced as far as the conference finals less than six months earlier, fell this far this fast without suffering a major injury to a key player?
The Rockets are not just 4-7 on the season, but 2-5 at home in the Toyota Center, where boos are becoming a regular part of the fan experience. Of those seven losses, five of them have come by margins of 20, 20, 20, 18 and 16.
In case anyone’s wondering, the winless Sixers come to town on Nov. 27.
“There’s negativity all around,” said Dwight Howard. “Out there, in here. We have to stay away from it. We have to be positive. That’s my job.”
It should be the job of Howard and James Harden as co-leaders, yet neither is truly comfortable in the role of fully shouldering the responsibility. Harden is nonpareil in his brilliance at the offensive end, but has fallen back into many of his old defensive shortcomings. Howard plays confidently and aggressively at defense and rebounding, but at no point in his career has he ever been a tall flagpole to rally around.
The criticism and the fingers have already pointed at Kevin McHale for his inability to pull the Rockets out of the ditch, though he’s changed lineups, tried different tactics, done virtually everything but consult a Ouija board. A year ago McHale guided a team that played without Howard for 41 games to the Southwest Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, then pushed them all the way into June.
Has this team suddenly tuned him out and, if so, why? McHale, who is in the first season of a new three-year contract, is the winningest coach by percentage in franchise history. In his four years in Houston, he’s established a reputation as a players’ coach, one that cajoles, relates, inspires and does not grab at the spotlight to bask. If he is being rolled under the bus by anyone inside the locker room, it would only be to cover up their own deficiencies.
The Rockets have fallen into the habit of letting one or two bad possessions snowball until it starts an avalanche. The Celtics fed off the on-court sniping and squabbling that resulted in a 34-point turnaround from the middle of the second quarter to the end of the third.
“I think every game that we’ve lost it’s been something like that where they go on these crazy runs,” Harden said. “It’s kind of hard to get out of them. I don’t know what the case is … but you have to fight through it. It’s pretty bad, but the good thing about it is it’s still early in the season.”
As for Lawson, Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com reports Lawson may soon be out of a starting job …
VIDEO: Kevin McHale talks after Houston’s loss to Boston
No. 2: Shumpert could return by mid-December — The Cleveland Cavaliers opened the season without their full compliment of players as guards Kyrie Irving (knee surgery) and Iman Shumpert (wrist surgery) tried to get on the mend. Irving’s comeback is still a ways off, but Shumpert seems to be on track for perhaps a sooner-than-expected return. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group reports Shumpert is aggressively attacking his rehab work and may be in the lineup before 2015 is out:
Is a mid-December season debut in the works?
“If I could have, I would have played soon as they took the cast off [on Oct. 14]. I think I’m six weeks out. They said 12-14 [weeks], right? If I can make it at 12, I’m trying to make it at 12,” Shumpert told cleveland.com. “If I can get there right at 12, I’m trying to get there right at 12, but I’m trying to make sure I take my time.”
A 12-week recovery period would land near Dec. 15. The full 14-week timetable puts his debut near early January.
Shumpert has worked on maintaining conditioning and strengthening the one hand he can use: his non-dominant left. Assistant coach Phil Handy has a created a rigorous workout plan that includes ball-handling, shooting floaters, making crisp passes and Shumpert is even dunking with his left in halfcourt simulation sets.
Anything that has to do with handling the ball, it’s all being performed with his left. But that is on the verge of changing soon.
“I just started being able to touch it with my right hand and finish,” he said. “I think within week, I’ll be able to maybe do layups and stuff with my right hand. It’s a progression.”
With all the reps and attention being paid to his left hand, he is of the mindset that once his right hand is fully healed, he’ll come back better than before.
“I better, unless this is all in vain,” Shumpert said with a laugh. “I definitely feel like I have more control with my left hand. But if you’re not able to use your right, you’re going to find a way [to be productive]. So I’ve been using my left-hand floater and developing a touch. I’m definitely more comfortable using it.”
While sidelined, Shumpert has been doing all that the Cavaliers have asked. On occasions they’ve had to tell him to pull back some. That’s just a testament to his drive.
Whether he hits the court in mid-December or January, it won’t occur until he’s completely healthy. There’s a bigger picture to keep in mind.
“I’m coming back when it feels right,” he said. “I’m not in a rush. We know what we’re playing for.”
No. 3: Durant says hamstring feeling ‘way better’ — The Oklahoma City Thunder have been without former MVP Kevin Durant for the past week after he suffered a hamstring injury against the Washington Wizards. Since then, OKC has gone 1-2 (including last night’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies). There’s good news on the horizon for the Thunder, though, as Durant may be back in a game or so. ESPN.com’s Royce Young has more:
Kevin Durant said he is feeling “way better” since injuring his left hamstring Tuesday against the Washington Wizards.
Durant missed his third straight game Monday night, a 122-114 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, and the injury will likely keep him out at least one more game.
Durant is set to be reevaluated in a few days, but he hasn’t been back on the practice court yet. He said he is doing weight training and taking some set shots following practices and has no problem taking it slow in returning from this injury.
“Hamstrings are a little different,” Durant said. “You can reinjure them pretty easily if you try and play through it, or as we say now, ‘Be tough.’ I call that being dumb. But hamstring strains you can’t really try and play through it. Just got to get it right and make sure everything is perfect when I come back to play.”
Durant conceded being injured again is “definitely frustrating,” but the former MVP isn’t fazed, despite being sidelined for the fifth time in the past year.
“Man, when I look at it in the grand scheme of things, I’m breathing, my mom is all right, my family is good,” Durant said Sunday before the Oklahoma City Thunder’s game against the Boston Celtics. “Hamstring strain — as long as I don’t have to get surgery again, I don’t have to go through that process again — it’s just a minor bump in the road. Unfortunate for me, but it’s nothing to hang my head over.”
This is the first muscle injury the 27-year-old Durant has experienced in his NBA career, but he rejects the idea that so much time missed last season might have contributed to the strain.
“Not at all. I just came down wrong,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just bad luck. I just came down wrong. Everything was straight. I wasn’t overcompensating. I felt good, just came down wrong. Tough break for me. But everything felt great, my body felt great, conditioning felt really good. I was getting used to NBA schedule again. So everything felt great, but it’s just tough luck.”
“It’s definitely frustrating because I want to play,” Durant said. “I felt like I was in a good groove before, but it’s a part of the game. I just got to keep working to get back, and I’ve been working my tail off every single day to get back, and my teammates have been holding it down.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ron Harper, the starting point guard on the Chicago Bulls’ 72-win team from 1995-96, says those ’96 Bulls would sweep the defending champion Warriors in a series … The Miami Heat are reportedly ready to work Gerald Green back into the rotation after his off-the-court incident … Could the Denver Nuggets’ time zone advantage on home games be coming to an end soon? … Golden State may start center Andrew Bogut tonight against the Toronto Raptors … Dirk Nowitzki has been really impressed by the Dallas Mavericks’ overall basketball IQ this season … The Los Angeles Lakers are happy with the leadership Roy Hibbert is providing this season … The jersey from Michael Jordan‘s final regular-season game with the Chicago Bulls recently sold for $173,240 at an auction …
ICYMI of the Night: Suns guard Brandon Knight got Lakers rookie Marcelo Huertas all twisted up on defense last night …
VIDEO: Brandon Knight’s killer crossover