Posts Tagged ‘Greg Smith’

Howard Says Rockets Lacking Effort


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks about the Rockets’ loss to the Suns

 

HOUSTON — From the moment the Rockets hit the free agent jackpot with Dwight Howard last summer and put him in the lineup with James Harden, there were always going to be questions about how they would put it all together and how long it might take.

Those questions were not supposed to be about how hard they would try.

“[Expletive] effort out there on defense and on offense,” said Howard. “The ball stuck … We didn’t move it and we can’t win that way.”

Bumps in the road over the course of the long regular season are to be expected, but the Rockets have now run head-long into a boulder of indifference as a 97-88 home loss to the Suns Wednesday night came on the heels of a virtual no-show trip to Utah on Monday.

“It had nothing to do with us missing shots,” Howard said. “They just played harder than us…It had nothing to do with the offensive game. They just played hard.

“We know what we [have to] do. It’s gotta be important for guys to come out and play the same way every night.”

The Rockets were shorthanded without Chandler Parsons (sore back), Jeremy Lin (sprained right knee), Omer Asik (right thigh contusion) and Greg Smith (sprained right knee). But neither Howard or coach Kevin McHale, who kept the locker room closed for 20 minutes after the game, would accept that out.

“You still have to play,” McHale said. “I don’t care who’s not there. You just [have to] go play and we didn’t play the right way.

“We didn’t move the ball. We didn’t move our bodies. They got up on us and started denying passes. We didn’t go backdoor. We didn’t drive all the scenes. When we did drive, we took wild shots…We did not play very good and that’s the bottom line.”


VIDEO:Coach Kevin McHale discusses the Rockets’ loss to Phoenix

The team’s leading scorer Harden shot just 3-for-17, including 0-for-10 from behind the 3-point line and bailed out early from the locker room after speaking only to team employees.

The Rockets were uninspired from the opening tip and never seemed able — or willing — to match the Suns energy or aggression and it was the fact that it was a virtual repeat of nonchalance that carried over from the loss to the Jazz that bothered Howard, who scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.

“We can’t give away games like this,” Howard said. “It will come back and bite us later on in the season. So we got to learn no matter how many guys we got out there, short-handed and all, we got to play the same way — play hard and play aggressive.

“It’s just [has to] be in you. You can’t coach it. You can’t draw up plays or anything like that. You just gotta have it.”

Howard would not reveal what the obviously distressed McHale told the team.

“We keep that between us,” said the All-Star center. “We know what we got to do. We don’t do it, we’re [going to] continue to lose.

“We got to learn when we’re down. We got to learn how to play when we got big leads. It’s something that we got to learn how to do. We got to get a good shot every time. Coming down and shooting quick shots is not always good, especially when you’re down. That gives a team like Phoenix an opportunity to run. That’s what they want to do. We played right into their hands tonight.”

It is only the second time this season that the Rockets have lost back-to-back games and, at 13-7, they are still the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. So it was less a blaring alarm bell than a humming undercurrent reminder that a wannabe playoff contender needs more than summertime signings and headlines to turn into the real thing.

“It happens,” Howard said. “I told you guys a couple weeks ago the season is up and down. You go on runs. You have those games where you miss and you lose a couple of games. But the biggest thing is coming back the next game with a better effort and if not, then we got to take an ‘L’ for us to learn.”


VIDEO: Houston’s Dwight Howard fights through the defense for the jam

Asik Wants A Trade And The Rockets Should Oblige


VIDEO: Houston holds off New York despite rough game from Howard

NEW YORK - If the Houston Rockets intend on competing for a championship this season, they will need to trade Omer Asik. And the process may have been accelerated on Thursday.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported before Thursday’s Rockets-Knicks game that Asik has asked for a trade.

With his starting job gone and his playing time slashed, Rockets center Omer Asik has asked to be traded, two individuals with knowledge of the request said Thursday.

Asik, who started every game after signing with the Rockets last season, came off the bench Wednesday in Philadelphia, but struggled. He played only four minutes and not at all in the second half. Asik has made his trade request within the past 48 hours, a person familiar with the conversations said.

The Rockets have no trade involving Asik in the works, with one individual saying a deal is more likely in months than in days.

This the second time that an Asik trade request has been reported. The first came in the summer, after Houston signed Dwight Howard. Asik is a terrific defensive center who started all 82 games for the Rockets last season and led the team in plus-minus. He was a valuable reserve in Chicago, but since signing a three-year, $25 million deal with Houston in 2012, he clearly has no interest in being a backup.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale started Asik and Howard together for the first eight games of the season, but the two-center combination has not worked (particularly on offense) and had put the Rockets in several first-quarter holes. On Monday against Toronto, McHale finally pulled the plug on the experiment, keeping Asik on the bench to start the second half. Wednesday in Philadelphia, Terrence Jones started in Asik’s place and Asik played just 4:22 in the Rockets’ overtime loss to the Sixers.

Less than 24 hours later, Asik was asking for a trade. And in the Rockets’ crazy 109-106 victory over the Knicks, he didn’t play at all. McHale used Greg Smith as the backup center late in the first quarter, and when Smith injured his knee less than a minute later, McHale played Jones at center.

It was the first DNP of Asik’s career and ended his league-leading streak of 239 consecutive games played. He was not available for comment after the game, having left the Houston locker room well before it was opened to the media. McHale said: “He told me today he wasn’t feeling good and he didn’t know if he could play,” McHale said after the game. “I asked him, ‘Are you ready to play?’ and he said, ‘I don’t feel good.’ That’s why I went with Greg.”

Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com reported that the Rockets have told Asik that they have no intention of trading him. And before Thursday’s game in New York, McHale said that he hasn’t closed the door on using Asik and Howard together.

“I liked a lot of stuff he and Dwight did together,” McHale said. “They were big. They protected the rim. It’’s going to be a lot on matchups, a lot how things work. He’’s going to have to get out there and play. Will he start against some bigger teams? Possibly.””

A few more starts here or there doesn’t change the fact that the Rockets would be better off swapping Asik for a forward who can shoot and defend. While Asik gives Houston depth up front and insurance on Howard (who struggled to score against Andrea Bargnani on Thursday), he’s not worth what the Rockets are paying him as a 12-minute-a-night backup, especially if there are nights like this — if you think McHale’s “wasn’t feeling good” claim was a little dubious — when he doesn’t play at all.

The Rockets, who have had an up-and-down first 10 games, could raise their ceiling and put themselves in the driver’s seat of a wide-open Western Conference if they can trade Asik for a better fit with Howard and James Harden, someone who could play 30 minutes a night instead of 12. And with other Western Conference contenders (like the Clippers, Grizzlies and Thunder) also ripe for a trade, Houston shouldn’t hesitate to pursue the guy they want.

Though they currently rank 23rd in 3-point shooting (at 32.1 percent) and spacing the floor around Harden/Howard pick-and-rolls is critical, their biggest priority in any deal should be perimeter defense. They’ve had plenty of glaring breakdowns already this season and they have no one to defend the likes of Kevin Durant or, if they truly have title aspirations, LeBron James. Exhibit A is Carmelo Anthony‘s 45 points on 17-for-30 shooting on Thursday.

That’s why the Sixers’ Thaddeus Young should be their primary target, whether it be a straight trade with Philadelphia or a three-team deal. The Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson would be a great fit offensively, but would only add to the defensive problems.

Smith’s injury complicates things. He would be a capable backup in small doses, but if his knee injury is serious — he’s set to have an MRI on Friday — it would be more difficult to part with Asik.

Still, not only is it unlikely that Asik will change his mind, but a trade would give the Rockets an opportunity to get better. They obviously need at least one other team to make a deal, but they shouldn’t wait to start shopping.

Early Numbers Show Problems With Lineup Combinations

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’re 15 days into the 2013-14 season and the standings don’t quite match what we thought they’d look like. The Nets and Knicks are down and the Suns and Sixers are up.

It’s early, but more data is coming in every day, and it’s giving us an early look at some interesting lineup combinations around the league. We were all wondering how the Pistons’ new frontline would work out and whether Rockets coach Kevin McHale could play Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together.

Some results are expected, some are surprising and some are inconclusive. Again, it’s early. So the numbers below aren’t necessarily an endorsement of the combos that are working or an indictment of those that aren’t. Everything must be taken in context, and the most important context right now is that we’re looking at small sample sizes.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

How are Smith, Monroe and Drummond faring?

Minutes: 141
Pace: 91.3
OffRtg: 101.3
DefRtg: 116.9
NetRtg: -15.7
+/-: minus-34

No team put together a more fascinating mix this summer than the Pistons. And the thought was that, due to floor spacing issues, they would struggle offensively with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor together. The other thought was that, thanks to their length, they would be strong defensively and on the glass.

They’ve been a good offensive rebounding trio, but not a good defensive rebounding trio. That’s not their biggest problem, though. Opponents have shot 51 percent (effective field goal percentage: 56.0 percent) with the three on the floor together and all together, the Pistons have been absolutely brutal defensively with their big lineups. Of the 205 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes together, the only ones that have been worse defensively are two other Detroit trios that include Monroe and either Drummond or Smith.

The Grizzlies, who rank 19th offensively, scored 68 points in less than 32 minutes against the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline. The Pacers, who rank 13th offensively, scored 59 points in less than 21 minutes.

There are a bunch of issues that need to be cleaned up. It starts with transition, where Monroe is particularly slow. He also struggles to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. Smith and Drummond can be too aggressive, often biting on pump fakes or sacrificing rebounding position by trying for blocks. And sometimes, the problem is with the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups, a pair of liabilities in their own right.

After getting trounced by the Warriors on Tuesday, the Pistons rank dead last in defensive efficiency. It’s early and five of their seven games have been against above-average offensive teams, but the numbers are such that coach Mo Cheeks will need to seriously consider staggering the minutes of Smith, Drummond and Monroe more than he already is. More minutes for Kyle Singler and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have a positive impact on the Pistons’ D.

Within the big-man trio, the only pair that’s logged a decent amount of minutes without the third guy is Monroe and Smith, which has played 70 minutes without Drummond. The Pistons have been even in those minutes, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Asik-Howard combination

Minutes: 93
Pace: 93.6
OffRtg: 87.3
DefRtg: 103.1
NetRtg: -15.8
+/-: minus-35

Those numbers — the pace and the offensive efficiency in particular — do not typify Houston’s style. With only one of the two centers on the floor, the Rockets have played at a pace of 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes and have scored 108.1 points per 100 posssessions. That does typify Rockets basketball and those numbers would rank third and fourth in the league, respectively.

Rockets efficiency

On floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Asik + Howard 93 93.6 87.3 103.1 -15.8 -35
Only Asik 88 105.3 102.5 92.0 +10.5 +19
Only Howard 196 100.9 110.8 98.3 +12.5 +39
One of the two 284 102.3 108.1 96.3 +11.8 +58

With a second center in the game, the Rockets can’t space the floor for their ball-handlers. Here’s James Harden running a side pick-and-roll with Asik and with Howard’s man in position to help in the paint.

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If you replace Howard with Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi and place him on the left wing, Harden has a much clearer path to the basket … or one of the shooters is wide open behind the 3-point line.

Asik is a very good player and deserves to play more than 12 minutes per game, especially considering how much he’s being paid. But Howard is going to play 36 minutes a night and it’s getting harder to justify playing the two together as it’s basically putting the Rockets in a hole every game. Only the Knicks have been worse in the first six minutes of games (minus-35.4 NetRtg) than the Rockets (minus-35.1, scoring a paltry 79.0 points per 100 possessions).

The two-center combo may have already reached the end of the line. On Tuesday against the Raptors, Asik was on the bench to start the third quarter, marking the first time both centers weren’t on the floor to start a half. Going forward, McHale isn’t sure what he’s going to do, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes.

“That big lineup – I am 50/50 on that,” McHale said. “It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it.”

Ultimately, this has to end with a trade. As nice as it is to have Asik as Howard’s back-up, the Rockets would be a better team if they could trade Asik for a 30-minutes-per-game forward who can shoot and defend. Greg Smith isn’t on Asik’s level, but he can hold down the fort for 12 minutes a night. In fact, the Rockets were a plus-5.4 per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor last season.

Anthony and Bargnani struggle to fit together

Minutes: 133
Pace: 94.8
OffRtg: 97.6
DefRtg: 118.0
NetRtg: -20.4
+/-: minus-52

Oof. The only two-man combinations that have been worse are in Utah, Sacramento, Milwaukee or Detroit.

You expect the offense to come around somewhat as Anthony’s shooting improves, but Bargnani still doesn’t space the floor as well as guys the Knicks lost this summer, or pass the ball very much. In six games, he has five assists and four secondary assists. It’s early, but Anthony has shot better with Bargnani on the bench than with him on the floor.

Of course, the defense is the much bigger concern. Even in 41 minutes with Tyson Chandler on the floor with Anthony and Bargnani, the Knicks’ defense was terrible. Now, Chandler’s out for 4-6 weeks and … yikes.

The Knicks have allowed 114.8 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor and just 91.1 with him on the bench. We’re at the point where one good or bad half can skew those numbers a bit, but they’re damning just the same.

To be fair, Kevin Garnett has a pretty bad on-off-court DefRtg discrepancy – +11.0 – through his first six games with Brooklyn. It’s not nearly as bad as Bargnani’s +23.7, but still worth noting.

Interestingly, Bargnani has played just 10 minutes with Anthony on the bench. Mike Woodson might experiment with staggering their minutes more, but that would require having another healthy big man he could trust. And right now, the only other bigs on the roster are Cole Aldrich, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire. Two of them have minutes restrictions and the other is Cole Aldrich.

That Chris Smith still has a roster spot at this point is probably twice as amazing as the idea of giving up three Draft picks to take Bargnani’s contract off Masai Ujiri‘s hands.

Three guards in the Big Easy: Holiday, Evans and Gordon

Minutes: 51
Pace: 98.4
OffRtg: 99.0
DefRtg: 105.8
NetRtg: -6.8
+/-: plus-1

It’s a little surprising that the Pelicans’ three guards — making a combined $36 million this season — haven’t played much together. At this point, Evans is getting paid $12 million to play a little less than half the game. The trio averaged just over five minutes of floor time together in New Orleans’ first four games and have played about 10 minutes together in each of the last three.

Anthony Morrow‘s hot start has probably been a factor. When you have a guy shooting 63 percent from 3-point range and showing signs of an expanded off-the-dribble game, you want to make sure he gets his minutes too.

Either way, it’s hard to make any judgements regarding the Holiday-Evans-Gordon trio. The Pelicans have had good and bad stretches (both offensively and defensively) with the three on the floor together.

Two-point-guard combinations

Most of these sample sizes are very small, but here are some early numbers from a few two-point-guard combinations worth keeping an eye on…

On-court efficiency, two-PG combos

Team Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
CHI Hinrich & Rose 6 48 108.8 81.0 110.5 -29.5 -37
CLE Irving & Jack 8 101 94.3 86.2 91.3 -5.1 -8
DEN Lawson & Miller 6 70 101.3 97.5 96.0 +1.5 +3
DEN Lawson & Robinson 4 42 103.3 102.3 110.3 -7.9 -3
DEN Miller & Robinson 6 66 95.3 83.3 95.2 -11.9 -14
HOU Beverley & Lin 5 61 104.4 107.6 90.2 +17.5 +14
MEM Bayless & Conley 5 39 100.4 118.7 95.8 +22.9 +18
NYK Felton & Prigioni 5 74 93.8 91.7 89.9 +1.9 -4
OKC Jackson & Westbrook 4 22 106.6 133.2 92.4 +40.8 +19
ORL Nelson & Oladipo 8 81 102.5 106.9 88.5 +18.4 +21
PHX Bledsoe & Dragic 4 70 94.8 110.2 101.1 +9.1 +11
POR Lillard & Williams 7 105 96.6 111.6 111.4 +0.2 +11
SAC Thomas & Vasquez 5 44 94.8 101.6 92.2 +9.4 0

Singing, Dancing & Bonding With Dwight


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Dwight Howard (left) has been all smiles during Houston’s trip to the Philippines.

MANILA, Philippines – In the daylight hours halfway around the globe, Dwight Howard is playing the role of a wrecking ball as he keeps sending his fellow Rockets big men away limping and bruised from practice. So far, Greg Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, Omer Asik and Terrence Jones have all workouts wearing ice packs, bandages and grimaces.

But away from the court, the All-Star center showed his mellow, playful side for guests of the Rockets as a singer and dancer at a reception in the team hotel.

Howard recruited rookies Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington as his backup crew — Dwight & the Pips? — while he crooned his version of R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly and then showed off his footwork outside the low post as they did the Cha Cha Slide.

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“It’s all about having fun, being with my teammates and forming the kind of bonds that will help us stay together during the season,” Howard said.

Let’s face it. The Pacers could have packed up their sleeping bags and the ingredients for s’mores and found a quiet corner of Indiana to have a solid camping experience without having to travel halfway around the world. The Rockets could hidden away in the vast open spaces of Texas and Howard could sang and danced the Cotton Eyed Joe without flying across the International Dateline.

But for all logistical difficulties of getting to Southeast Asia and for all the marketing and business deals that at the root of such an event, the players do believe there can be real value of such an experience.

“I think traveling overseas on a trip like this is good for us at a time in our development,” said Rockets guard James Harden. “Here, 20 hours away, from home there’s a lot more bonding. It’s great for us. We’re so new to each other, so it’s the most important thing right now.

“Our chemistry has risen to another level as far as us hanging out outside of basketball. Whether it’s dinner, whether it’s us just going to the mall, doing small things like that, those are stepping stones to playing better on the court.”

Pacer forward Paul George nods his head with approval.

“Any team, even one that has had some success in the playoffs like we did last year, can come together more to close the gaps, to become even more of a unit,” he said. “And I think when you all travel together like this, when you are spending so much time around each other, it speeds up that process. It might be hard on our bodies, but I do think coming here to the Philippines and sharing the cultural experience is good for us as a team.”

The level of outside distractions will only increase exponentially for Jeremy Lin when the teams travel to Taiwan on the weekend, where he’ll be the center of attention.

“I think training camp is a bonding experience no matter where you have it, but the fact that we’re coming over here to play games … it’s different,” he said. “Playing games is where you have extra potential to make even stronger bonds.

“I think we’re closer. It’s natural … We have receptions and other obligations and we still hang out together after that. We spend a lot of time…getting to know each other and that’s an important thing.”

Even when there’s a 6-foot-11 center with a creaky voice singing a bit off key.

“It gives us a chance to get away from everything and just be with each other,” Howard said “The bus rides, the little things that we do.

‘We just get an opportunity to be with each other, especially with a team like this with a couple new guys, to get that opportunity to really bond, to know each other, the personalities. It think it’s really great and it’s going to help us in the season, because we already have a special bond that we developed.”

Not to mention a nightclub act.

Camby A Smart Move By Rockets

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HANG TIME, Texas – It’s quite possible the Rockets won’t trade Omer Asik before the season opens, meaning that newly signed Marcus Camby could join a rather crowded stable of centers.

Dwight Howard, you might have heard, has moved to Houston. Asik is coming off a season in which he put up a double-double average, and Greg Smith has come out of the NBA D-League to show his mettle in the middle.

Therefore, it’s possible that, barring a significant injury to someone else, the 39-year-old Camby could wind up seeing less time on the court next season than when he played an average of just 10 minutes in 24 games a year ago with the Knicks.

Yet it is a solid and smart move nonetheless for a Rockets team that is clearly moving into another stage. Gone are the days when general manager Daryl Morey practically scoured junior high playgrounds for young talent to fill out a roster that he was constantly turning over.

The Rockets have jumped squarely into the Western Conference playoff dogfight and the importance now is in filling up the vacant spots with tested veterans who can play and lead.

For all the hullaballoo that surrounded his arrival, there is still a big question about Howard. Not concerning his physical skills or athletic talents, but his ability to be a leader on the court and a stabilizing force in the locker room. There will remain the close scrutiny of his boyish (clownish?) behavior until Howard shows that he can be a professional in every way on every night that he pulls on his jersey.

While there was much noise about the Rockets getting Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to sign on officially with the franchise to work as a tutor with the big men, the greatest Rocket ever will still live most of the year overseas in Amman, Jordan, and have his biggest effect on Howard during offseason workouts. Olajuwon will not be on the practice floor or in the locker room every day and each night of the long season to give lessons in how a franchise player comports himself.

That’s where Camby fits in: As a veteran entering his 18th season, as a well-regarded teammate who can be there in a pinch in certain games situations, but more important to be there on a daily basis to lead by example.

That role was played for two-plus seasons in Houston by the venerable Dikembe Mutombo at the end of this career. He stepped into the brink on plenty of occasions for the often-injured Yao Ming, but his greatest contribution was simply with his presence, which commanded respect.

That’s not to suggest that Howard will follow Camby up and down the court like a young pup. But even if he rarely plays, it never hurts to have an old dog around who can teach a few tricks — and lead by example.

Orlando Summer League Tips Off Sunday

HANG TIME, Texas — You’ve got rookies often trying to wildly impress, second-year players who have a better understanding of what is expected and a few veterans who are hoping to get another taste of the big time.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Sunday with some familiar names from the 2013 Draft and plenty of other hopefuls trying to crack an NBA roster.

NBA Summer LeagueNine first-round picks — led by No. 2 Victor Oladipo, No. 8 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and No. 9 Trey Burke – will take part in the six days of competition that will take place on the Magic’s practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center. The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

A new format will be added this summer with two extra teams and one extra day added to the schedule. Under the new format, each team will play five games over the six-day event, concluding with a championship day. Standings will be based on a seven-point system for each game — three points for a win and one point for winning each quarter.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s a whole new ballgame for the Celtics’ rebuilding program and there would seem to be plenty of room for new faces to earn a ticket to Boston now that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers are all gone. New coach Brad Stevens will be on hand to observe, but leading the team will be assistant coach Jay Larranaga. First-round pick Kelly Olynyk, obtained by trade from Dallas, will be the biggest name on the roster, though last year’s draftee Fab Melo is physically bigger. Avery Bradley is being given a rest from duty and Jared Sullinger is still recovering from back surgery.

Brooklyn Nets – The remade and reloaded Nets will have first round pick Mason Plumlee suiting up for the first time along with a pair of last season’s veterans Tornike Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor. But all eyes during the week will surely on the rookie on the sidelines. After a 19-year playing career that will surely send him to the Hall of Fame, Jason Kidd is taking no time off and going right to the bench. It will be most interesting to see if Kidd is as good in this transition as he was on the court.

Detroit Pistons — Andre Drummond arrived in Orlando a year ago with something to prove to the doubters and then went back to Detroit and showed that he was not merely a summer fling. Drummond will return, but is not expected to play the full slate of five games. The Pistons will have their entire rookie class of 2013 — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva. New coach Maurice Cheeks may have his work cut out resurrecting the Pistons at the NBA level, but the summer roster is quite capable.

Houston Rockets — After all their maneuvering and salary cap gymnastics to try to land free agent Dwight Howard, the Rockets did not have a first-round pick this year, but may have gotten first-round quality in point guard Isaiah Canaan. Terrence Jones, a No. 1 from a year ago, will be on the team and continuing to show that he’s a keeper and this Houston bunch is also loaded with Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith.

Indiana Pacers – It seems like much longer than just four years ago that Jonny Flynn was the No. 6 pick in the 2009 draft and maybe that’s because he’s mostly been on the outside everywhere he’s gone, trying to justify that selection and prove that he belongs. Now he’s back from playing in Australia and trying to get that third guard spot with the Pacers, who are also bringing in Donald Sloane. This year’s first round pick Solomon Hill will join holdovers Miles Plumlee, Orlando Johnson and Ben Hansbrough from last season’s roster.

Miami Heat — After winning back-to-back NBA titles, the Heat aren’t taking the summer off. In fact, they’re working overtime, the only franchise to be fielding teams at both Orlando and Las Vegas. Miami didn’t have a first-round pick — remember, it was traded for that LeBron fellow. The rosters will be led by last season holdover center Jarvis Varnado and second-round pick James Ennis, a swingman out of Long Beach State. A couple of high profile college guards, Larry Drew II of UCLA and Myck Kabongo of Texas will play for the Heat. Joining the team in Orlando only are Cedric Jackson, Ian Clark, Dewayne Dedmon and D.J. Stephens.

Oklahoma City Thunder — While three rookies Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett will be on hand for their Thunder debuts, most eyes of the coaching staff and back in OKC will be on holdovers from the main roster Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones. Jackson dazzled with his play in Orlando last summer, giving the first hint that he’d be ready to step into the point guard job when Russell Westbrook went down.

Orlando Magic — When it looked like everybody was losing their minds at the top of the draft a week ago, Magic GM Rob Hennigan kept his eye on the prize and simply chose his man Victor Oladipo. Is he a point guard or a shooting guard? Or is he just ready to do anything the Magic ask in the backcourt? Forward Romero Osby, a second round pick, has a lot of folks saying he’s a sleeper. Second-year men Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are also on the roster.

Philadelphia 76ers —
While many Sixers fans are still reeling from the draft night trade that shipped out the young All-Star and favorite Jrue Holiday, this will be everyone’s first chance to see how his successor measures up.  Michael Carter-Williams will be given the keys to the offense in Philly when the season starts in October, so consider this his going out to take the test for his driver’s license. Nerlens Noel, the prize that came in the trade for Holiday, will not play as he’s still rehabbing his knee injury.  But Justin Holiday, Jrue’s brother, will be back to see if he can stick with the Sixers again.

Utah Jazz – Top draft pick Trey Burke said on draft night that he hopes to be the Jazz’ starting point guard on opening night next season. So he’ll start to press his case by running the summer show. Rookie center Rudy Gobert hopes to get in a few runs maybe by the end of the show in Orlando. He’s currently trying to work out a buyout of his contract with his French team and will need FIBA clearance. Center Enes Kanter is still recovering from shoulder surgery and neither Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors will play, because they’re both part of the Team USA camp in August. Jazz fans will get to see a Stockton back in uniform. Hall of Famer John Stockton’s son Michael is a free agent signee.

Rockets Down To A One-Game Season

 

HOUSTON – The temptation is to change without Russell Westbrook in the Thunder lineup. The temptation is to try to exploit that gaping hole in the backcourt.

But going back to that infamous apple hanging from the tree, temptation has often led to trouble.

“We can’t change who we are,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “We can’t suddenly change our style and become some team that we’re not. It’s not like we’re gonna show up and suddenly play like an inside-out team with Hakeem Olajuwon in the middle.”

The task for the Rockets in Game 3 tonight at the Toyota Center is to keep stomping down hard on the gas pedal, keep moving the basketball from side to side on the court and continue to play with the sense of urgency that was evident in their fourth-quarter comeback in Game 2.

The absence of Westbrook does not mean the Rockets are facing a situation that is any less desperate.

Of 44 previous No. 8 seeds to fall into an 0-2 hole in the first round of the playoffs, only one has managed to climb back out.

“We’ve got a one-game season,” McHale said. “That’s as simple as it is. We better be desperate. We’re down 2-0 coming home in a playoff series. We got to play well. We got to do all the things we did last game, but more.”

Rather than an OKC that is reeling, the Rockets have got to figure the Thunder will come rolling with an added measure of emotion. They have got to expect that the league’s second-leading scorer Kevin Durant will now have the ball in his hands even more and will put up more shots.

“That sounds like fun for me,” said Chandler Parsons, who will get the lion’s share of the defensive duty on Durant.

“Anytime someone goes down, it gives the team an opportunity for someone to step up. (Westbrook’s) a huge part of their team. They’re hurting right now. That’s one of their leaders. That’s one of their best players going down.

“Now we’ve got to really get them while they’re down. Obviously we have an opportunity…and we have to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Just because Westbrook is out doesn’t mean we’re not still down 0-2. The urgency’s still there and it’s probably even more now. Just understanding that it’s a very winnable game and we need to go in there and set the tone and really make this series fun by getting a win.”

The Rockets are expecting that Reggie Jackson will get the start for OKC in Westbrook’s place, but they can’t afford to concern themselves with match-ups.

Houston could be missing a cog in its own starting lineup depending on the status of point guard Jeremy Lin. He suffered a bruised chest muscle in Game 2 and is considered a game-time decision. However Lin did take part in Saturday morning’s shootaround. Big man Greg Smith was suffering from stomach distress and did not participate in the shootaround.

Nevertheless, what’s important for the Rockets is to clean up all of the problems in their own game. In the series opener, the NBA’s youngest team was overwhelmed by the first playoff experience for most of the roster and was swamped. When the ball moved better in their offense and presented open shots in Game 2, the Rockets made just 36 of 91 shots and were only 10-for-34 from behind the 3-point line.

And the one thing the Rockets cannot do at all is think for even a moment that Westbrook’s absence could make things easier.

“It’s a dangerous situation,” said forward Carlos Delfino.

Series Hub: Thunder vs. Rockets

Rockets Roll Out Red Carpet For Lakers

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HANG TIME, Texas — If the Lakers require a boost to become a playoff team rather than mere wannabes, the trade deadline deals by the Rockets could be just the leg up they need.

Currently sitting in the No. 8 spot in the West with a 3 1/2 game lead on Team Dysfunctional, Houston is virtually sending a stretch limo and holding open the door for the Lakers.

In trading starting power forward Patrick Patterson for Thomas Robinson, the Rockets did nothing at all to solidify their lineup for the stretch run of the season. By also swapping out Marcus Morris, the final 26 games of the season are being turned over to rookie Donatas Motiejunas, NBA D-Leaguer hustler Greg Smith and whatever Robinson might chip in at the four spot.

“Our goal is to get to the championship,” said Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. “That’s goal No. 1. Goal No. 2 is to make the playoffs this year. The good thing is I don’t think those goals are in conflict with this move.

“We feel like Thomas Robinson has a lot of upside for the bigger goal of getting back to being a contender. And we think we can just just as solid. If we made it harder (to make the playoffs this season), it’s just a little bit harder.”

There is virtually nothing to criticize with what the Rockets did. Patterson and Morris, while solid in their jobs, do not come close to holding the potential of the 21-year-old Robinson, who was the No. 5 pick in the draft just eight months ago and, in the eyes of many, possessed the talent to be taken even higher. The Rockets believe he can be a high-energy, rebounding monster that can run the floor and mesh perfectly with James Harden and Jeremy Lin, while helping Omer Asik far more on the boards and Patterson or Morris ever would. In addition, they picked up a high, second-round draft pick that could be valuable. Plus, the aggregate salaries of the four players the Rockets traded could give them between $15 million and $20 million to spend on free agents next summer.

Already the youngest team in the league, the Rockets are playing the long game and the future suddenly looks very bright. So while hanging onto the No. 8 seed in the playoffs would be a nice bauble, the right to get slapped around by the Spurs or Thunder in the first round isn’t an end.

But it is not exaggerating to say that it could provide the Lakers with the opening they need to save this season and their future. Let’s face it: the chances of getting Dwight Howard to sign a new contract that would keep him around as the foundation of the next generation in purple and gold would be helped by the Lakers making the playoffs. If they finish on the outside, whatever criticism of Howard’s shortcomings that currently exist will only be ratcheted up.

In addition, if the Lakers do manage to claw their way into the postseason, it would mean that they have somehow pulled things together and played better over the final third of the schedule. Unlike the youthful Rockets, who might wander into the playoffs with their jaws agape, a Lakers team with momentum along with Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and a recovered Pau Gasol in the lineup would be least have the veteran puncher’s chance to pulling off the upset and advancing.

Especially over the next few weeks as they move two rookies — Motiejunas and point guard Patrick Beverly — into the rotation, the Rockets have practically eliminated their margin for error and given the Lakers a chance to wipe out all of their wrongs of the past four months.

It’s quite fitting that it’s Oscar Week. The Rockets have just rolled out the red carpet for the Lakers.

Clippers Top League’s Best Benches

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After Thursday’s 90-77 win in Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers are now 3-0 without MVP candidate Chris Paul.

All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.

The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.

Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.

That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.

With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …

L.A. Clippers

The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.

Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.

The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.

Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.

San Antonio

Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.

The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.

This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing. (more…)

Shaqtin’ A Fool: Vol. 2, Episode 8


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Shaq is back after a week off to once again chronicle some of the absurd moments in the NBA. This week, Shaq zeroes in on Lance Stephenson, Greg Smith, Blake Griffin, Amir Johnson and Kendrick Perkins. And sad news for his legion of fans, but no JaVale this week. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!

Even Perkins had to admit he deserved a spot this week …