Rockets encouraged by Howard’s play


VIDEO: GameTime: Game 2 Analysis

OAKLAND — The return of Dwight Howard on Thursday night at Oracle Arena was actually the return within the return, with Howard back in the Rockets’ starting lineup against the Warriors but not really back in the flow until later.

The Howard of early in Game 2, after missing all but 51 seconds of the fourth quarter two nights before because of a bruised left knee, was ineffective. He didn’t move well. He didn’t look like someone capable of making a difference, or at least a positive difference.

By the second quarter, though, he was contributing. And by the end, he had become one of the few remaining reasons for the Rockets to remain hopeful about their chances in the Western Conference finals as the series moves to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday.

The 19 points on eight-for-11 shooting along with 17 rebounds was an important part of the Rockets nearly winning. But the 40 minutes was most meaningful of all, and not just in the moment. It was a sign of optimism, that if Howard could go from being listed as questionable most of the afternoon to a game-time decision as tipoff approached to a woozy start to a real impact by the end, imagine where he could be with another full day of rest and treatment before stepping on the court at Toyota Center.

“I felt a little bit better as the game went on,” Howard said. “Really just trying to protect it a little bit, but at the end of the day, this is very important to myself and the rest of my teammates, so just got to go all in.”

The guy who missed almost all the fourth quarter on Tuesday played the entire final period on Thursday. The longer the game went, the better he got, until the Rockets had nearly rallied from 17 points down in the second quarter before fumbling away the chance on the final possession to complete the comeback.

“Dwight did a great job for us,” coach Kevin McHale said. “We were really struggling to rebound the ball if he wasn’t on the floor. James [Harden] came in and got nine defensive rebounds, which is huge for us. What can you say? I mean, the guy played fantastic. His knee is bothering him a lot. One thing about Dwight is when Dwight starts a game, he very seldom wants to come out. In Game 1 when he told me he couldn’t go, I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ That’s really saying something.

“I think the brace that the training staff got him [Thursday] morning gave him some confidence in that knee, but that’s just a hell of an effort by Dwight Howard. There’s really nothing else you can say. He played his [butt] off. There’s just nothing else you can say. The guy played really, really well.”

It would have been a welcome sight no matter what. Down 0-2, a healthy Howard is more like a necessity.

Report: Kobe to retire after next season


VIDEO: Is this it for Kobe Bryant?

HANG TIME ATL — The 2015-16 NBA season will be Kobe Bryant‘s final campaign, according to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.

According to a report from ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes, Kupchak said that the upcoming season will be Bryant’s last during an appearance on SiriusXM Radio. As Holmes writes…

“I think first and foremost, he’s on the last year of a deal,” Kupchak told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “There have been no discussions about anything going forward. I don’t think there will be.”

“A year from now, if there’s something different to discuss, then it will be discussed then,” Kupchak said of Bryant potentially playing beyond next season. “I talk to him from time to time … and he is recovering. He’s running. He’s getting movement and strength in the shoulder. We expect a full recovery, but yeah, he’s much closer to the end than to the beginning.”

Because of the uncertainty as to Bryant’s future, Kupchak said he’s unsure if there will be a farewell tour next season.

“It’s kind of up to the player, if they want to do something like that,” Kupchak said. “And it also may take away some options a year from now and put a player in an awkward position, but he will be recognized appropriately with great gratitude when it is time.”

If this is indeed Bryant’s final season, it doesn’t come as a total surprise. Bryant will be 37 years old when next season, his 20th with the Los Angeles Lakers, will begin. After being remarkably durable through most of his career, his recent seasons have been checkered by injuries, including season-ending injuries to his shoulder and achilles.

Bryant, a five-time champion and the 2008 NBA MVP, is currently the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 32,482 points scored.

Hawks, Cavs dealing with injuries


VIDEO: Cavs’ Irving, Hawks’ Carroll dinged up

HANG TIME ATL — Hours ahead of their Game 2 matchup in the Eastern Conference finals, the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers were each dealing with the possibility of being without a member of their starting five heading into tonight’s game (8:30 ET, TNT).

The Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll to a knee injury with five minutes to go in their Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday. After an MRI on Thursday, the Hawks announced that Carroll had not suffered any structural damage and listed Carroll with a left knee sprain.

While Carroll is officially listed as “questionable” for Game 2, he wasn’t made available to answer any questions at this morning’s shootaround. Carroll was, however, a participant in the session, and he walked past a few media members following the shootaround without using crutches and with no visible limp.

Several Hawks players passed when asked to shed light on how Carroll looked during the shootaround. If Carroll is not able to play tonight, the Hawks will likely look to Kent Bazemore to start and fill Carroll’s role as the designated defender against Cleveland’s LeBron James.

“I slept well last night, which is great.” joked Bazemore about the possibility of getting the start against the four-time MVP. “It’s a great platform to show what you can do. They brought me here as a defender, and that’s my job. What a great measuring stick to go up against one of the best.”

If Carroll can’t play tonight in Game 2?

“Obviously DeMarre’s huge to what we do defensively, and he’s a big spark on offense,” said Hawks center Al Horford. “But that’s why we have some depth on this team, and we feel confident in some of the other guys.”

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are dealing with their own injury issues. Point guard Kyrie Irving has been slowed with left knee tendonitis, robbing him of the explosiveness that usually makes him such a tough cover for defenders. The Cavaliers announced that Irving missed this morning’s shootaround so that he could undergo further testing on his knee, and said Irving was also questionable for tonight’s game.

After winning Game 1 in Atlanta, the Cavs could conceivably rest Irving during Game 2, then return to Cleveland for Game 3 still holding home court advantage, whether they win or lose Game 2.

“It’s not a matter of shutting [Irving] down,” said Cavs coach David Blatt. “It’s just a matter of, is he healthy enough to play? Does he feel healthy enough to play? That’s all.”

If Irving can’t play tonight in Game 2?

“Next man up,” Blatt said. “Guys gotta step in and pick up for him.”

Morning shootaround — May 22


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 2 of the Western Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Warriors lock up Harden | LeBron: Too much iso ball in Game 1Nuggets take their time vetting coaching candidates

No. 1: Curry: Warriors didn’t want to let Harden be ‘hero’ — Once again in the Warriors-Rockets West finals series, James Harden and Stephen Curry waged a fantastic scoring duel. And, once again, Curry’s squad came out on top, claiming a 2-0 series edge after Thursday night’s win. But it wasn’t an easy victory for Golden State as the Rockets had a shot at tying the game in the waning seconds. Curry and his “Splash Brothers” cohort, Klay Thompson, trapped Harden on the final possession, keeping him from a shot attempt in a move Curry says was definitely planned. Our Fran Blinebury was on the scene and has more:

The Splash Brothers became the Mash Brothers, squeezing the life and any last desperate attempt by the relentlessly splendid James Harden into a two-man vise.

It was a night when Curry (33 points, 5-for-11 on 3-pointers, six assists) and Harden (38 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) could have danced on the head of a pin with their fearless, peerless offensive fireworks.

“Sometimes I want to crack open a beer and get a courtside seat, because these two guys are the two best basketball players in the world,” said Bogut. “Steph knocks down a big shot and then we come down and try to stop James and he knocks down a big shot.”

Yet it was fitting that it all came down to a final stop.

“Got the ball off the glass, and I’m thinking, just to try to get an easy one,” Harden said. “They did a good job of having two guys on me, so I couldn’t attack, and when I looked up I saw a red jersey and it was Dwight, so I tried to throw it back to him. At that time I’m thinking five seconds on the clock, so I tried to get the ball back, and it was still two guys right there, and I watched the film, it’s just a tough, tough play.”

Tougher because Curry and Thompson have been playing the roles of the disrupters in the backcourt all season for a team that finds a sense of defensive urgency to keep digging itself out of tough spots when the alarm bells start clanging. It was the defense that turned everything around in the first round of the playoffs when the Warriors came from 20 points down in a rousing fourth quarter to win Game 3 at New Orleans. Then it was the defense that ultimately found a way to stifle the interior game of Memphis.

In their 10 playoff wins this spring, they have trailed by at least 13 points behind on six occasions. It’s not a coincidence that so many of those breathtakingly amazing and gorgeous shots come as the end product of simple down-and-dirty defense that stokes the fire.

“Once [Harrison Barnes] went for the layup and missed and Draymond tried to get the rebound it was kind of me and Klay and Andre [Iguodala] on the other side retreating,” Curry said. “You saw James kind of put his head down, you knew he probably wasn’t going to pass in that situation, so just to kind of stand him up before the 3-point line, Klay fronted him right to me, I was able to get a body on him. He threw it away to Dwight and threw it right back, so at that point, it’s just don’t let him get a shot off and try to be the hero, so we were able to get it done.”


VIDEO: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lock down on James Harden at the end of Game 2

***  

Dwight Howard to start Game 2

OAKLAND, Calif. — Dwight Howard will play tonight in Game 2.

After suffering a left knee sprain the Western Conference finals opener against the Warriors Tuesday night, the Rockets center went through a pre-game warm-up at Oracle Arena and was pronounced ready to go.

When asked if he was receptive to just relying on the advice of team doctors and trainers during his own Hall of Fame playing career, Rockets coach Kevin McHale said:

“That was a whole different era and I didn’t listen to anybody. I just wanted to play and you have to have some part of you that feels you can contribute no matter what shape you’re in.

“Hey, you see me walk around now. I didn’t always make the best decision.”

Howard works out, remains optimistic about playing in Game 2


VIDEO: How might Dwight Howard’s injury affect the Rockets?

SAN FRANCISCO — Dwight Howard remains a game-time decision, but the situation appeared a bit more optimistic after the Rockets center went through a light workout at the morning shootaround while wearing a brace on his sprained left knee.

“We’ll see tonight. I felt pretty good out there today,” Howard said after spinning, dunking and putting up jump hooks with assistant coach Josh Powell at the Olympic Club. “The most important thing is that I’m 100 percent to play. I don’t want it to be something that bothers me for the rest of the series. I would rather get rid of all the pain or most of the pain so I can go and give my teammates 100 percent.”

Howard was injured when teammate Josh Smith fell into the side of his knee while both were pursuing an offensive rebound midway through the first quarter of the Western Conference finals Game 1 against the Warriors on Tuesday night. He played 26 minutes in the game, but was never as mobile or effective after it happened. The Warriors scored four points in the paint in the 7 1/2 minutes before Howard was hurt, then 46 the rest of the game when he was limited.

At Wednesday’s practice, a somber Howard had said there was still a throbbing pain in the knee.

“It’s gone,” he said Thursday morning. “That’s a good sign. It didn’t swell up that much and it wasn’t as bad as it could have been from watching the replay.

“It’s improved a lot. I’m just happy that I was able to get out there on the court and do some work today. I think it will feel better tonight, but if not I’ll do whatever I can to give my teammates 100 percent.

“I want to be out there, but the most important thing is that I’m healthy for the whole series. I believe in my teammates. We trust in each other. I feel like if I was to miss tonight’s game, Clint (Capela), Joey (Dorsey) and the rest of the bigs will do a great job in my place. So I have no concern with that. I just want to make sure I do everything I can to prepare to play.”

Howard missed 41 games during the regular season due mostly to pain and swelling in his right knee. The Rockets were 29-12 when he played and 27-14 without him in the lineup. They give up 104.7 points per 100 possessions with Howard playing and 111.7 when he’s out.

The 6-foot-11 center wore a brace with metal supports to stabilized the knee, but seemed to move fluidly as he rolled to the hoop as Powell tossed him passes.

“It feels better than when they put a lot of tape on before the brace,” Howard said. “It’s kind of weird. With the brace on, it really helped out.”

Howard’s demeanor seemed quite different from 24 hours earlier when he sat out practice entirely and glumly talked to the media with an ice-pack taped to his knee.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I just tried to not think about it too much and just allow my body to heal and not put stress on it and just think positive.

“I really didn’t get a chance to do a lot of running (today). All the stuff I did was in the half court, so we’ll see how it feels tonight. Hopefully I’ll be able to play and give my teammates everything. But like I said, the most important thing is that I’m healthy enough to play the whole series and I don’t want this to be something that lingers throughout the rest of the playoffs. I want to nip it in the bud and just go play.”

Reports: Carroll has no structural damage to left knee


VIDEO: DeMarre Carroll suffers knee injury late in Game 1

From NBA.com staff reports

The Atlanta Hawks fell in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals and, in the process, saw their starting small forward, DeMarre Carroll take a fall, too.

The incident occurred with 4:59 remaining in Game 1 while he was driving to the basket on a fast break. Carroll did not appear to be touched as he fell to the floor, but he writhed in pain, was helped off the court and, after the game, was diagnosed with a left knee strain.

That somewhat cryptic diagnosis got a little bit better today for the Hawks and their fans as word came out that Carroll has so far suffered no structural damage to the knee and is day to day with a bone bruise.

Morning shootaround — May 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Will Hawks have to replace Carroll? | Irving plans to play in Game 2 | Wizards plan to lock-up Beal | Rockets hopeful Howard can play tonight

No. 1: Hawks face prospect of replacing Carroll — The Atlanta Hawks were in the midst of what would become a fourth-quarter surge in Game 1 of the East finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. DeMarre Carroll picked off a pass and was headed the other way for a fast-break layup when a nightmare scenario happened for Atlanta. He crashed to the floor awkwardly as he went up to shoot and had to be helped off the court afterward. Our Lang Whitaker was on the scene for the play and has more:

The Atlanta Hawks sent four starters to the All-Star Game, yet it was DeMarre Carroll, the man left behind, who had been their most reliable performer in these playoffs. But after suffering a left knee injury during Atlanta’s 97-89 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Hawks are now left dealing with the possibility of an immediate future without Carroll involved.

“At this point, I think the doctors are saying it’s a knee sprain,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’ll have an MRI tomorrow, and we’ll know more tomorrow.”

Carroll was injured with 4:59 remaining in Game 1 while driving to the basket on a fast break. He didn’t appear to be touched as he fell to the floor, where he writhed in pain before being helped up and off to the locker room.

“It’s huge,” said Hawks forward Kent Bazemore. “Super unfortunate. Talk about a guy who works hard and has been playing well all year. I mean, it sucks. He’s the second guy — I mean, we don’t know what happened yet, but we lost Thabo [Sefolosha] already, and he is another valuable piece to the puzzle. We gotta just keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, and another guy step up.”

Carroll’s injury was the rotten cherry on top of an already dreadful night for the Hawks, who were outscored 23-16 in the third quarter and finished Game 1 4-for-23 on 3-pointers while being dominated on the boards, 60-43. If the Hawks were looking for a silver lining, perhaps there’s a glimmer in the way the Hawks closed the game without Carroll, finally managing to find some pace and closing to within four with a minute left.

“Baze got to step it up, Baze got to play his minutes,” said Hawks guard Dennis Schröder. “I’ve got to step it up, for sure. Everybody else, I think, when Coach says your name on the bench, everybody is ready. If Coach needs somebody, I think they’re ready.”

“We’re a very resilient group,” Bazemore said. “We know we’ve got to make a few adjustments, and Coach Bud is a great coach. He’s going to have us on our p’s and q’s coming into Game 2.”


VIDEO: DeMarre Carroll injured late in Game 1

***  

Rockets’ Capela is ready for his close-up

VIDEO: James Harden sends pass to rookie Clint Capela for dunk.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Even Clint Capela didn’t think this could happen.

Seven months ago, the rookie arrived in training camp hoping to find a place in the Rockets future. Two months ago, he was in the NBA D-League toiling for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Now, if a sprained left knee keeps Dwight Howard out of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Capela might find himself in the starting lineup against the Warriors. Or at the very least, getting significant playing time.

“When I was in the D-League, no, I would not think this was possible,” said the precocious 21-year-old native of Geneva, Switzerland. “I thought I’m not going to play this year, maybe next year. I was just trying to keep working hard and be ready when they would call me up.”

But with a live, aggressive body and a willingness to learn, Capela forced his way into the consciousness of the Rockets coaching staff and then into the playing rotation.

“Clint came in early in the season from the D-League because we’d been having injuries and we needed him to practice,” said coach Kevin McHale. “Then everyday you watched him in practice, you liked him a little bit more. We’re like, ‘Man, he’s playing better and better and better.’ He’s an easy guy to coach. He’s easy guy to gain confidence in because he’s so diligent and he’s just a hard-working kid.”

A kid who coincidentally was born in the year (1994) when the Rockets won their first NBA championship behind superstar center Hakeem Olajuwon and now is being regularly tutored by the Hall of Fame most days in practice.

“He tells me just little details on the game,” Capela said. “How I can defend. Attack on offense. What I can do now. What I will be able to do later. Just little things like that.”

The little things have added up to produce moments through the Rockets playoff run this spring when Capela is taking a feed from James Harden or Josh Smith to slam home a dunk or is coming from out of nowhere on defense to rise up and reject a shot. There is buoyancy to a his step, an insouciance to his demeanor that tells you that the moment will not overwhelm him and he feels right at home.

“Yeah, I know it’s the D-League to the NBA, but I feel like it’s just the same sport,” Capela said. “It’s just basketball and we’re all human. OK, the leagues change, sure. But in my mind I’m saying, ‘I’m just going to play basketball and that’s it.’ ”

Capela played 13 minutes after Howard was injured in Game 1, shooting 4-for-4, scoring nine points and pulling down four rebounds in 13 minutes. Most impressive was the way he consistently and fearlessly stepped outside to defend guard Stephen Curry, the league’s MVP.

“Even when I was younger, I was the bigger one, but I was always trying to defend all the little guards,” Capela said. “Because I always had the quick feet. It was pretty exciting to be able to be on (Curry). I hope I do better next time. In my mind, I think I can stop (him), do something.”

Howard says if the rookie has take on the burden of his minutes, there’s only way for the Rockets to approach it.

“Just gotta let him play,” Howard said. “Only advice I can say is he’s just gotta go out there and play as hard as he can. For his first playoff run, he’s done an excellent job of giving it everything he’s got.

“He’s been in the D-League for most of the year. Then to come out here and play with us, getting the minutes that he’s getting, he’s done an excellent job of playing defense and getting up on those guards…I think he’s playing great. I’m really proud and happy for his growth as a player.”

Capela smiled and nodded.

“I will get my mind ready,” he said.

Maybe now Warriors will get more credit for defense

OAKLAND — The value of Draymond Green being named first-team All-Defense and Andrew Bogut making second-team?

“The value for Andrew is $1.9 million,” said their Warriors coach, Steve Kerr.

Yes, there is that. When Bogut finished with the second-most points at center in voting announced Wednesday, behind only DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, it triggered a $1.935-million bonus in the extension Bogut signed in October 2013. Money matters and it particularly matters to Bogut in this case since he accepted a smaller guarantee in exchange for the possibility of greater incentives.

Beyond that, though, there is the visual of two Warriors making All-Defense, and with Green receiving the second-most votes and Bogut the eighth-most. The Warriors.

Maybe now the lazy narrative will end and people will see Golden State as more than a jump-shooting team that relies solely on out-racing opponents. That has not been the case for years. The Warriors were very good defensively last season, with Mark Jackson as coach, and they were very good again this season, under Kerr, finishing first in defensive rating and first in shooting defense.

The perception value.

“I think it’s just great that our guys were recognized for their efforts,” Kerr said. “The strength of this team, really the last couple of years, not just this year but the last two or three years has been the defense. No. 1 in defensive efficiency this year. Our work in the Memphis series the last three games defensively changed the series. A lot of people talk about us being a jump-shooting team. We are. But all those jump shots are really set up by our defense. Our defense allows us to stay in games like last night, where maybe we’re getting blitzed early, we usually can count on making five or six stops in a row, getting out and running and making some of those jump shots. That balance of the perimeter shooting with really good defense is kind of our identity.”

Trailing only Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs in first-place votes and total points is the latest moment in Green’s push to the forefront that had already included taking over the as the starting power forward after previously playing behind David Lee, finishing second in balloting for Defensive Player of the Year, also behind Leonard, and second for Most Improved Player. The only thing that makes it better is the timing — Green becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.

Bogut’s defense has been an obvious key as Golden State progressed from playoff newcomer in his first full season with the Warriors, 2012-13, to the top-seeded team in the Western Conference this season. Now comes the official acknowledgement.

“Financially it was really good,” he said. “I’m kind of used to kind of always just missing out, playing in Milwaukee for so many years. But it’s nice to be recognized. I really take pride in my defense and I think that’s the main role on my team, is to be a rim protector and to be a good defender. To get recognized for it is good. Hopefully the referees read the All-Defensive teams and I can get a few more calls going my way.”

The All-Defense announcement came the same day Golden State’s Stephen Curry was fined $5,000 by the league for flopping on offense in the fourth quarter of the 110-106 victory Tuesday in the opener of the Western Conference finals.

“These plays happen every day,” Kerr said. “I don’t think a game goes by where Jamal Crawford doesn’t flop six times on his three-point shots. It’s part of the game. And I don’t blame him for doing it because a lot of times the refs call it. Russell Westbrook does it. Everybody does it. To all of the sudden just randomly to fine Steph just seems kind of strange. Are we just choosing one time to do this? You can pick out flops every single game, half the guys out on the floor. It just seems sort of random.”