NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Howard opens up on Harden, public perception of himself — If you didn’t stick around for the postgame show on TNT after last night’s Game 5 between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, you missed out. Sitting in for regular TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal was Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, and he was grilled by Charles Barkley about his future, playing with James Harden and the perception the public has of him. Howard didn’t shy away from the questions or give vague answers and ESPN.com’s Calvin Watkins transcribed some of best quotes from the segment:
Hall of Famer, former Rocket and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley asked Howard about being disinterested during games.
Howard gave a long response, saying it does upset him when he doesn’t win. He also discussed the difficulties of dealing with his own personality, particularly with smiling on the court.
“I’m always interested in winning,” Howard said. “But as a big, you want to feel a part of what’s going on, and you know, if I could bring the ball up the court, shoot 3s and go between the legs, do all that stuff, that’d be great. But I have to rely on my teammates in certain aspects to get the ball. Now there have been times I have been upset and I’ve taken myself out of the game in certain situations, and that’s on me.
“And I have to grow and became a better player. So I’m always interested in the game, and I’ve had the problem with smiling too much or I play too much on the floor, so when I’m not smiling and all that stuff, it looks like I’m not interested in the game. So it’s like a thin line, and I’m like, ‘Man, do I not smile? Or do I smile and have fun?’ So that’s always been a struggle for me personally.”
Barkley also asked Howard why he’s not liked by people. Howard responded by saying Barkley is the one saying nobody likes him.
“I think I was very likable in Orlando, and the way that situation ended, I think people felt as though I’m just this bad guy, I’m all about myself, I’m a diva, I’m stuck on being Dwight Howard, this famous basketball player,” Howard said. “So people say, ‘I don’t like that guy.’ And I hear that, and it really hurts me because my heart and my attitude toward the game has always been the same.
“My drive has been there, because I never will forget the day that I came in here and you [Barkley] told me I wasn’t going to be good in the NBA, and I’ll never forget the day Magic Johnson said I wasn’t going to make it to the NBA, when I was in the 10th grade. That stuff drives me every day to want to be one of the greatest players to play the game. So that part, to hear people say that, it pisses me off because that’s not who I am. I’ve never been a bad person, and it’s not that I want people to like me, because I know people are not going to always like me, but you know, if you get to know me, I’m laid-back, I love to have fun.”
No. 2: Blazers hardly think they’re done for — After Golden State came back to win Game 4 of its semifinal series with the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, Warriors forward Draymond Green said afterward that the Blazers’ playoff run was more or less “done.” The Blazers for their part, however, are ignoring what Green has to say as they face elimination in Game 5 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT), writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian:
Shortly after the Golden State Warriors beat the Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday night, Warriors forward Draymond Green made it clear that he thought Golden State’s impressive overtime win was a series clincher.
“Of course, I think they’re done,” Green said during his postgame press conference following the Warriors 132-125 win at the Moda Center. “If I don’t think they’re done, I don’t know who else is going to think it. We’re going home with a 3-1 lead. It’s up to us to close it out and I trust my teammates, I trust our team to come out ready to go and close this series out. ”
However, the Blazers say they aren’t paying much attention to Green’s postgame comments.
“Draymond does a lot of talking that’s what he does,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll worry about our business and go about our business and really whatever he says doesn’t have much of an impact on us.”
The Blazers business on Tuesday included some film review, some medical treatment and a flight to Oakland ahead of Wednesday’s Game 5 at Oracle Arena. And despite the ‘gut punch’ Golden State delivered on Monday night, the Blazers confidence isn’t shaken facing their first elimination game of the postseason.
“It’s in their character to go out and compete,” Stotts said. “Obviously, it was a disappointing loss and I would expect a quiet locker room. But we haven’t had any problem coming back and I think it has a lot to do with the character of each player.”
The Blazers’ last two seasons have ended with Game 5 postseason losses on the road. But unlike two seasons ago in San Antonio or last year in Memphis, the Blazers have been competitive in nearly every game in the series against the Warriors.
“We’ve always been pretty confident, from the beginning of the season, going back to September and October, that we were going to be a competitive team,” Stotts said. “We felt like we would be competitive in the playoffs and in both series’.”
No. 3: DeRozan not sweating how playoff downturn will affect free agency — The Toronto Raptors head into Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Miami Heat tonight (8 ET, TNT) tied 2-2. The Raptors might be in the lead in this series if their All-Star guard, DeMar DeRozan, were able to get his shooting game on track. But DeRozan has struggled not only in this series, but all playoffs. However, DeRozan isn’t worried about how these playoff woes will affect his potential payday this summer as a free agent, writes Michael Lee of The Vertical:
After the Toronto Raptors eliminated Indiana and removed the unfair weight of 15 years of postseason failure, DeRozan assumed the challenge of succeeding beyond that initial first-round hurdle would be more about superior competition and the constant adjustments to varying defensive schemes. But with a thumb that requires blocks of ice wrapped around his hand after every practice and game, DeRozan realizes that he will need more mental resolve to overcome his current physical limitations.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for DeRozan or the Raptors. With an Eastern Conference finals trip within their grasp, the team’s All-Star shooting guard now has difficulty simply tying his shoe.
“I’ve never been one of those guys to be like, ‘Why? Why did this happen, or why’d it happen now?’ It’s part of the game. You’ve got to take the good with the bad sometimes,” DeRozan told The Vertical after Miami defeated Toronto 94-87 in overtime to even the series at two games each. “I’m going to fight through it, deal with it and go from there with it. I’ve got a whole summer to let it heal and figure itself out.”
The 2016 free-agent class takes a precipitous fall after Kevin Durant, but so many teams will have so much money to spend and so few stars to spend on that DeRozan hasn’t lost a cent despite his errant shot in these playoffs. Few players in the league possess DeRozan’s scoring ability, which – much like Wade (at least before this series) – comes without a reliance on the 3-point shot. And, DeRozan shot down any notion Monday night that his struggles this postseason have been the result of him stressing over that looming contract.
“I feel like I have nothing to worry about,” DeRozan said of his pending free agency. “I take it day by day, whatever happens. I’m not even looking towards then. I’m thinking about the next game and trying to figure out that.”
DeRozan, however, does feel that he shares a responsibility with Kyle Lowry to take the Raptors where they have never gone. Lowry was so obsessed with producing in the postseason that he rarely took the time to appreciate what the team was accomplishing in the regular season, always prepared to dismiss the success by looking ahead to the place where real stars separate themselves.
“We put a lot of pressure [on us],” DeRozan told The Vertical. “We put extreme pressure. We put the work in, we try to figure it out the best way we can. We’ll take the heat any day. It’s all about being a leader, so we’re going to figure it out.”
Without years of postseason glory to lean on, this stage has seemed too big for Toronto’s All-Star duo. The Raptors live and die by DeRozan and Lowry, and their seesaw shooting efforts have made that proposition feel like tap-dancing around land mines. The sheer volume of shot attempts and misses has been staggering. And while Raptors coach Dwane Casey admires DeRozan for being “a tough kid,” he admitted that the thumb injury is “a concern.”
Toronto has had such a jagged postseason run because it has often had to find ways to win in spite of its two best players. Losing Jonas Valanciunas for the rest of this series – and possibly much longer, should the Raptors advance – because of a severely sprained ankle has increased the team’s dependence on DeRozan and Lowry.
Lowry appeared to finally resurrect his swag with a dynamic, 33-point performance in Game 3 as he dueled Wade bucket for bucket, but wasn’t able to keep it going for consecutive games. If Lowry could’ve avoided fouling out Monday, Casey could’ve kept the ineffective DeRozan on the bench for the final minutes, and the Raptors would likely be heading back home to Toronto for a closeout game. DeRozan was forced to finish, even as dribbling and shooting were a problem.
“You can’t let frustration get to you, at all. Can’t listen to what the outsiders got to say. You just can’t get caught up in that. You’ve got to stay positive,” DeRozan said. “It’s 2-2. We’ve got a great opportunity to go home and do what we can do.”
No. 4: Smith initially miffed about trade from Knicks to Cavs — Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith spent five seasons with the Denver Nuggets and when the summer of 2011 came around, he was a free agent. As such, he chose to sign with the New York Knicks and team with his former pal Carmelo Anthony, who was traded to the Knicks months earlier. After 2 1/2 seasons in New York, though, Smith was traded to Cleveland in a move that quite frankly left him stunned, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
J.R. Smith, now playing for the hottest team in the NBA playoffs, said joining the Knicks was “the greatest decision I’ve ever made.”
But he doesn’t understand why Phil Jackson traded him away more than a year ago. And he wasn’t happy.
“I was pissed, honestly. First of all, it’s not my fault we’re in this situation,” Smith said in a video interview with VICE Sports. “We were in the locker room, we were about to play in Memphis. I just got off the phone warming up. The GM (Steve Mills) was on the phone, said, ‘Yeah, we just traded you to Cleveland.’ I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ I told (Iman) Shumpert, ‘We’re outta here.’ He was like, ‘What?’ We came off a 50-plus win year (in 2012-13), we were second in the East. We had an unbelievable team with unbelievable chemistry and then they break everything down to rebuild what?”
Still, Smith was most upset “because I couldn’t play with my best friend anymore.”
“(Carmelo Anthony) is probably my all-time favorite person that I’ve been around consistently over the course of X-amount of years,” Smith said.
Smith is averaging 12.3 points on 48 percent shooting – including 51 percent from beyond the arc — in the postseason this year as the Cavs are the only team to sweep through the first two rounds. He totaled about three seasons with the Knicks and won the Sixth Man of the Year.
“Every person that’s in the NBA should experience playing in New York at least once in their career,” he said. “To play at the Mecca of basketball and the Garden every night, it’s probably the greatest decision I’ve ever made to go to New York.”