NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Harden’s game goes missing in playoffs– If you’ve watched any of the Portland-Houston series to date, you know the man of the hour is Blazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. The big man has put together back-to-back 40-point games to help Portland to a 2-0 series lead. But the other story in this series is about who isn’t making baskets, Rockets All-Star guard James Harden. He was 6-for-19 from the field in last night’s Game 2 loss and as our Fran Blinebury reports, is seemingly all out of sorts at exactly the wrong time:
If the Rockets are going to climb out of the 0-2 hole against the Trail Blazers, first they’ll need to put a lasso or handcuffs on LaMarcus Aldridge.
But just as important, they’ll have to find a way to get their two-time All-Star guard (and leading scorer) to put the ball into the basket.
Through the first two games of the playoffs, Harden has made just 14 of 47 shots (29.8 percent) from the field and looked very rarely and very little like the attack-the-basket, 3-point shooting scourge of the regular season.
In the Rockets’ 122-120 overtime loss in Game 1, Harden shot just 8-for-28 and followed it up in the 112-105 Game 2 loss by hitting just 6 of 19. It is his worst two-game shooting stretch of the season.
“I’m not worried about my offense,” Harden said. “It’s basketball. You’re gonna miss shots. It’s basketball, like I said.”
Harden averaged 9.1 free throws per game during the regular season, but got to the line twice in Game 2.
Of course, the trouble could be the tendency of defenses to tighten down and generally lock up in the playoffs.
The most troubling concern for the Rockets is that it could be a trend more than just a blip. In the last three playoff series in which Harden has played, he shot 18-for-47 (38.2 percent) against Miami in the 2012 Finals, 45-for-115 (39.1 percent) a year ago in the first round against Oklahoma City and now, this.
For the most part, Harden didn’t want to talk about his own troubles, preferring to change the topic time and again to the Rockets’ own defense.
“When shots are not falling, it’s tough,” Harden said when pressed. “They’re running their offense. They’re milking the clock and we gotta go back down and go against their set defense.
“Like I said, they’re a very long team. They’re a very good defensive team. But for the most part, we just gotta get stops.”
VIDEO: Go inside the huddles with the Rockets and Blazers in Game 2
No. 2: Clips’ Paul misses practice, but insists he’ll play in Game 3 — The Los Angeles Clippers know what life is like this season without Chris Paul. The team went 12-6 during an 18-game stretch while Paul recovered from a shoulder injury on Jan. 3. He’s been in the starting lineup for both of the Clips’ playoff games thus far and while he missed practice on Wednesday with a right hamstring injury, he vows that he’ll play in Game 3 tonight against the Golden State Warriors. As Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports, though, coach Doc Rivers is taking a wait-and-see approach with his All-Star point guard tonight:
Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul was held out of practice for the second straight day Wednesday with a right hamstring injury that has bothered him since late in the first half of Saturday’s playoff series-opening loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Paul was able to play through the injury in the Clippers’ Game 2 win over the Warriors on Monday night and says he will be ready for Game 3 in Oakland on Thursday.
“I’ll be ready, I’m OK,” Paul repeatedly said when asked about the injury. “As long as I’m out on the court, I’m good.”
That’s been a familiar refrain for Paul, who mostly deals with injuries by refusing to acknowledge they affect him.
“I love that approach, because I do believe that. Your mind is strong,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I just have to watch his movement during the games. The only way you can find out with injuries is to go out and play — then you’ll see.
“But I thought he’s been great. In the second half [of Monday's win], I thought he got tight — tight legs, not tight physically — you could see his movement wasn’t there.”
Paul has been getting round-the-clock treatment on the hamstring since he was injured trying to chase down a loose ball with Golden State’s Stephen Curry with 27 seconds remaining in the first half on Saturday. He came out of the game twice to get the hamstring looked at, but played extended minutes in the second half and during Monday’s win.
No. 3: Clifford says Jefferson has no mobility — No one can rightfully accuse Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson of refusing to gut it out in the playoffs. The big man is dealing with a nagging plantar fascia injury he suffered early in Game 1, yet last night, he played 40 mintues and finished with a double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds). The Bobcats clawed back into Game 2 and although they ultimately lost, they head back to Charlotte down 0-2. After the game, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford told the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell that Jefferson’s mobility is almost completely gone right now:
Jefferson played with a plantar fascia injury first suffered in the first quarter of Game 1. Jefferson had to leave this game in the first half after, in his words, “I felt it rip all the way through.”
Jefferson continued, “It came up midway through my foot and it was just pain. Doctor said there was nothing more I can do to hurt it, so I just had to play through it.”
That he did, finishing the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Jefferson can’t create the same leverage he usually does to score in the post, but the Bobcats can still run offense through him.
“He’s not anywhere close to 100 percent, but we can still play through him,” Clifford said. “He has no mobility basically, but he still had 18 and 13.”
No. 4: Agent: Beverley’s knee can’t get any worse– Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley re-injured his gimpy right knee during Game 1 of the Rockets-Blazers first-round series and concerns were he might be out for the series. After undergoing an MRI, Beverley was cleared to play in last night’s Game 2. He started the game and finished with 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting in 41 minutes. It seems Beverley will be OK to play the rest of the playoffs, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, according to Beverley’s agent:
With Rockets guard Pat Beverley returning on Wednesday from the sprained right knee he suffered in Game 1, his agent Kevin Bradbury said the injury had no relation to his torn knee cartilage March 27 and that Beverley was in no greater danger of further injury by playing again on Wednesday.
Beverley was helped off the court on Sunday after he ran into a screen set by Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge fouled out on the play and Beverley fouled out less than a minute later.
“The other night, he hyper-extended that thing and banged it on the ground,” Bradbury said. “That will cause lots of pain, but there was no swelling. It calmed down. If a doctor tells me there is a chance he can do something more to himself, it’s a tough spot to be in, but you have to make the best decision for the kid’s future.”
Bradbury said that he had a surgery scheduled for Beverley on March 31 in the days following his cartilage tear , but Dr. James Andrews said after reviewing two sets of MRI results that he would not recommend surgery. Had surgery repaired the cartilage, Beverley would have been out for the season. Had a torn piece of cartilage been removed, Beverley would be just returning now. Instead, he missed eight games and played in the final three of the regular season.
“The debris (from the initial injury) is gone,” Bradbury said. “It’s smooth. Dr. Andrews said ‘I would not recommend doing anything on this even if it was the off-season.’ He was cleared medically to play. You are not going to re-tear it. That piece of meniscus is gone. It’s not coming back and getting torn again. It’s gone.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James confirms that he has signed with a Hollywood talent agency … Add ex-Missouri coach and current Atlanta Hawks assistant Quin Snyder to the list of names the Jazz may be interested in … Celtics big man Jared Sullinger is planning to put in a lot of work on his game this summer … Check out the trailer for the Allen Iverson documentary … After a rough showing in Game 1, Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon looked a lot more solid in Game 2 … San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard was a virtual no-show in Game 2 last night …
ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: We love hustle plays around here and we REALLY love hustle plays in the playoffs. It’s no surprise, then, that Gerald Henderson gets the nod this morning for this fantastic block on Udonis Haslem …