Posts Tagged ‘Houston Rockets’

Morning Shootaround — April 24



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden shooting blanks in playoffs | Paul vows to play in Game 3 | Jefferson has ‘no mobility’ right now | Beverley’s injury can’t get any worse

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

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No. 2: Clips’ Paul misses practice, but insists he’ll play in Game 3The 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.


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks with the media after Wednesday’s practice

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No. 3: Clifford says Jefferson has no mobilityNo 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.”


VIDEO: Inside the NBA’s crew debates whether or not Al Jefferson should keep playing in the series

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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.”

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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


VIDEO: Gerald Henderson gets up to deny Udonis Haslem’s dunk

Blogtable: Flukes and real wins

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: TNT’s Marty Snider looks ahead to the Blazers-Rockets in Game 2 on Wednesday in Houston

> Playoff-opening win that’s more likely a harbinger: the Warriors in L.A. or the Blazers in Houston? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Look at Mr. Blogtable, dropping words like “harbinger.” OK, I’ll play along: You mean precursor, foreboder and bellwether of what we can expect as each series plays out? Forced to choose, I’ll go with Portland. The Clippers already have fired back against Golden State, in a big way. Their talent level is superior, when accounting for both ends, and L.A. has been seen as a legit contender to reach The Finals. Few have argued that Houston can go that far. The Rockets’ gap vs. the Blazers is narrow and LaMarcus Aldridge might just prove he’s better than both Blake Griffin and Kevin Love among elite power forwards by the time these playoffs end. I still don’t think either the Warriors or the Blazers will advance, but as far as putting the bigger scare into its foe and possibly pulling off the upset, yeah, gimme Portland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWarriors winning. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 46 points, James Harden missed 20 shots and the Blazers still won by just two points in overtime. That will be tough to repeat three more times. Golden State goes home for next two and Steph Curry hasn’t heated up yet.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Blazers in Houston, no question. The Warriors without Andrew Bogut should not be an even match against the Clippers and I think we saw that in Game 2 with Blake Griffin being allowed to actually play. The Clips are by no means perfect, but this is a team that is getting better the longer they play together. As for Houston, losing that late lead is the same kind of stuff they pulled early in the regular season so that’s a bad sign. Portland has more weapons. Damian Lillard can hang with James Harden, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a far more offensively skilled player than Dwight Howard. Now, this should be a great series, and a long one, but I like the Blazers’ chances. They secured the all-important road split and nobody likes to play at their place no longer named the Rose Garden.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Now you’re forcing a lot of people to look up the definition of harbinger. Anyway, the Blazers in Houston. I don’t think the short-handed Warriors are capable of winning the series, though they probably don’t hate the skepticism. But Portland went in with a real shot against the Rockets. Game 1 was just the affirmation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: This is unfair, because we’ve already seen Part 2 of one of these movies. But Portland’s Game 1 win in Houston could certainly foreshadow the rest of the series, because LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will continue to be tough matchups for the Rockets, especially if Patrick Beverley isn’t 100 percent. If they choose to double-team Aldridge, Portland’s shooters will get better looks. If they choose to use Omer Asik more, their own offense will suffer. James Harden will play better, but Houston’s defense might not.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going with the Blazers in Houston. The 4-5 matchup on both sides of the conference divide in a given year always seem to provide a pretty fair fight. But this one has some serious issues for the Rockets to deal with in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. After fighting the good fight for Dwight Howard the past couple of years, I’m starting to agree with the masses (well, the talking heads at TNT and NBA TV) that he’s no longer the force of nature he was earlier in his career. And if he’s not, that means the Rockets don’t have two stars that can match the Blazers’ two stars.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: I feel like the Blazers in Houston was the truer picture of what that series could be. Mainly because the Blazers/Rockets Game 1 was both teams at the fullest of their powers. We were one extra-session Harden jumper from this game going into infinite overtimes. But to me that opening Clippers/Warriors game was one of the worst games I’ve seen Los Angeles play in the last few weeks. Blake Griffin was in foul trouble throughout (he finished with 16 points in 19 minutes) and how often do you see Chris Paul with a 4:3 assist-to-turnover ratio? Even with all that, the Clips still were in the game down the stretch and nearly pulled off the win.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew examines Golden State’s problems in Game 2

Morning Shootaround — April 23



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Stephenson, Turner had fight in practice | Asik wants to slow Aldridge | Report: Dolan, Jackson clashing over moves | Pierce calls Nets ‘soft’ after Game 2 loss

No. 1: Report: Stephenson, Turner had fistfight at practice — In Game 2 of the Pacers-Hawks first-round series, Indiana (for one night, at least) looked like the team that dominated the Eastern Conference at times this season. The Pacers’ win evens the series 1-1, but shortly after that victory, a report from  Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski surfaced about just how tenuous the Indiana locker room chemistry may be. According to Wojnarowski, Pacers swingmen Lance Stephenson and Even Turner got into a pretty heated scuffle during the team’s practice before their Game 1 opener against Atlanta:

On the eve of this Eastern Conference series, the wobbling No. 1 seed punctuated its final playoff preparations in a most self-destructive way: Two Indiana Pacers dragged a cursing, cut Evan Turner out of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court, untangling him from a practice-floor fistfight with teammate Lance Stephenson.

Turner hadn’t been the first Pacer to lose his temper with Stephenson these tumultuous several weeks, and Stephenson’s relentlessly irritable nature suggests Turner won’t be the last. These scrapes aren’t uncommon in the NBA, but this confrontation had been weeks in the making and that reflected in the ferocity of the encounter, sources told Yahoo Sports.

“This stuff happens, but the timing wasn’t ideal,” one witness told Yahoo Sports.

These two guards have struggled together since the deadline deal brought Turner from Philadelphia to Indiana. Suddenly, Turner is learning to play without the ball in his hands, and Stephenson is relearning the balance of passing and shooting. Truth be told, there were probably Pacers willing to let Stephenson and Turner beat the dribble out of each other. Still, Luis Scola and David West finally grabbed an enraged Turner and separated Stephenson.

“We know that Larry [Bird] and Donnie [Walsh] and [Kevin Pritchard] put a team together to try and win a championship this year,” Hibbert told Yahoo Sports. “We know that’s the goal, and we know that’s the kind of talent we have here. It’s up to us now to do it, to get it done.”

Bird made two significant deals to fortify this title run – Turner for Danny Granger, and the signing of Andrew Bynum – and those haven’t worked for him. Bynum could be done for the season with his knee problems, and perhaps everyone underestimated how much Granger had left in him, and how awkwardly Turner would fit into the Pacers.

Yes, Turner’s finding his way with these Pacers, and maybe that started on the eve of these NBA playoffs with a challenge of the Brooklyn kid who calls himself Born Ready. These things happen in the NBA, and eventually someone else will make a run at Lance Stephenson.


VIDEO: Go inside the Pacers’ huddle during the Game 2 victory

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No. 2: Asik wants chance to slow AldridgeThe Houston Rockets and their fans likely still have nightmares from their Game 1 loss at home in which Portland Trailblazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge burned them for a Portland playoff record 46 points. Coach Kevin McHale remains coy about what adjustments he’ll be making for Game 2 tonight, but one player who wants more of an opportunity to stop (or at least try to slow down) Aldridge is backup center Omer Asik, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“We are going to do some stuff differently,” McHale said. “You watch the game and find out what it is.”

Asik, however, said defending Aldridge is the top priority and that if he is back on him the plan will be to battle him better before Aldridge catches the ball, rather than after he is going up for his shot.

“The first thing is to stop LaMarcus Aldridge,” Asik said. “He killed us almost last game and going into this game, we have to do our best to help him stop a little bit more.

“I wasn’t able to do much because I wasn’t able to play much. I always try to make it hard on him before he catches the ball, to make him maybe tired before he gets the ball. He is one of the best power forwards in the league. It’s hard to guard him but we will try our best.”


VIDEO: TNT’s crew looks ahead to Game 2 of the Blazers-Rockets series

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No. 3: Report: Jackson, Dolan clashing over moves?New Knicks GM Phil Jackson has already made one personnel move since taking over in New York a month ago — the firing of coach Mike Woodson and his staff on Monday. According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News in a lengthy story, Jackson has other personnel moves in mind … and he’s finding himself clashing with team owner James Dolan on some of those moves already:

Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees.

According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.

But at the very least it proves that Dolan — surprise, surprise wasn’t being entirely truthful last month when he claimed he was “willingly and gratefully” giving up control of the basketball decisions to Jackson, the Hall of Fame coach.

With Jackson, Dolan has not tried to meddle in player moves. At least not yet. Instead, Dolan’s interest is to retain several staff members in their current positions, which raises an obvious question: Why?

It is unclear which employees Jackson wants to remove, but with the entire coaching staff fired on Monday, it is most likely personnel with the medical staff, front office and/or the media relations staff. Bleacher Report reported that Steve Mills, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien could all be reassigned or possibly dismissed.

Among the coaches fired on Monday was long-time assistant Herb Williams, who is well-liked in the organization. Within one hour, there was a report that the organization would “encourage” the next head coach to keep Williams. It was an odd story, which read like it was planted by someone other than Jackson, because why would Jackson fire Williams and then encourage the next coach to rehire him?

Dolan’s interest in keeping certain employees could be something as innocent as wanting to remain loyal to workers with whom he has grown close. The more plausible theory is that Dolan doesn’t want to fully cede control of the team and that certain employees who serve as pseudo organizational spies are too valuable to lose.

Last month, Jackson admitted that he would not have taken the job without the guarantee that he had complete control of the basketball operations. But in less than six weeks, it appears that Dolan has shattered his own world record for meddling.

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No. 4: Pierce calls Nets ‘soft’ after Game 2 loss — Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce was the decided hero of Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors, nailing big shot after big shot to salt away the victory. In Game 2, as our John Schuhmann wisely pointed out, Pierce played a lot like Raptors star DeMar DeRozan did in Game 1 … and vice versa. Following Toronto’s 95-90 win, Pierce and Co. felt like they left a win North of the border and Pierce wasn’t shy about faulting Brooklyn’s play down the stretch. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com has more:

A frustrated Paul Pierce felt the Brooklyn Nets were “a soft team” on defense and in the paint during a 100-95 Game 2 loss at Toronto.

But Kevin Garnett believes there will be nothing soft about the Brooklyn home crowd when the Nets return to Barclays for Games 3 and 4 of this best-of-seven series.

“We know it’s going to be a rowdy environment, like it should be,” Garnett said. “I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn. So we’re about to see what it’s like.”

Garnett’s comment is in reference to Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri shouting “F— Brooklyn!” at a Raptors pep rally before Game 1 outside Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Ujiri was fined $25,000 by the NBA for the expletive.

Jason Kidd’s team was up 69-64 with 11:20 remaining before allowing Toronto to score 36 points and make 12-of-16 shots (75 percent) in the fourth quarter. The Nets were also battered on the glass, outrebounded 52-30 by the younger and more athletic Raptors.

The Nets also couldn’t contain DeMar DeRozan, who exploded for 30 points, 17 coming in the fourth.

“I thought guys stuck to their man individually for the most part and didn’t help one another and that is the big part of our defense,” Pierce said. “Sink and shrinking the floor, locking down the paint, tonight too many touches for them in the paint, too many paint points, and we didn’t rebound.

“We gave them everything they wanted, 50 points in the paint, and [19] offensive rebounds,” Pierce added. “We were a soft team tonight.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks about the Raptors’ big Game 2 victory

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hey, Bulls center Joakim Noah — what’s your view on losing in the playoffs? … For the Kings fans out there, GM Pete D’Alessandro talked about what he hopes to do next in Sacramento … Could former Wolves coach and current team GM Flip Saunders end up being the team’s coach again? … Legendary Italian league coach Ettore Messina could be high on the Utah Jazz’s prospective coaches listHakeem Olajuwon was at Rockets practice Tuesday, working with Dwight Howard … Hawks guard Jeff Teague cooled off drastically in Game 2 against the Pacers …

ICYMI(s) OF THE NIGHT: DeMar DeRozan showed off his All-Star skills in Toronto’s Game 2 win over Brooklyn, and this monster dunk on the Nets was one that we (and a lot of Raptors fans) enjoyed …


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan skies in for the power jam on the Nets


VIDEO: Raptors fans at Maple Leaf Square react to DeRozan’s big jam

Rockets’ Beverley should be good to go

The Rockets have announced that Patrick Beverley, the Houston point guard who limped off the floor in Sunday’s Game 1 loss to Portland, should be ready to play in Game 2 Wednesday in Houston. From the team’s Twitter account:

And from Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The news was first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski:

Here’s Beverley limping off the floor:


VIDEO: Beverley collided with Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge in overtime, aggravating his injury

Aldridge’s passion grows Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Blazers knock off Rockets in OT of Game 1

HOUSTON — They’ve all seen him do some of those things before.

LaMarcus Aldridge can take the ball on the left side of the basket in the low block and spin like the winds inside a hurricane as he blows into the lane.

Standing 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, he can also use his size and sheer strength to back a defender down and move relentlessly toward the basket.

Then there are those ridiculous turnaround, fadeaway jumpers that practically scrape the ceiling when the big man lets them fly.

Those are all part of the splendidly versatile package of tricks that all of his Trail Blazer teammates have seen time and again.

What was new was the fire. That flame that seemed to lick at his heels from the opening tip. That hot smoke that seemed to pour out of his nostrils on every possession, every shot, every play at either end of the court.

It was more than just a franchise playoff record of 46 points and 18 rebounds that burned the Rockets 122-120 in overtime on Sunday night. It was that match-in-a-dry-meadow spark by Aldridge that said this something entirely different.

“As far as the passion, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that,” said point guard Damian Lillard. “With how animated he was with the calls. Guys couldn’t stop him. I saw how bad he wanted to win the game. When your best player and your leader is playing like that, it fires you up.”


VIDEO: Aldridge discusses Portland’s Game 1 victory

If there is a time somewhere down the line where the Blazers raising a trophy over their heads, this might go down as the game that lit the fuse.

In eight NBA seasons, Aldridge has always taken shots. This was the night when he took responsibility. For himself. For his team. For showing them that he could show them how.

Brandon Roy’s veteran leadership of his early career is gone now. The hope and promise of Greg Oden as the No. 1 draft pick and cornerstone has vanished.

Now it’s his team and here was the occasion when Aldridge recognized that fact and acted on it. They have cutting edge talent in Lillard, Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews. What they’ve needed is for Aldridge to bring the hammer.

He was not just hot and good an making shots. He was wickedly tuned in to everything that was happening — stomping his feet at made baskets, barking at calls — and did all that he could to affect every outcome.

“Every guy on this team comes to me and talks to me and they believe in me and tell me that I can dominate a game,” Aldridge said. “I’m always hearing that from my teammates. I’m always hearing those positive affirmations from them. I think I finally understand it.

“I made the playoffs three years in a row and you kind of get comfortable. Then I missed it two years in a row, so just being back here I am very excited about it and I am looking forward to the challenge. I’m playing better than I have in the past. I try to tell every guy that the playoffs is like another level, another season, and tonight I wanted to lead in that way.”

He did it when he helped get the Blazers off to an early start and he did it when he wouldn’t let them get down on themselves when they fell behind by double digits in the fourth quarter.

Aldridge even did it when he eventually fouled out of the game with 1:06 left in the overtime period with the score tied.

“I went to Damian and said ‘take it over,’ “ Aldridge said. “He’s a very confident guy. He’s very skilled. So he took over and he made big plays at the end.”

Not before Aldridge made the big plays all night long. Before the game, he saw Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who now does TV color commentary for the Rockets, but spent 11 1/2 seasons in Portland as the best Blazer of all-time.

“When I walked by him I said, ‘I’m coming for you,’ ”Aldridge said. “I meant in every stat possible. He said I still have some work to do, but he said I can do it. I always joke about trying to break all his records.”

No jokes here.

This was LaMarcus Aldridge as even his teammates hadn’t seen him before. Passionate, driven, showing the way.


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge sets a Blazers playoff scoring record in Game 1

Analytics Art: Playoff team comparison

By Andrew Bergmann (@dubly), for NBA.com

See how your team fared against other playoff teams during the 2013-14 regular season.

NBA playoff team wins

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, Washington Post, and USA Today. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly

Numbers preview: Rockets-Blazers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Court Vision

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – At the midway point of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers were just a game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference.

The Blazers went 23-18 from then on, winning nine of their last 10 games. But that wasn’t good enough to even secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Houston Rockets went 25-11 to close the season and edge Portland for the 4 seed.

This is a matchup of two of the top five offenses in the league and two franchises that have just one playoff series win in the last 13 years.

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

Houston Rockets (54-28)

Pace: 98.8 (5)
OffRtg: 108.6 (4)
DefRtg: 103.1 (12)
NetRtg: +5.5 (5)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets notes:

Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)

Pace: 97.5 (10)
OffRtg: 108.3 (5)
DefRtg: 104.7 (16)
NetRtg: +3.5 (8)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Blazers notes:

The matchup

Season series: Rockets won 3-1 (2-0 in Houston)
Pace: 100.2
HOU OffRtg: 114.6 (2nd vs. POR)
POR OffRtg: 105.0 (10th vs. HOU)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: A surprising champion

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Memories | One to watch | A surprise champ


A darkhorse? Maybe not, but the Clippers could still be a surprise in June. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

A darkhorse? Maybe not, but the Clippers could still be a surprise in June. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> Your definition, your choice, your reasoning: Your darkhorse pick to win the NBA title.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comDo the Clippers qualify as a dark horse? I’d argue yes and pick them, because that insta-champion business – last witnessed in Boston in June 2008 – is no simple thing. Doc Rivers might wind up as the link from the last one to the next one if his ability to manage both his roster and the unique challenges of the postseason mesh just so. The Clippers clearly have the talent, both to survive the West and to topple the three-peat-aiming Miami Heat.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In the past, the Clippers were just Lob City and a bunch of nightly highlight reel dunks.  In his first season as coach, Doc Rivers has given them a sense of purpose and direction.  He’s demanded and gotten more out of Blake Griffin.  He’s gotten DeAndre Jordan to play with confidence and consistency.  Of course, he’s got the best point in the game in Chris Paul running the show.  A healthy J.J. Redick gives them the outside shooting to keep defenses honest and Matt Barnes defends on the wing.  They are deeper than ever with Jamal Crawford again making a run at Sixth Man of the Year and get help from Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Glen Davis and Danny Granger.  Rivers knows what it takes to run the playoff gauntlet and his ability to inject a new sense of personal responsibility and commitment to the task has these Clippers looking and playing vastly different than the past few years.  They are a dark horse, but one that you wouldn’t mind saddling up for a ride.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Houston. The Rockets are remarkably young, but also remarkably talented. They’ve got the perimeter (James Harden) and the middle (Dwight Howard) covered by All-Stars, plus shooters all around. Omer Asik behind Howard provides 48 minutes of crucial rim protection. They can be their own worst enemy, especially defensively, but put it all together and they can give any opponent nightmares.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I don’t put the Clippers in the darkhorse category, but a lot of other people seem to, so that’s the pick. The Clips certainly aren’t sneaking up on anyone — Blake Griffin, CP3, Lob City, Doc Rivers — but I’ve gotten the question a few times the last couple weeks: Is it possible someone other than the Spurs or Thunder would win the West? Sure it is. The team that was a realistic pick from the start of the season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ve wavered back and forth on whether to deem the Thunder a darkhorse or not. But my final answer is the Clippers. Their defense hasn’t really held up against good teams, but their offense is near unstoppable, especially if J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are healthy.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Can we really call a team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Doc Rivers as coach really be considered a “dark horse?” I hope so, because the Los Angeles Clippers are my pick. They have all of the ingredients — star power, depth, balance, experience, etc. – needed to make their way to the championship round and win it all. We’ll find out of they are tough enough to endure the grind of making it that far. But there is no doubt in my mind that all of the pieces are in place. Blake’s work this season while CP3 was out and the overall improvement to DeAndre Jordan’s game are the two wild cards for the Clippers. They had to come back with those guys having improved their respective games for me to believe in them. And they did exactly what they had to do.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: My definition of a darkhorse is a team nobody is picking. My choice, well, that’s more complicated. I would have mentioned Golden State, but to me the Andrew Bogut injury might take them out of the running. I’ll throw a team out there: Houston. The Rockets strike me as a team that haven’t hit their stride just yet. They have it all: scoring, a strong interior presence, a tough perimeter defender, depth. Every year, there’s a team that gets hot and goes on a run in the postseason. Perhaps this spring we’ll see the Rockets’ red glare.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’ve been saying a lot lately that I think only five teams can win the title (two from the East and three from the West) so my selection probably won’t sound like a dark horse. Anyway, I’m going with the Clippers as the only team outside of the Spurs and Thunder who can win the West and then, challenge for a title. We all know about their credentials offensively and they have two top-10 players, but the aspect of their game that has impressed me the most this season has been their defence, the achilles heel of this team under Vinny Del Negro. Now, with Doc Rivers in charge, they have transformed into a top-10 defensive unit and thus, can challenge for a title.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think the Nets really have a chance to hug the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. They were out of contention after a 10-21 start, but Jason Kidd somehow transformed a bunch of great players into a team around January and now they have the momentum, the depth, the experience and the talent to upset both Indiana and Miami and made it to the Finals. They need to be healthy, but they have a chance.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I guess the Clippers qualify as a dark horse contender. The major favorites have to be Miami, San Antonio and OKC, though not necessarily in that order, right? Indiana, the Clippers and Houston are the dark horses. I pick LA’s representative. Their defense still isn’t all that great, but it’s much better than it was when the season started. They have a coach who has won a ring – one of only four championship-winning coaches still in the tournament – they added key veterans with Finals experience via free agency late in the season, and I feel that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have matured enough to absorb the punishment they will take from teams still questioning their toughness, especially Golden State, their opponents in the first round. Plus, it’s time for Chris Paul to take the wheels and lead a team past the second round, even if he has to beat Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to do it.

Morning Shootaround — April 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard, Blazers gear up for Rockets | Spurs’ Buford in it for long haul | D’Antoni didn’t know lottery rules | Nelson facing finale with Magic?

No. 1: Lillard gearing up for Rockets, matchup with Beverley — Few point guards in the NBA have established themselves as defensive pests as quickly as Rockets guard Patrick Beverley has. The high-energy, pressuring guard is crucial to Houston’s success this season and is expected to play a key role for the Rockets as they face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Beverley will have the task of trying to slow/pester Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard throughout the series, but Beverley already got under Lillard’s skin earlier this season. CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes details the layers of the Beverley-Lillard matchup and the bad feelings that may lie therein that trace back to a March game between the teams:

Dwight Howard versus Robin Lopez, James Harden up against Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons trying to outdo Nicolas Batum, super reserves Jeremy Lin going toe-to-toe with Mo Williams.

But without a doubt, the most intriguing, intense matchup will be at the point guard position featuring Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard. Aside from the fact that Beverley, and his defense, arguably gives Lillard the toughest time, there’s some recent bad blood that could creep up.

The day after an early March game between these two teams, a contest the Rockets won at home 118-133 in overtime, Beverley did a local radio interview and went out of his way to respond to what he perceived to be a slight from Lillard.

The interview was coming to a close after nearly nine minutes and Beverley quickly interrupted the host as he was in the process of thanking the guard for coming on.

“Ah, you didn’t ask me no question about Damian Lillard,” Beverley said to the gentlemen on Sports Talk 790 AM in Houston, followed by urging them to ask a question about Lillard in which they did.

“…Damian Lillard whines,” he went on to say. “I’m not a big fan of that. I don’t go out there and try to start fights with anybody. I go out there and play my game. That’s what I do. I don’t go out there and try to hack people. I don’t go out there and do that.”

Beverley was responding to Lillard’s comment saying the Rockets’ defensive guard was irritating and that he tries to get under your skin to get you to react. When Lillard heard the interview and how Beverley brought up his name out the blue, he was taken back.

“I was surprised,” Lillard told CSNNW.com after practice on Tuesday. “I said that what he was doing in that game was kind of irritating. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. It was meant to say it was irritating. But to go on the radio and them not even ask about me and then you bring me up, I thought that was unnecessary.”

To be frank, this is shaping up to be one hell of a first round series.

When asked today if the two needed to talk before the series began in order to clear the air, since all this was just a simple misunderstanding, Lillard rebuffed that notion.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Lillard responded. “I don’t have no beef with the dude. He’s competing just like I’m out there competing and that’s it. There’s nothing to hash out because we’re not best friends. We don’t know each other off the floor. There’s nothing really to hash out. But I respect him as a player, but the radio and all that stuff, that’s not my style. It was unnecessary.”

There’s clearly respect from both sides. Beverley was disturbed that Lillard didn’t give him his due credit as he made that clear in the radio interview. Lillard didn’t feel he was criticizing Beverley’s play with his comments, but contends that radio interview was over the top.


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Blazers in an intense March matchup

***

No. 2: Buford in for long haul with Spurs — San Antonio has cemented the No. 1 seed throughout the 2014 NBA playoffs, it has a full, healthy roster ready to make another NBA Finals run and, despite knowing that Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan will soon one day retire, remain an overall stable NBA franchise. Much of that credit goes to Spurs GM R.C. Buford, who, in a recent conversation with Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe, says he expects to be around after Duncan, Ginobili (and Tony Parker) hang it up and San Antonio builds around youngster Kawhi Leonard. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more on Lowe’s chat with Buford:

Coach Gregg Popovich has backed away from previous jokes that he’ll be following Duncan out the door. And general manager R.C. Buford, who alongside Popovich and Duncan has helped establish the Spurs as one of the most stable organizations in North American professional sports, has every intention of overseeing the process.

“I’m incredibly happy where I am,” Buford said. “If somebody tells me they don’t want me around here anymore, then I’ll have to worry about where I go next.”

Buford’s comment was part of an extensive podcast with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, in response to why a team in a larger market wouldn’t simply throw a ton of money at he or former understudy Sam Presti, now the architect in Oklahoma City. But like many of his colleagues, particularly Popovich and Duncan, Buford treasures working in a smaller market where distractions from the task at hand — winning championships — are kept to a minimum.

Among the other topics covered –

* Duncan’s recent injury scare: “I was sitting near Jon Barry, who was doing the game for ESPN Radio. He said that’s the fastest he’s ever seen me move.”

* The advent of player tracking and advanced statistics: “From a basketball standpoint, knowing everything that happens on the floor should help us get better at evaluating and executing the strategies that we’ve chosen. It’s helped us recognize how much work goes into being a point guard. I think it gave us better appreciation of what (Tony Parker) really goes through.”

* This year’s trade deadline: “I think we felt we had some things that might happen that could help our team, and we had a value of what those were that we were comfortable extending. Other teams didn’t feel that way. You never know how close you are because there are conversations going on in a lot of places.”

* Whether Oklahoma City is an especially problematic matchup for the Spurs: “Kevin Durant is a problematic matchup for every team. And Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. They’re a really good team. We’re going to play the people who are in front of us and hopefully we’re playing well.”

***

No. 3: D’Antoni didn’t know draft implications of Lakers-Jazz game — Monday night’s Lakers-Jazz game from Salt Lake City was likely of interest to L.A. and Utah fans for perhaps one key reason: NBA Draft Lottery positioning. The Jazz entered with a 24-56 mark while the Lakers were 25-55 and a loss by the Jazz would assure Utah of no worse than the NBA’s fourth-worst record, and, with that, increased odds for a top 4 pick in the 2014 Draft. The Lakers would go on to a 119-104 rout that gave Utah what it hoped for. After the game, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni made a surprising revelation that he had no idea how the Lakers-Jazz game could have actually benefited L.A.’s lottery hopes. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Intentional or not, there was more to D’Antoni’s accomplishment of snapping a seven-game Lakers losing streak with a 119-104 win against the lowly Utah Jazz. He also put himself firmly in the crosshairs with a faction of the purple and gold faithful who care only about the Lakers’ draft position at this point, rather than chasing meaningless wins to close out the season.

“What are you going to tell them? ‘Don’t play hard’?” D’Antoni said when asked whether the subject had been broached with his team before playing an equally abysmal Utah team. “That’s not right.”

If D’Antoni had stopped talking right there, he could have been spared the ire from the fan base, as the unexpected win would have been chalked up to Nick Young (who hit the 40-point plateau for the second time in eight games) and big nights from Jodie Meeks (23 points), Jordan Hill (21 points) and Kendall Marshall (15 assists).

But D’Antoni didn’t stop there, of course.

He continued his answer to reveal that he didn’t know exactly what was at stake for the Lakers, who went into the night with a 25-55 record, playing against a Jazz team that was 24-56.

“They played hard, and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same number of pingpong balls, right?” D’Antoni said. “They flip a coin, or something.”

Turns out, he was mistaken. The Lakers went into the night with the sixth-worst record in the league. A loss to the Jazz would have put them in a tie for fifth with Utah, with the Lakers owning the tiebreaker as the worse team — should the Jazz close out the season with a loss in Minnesota and L.A. finish things out with a loss in San Antonio — because Utah would have won the season series 3-1.

A reporter informed D’Antoni that the win by the Lakers actually cemented the Jazz with a worse record and thus better lottery chances.

“I mean, you kind of hate that,” D’Antoni responded, realizing what the win did to the potential draft order. “But, I thought we had the same rank.”

Another reporter chimed in to tell D’Antoni that if the Lakers had lost to Utah, the coach would have been correct.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” D’Antoni said. “Oh, OK. That’s all right; we’re going to beat San Antonio, anyway. So, it’s all for naught.”

***

No. 4: Nelson facing finale with Magic?A cursory look at the Orlando Magic’s all-time leaderboard in various stats reveals that point guard Jameer Nelson has etched a solid place in team lore. Nelson is the club’s all-time leader in assists and ranks in the top five in points, games played, 3-pointers made, steals and more. The Magic close out their lottery-bound season tonight with a home date against the Indiana Pacers and Nelson, whose deal next season is only partially guaranteed, could be saying farewell to the only NBA team he’s ever known. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

Nelson might not be with the franchise next season. Although he’s about to complete just the second year of a three-year contract, his salary for the 2014-15 season is only partially guaranteed. If the Magic waive him before July 15, the team would owe him only $2 million instead of $8 million.

Nelson, a diminutive point guard who has spent all 10 of his NBA seasons with the Magic, has said repeatedly he wants to remain with the team because his family loves Central Florida.

“I’m very cognizant it could be my last home game,” Nelson said. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the team. It’s the team’s option. I would like to still be here and finish my career here. I have a lot more years left in me. Good years. I’m not sure what they have in store for me, but I’m just going to play it out and see what happens. Like I said, it’s just one of those things. I don’t have control over it. I don’t know what their thoughts are right now.”I have kids, so I’m worried about it. That’s the biggest thing for me. My family is more important to me than anything. I just want to be treated the right way. I want to be treated fair. I want to be treated the right way. I feel like I’m a guy of loyalty, so I just want everybody that’s involved in my life and in the organization to be loyal to me.”

A league source said the Magic haven’t made a decision on Nelson’s future.

Nelson has made only 39.4 percent of his shot attempts — the second-lowest field-goal percentage of his career — largely because of poor shot selection. But through Monday, he ranked eighth in the NBA in assists, averaging 7.0 per game.

The past two seasons have been difficult for Nelson. Last season, the Magic finished with a 20-62 record. This season, the team will bring a 23-58 record into its final game. He was a member of the Magic teams that reached the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference finals, so he wasn’t accustomed to losing.

Magic officials have been pleased, though not surprised, that he has welcomed the team’s young players over the last two seasons.

“Jameer means everything to me,” second-year big man Kyle O’Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more lucky to have a vet like him. On the court, off the court he’s there for you no matter what. He even gets upset with you if you make a decision without him. That’s how much he wants to be involved. I love him like a brother.”`

Magic fans’ appreciation for Nelson has grown, too.

Back when the team was a title contender, some fans regarded Nelson as a liability because of his lack of height, his deficiencies as a defender and his shoot-first ways.

In recent years, however, he’s become a fan favorite, almost always receiving the loudest cheers during pregame introductions.

“The fans have definitely embraced me, and whenever I get to see fans or people that I know that are outside of the basketball arena, it’s all love,” he said. “It’s nothing but love.”


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson reflects on his career with the Magic

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell was standing in the spot where the Boston Marathon bombings took place last year about “7-8 minutes” before the event took place … Paul George, David West, C.J. Watson and Lance Stephenson will all get the night off tonight against the Magic … The Mavs are trying to value this 50-win season as much as any other … If he starts tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Suns forward Channing Frye will, amazingly, have started all 82 games this season … How has Jeff Green done this season as Boston’s go-to guy?

ICYMI of the Night: Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, Andrei Kirilenko was making highlight reels as a member of the Jazz with amazing, no-look dimes like this one he threw to Mason Plumlee last night …


VIDEO: Andrei Kirilenko throws a behind-the-back, no-look pass to Mason Plumlee for the dunk

Morning Shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors stumble again at home | Pacers, Heat ready for showdown | Howard quietly recreating his image | Report: Mavs PA announcer suspended | Young ‘confident’ he’ll be back in L.A.

No. 1: Warriors racking up bad home losses — The Golden State Warriors boast one of the more dedicated, vocal fan bases in the NBA and last season, that support paid off mightily as the team amassed a 28-13 record at Oracle Arena. That mark was Golden State’s best home mark since 2006-07, when the Warriors went 30-11. The fans at Oracle still remain as die-hard as ever, but Golden State has had trouble holding up its end of the bargain this season. The Warriors fell to 26-14 at home with last night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets and as Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com points out, bad home losses have become a norm of sorts for the team:

The first quarter reminded us of how Oracle Arena can be a harrowing place for visitors. Andre Iguodala put the ball behind his back before violently yanking it back across his body, sending Quincy Miller into an embarrassing tumble. Fans stood in a sudden wave, jeering Miller’s misfortune. The older-style concrete stadium makes for disorienting acoustics. The crowd noise spills from the rafters, bounces around the walls and descends on opponents and disliked referees with a force that feels almost dangerous. In last year’s playoffs, the Warriors were struggling to hear play calls on the floor. The crowd energy, and its subsequent ref-intimidation powers, was worth it, though.

Given their vaunted “Roaracle” advantage, why are the Warriors suffering embarrassing home losses to lesser opponents? Since Feb. 1, they’ve suffered home losses to Charlotte, Cleveland, New York and now Denver.

The trouble at home has frustrated owner Joe Lacob, who back in February told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, “The road’s been fine. But at home we’ve lost a couple games — to Minnesota and to San Antonio when they played their scrubs, if you remember … and Denver and Charlotte. Maybe another four games that we just absolutely should’ve won. We didn’t. And I’m not sure why. The team wasn’t ready in those games. I can’t explain it — why we don’t play so consistently at home as we should. We have a great home-court advantage, great fans, great atmosphere. It’s not clear.”

Thursday night’s game ended in a one-point loss, sealed by a tough Kenneth Faried post-up fadeaway. It’s easy to dismiss that as poor luck for the Dubs, but Denver’s energy far outmatched an opponent who could have clinched a playoff berth with a victory.

“There’s a lot of reasons this is such a terrible feeling in the locker room,” a downcast Stephen Curry said after the game. “We could have taken care of a playoff spot.”

When asked about what it means in the big picture, Curry said, “We gotta learn these lessons, man. Simple as that. We can’t take off possessions, we can’t take off quarters and just expect to turn it on when you need it.”

Draymond Green expressed disappointment about Golden State’s rebounding effort but felt the loss came from getting too comfortable: “We got up 20, took our foot off the gas pedal, and when you’re playing a game against a team like that, who doesn’t necessarily have the best shot selection and nothing to lose, if those shots start falling, you’re in for a long night.”

The loss means the Warriors likely won’t get to play an ailing Houston Rockets team in Round 1. To emerge from the first round, they’ll probably have to go through one of the West’s big-three teams (Clippers, Thunder, Spurs) as a substantial underdog. Losing to bad teams put them in this position, but at least they’ll have incentive to conjure necessary energy against the West’s elite.


VIDEO: The Warriors blow a big lead and lose to the Nuggets at home

***

No. 2: Are you ready for some Pacers-Heat? –The race for the East’s No. 1 seed between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers has been one of the main storylines as the season approaches its final week. In case you’ve been asleep or in a cave somewhere, this chase has traded hands a couple of times over the last few weeks, but Indiana has the oh-so-tenuous grasp on No. 1 as of this morning. But as the Pacers get ready to head to South Florida and take on the Heat, our Sekou Smith looks ahead to a matchup that is a lot bigger than both teams are making it out to be:

LeBron James insists the collective health of the Miami Heat means more to him than chasing the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel rested his entire starting five Wednesday night in Milwaukee, swearing that his starters needed a break (mentally, physically and emotionally) more than they needed to continue their season-long quest to wrest away that top spot from the Heat.

What do you take us for, gentlemen? Surely you don’t think we’re buying this business about the No. 1 seed in the East, and the home-court advantage that will come with it in the Eastern Conference finals, suddenly morphing into some trivial pursuit at this late stage of the season.

We all know what’s at stake Friday night in Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in your final regular-season matchup of the season. Don’t toy with our emotions because yours are frayed after a wild, roller coaster of a season that has seen both of your teams endure your fair share of struggles  (relatively speaking, of course, for two teams with a combined 107 wins and just 50 losses). It’s basically a winner-take-all showdown for that No. 1 spot, a chance for the struggling Pacers to make one last statement to the world about their intentions for the postseason and the Heat’s opportunity to remind the upstarts from Indianapolis that if they want the crown they better be ready to bleed for it.

It doesn’t matter that neither the Heat nor Pacers have looked like a championship team for much of the past six weeks. The Pacers have won just eight of their past 20 games and struggled to get most of those, while the Heat (playing without Dwyane Wade for eight straight due to a hamstring injury) have won just 10 of their past 21 while struggling to find the groove that guided them to 27 straight wins down the stretch last season.

The Heat, grinding through a fourth straight season with a target on their chests every night, appear to be wearing down just a bit under that relentless pressure. The Pacers, who thought they knew what it took to be an elite team night after night, are finding out that it’s much easier to talk about it than to be about it.

“If I’m Indiana, I just want to get my mojo back,” TNT and NBA TV’s Chris Webber said, “go to wherever Stella went and get my groove back. Right now, they’re not playing well and it’s obvious to everyone in the league.”

They know that controlling your own destiny based on home-court advantage comes at a price. That regular-season grind is expensive, it takes a toll on the body and mind, one that the Heat are a bit reluctant to pay when they know that they have an extra gear they can get to in the postseason.

“It’s not controlling our destiny about the No. 1 seed,” LeBron told reporters after the Heat lost in Memphis on Wednesday night. “We want to get healthy. That’s all that we care about, going into the postseason healthy. Once everyone comes back, then we can get everything rolling.”

Why wait for the playoffs when you can get it rolling against the Pacers one last time? The playoff-level intensity is already embedded on both sides. They cannot stand each other and play like it every time they suit up against one another. This fourth time this season will be no different.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks ahead to tonight’s Pacers-Heat showdown

***

No. 3: Howard quietly reminding folks of his greatness — If you have some time today, settle in and read this great piece from Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck on Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. In short, it touches on how the happy-go-lucky big man has gone from a player many viewed as a franchise pillar (during his Orlando Magic days) to a reviled figure (during his L.A. Lakers days) to, now, being somewhat of a quiet force on a dark-horse contender:

Dwight Howard is still a very tall man, just shy of seven feet, with a wingspan and personality to match. He still dominates the painted area of a basketball court. If you are an opposing player or coach, he is still difficult to ignore.

And yet something odd has happened in this, his 10th NBA season. Howard, this towering personality with the Superman complex has become nearly invisible. Obscured. An afterthought.

Check the MVP leaderboards. Dwight Howard is not there.

Listen to the pundits gush about the league’s great young bigs. Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert have commandeered the discussion. Anthony Davis generates the most excitement. DeMarcus Cousins, the most angst.

And Howard? What does he generate? Polite applause? Quiet appreciation?

By the time he arrived in Houston last summer, he was a broken player and a reviled figure.

And now? Now Dwight Howard has quietly turned the Rockets into a dark-horse contender in the rugged Western Conference. And he’s generating indifference. He seems fine with this.

“I think people forget,” Howard said in a recent phone interview, referring to his fleeting status. “But it takes time. It takes time to get stuff back. It’s something that I know that I can get back, everything that I’ve lost. But all that stuff takes time. My focus is really on helping this team, and helping these young guys be as good as possible.”

By any standard, Howard is having a perfectly productive season, averaging 18.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. His field-goal percentage is a stout .590, his best mark in three seasons. His player efficiency rating (PER) is 21.5, down from his peak Orlando years, but two points higher than last season.

Howard, now 28 years old and two years removed from back surgery, might never match his Orlando production. But he doesn’t need to.

Here’s the number that matters most: .675. That was the Rockets’ winning percentage as of Wednesday morning, their best mark since 2007-08, when Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were in their prime.

“We had a very good defensive center (in Omer Asik),” said general manager Daryl Morey, “but with Dwight we were hoping to get something close to the Defensive Player of the Year, which we have.”

The payoff has come more quickly than anticipated. The Rockets, who finished eighth in the West last season, are 52-25 and in fourth place as of Tuesday night, trailing only San Antonio (60-18), Oklahoma City (56-21) and the Los Angeles Clippers (55-23). Of those teams, the Rockets are by far the youngest, and with the least amount of time together.

Ultimately, the Rockets will go as far as James Harden and Howard can carry them. That partnership is still in its early stages, but the results have been promising. Harden is averaging 25.5 points and a team-high 16.6 field-goal attempts per game, while Howard has settled into a complementary role.

Harden, with his bustling beard and his electrifying offense, is the scruffy face of this franchise. At times, Howard is more sidekick than superhero.

“James, he has to score,” Howard said. “So that’s not my concern. I can do other things besides scoring the basketball.”

Indeed, Howard never seemed entirely comfortable as the No. 1 scoring option in Orlando, and he seems happy to be trading shots for wins. He’s also playing just 34 minutes a game, the least since his rookie season.

“Every day we bring it in (for the huddle), we say ‘Family,’ we say, ‘Together,’” Howard said. “Me and James, our relationship has grown throughout the season—the road trips that we’ve had, the time that we’ve spent together off the court, just made us a lot better. And it’s showing up on the floor.”

“I don’t think we’re at our peak,” Howard said of the partnership. “We’re still developing as players. I always had to create for others. Having a guy like him that can create for him and create for others, it just makes both of our lives better.”

***

No. 4: Report: Mavs public address announcer suspended for tweets — When someone in the Dallas Mavericks organization is suspended by the NBA for comments or tweets, most of the time the person getting penalized is owner Mark Cuban. However, that wasn’t the case in this instance, as the team’s public address announcer, Sean Heath, was the guilty party. Heath sent out some tweets after the Mavs’ OT loss to the Golden State Warriors on April 1 that had a controversial ending that incensed many Mavs fans. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com has more:

The NBA issued a two-game suspension to Dallas Mavericks public-address announcer Sean Heath due to tweets criticizing officiating, multiple sources briefed on the situation told ESPNDallas.com.The suspension will begin Saturday night, when the Mavs face the Phoenix Suns in the final home game of the regular season. Heath will complete the suspension either in the first home game of the playoffs or next season’s home opener, depending on whether the Mavs advance.

The league office acknowledged in a statement the next day that Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal should have been called for goaltending when he blocked a potential go-ahead shot by Mavs guard Monta Ellis with 16 seconds remaining in overtime.

Three of the tweets from Heath’s account with 253 followers were directed to the NBA’s account, the most inflammatory of which said that games such as the Mavs’ loss to the Warriors are why the league has a “reputation that the games are rigged.”

Sources said that the league issued the suspension Thursday but granted a request from the Mavs to postpone it until the next game to give the team time to find a suitable replacement for Heath, who is known for his high volume and passion.

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No. 5: Young ‘confident’ he’ll return to Lakers — The man known as “Swaggy P”, Lakers swingman Nick Young, has enjoyed being in Los Angeles … even if his team has had an awful season. Young is an L.A. native and former standout at USC, so playing before more friends and family than he had at any point in his career has been a boon for him. But Young, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, tells ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin that he’s (not surprisingly) confident he’ll be back with L.A. next season:

As Nick Young‘s first season with his hometown Lakers winds down, the high-scoring guard is starting to wonder if these will be his last days in Los Angeles.Young, who can opt out of his $1.2 million contract for next season with the Lakers to test free agency this summer, said he anticipates a lot of upheaval in the team’s future.

“I always wanted to be a Laker and it will be a dream come true to still be here, but it’s crazy,” Young said after practice Thursday. “You never know what happens. Last year they had a whole different team. It’s obvious they’re going to make some changes.”

Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, told ESPNLosAngeles.com in February that his client played at a discount for L.A. this season, accepting a big pay cut to $1.2 million from the $6 million Philadelphia paid him in 2012-13.

“His value is certainly much greater than what the contract is,” Bartelstein said. “There’s no question about that. But our goal is to sit down with [Lakers general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and hopefully work something out so Nick can be with the Lakers for a long time.”

Young echoed the same goal.

“This is home,” Young said. “I would love to finish off here as a Laker. My kids get to go to school and say, ‘My dad is a Laker.’ That’s big.”

“Just wearing that purple and gold has been great, it’s been amazing,” Young said. “Especially to learn from and share the same locker room as Kobe [Bryant] and pick his brain a little bit. That helped me a lot. Just going out there and being able to play and play my game in front of my fans and family and eat home-cooked meals and wake up and not have to deal with that snow every day.”

Young, who went to Cleveland High School in the L.A. suburb of Reseda, Calif., and attended USC for college, was asked if he feels like he has any unfinished business to take care of with the Lakers.

“Most definitely,” Young said. “Of course I want to be here and be a part of a team that’s going to the playoffs and fighting for championships and really get a chance to get that feeling of being a part of that Laker parade and having my little speech like [Shaquille O'Neal] did, ‘Can you dig it?’ Have my own sayings, you know? So, I’ve thought about that a lot. That would really be a great dream come true.”

Young made it sound like he thinks those dreams can be realized.

“I’m very confident,” Young said when asked about his chances of returning to the Lakers. “I think we’re going to come to some kind of agreement and hopefully it happens. We just got to see what they’re going to do.”


VIDEO: Nick Young talks after the Lakers’ practice Thursday

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: University of Tennessee star Jarnell Stokes may soon be making a decision about the NBA … Here’s a good little interview with Magic rookie standout Victor Oladipo … ICYMI, referee Dick Bavetta treated Bucks big man Zaza Pachulia a little cold the other night … And speaking of refs, here’s our own Steve Aschburner on what officials will be looking for in the playoffs …

ICYMI of the Night: Is there any play worth talking about other than Andre Iguodala‘s sick crossover on Quincy Miller last night? …


VIDEO: Andre Iguodala crosses up the Nuggets’ Quincy Miller