Posts Tagged ‘Houston Rockets’

Morning shootaround — July 23


Team USA rolls in opener | Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA | Harden looks forward to fresh start | Ingram’s tough road to the NBA

No. 1: Team USA rolls in opener — They might have had just four days of practice together, but Team USA came out in their exhibition opener and looked nothing like a team that needed more time to bond. Behind prime time performances from Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, Team USA coasted to a 111-74 win over Argentina. And as Steve Aschburner writes, it was a dominant performance from start to finish…

By halftime, the USA led 56-33, thanks largely to a 35-15 rebounding edge that produced second chances and defensive pressure that stymied Argentina’s attack. Led by Carmelo Anthony‘s three steals and Cousin’s two in the first 20 minutes, the NBA stars shook loose 14 turnovers and turned them into 25 points. All those offensive rebounds — they grabbed 19 of their missed shots to Argentina’s 14 defensive boards in the half — showed up in a 19-2 advantage in second-chance points.

George, playing for USA Basketball for the first time since fracturing his right leg in an August 2014 intrasquad scrimmage, shot 6-for-9 with a pair of 3-pointers. Cousins had nine points and 10 rebounds in the half, while DeAndre Jordan maintained USA’s inside advantage with six points and four boards.

Andres Nocioni scored eight points in the first half, and Manu Ginobili had six. Argentina was better from distance — 6-for-14 on 3-pointers vs. 4-for-12 on 2-point field goals — thanks to cleaner looks. In the paint, USA dominated in the half 34-6.

Taking better care of the ball in the third quarter — just two turnovers — Argentina stayed even with the Americans at 80-56. They got 22 shots, compared to 26 in the first half, and only allowed USA one offensive board.

The Americans got their swagger back in the fourth, though, outscoring Argentina 24-8 through the first six minutes of the quarter.

The game was the first of five that Team USA will play over the next 11 days before heading to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Americans will play the Chinese national team twice — Sunday in Los Angeles and Tuesday in Oakland — before traveling to Chicago and Houston for games against Venezuela and Nigeria, respectively.


No. 2: Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA — It was two years ago in Las Vegas during an exhibition that Paul George suffered a gruesome broken leg that changed the course of his career. Now back and healthy, George came off the bench to score 18 points last night for Team USA, and as Yahoo’s Michael Lee writes, George showed everyone that he’s all the way back …

George is back in the Team USA fold, ready to complete what he started before his career was interrupted by what he now calls a “bump in the road.” The venue for George’s long-delayed international debut changed to the brand-new T-Mobile Arena, but he admitted playing an organized game in Las Vegas again was “eerie.” Any uneasiness quickly subsided shortly after Krzyzewski brought him off the bench in the first period. After scoring 18 effortless points in an emphatic 111-74 demolition of Argentina, George was quick to state that the injury that rocked USA Basketball was “behind me.”

All week, George’s Olympic teammates avoided discussing with him a setback that he has little interest in reliving but remains a defining moment in his career that he has been unable to escape – especially since his will to overcome that incident continues to define his character. Krzyzewski said after Friday’s game that George is playing “the best basketball in his life.”

Determined to not only come back, but to continue his steady improvement after missing nearly an entire season, George made his return since breaking his right leg the best of his career. He led the Indiana Pacers back into the postseason, came one point short of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record with 41 points and earned third-team All-NBA and second-team All-Defensive honors.

Colangelo said the incentivized gesture USA Basketball extended in the aftermath of George’s injury was the “right thing to do,” but George also rewarded that blind faith, making easy the decision to add him to the 12-man roster.

“I’m here for a reason,” George told The Vertical. “I’m not just a guy that Coach K brought along.”


No. 3: Harden looks forward to fresh start — It was a season of discontent for James Harden and the Houston Rockets, who went through a coaching change and then made a quick postseason exit. But with new coach Mike D’Antoni on the sideline this season and several new free agents signed up, Rockets’ star Harden tells Lang Whitaker that he’s excited for the new opportunity…

Q: How do you feel you fit into Mike D’Antoni’s system, and how do you feel his system benefits you?

HARDEN: You know what? The day he got hired, we watched film. We’ve communicated several times a week. You know, it’s going to work. I’m really excited about it because he’s prepared. He’s prepared, he’s given me knowledge, he’s given me things where I can fit into his offense and what he’s trying to do. And not only myself but the entire team — I asked him questions about how Patrick Beverley fits and the new guys that we got fit. So it’s exciting. And [we added Jeff] Bzdelik, who was the head defensive coach for Memphis. You know, everybody talks about, ‘The Rockets aren’t a good defensive team.’ Well, we got one of the best defensive coaches in the league now. So it’s all about preparation. In this league it’s all about preparation, putting guys in positions where they’re successful, and good things happen.

Q: Do you feel like you get a bad rap for your defense?

HARDEN: Yeah, yeah. But everybody makes mistakes. I can look up the same amount of plays for myself as the other top guys in the league. So I don’t really worry, I don’t focus on it. And now with the more talent that’s going to release some offensive pressure off me, I’m going to be able to go out there and play both ends of the floor at a high level. It’s really difficult to go out there, play all 82 games, lead the league in minutes and have to do everything offensively. I mean, no one else had that weight on their shoulders in the league. So like I said, it doesn’t really bother me. I focus on what I gotta do and I just go out there and do it.


No. 4: Ingram’s tough road to the NBA — The Lakers used the second overall pick in this summer’s draft on Brandon Ingram, a lanky forward out of Duke who showed everyone in his one year of college that he is an elite scorer. But making it to the NBA wasn’t an easy path for Ingram, and as Chris Mannix writes for Yahoo, Ingram getting to the NBA was a family affair

As he got older, his basketball obsession grew. He played after school. When he got home, he challenged Bo to one-on-one on the battered hoop in the backyard. “I was a senior in high school before I beat him,” Ingram said. When it got dark, his father, Donald, who managed the local rec center, opened up the gym. “It was an all-access pass,” Ingram laughed.

The work paid off. Ingram won a state championship his first year at Kinston. He went on to win three more. A stringy, 6-foot-2 guard as a freshman grew, by his own estimation, two inches every year to finish high school as a slender 6-8 forward. Spins, fadeaways, step-backs — Ingram had it all. He averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. Legend had it that in four years, Ingram never missed a free throw. So? “Most definitely, that’s true,” Ingram said.

Last month, the Lakers tabbed Ingram with the second overall pick in the draft. Overnight, Ingram, 18, became the face of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises. It’s not the type of position he has always been comfortable in. For years, Ingram was shy about playing in front of crowds. It wasn’t until eighth grade, when he joined Jerry Stackhouse’s AAU team, that he took to it. He was a star in high school but needed Mike Krzyzewski to tell him at the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game that he had pro potential. He could score on anyone but wasn’t always assertive in high school and was briefly benched for listless play at Duke.

The Lakers hope he grows into the role. They see Ingram as a multi-position player. At 6-9, 190-pounds, Ingram will need to bulk up. He was eating six meals a day, some 5,000 calories, Ingram said, before the draft and he hopes to be 210 pounds next season. But the talent is undeniable.

Durant sees it. For months, scouts have compared Ingram to Durant. And Durant understands why. “He reminds me of myself, but he’s a little farther along than I was at that stage,” Durant told reporters at Team USA practice in Las Vegas on Wednesday. For Ingram, there is no higher compliment. He grew up wearing Durant’s sneakers. His walls were covered with Durant posters. He mimicked many of Durant’s moves. He worshipped him when he was at Texas, cheered him in Seattle, followed his career closely in Oklahoma City. The Lakers hope they found the next Durant; Ingram knows it will be a while before he gets there.

“It’s a very special comparison,” Ingram said. “But, of course, I know I’m not him. I know I’m not him yet, but I have the potential to make my own brand. Of course, you grow up with him as an idol, and in a few months he’s going to become my rival. It’s going to be a dream come true. I think just watching him for so long and having the ability to actually learn and play against him is just going to be a special motivation for me as a competitor and someone who really looked up to him.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have agreed to an extension that will keep Dirk under contract until he’s 40 years old … The Pelicans have signed free agent forward Terrence JonesDraymond Green reached a plea deal with prosecutors in Michigan … Luis Scola isn’t thrilled with the real estate prices in Brooklyn …

Blogtable: Biggest team turnaround with new coach?

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

BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on away-from-play rules changesBiggest turnaround with new coach?Incoming rookie destined for NBA stardom?

> Which team is poised to have the most dramatic jump in winning percentage next season: Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, Scott Brooks’ Wizards, Luke Walton’s Lakers, Dave Joerger’s Kings, Nate McMillan’s Pacers, David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, Jeff Hornacek’s Knicks, Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets, Frank Vogel’s Magic or Kenny Atkinson’s Nets?

Steve Aschburner, Thibodeau’s Timberwolves will improve the most. No one coaches harder in the 82-game regular season, and Minnesota’s three youngest core players — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — would naturally take a step or two in their development under almost any coach. Combine that, along with a pretty easy act to top (29 victories in 2015-16) and I’m expected an improvement of 10-15 games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe 17-win Lakers have the most room to work with, but the Lakers are also the farthest away. Frank Vogel’s solid defensive base will make the Magic jump if they can sort out the sudden glut of big men. But I’m making it a two-team race for biggest improvement. The Grizzlies and David Fizzle with a healthy Marc Gasol should go from 42 back to their customary 50-plus level. But I’ll give the nod to Minnesota. All that young talent combined with Thibs’ defensive chops will have the Wolves howling with a possible leap from from 29 to 40+ wins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLuke Walton’s Lakers, but in large part because they have the most realistic room to grow. It’s not hard to see L.A. adding 10 wins based on the energy of the coaching change, the experience D’Angelo Russell and (basically) Julius Randle didn’t have last season, the arrival of Luol Deng as a veteran presence and the addition of Brandon Ingram in the Draft. Ten wins is close to a 60-percent jump. A lot of the other options you mention will improve — Minnesota, New York, Orlando — but the Magic, for example, aren’t going to be 60-percent better in the standings. They will have more wins than the Lakers, just not a bigger increase.

Shaun Powell, I’ll say the Lakers only because they were mostly dreadful and won just 17 games. Only one way to go, and if they win 30, which is somewhat realistic, that almost a 50-percent jump. Can’t see anyone else in this group pulling that off (where are the Sixers?) But again, it’s a backhanded compliment to the Lakers, who if nothing else should be exciting to watch even in defeat.

John Schuhmann, The Wolves are going to the playoffs next season. Tom Thibodeau will have them improve at least 10 spots in defensive efficiency, where they ranked 27th last season. The development of their young players — along with, hopefully, Zach LaVine playing a lot more shooting guard than point guard — should have them improved offensively as well. Karl-Anthony Towns is the league’s next star and should do well with his first summer of work after finding out what the league is all about. He could make a huge leap.

Sekou Smith, As entertaining as I believe the Minnesota Timberwolves could be under Tom Thibodeau, I’m going to have to go with Luke Walton’s Lakers. They’ve got as much ground to gain (in percentages and raw numbers) as any team in the league, given their dreadful performance last season and the fresh new look they’ll have under Walton. David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, however, will go into the season as my potential surprise team in the Western Conference (provided they have a healthy roster to work with), where things could shift dramatically with all of the changes that have occurred in free agency.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Timberwolves may reach the playoffs next season because of Thibodeau, who will hasten their development defensively and turn their athleticism into a force. D’Antoni has a history of elevating the value of his players and the Rockets appear to be in the mood to rally around him after embarrassing themselves last year.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogI don’t know if there is a “most dramatic” winner out there. Scanning past those names, I don’t see any one team that immediately jumps out at me and looks like sudden a title contender. If I had to pick one, I’d pick a team in the East, where improvement may be easier to come by, and say either the Knicks (if they are healthy, which is a gigantic if) or maybe Frank Vogel’s Magic show in Orlando.

Morning shootaround — July 13


Popovich reflects on Duncan | Howard energized by move to Hawks | Haslem a last man standing of sorts in Miami

No. 1: Emotional Popovich reflects on Duncan’s career — Stoic. Stern. Unwavering. Just three of many words that describe legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and, to some degree, his recently retired superstar, Tim Duncan. Yet in his address to the media for the first time since Duncan announced his retirement on July 11, Popovich showed a different and more reflective side to his personality in remembering the player with whom he won five NBA championships.

Gregg Popovich spoke for about 15 minutes, sometimes unable to hide his emotions, all the while wearing a T-shirt that had Tim Duncan’s face printed on the front. When the last question was answered, the coach turned, put his hands in his pockets and silently walked into a new era for the San Antonio Spurs.

It’s a day Popovich knew was coming.

That clearly didn’t make it any easier.

“He’s irreplaceable,” Popovich said.

Choking up at times and making wisecracks at others, Popovich bade a public farewell to Duncan’s playing career on Tuesday.

Popovich spoke in a corner of the Spurs’ practice facility in San Antonio, the spot where he holds court with reporters after workouts during the season. There was no news conference, no elaborate setup, not even any live coverage permitted. Even for something that will have so much impact on the team, the league and the sport, the Spurs kept things as simple as possible.

Duncan is leaving. In some respects, everything is changing. In others, nothing will.

“I think it will be a seamless transition for the team,” former NBA coach and current television analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. “I think who it’s going to be hard on is Gregg Popovich.”

“I can be on him in a game and ask him why he’s not rebounding in a relatively stern way and really get on him in front of everybody,” Popovich continued. “And on his way back to the court, he’ll say, `Thanks for the motivation, Pop. Thanks for the support, Pop.’ Then he’ll turn away with his eyes up in the air and we’ll both start laughing. And people don’t see those things. But his teammates have and that’s why his teammates love him.”

Duncan will go down as one of the best to ever play the game, and Popovich said he was the best teammate any Spurs player could have had.

There were moments of humor, too, like Popovich saying Duncan made him wear the clothes he gave him – including the shirt he donned Tuesday – or else he wouldn’t play.

“I remember a pretty neat summer league game when he first came in and (Greg) Ostertag blocked his shot,” Popovich said when asked what moment of Duncan’s career he enjoyed most. “That was pretty cool.”

Mostly, Popovich’s words showed sadness and appreciation.

He spoke at length about Duncan’s humility, and how that was instilled in him long ago. Popovich told a story about when Duncan’s father, who died in 2002, told the Spurs coach he needed to ensure his son would not be changed by fame or fortune.

“I can still remember before his father passed away, looking me in the eye and saying `I’m going to hold you responsible to make sure that when he’s done he’s the same person he is now.’ And in that respect, he is,” Popovich said. “He’s grown as a person, as we all do, through experiences. But his inner core, he was over himself when he came in and after all these accolades and all this success, he’s still over himself. Hasn’t changed a lick.”



Rockets sign Harden to extension

HANG TIME, N.J. — Another surprise in free agency: The Houston Rockets announced Saturday afternoon that they’ve agreed to a four-year contract extension with James Harden, keeping the star under contract for at least three more seasons.

Houston used its cap space to give Harden a raise for both next season (2016-17) and the following season (’17-18). The extension adds two more years after that, though Harden will have a player option in the summer of 2019.

Houston parted ways with Dwight Howard this summer, but has added Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene via free agency. It still has some work to do to bring back restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas.

Harden is the only player to average at least 27 points and seven assists each of the last two seasons and one of only seven players in NBA history to do it multiple times. Under new Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden could see even bigger numbers next season.


Morning shootaround — June 10


Report: Love likely to play, be reserve in Game 4 | Thompson trying to snap out of funk | Report: Durant not considering Rockets | Terry plans to play 2 more seasons

No. 1: Report: Love likely to come off bench in Game 4 Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love practiced with the team yesterday as it prepares for Game 4 of The Finals tonight (9 ET, ABC). Love has not yet been cleared medically to play after the concussion he suffered in Game 2 ultimately kept him out of Game 3 on Wednesday night. According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Love is not only expected to play tonight but will do so in a reserve role:

Kevin Love is expected to play Friday and it’s likely he will come off the bench in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, league sources told the Beacon Journal.

Love still has another medical examination he must pass on Friday before he is cleared from the league’s concussion protocol, but he took part in some on-court shooting drills Thursday and the team is privately confident he will be available to play.

Coach Tyronn Lue would not discuss Love’s role on Thursday, insisting he hadn’t given it much thought. While one source stressed no final decision has been made yet, it’s likely at this point Love will be a reserve for the first time since April 14, 2010 – the final game of his second year in the league.

When asked generally about how he handles lineup changes, Lue said it’s important to be honest.

“They might not like it at the time, but I’ve always learned in this business if you tell the truth, guys understand and they know what the truth is,” Lue said. “They might be mad for a second, but they can always get back to understanding and realize that’s the right thing. And if you tell the truth, guys can respect that.”

The Cavs beat the Warriors 120-90 in Game 3 Wednesday for their first win in this series while Love sat. Lue inserted Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup, moved LeBron James to power forward and the Cavs flourished with their best game of the series.

The Cavs have privately been concerned for months how Love would match up defensively in a Finals rematch against the Warriors, with one team executive offering during the regular season that Love may have to become the Cavs’ version of David Lee – the high-priced, high-scoring forward who came off the bench last year to help spark the Warriors to a championship.

The Warriors shot 42 percent in Game 3 when both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry struggled to find a rhythm and James neutralized Draymond Green. The always outspoken Green said he didn’t see any difference with James at power forward instead of Love.

“There ain’t no Xs and Os adjustment they made (that) worked. They punked us. That was the gist of it,” Green said. “I continually try to figure out, what adjustment can they make? I didn’t think there was an adjustment they can make other than to play harder than us. And that’s what they did.”

Morning shootaround — May 22


Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”


No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.


No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”


No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Howard opens up on Harden, Rockets, Magic exit and more

HANG TIME BIG CITY — In a candid interview released today, Dwight Howard speaks freely about a number of topics relating to his career, his time with the Houston Rockets, as well as his future. While Howard says he hasn’t decided what to do this summer as far as his contract — Howard can opt out of the final year of his deal and become a free agent — a return to Houston doesn’t sound like a sure thing.

As the 30-year-old Howard tells’s Jackie MacMullan, there were times during last season when he felt “disinterested”…

Howard: “There were times I was disinterested because of situations that happened behind the scenes that really hurt me. It left me thinking, ‘This is not what I signed up for.'”

ESPN: What specifically are you referring to?

Howard: “I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to [Rockets general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said, ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect to what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.'”

According to ESPN, Houston GM Daryl Morey declined comment.

He also discussed his pairing with James Harden in Houston and how that relationship has gone since their first season together.

ESPN: What is your relationship with James Harden like?

Howard: “Before I got to Houston, I didn’t know him as a person. What made me really interested in James Harden was the way he attacked the basket when he was at OKC. He was the glue of the team, attacking, making plays, dunking. I was thinking, ‘Man, this guy could be special.’ When I hit free agency, I watched YouTube tapes of James for hours. I looked at us as a mini Shaq and Kobe. I was thinking, ‘Man, this could be a new life for both of us.’ And we had some good stretches together. Made it to the Conference finals last season.”

ESPN: Your relationship with Harden seems to have deteriorated along with the team’s performance this season. What happened?

Howard: “I don’t know. … I want to figure that out, too. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this season, what went wrong, and sometimes you can allow outside things to interrupt the circle. That probably happened with us.”

Before Houston, Howard was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he says things didn’t work out there in part because Howard and Kobe Bryant were in “different points of our careers.”

ESPN: Kobe also questioned your toughness when he urged you to come back and play through your shoulder injury.

Howard: “Kobe put some pressure on me. He said something like, ‘We don’t have time for Dwight to be hurt.’ The media is asking me, ‘Did you talk to Kobe about your injuries?’ I said, ‘I didn’t realize I was supposed to check with another player about my health.’ When I first got there, I said to Kobe in front of the whole team, ‘The only way we win is if we put our egos aside and play together.’ I wanted to play with him. I don’t know if he didn’t want to play with me — if he felt I wasn’t a killer like him.”

ESPN: You could have signed a new deal to stay with the Lakers. Why didn’t you?

Howard: “I just felt like it wasn’t a team. I wanted a team. There were things that went on during the season that made me feel like I wasn’t a part of it, like the thing with Kobe and my shoulder. People were saying, ‘Dwight’s so strong, he’s Superman, he should play through it.’ It was a torn labrum. I should have had surgery, but I didn’t. I came back instead. I’ll never forget the game we played against the Celtics in Boston (on Feb. 7, 2013). I hadn’t practiced for a while — I had just been working on the treadmill. But I played in Boston. We got blown out. Coach (Mike D’Antoni) still had me in when we were down 30. After the game, I’m walking off the court and a Lakers fan throws his jersey and hits me in the face. It was my name on that jersey. I will never forget that the rest of my life.”

Howard also addresses the deterioration of his relationship in Orlando with former coach Stan Van Gundy, after the Magic made it to the 2009 NBA Finals…

ESPN: Did you ask management to fire Stan Van Gundy?

Howard: “The back story is that months before that, before the [2011] lockout, I had a conversation with Magic owner Rich DeVos. They flew me out on a private plane to Michigan. I was talking to him about how we could grow the team. When I first got to Orlando, he called us the Orlando “Tragic” and I hated it. I wanted to talk to him about how we could grow our team. I was saying, ‘Let’s have Magic cereal, Magic vitamins with our players’ faces on it so they can get to know our team.’ In the course of our conversation, we started talking about what’s going on with our team.”

ESPN: What did you say about Stan in that meeting?

Howard: “I told Rich the truth. I told him, ‘I love Stan. I think he’s done a great job, but I think he’s lost his voice in the locker room.’ It wasn’t, ‘Hey, I want Stan fired or else.’ I was never upset with Stan at any point. It wasn’t anything personal against Stan. He knows that. It’s just over the past couple of years I could see a lot of the guys had lost their faith in him.”

ESPN: How long before the public comments from Stan saying you wanted him gone was your meeting with DeVos?

Howard: “Oh, it was months before. In late June, just before the lockout.”

Report: Knicks to hire Hornacek

The NBA couching carousel provided another surprise on Wednesday. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson wasn’t just sitting back and waiting to name interim coach Kurt Rambis as head coach, after all.

Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reports that the Knicks are set to hire former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek coached 2½ seasons in Phoenix before being fired in early February. His 2013-14 team exceeded all expectations, went 48-34, and ranked eighth offensively, but finished a game out of the playoffs. The ’14-15 Suns fell off offensively after trading both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the deadline, and this year’s team struggled on both ends of the floor before Hornacek was fired.

The Knicks were the most improved team in the league this season, but mostly because they ranked in the bottom three in both offensive and defensive efficiency in Jackson’s first full season in charge. They ranked 26th offensively and 18th defensively, fired Derek Fisher about a week after Hornacek was dismissed in Phoenix, and finished 12 games out of a playoff spot.

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said that he hoped Jackson looked beyond Rambis in his coaching search. He got his wish, but his future with New York is still unclear. Anthony’s timeline still doesn’t match up with that of Rookie of the Year runner-up Kristaps Porzingis and New York still needs upgrades at both guard positions.

The Hornacek hire in New York leaves three more coaching jobs available. Mike D’Antoni looks like a strong candidate in Houston, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, with Frank Vogel and Adrian Griffin looking like possibilities in Memphis and Orlando, respectively.


Morning shootaround — May 17


Curry, Warriors fall in Game 1 | Bosh, Heat face uncertainty | Vandeweghe: No changes ‘imminent’ to Draft lottery | TNT’s Smith won’t get Rockets gig

No. 1: Curry can’t save day in Game 1  Golden State fans awaken this morning undoubtedly in a state of shock or disbelief after their Warriors blew a 14-point lead in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. The eventual 108-102 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder has the Warriors trailing in a playoff series for the first time in the 2016 postseason. Perhaps more shocking to Golden State fans, though, is that the reigning Kia MVP, Stephen Curry, couldn’t save the Warriors’ bacon as Game 1 wound down. Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group has more one what Curry and the Warriors must do better come Game 2:

There were several moments Monday night that called for Stephen Curry to put on his cape and save the day. There were several times when past practice made you believe the Warriors would turn on the jets.

But Curry never pulled off the magic that he so often does, no matter how hard the home crowd begged. And the Warriors never woke up.

In what has been a rarity this season, Curry didn’t shine the brightest in this meeting of stars. He finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. But it wasn’t enough to cover his seven turnovers, his 1-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter, and his questionable decision making.

In what has been a rarity this season, the Warriors were not the team to get it downe down the stretch. Monday was their first loss to one of the league’s top four teams when fully healthy.

“I do think we lost our poise a little bit,” coach Steve Kerr said, “and that had a lot to do with the quick shots. I think we were trying to rectify the situation in one or two plays instead of letting it play out. So that’s something we’ve got to get better with.”

Is Curry’s right knee an issue, or was it the Warriors’ game plan to use him as they did?

Curry still has pain, he said, but it’s tolerable. It’s not 100 percent, he said, but it’s good enough.

In Game 1, Curry spent a lot of time off the ball. The Thunder responded as other teams have, grabbing and holding Curry away from the sight of the officials. When Curry didn’t get the ball, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson became the one-on-one players.

Late in games, the ball in Curry’s hands might allow him to get a better rhythm and allow him to set up for his teammates. It forces the Thunder to adjust their defense to stop him and could result in him getting some free throws. Curry went to the line only twice in nearly 40 minutes Monday.

“We have to heighten the sense of urgency and heighten the sense of ball possessions and pace and flow,” Andre Iguodala said after scoring six of the bench’s 16 points. “It’s good to get hit in the mouth. That’s when it really shows.”

Was Game 1 a sign that Oklahoma City has found the formula to beat the Warriors?

The Thunder were the Warriors’ toughest foe during the regular season. Even though the Warriors swept OKC, all three games were closely contested. Neither San Antonio, Cleveland, Toronto nor the Los Angeles Clippers could stake such a claim. And Monday, OKC played with a comfort that suggested a feeling of superiority.

The Thunder got better as the game wore on. The Thunder made adjustments, fixed their ills. It was the OKC point guard — not the Warriors’ popint guard — who took charge of the game.

“There were several key (plays) in the second half when we kind of lost our momentum,” Kerr said. “Careless passes. Didn’t have the flow to whatever set we were running. And I thought we lost our aggressiveness and momentum offensively. A lot of that had to do with his speed and aggressiveness.”

Or was this the Warriors not bringing it like normal? Was their demise their own doing? Did the weight of their historic chase finally catch up with them?

In their mind, they played out of character. They failed to live up to their standard.

Morning shootaround — May 11


Howard opens up on his personality, playing with Harden | Blazers hardly think they’re done for | DeRozan not worried about how slump may affect payday | Smith initially miffed over trade to Cavs

No. 1: Howard opens up on Harden, public perception of himself  If you didn’t stick around for the postgame show on TNT after last night’s Game 5 between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, you missed out. Sitting in for regular TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal was Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, and he was grilled by Charles Barkley about his future, playing with James Harden and the perception the public has of him. Howard didn’t shy away from the questions or give vague answers and’s Calvin Watkins transcribed some of best quotes from the segment:

Hall of Famer, former Rocket and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley asked Howard about being disinterested during games.

Howard gave a long response, saying it does upset him when he doesn’t win. He also discussed the difficulties of dealing with his own personality, particularly with smiling on the court.

“I’m always interested in winning,” Howard said. “But as a big, you want to feel a part of what’s going on, and you know, if I could bring the ball up the court, shoot 3s and go between the legs, do all that stuff, that’d be great. But I have to rely on my teammates in certain aspects to get the ball. Now there have been times I have been upset and I’ve taken myself out of the game in certain situations, and that’s on me.

“And I have to grow and became a better player. So I’m always interested in the game, and I’ve had the problem with smiling too much or I play too much on the floor, so when I’m not smiling and all that stuff, it looks like I’m not interested in the game. So it’s like a thin line, and I’m like, ‘Man, do I not smile? Or do I smile and have fun?’ So that’s always been a struggle for me personally.”

Barkley also asked Howard why he’s not liked by people. Howard responded by saying Barkley is the one saying nobody likes him.

“I think I was very likable in Orlando, and the way that situation ended, I think people felt as though I’m just this bad guy, I’m all about myself, I’m a diva, I’m stuck on being Dwight Howard, this famous basketball player,” Howard said. “So people say, ‘I don’t like that guy.’ And I hear that, and it really hurts me because my heart and my attitude toward the game has always been the same.

“My drive has been there, because I never will forget the day that I came in here and you [Barkley] told me I wasn’t going to be good in the NBA, and I’ll never forget the day Magic Johnson said I wasn’t going to make it to the NBA, when I was in the 10th grade. That stuff drives me every day to want to be one of the greatest players to play the game. So that part, to hear people say that, it pisses me off because that’s not who I am. I’ve never been a bad person, and it’s not that I want people to like me, because I know people are not going to always like me, but you know, if you get to know me, I’m laid-back, I love to have fun.”