Kyle Korver to miss remainder of playoffs



VIDEO: Korver injures ankle in Game 2

HANG TIME BIG CITY – When it rains, it pours.

The Atlanta Hawks today announced that guard Kyle Korver will miss the remainder of the postseason after suffering a severe high right ankle sprain during Atlanta’s Game 2 loss to Cleveland last night during the Eastern Conference finals.

Per the Hawks …

“Hawks guard/forward Kyle Korver suffered a right ankle injury with 1:01 remaining in the third quarter of last night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. X-rays performed at Philips Arena last night were negative. A follow-up MRI and examination this morning at the Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic confirmed a severe high right ankle sprain. Korver will see a foot and ankle specialist to determine the best course of treatment. He is out for the remainder of the postseason.”

At 34 years old, the sharp-shooting Korver had the best regular season of his NBA career, making his first All-Star team and leading the NBA in 3-point percentage at 49 percent. He finished the regular season averaging 12.1 ppg while playing in 75 games.

Yet for the Hawks, it’s another hit in a series of body blows that has left them a husk of the team that finished the regular season with 60 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Korver completes something of a brutal cycle, becoming the fifth Hawks starter to deal with injuries this postseason. After losing reserve swingman Thabo Sefolosha for the season after an ankle injury sustained in an off the court incident, the Hawks have had injuries to starters Al Horford (finger), Paul Millsap (shoulder), Jeff Teague (ankle) and DeMarre Carroll (knee). Horford seemed to suffer a knee injury during Game 2, but was able to return and play.

All the injuries are ironic because of the franchise-wide focus all season long on watching minutes played in an effort to avoid injuries and keep players healthy for a postseason run. While Korver has struggled in the postseason thus far, averaging 11 ppg on just 35.5 percent from the three, the threat of Korver on the floor requires defenders to take notice and creates space for the other Hawks – well, at least what’s left of them – to operate.

Without Korver, the Hawks will be forced to rely even heavier on a bench already stretched razor-thin thanks to the other injuries. Down 0-2 to the Cavaliers, with the series shifting to Cleveland for Game 3 on Sunday, the odds are stacked higher than ever against the Hawks.

Howard upgraded for Game 3 tonight

HOUSTON — The mystery surrounding Dwight Howard’s left knee is all but gone and the only suspense is whether his Rockets can bounce at home tonight from a 2-0 deficit against the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

There was debate surrounding Howard’s health status until just a few minutes before the opening tip of Game 2 Thursday, but he wound up playing 40 minutes, scoring 19 points and pulling down 17 rebounds.

The 6-foot-11 center, who suffered a first degree sprain of his left knee as the result of a collision with teammate Josh Smith in the series opener, has been upgraded from questionable to probable for Game 3 at Toyota Center and said at the Saturday morning shootaround that he’s pleased with how the injury responded to the playing time and treatment he’s received.

“It felt pretty good,” Howard said. “We were happy about that. I didn’t want to linger throughout the whole playoffs.”

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

***

No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

***

No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

***

No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

***

No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Hawks’ DeMarre Carroll to start Game 2

 

VIDEO: DeMarre Carroll suffers knee injury late in Game 1

ATLANTA — Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll will start Game 2 against Cleveland tonight at Philips Arena, two days after spraining his left knee in a Game 1 loss.

Carroll did not sustain any structural damage to his knee. The Hawks did not announce that he would start until there was just 20 minutes before tip off.

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.”