Posts Tagged ‘Houston Rockets’

Morning shootaround — May 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Will Hawks have to replace Carroll? | Irving plans to play in Game 2 | Wizards plan to lock-up Beal | Rockets hopeful Howard can play tonight

No. 1: Hawks face prospect of replacing Carroll — The Atlanta Hawks were in the midst of what would become a fourth-quarter surge in Game 1 of the East finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. DeMarre Carroll picked off a pass and was headed the other way for a fast-break layup when a nightmare scenario happened for Atlanta. He crashed to the floor awkwardly as he went up to shoot and had to be helped off the court afterward. Our Lang Whitaker was on the scene for the play and has more:

The Atlanta Hawks sent four starters to the All-Star Game, yet it was DeMarre Carroll, the man left behind, who had been their most reliable performer in these playoffs. But after suffering a left knee injury during Atlanta’s 97-89 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Hawks are now left dealing with the possibility of an immediate future without Carroll involved.

“At this point, I think the doctors are saying it’s a knee sprain,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’ll have an MRI tomorrow, and we’ll know more tomorrow.”

Carroll was injured with 4:59 remaining in Game 1 while driving to the basket on a fast break. He didn’t appear to be touched as he fell to the floor, where he writhed in pain before being helped up and off to the locker room.

“It’s huge,” said Hawks forward Kent Bazemore. “Super unfortunate. Talk about a guy who works hard and has been playing well all year. I mean, it sucks. He’s the second guy — I mean, we don’t know what happened yet, but we lost Thabo [Sefolosha] already, and he is another valuable piece to the puzzle. We gotta just keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, and another guy step up.”

Carroll’s injury was the rotten cherry on top of an already dreadful night for the Hawks, who were outscored 23-16 in the third quarter and finished Game 1 4-for-23 on 3-pointers while being dominated on the boards, 60-43. If the Hawks were looking for a silver lining, perhaps there’s a glimmer in the way the Hawks closed the game without Carroll, finally managing to find some pace and closing to within four with a minute left.

“Baze got to step it up, Baze got to play his minutes,” said Hawks guard Dennis Schröder. “I’ve got to step it up, for sure. Everybody else, I think, when Coach says your name on the bench, everybody is ready. If Coach needs somebody, I think they’re ready.”

“We’re a very resilient group,” Bazemore said. “We know we’ve got to make a few adjustments, and Coach Bud is a great coach. He’s going to have us on our p’s and q’s coming into Game 2.”


VIDEO: DeMarre Carroll injured late in Game 1

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Blogtable: Who wins it all (and why)?

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: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEOThe Starters make their picks for the West finals winner

> The _________ will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. And here’s why.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Boy, this is going to be a controversial pick: the Golden State Warriors. They’ve been the best team at both ends all season, they continue as that in the postseason. They have the MVP in Steph Curry, they have the versatility, they have the depth. They have the greatest home-court advantage in the league and they’ll get any Game 7s on that court. I’ll stop here, because we’re going to be at risk of redundancy as the rest of our crew weighs in.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Warriors. They have been the best team in the league from opening night till now and a relentless sense of purpose and who they are. They also passed a big test in the conference semifinals when the Grizzlies put them in a 2-1 hole and they came back to win three straight. The Western Conference finals promises to go the distance to seven, but home court makes the difference and this is a tougher test than anything that comes from the East.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Warriors. Why? The usual reasons. They score and defend. They have the best home-court advantage still going. The versatility of mixing lineups. And no one is better equipped to withstand four to seven games of LeBron James if it comes to that (which I think it will). Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, with Andrew Bogut waiting inside. Golden State of the first six or seven games of the playoffs was vulnerable. Golden State since then, playing with much better focus, will be very tough to beat four times.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Warriors. They seem incapable of playing two bad games in a row, and of course it takes four to beat them. The other three remaining teams are all hopelessly flawed, at least more than the Warriors. Their balance on offense and their rotation quickness on defense seems just too much for anyone in the field. And as you know, the Warriors win titles every 40 years.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State Warriors. Quite simply, they’ve been the league’s best team all season long, by a pretty wide margin. They had the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offense (best remaining of the four teams). They have multiple defenders who can take on tough assignments and they move the ball well enough to take advantage of defenses that try to take their first option(s) away. They have home-court advantage, a 44-3 record at Oracle Arena, and, as we’ve seen multiple times already in this postseason, an ability to erase big deficits pretty quickly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. They’re the best team in basketball, on both ends of the floor, and have been for so long now that I cannot remember who held that distinction before they did. The Warriors have the balance, depth, star power and a coach with a wealth of championship experience steering the ship. The MVP, Stephen Curry, has plenty of help and the Warriors have home court advantage on their side throughout the remainder of the playoffs. That’s always a solid recipe for hoisting a title.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Warriors are in charge, though the Cavs have two things going for them: They’re suddenly playing lockdown defense, and LeBron has the championship experience that Steph Curry has yet to earn. Is that enough to make up for the front-line absences of Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao? Probably not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. Playing against the Warriors is like trying to run uphill while waist-deep in water. They have too much depth, too much talent, and as soon as they get ahead of you, they press down on the gas. We should also mention that at this point, the Warriors seem to know that they’re good. They’re playing with the confidence of a champion, which is something no coach can teach.

Morning shootaround — May 20


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 1 of the Western Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets try not to fret Howard’s injury | Presti: Durant healing up so far | Dellavedova steps up | Knicks have a plan for No. 4 pick

No. 1: Rockets not fretting Howard’s injury too much (yet) — Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard had limited effectiveness in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals last night after teammate Josh Smith rolled into his left knee on a play. Howard’s status for Wednesday’s Game 2 remains unknown, but based on the postgame buzz our Scott Howard-Cooper was able to sniff out, Houston is trying to remain optimistic as it awaits further updates:

The good news, because there actually is some: It was the left knee this time, not the one that cost him 41 games in the regular season, and the initial diagnosis on Tuesday night was that Dwight Howard had suffered a bruise when the impact from Josh Smith crashing into the leg in the first quarter could have been much worse.

The bad news: Almost everything else.

The Rockets lost the opener of the Western Conference finals to the Warriors on Tuesday at Oracle Arena, lost Howard for most of the night because of another knee injury, are unsure of his availability heading toward Game 2 on Thursday, and all while facing a team that never needs a second invitation to jet around the court playing small ball.

There was no telling in the aftermath of Golden State’s 110-106 victory how much the Rockets can expect, if anything, from Howard two nights later. Another update on his status is likely to come after practice Wednesday at the same Oracle Arena that thundered with noise right on schedule as the home team played in the conference finals for the first time in nearly 39 years.

Teammate and long-time friend Smith said “I’m really concerned,” but declined to elaborate what pushed him to that place as Houston gave no sense the injury was serious. Coach Kevin McHale, not waiting for the end of the first question at his postgame news conference, said “I don’t know. We’ll probably know tomorrow.”

Howard sounded the most optimistic tone of all, insisting: “I don’t think that it’s going to be something that is going to restrict me from playing for the rest of the series. Everything happens for a reason. I’m not going to kill myself over it. I’m just going to stay positive, stay focused and the doctors are going to do their job to make sure I get on the floor.”


VIDEO: Dwight Howard suffers a knee injury in Game 1

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Ariza won’t ‘chip’ in on Curry’s talk


VIDEO: Jan. 21: Ariza, Curry have mix-up

SAN FRANCISCO — Trevor Ariza shrugged and chuckled at Tuesday’s shootaround when told that Stephen Curry said the Western Conference finals might get “chippy” based on the history of the Rockets and Warriors in the regular season.

“To be honest with you, I don’t remember any chippiness,” Ariza said. “I just remember us losing and that’s the only thing that was a problem, us losing. So we’ve got to come out here and stay focused, remember what we’re here to do and that’s it.”

The Kia MVP Curry was referring to the last meeting between the two teams on Jan. 21 at Oracle Arena when the Warriors completed a 4-0 sweep of the Rockets that included a third-quarter incident with Ariza. Curry didn’t like the way Ariza bumped him as he ran up court and went after the Rockets forward before teammate Draymond Green wrapped him in a bearhug.

Ariza was slapped with a technical foul — one of five in the game — and was later fined $2,500.

“You’ve got to be ready for anything,” Curry said Monday. “But we expect the intensity and just the atmosphere — I don’t know the word; I’m trying to think of a better word to use — it’s going to be, there might be some chippy episodes, just because we know where we are. We’re in the Western Conference finals. We’re four wins away from getting to The Finals and one step closer to the dream. So there’s one team in our way to get there and whatever happens in between games, you’ve kind of just got to try to keep your composure and stay focused on what the mission is and not get caught up in any of that stuff.”

For his part, Ariza refused to even get caught up in pre-game verbal jousting with Curry.

“I was running and he just turned into me,” Ariza said. “That was it. That was during the season. That was a long time ago. That was totally different. We were in a different place. We’re trying to beat them. We’re not trying to be friends with them or anything. We’re trying to come here and just win.”

McHale wants Rockets in attack mode


VIDEO: Rockets coach Kevin McHale before Game 1 vs. Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO — Are the Rockets still playing the Mavs? The Clippers? Does it even matter that they’ve moved on to the Warriors for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals tonight?

“We’ve got to do what we do,” coach Kevin McHale said after Tuesday’s pregame shootaround. “You guys never believe me that I’m not worrying much about what they do. I’ve been telling you guys for four years now that I can’t control anything they do on that other side. I can only control us and we’ve got to play the way that we need to play.”

Look at the scouting reports, of course. Be aware that there is no such thing as too little daylight for Klay Thompson to fire up a 3-pointer or anything that exists that could even be considered a bad shot by Stephen Curry. But all McHale wants his team to think about is their own attitude, their own game.

“We’ve got to go at them,” McHale said. “We’ve got to attack them off the dribble. We’ve got to attack them off the pass. We’ve got to attack them off the offensive glass. We’ve got to go full attack mode on them. There’s three ways of getting the ball in the paint. You can dribble in it, which is very effective. You can throw it down to the big guy, which is very effective. And you can offensive rebound, which is very effective. We’ve got to do all three.

“They’re gonna run. We’ve got to run back that them too. I don’t think we’ll hold them scoreless. They’re gonna make some shots. They’re gonna make some runs. We’ve just gotta keep attacking.

“We’ve got to get back in transition defense, there’s no question. But we don’t want to turn the ball over. They’re very handsy. We don’t want to play in crowds. We want a low turnover game, a high rebounding game and a high energy game for us.”

Just as he spoke to his team about keeping their heads when the Rockets fell behind 3-1 to the Clippers in the previous round, McHale continues to draw from his own 13-year Hall of Fame playing career to get his message across to the Rockets.

“I understand that it’s not always gonna be the prettiest,” he said. “You can’t lose your mind over every little thing. You gotta go compete. You gotta compete on every single possession. As you start advancing in the NBA, we’re down to four teams left. Thirty teams started last October. There are four teams left. Those are four good teams. There’s not gonna normally be a huge talent gap…You just gotta go out and and fight. These games very seldom come down to ‘Oh, I’m just way more skilled than you are.’ They come down to who wants to fight more.”

Numbers preview: Warriors-Rockets


VIDEO: GameTime: A look ahead to the West finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Houston Rockets are seemingly facing long odds in the Western Conference finals. Their opponent — the Golden State Warriors — was the league’s best team in the regular season by a wide margin, has home-court advantage and a 43-3 record at home, and swept the season series.

But the Rockets faced long odds in the conference semifinals, as well. And they became the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, coming back from 19 points down late in the third quarter of Game 6 along the way.

This is a matchup between the MVP and the guy who finished second. Both averaged between 25 and 26 points in those four regular-season meetings, but Stephen Curry did so much more efficiently than James Harden.

With a healthy Dwight Howard, Harden will have more help than he did earlier in the season. Still, the Warriors look to have a good shot of reaching The Finals for the first time in 40 years.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Western Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Golden State Warriors (67-15)

Beat New Orleans in four games.
Beat Memphis in six games.
Pace: 94.3 (14)
OffRtg: 107.4 (2)
DefRtg: 98.8 (5)
NetRtg: +8.6 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Warriors playoff notes:

Houston Rockets (56-26)

Beat Dallas in five games.
Beat L.A. Clippers in seven games.
Pace: 104.8 (1)
OffRtg: 105.9 (6)
DefRtg: 106.8 (12)
NetRtg: -0.9 (8)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets playoff notes:

The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 4-0
Pace: 104.5
GSW OffRtg: 109.6 (2nd vs. HOU)
HOU OffRtg: 95.8 (22nd vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

Clippers ready to forget, move on

VIDEO: The GameTime crew previews Rockets-Clippers Game 6

LOS ANGELES — Fuhgetaboutit.

It’s been a trademark all season long of the Clippers, a wiseguy bunch that’s known how to leave bad games in the past and move on.

“This team could pick and choose,” said coach Doc Rivers. “I didn’t like it, but the games they chose were pretty good games. That told me that this team has a chance.”

Now comes the biggest test as the Clippers get their chance to move past a 124-103 whipping by the Rockets on Tuesday night.

A win tonight would put the Clippers into the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. But a loss would force a Game 7 back in Houston. Road teams are 24-95 all time in the seventh game of the NBA playoffs.

“No one wants to put themselves in that position,” said forward Blake Griffin.

To avoid, it, the Clippers know that they’ll have to play much better than Game 5 when they were crushed in every category of the game, statistically and otherwise. They were outrebounded 58-39, hammered on points in the paint 64-46 and slammed in fastbreak scoring 17-3.

The Clippers also didn’t seem able to match the Rockets in terms of energy or urgency right from the opening tip. The Rockets seemed to beat the Clippers to every key rebound, each loose ball that was down on the floor and up for grabs.

“We kind of played like we had a couple of bullets in the chamber and we can’t do that,” Griffin said. “This is where you see the difference in teams. You see (good) teams close out games they should close out.”

The Clippers have a mixed track record in close-out games over recent seasons. They are 3-4 in situations that would put them into the next round, winning Game 7 over the Grizzlies in the 2012 first round, the Warriors in the 2014 first round and against the Spurs barely two weeks ago. But they have also lived dangerous in keeping the door open.

Only eight teams in history have come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA playoffs, most recently the Suns over the Lakers in 2006.

“I think a lot of championship teams get over things from game to game,” Rivers said. “You play a bad a bad game, you go to the next game. You play a good game, you go to the next game. I think that’s a quality that all good teams must have.”

For Warriors, 15 is the magic number


VIDEO: The Warriors talk about their Game 5 win.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Note to the Memphis Grizzlies and any other team that may cross paths with the Golden State Warriors this postseason: Don’t get down by 15.

After Wednesday’s Game 5 victory over the Grizzlies, the Warriors are 52-0 in games they’ve led by 15 or more at any point. They went 47-0 in the regular season and are 5-0 in the playoffs after leading by 15-plus.

Three other teams never blew a 15-point lead in the regular season, but none of them were perfect in half as many games as the Warriors. The Utah Jazz were 22-0, the Indiana Pacers were 16-0, and the Minnesota Timberwolves were 6-0 after leading by 15 or more points. In total, the league was 734-72 (.911) after leading by 15-plus.

The biggest lead the Warriors had in a game they lost was 14 points. They led an April 7 game in New Orleans by 14 late in the second quarter, but lost it by the middle of the third and eventually lost the game.

They got their revenge in the playoffs, coming back from 18 points down in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the first round on their way to a sweep. That was one of just two playoff games in which a team blew a lead of 15 or more points and lost. The other team to do it was the Milwaukee Bucks, who led Game 3 of the first round by 18 points, before losing in double-overtime.

The Atlanta Hawks have led nearly as many games by 15-plus as the Warriors have. But they’ve blown three of those leads: in Boston on Feb. 11, in Philadelphia on March 7, and in Chicago on the last night of the regular season.

The Clippers were 38-0 after leading by 15-plus in the regular season last year, but blew two leads of 15-plus in the playoffs.

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20150514_15-plus_remain

Morning Shootaround — May 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Wednesday’s playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Horford saves the Hawks | Warriors find the formula | Gasol says he’ll play Thursday | Rockets hoping to attack again | Casey to return as Raptors coach

No. 1: Horford saves the Hawks — After Paul Pierce drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, the Atlanta Hawks were in danger of going down 3-2 with the conference semifinals heading back to Washington, against an opponent that had it’s point guard back. But Al Horford saved the day, rebounding Dennis Schroder‘s miss and putting it back in the basket to put the Hawks on the brink of reaching the conference finals for the first time in 45 years. Sekou Smith was at The Highlight Factory for the wild finish

So if there is anyone affiliated with the Hawks who understood the significance of winning this game on this night, with all that was riding on the outcome, it was Horford.

The Hawks have checked every box during his journey from rookie sensation to face of the franchise. First up was just making the playoffs. Then it was advancing past the first round and now comes that final hurdle, making it to unchartered territory that is the conference finals … and perhaps beyond.

“It means a lot,” Horford said of crunch time play, “but more importantly we won. We all get to celebrate. And it’s about our team. I was just in that position and I just made a play. I’m just excited we’re in a position of 3-2 now, and took care of home … and now we have a chance to go up to D.C. and wrap the series up.”

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No. 2: Warriors find the formula — The Golden State Warriors were the best team in the regular season (by a wide margin), thanks to top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And they outplayed the Memphis Grizzlies on both ends of the floor in Game 5 of the conference semis on Wednesday to take a 3-2 series lead, as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle writes

The Warriors laugh at Charles Barkley and others, who say their jump-shooting team can’t win a NBA title.

They laugh, because the Warriors know they aren’t merely a jump-shooting team.

They also sport the league’s best defense as they showed Wednesday night at Oracle Arena, where they made 14 three-pointers on one end and played championship-level defense on the other in beating the Grizzlies 98-78 and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Of the 180 NBA teams that have broken a 2-2 tie by winning Game 5 of a seven-game series, 81.7 percent have won the series. Game 6 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Memphis’ FedExForum.

“Our intent is to go down there and try to play the kind of defense we’ve played the past two games, which has really turned this series,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I said the first couple of games that our defense was good enough, but it wasn’t championship defense. I was wrong. It wasn’t good enough. This is what it’s going to take, this kind of defense from tonight and Game 4.”

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No. 3: Gasol says he’ll play Thursday — The Chicago Bulls’ season will be on the line in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). So Pau Gasol, who’s officially listed as “probable” by his team, says he’ll fight through whatever hamstring pain he has after missing the last two games (two Cleveland wins). Our Steve Aschburner has the story

“I mean, right now it’s win or go home,” the 7-footer told reporters at the Bulls’ Advocate Center practice facility. “There’s nothing left but tomorrow’s game. What percentage I’ll be able to play? I don’t know, but whatever percentage I will be, that’s what I’ll give.”

Gasol, after doing a light workout Tuesday, said he felt no ill effects in his leg and he upped his rehab Wednesday to run a little harder, get up some shots and work through some basketball plays. He has not tried to jump yet and sounded as if his goal is shorter stints than his usual 32-34 minutes.

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No. 4: Rockets hoping to attack again — No team in NBA history attempted more 3-pointers than this year’s Houston Rockets. But the Rockets extended their historical season by outscoring the Clippers 64-46 in the paint in Game 5 on Tuesday. To get Game 7 back on their home floor, they’re looking to do the same thing in Game 6 on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

It was as much as anything the key to the Rockets escaping the ignominy and damage of their lost weekend in Los Angeles with a blowout win of their own to cut the Clippers’ series lead to 3-2 heading into Thursday’s Game 6.

There was, however, one more benefit that came with going at the Clippers instead of trying in vain to go around them. It’s better to hit than be hit. That’s not just a strategy, though the Rockets’ success on Tuesday started there.

“Basketball is a mindset,” McHale said. “Everybody is really talented. It usually is the toughest minded team that’s going to win.”

Though much of the series, that had been the Clippers. On Tuesday, the Rockets turned that around by attacking the paint as they had throughout the season.

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No. 5: Casey to return as Raptors coach — Before the playoffs began, Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said that the postseason “influences everything” in regard to his offseason decisions. So, because the Raptors were swept by the Wizards in embarrassing fashion, we can expect some changes in Toronto. But those changes won’t start with the head coach, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports. Dwane Casey, who has another guaranteed year left on his contract, will be back for fifth season with the Raptors …

No news is good news for Dwane Casey.

While Raptors president/general manager Masai Ujiri has not declared one way or the other whether Casey will be back as the team’s head coach next season since the team crumpled to the mat in four games against the Washington Wizards, his return is not in question, sources have told the Sun.

What is less clear, is whether his coaching staff will remain intact, or whether there will be some alterations.

As multiple reports have indicated, there has been discussion about shaking up a staff that includes Bill Bayno, Nick Nurse, Tom Sterner, Jesse Mermuys and Jama Mahlalela (director of sports science Alex McKechnie also is an assistant coach), but what is not being said out loud is that nothing has yet been finalized and maintaining the status quo is also a possibility.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall came back from his broken hand and almost led the Wizards to a huge win … After a quick start, the Grizzlies couldn’t keep up with the Warriors on WednesdayMatthew Dellavedova picked up an after-the-fact technical foul for the leg lock that preceded Taj Gibson‘s flagrant foul in Game 4 … The Clippers aim to be better in their second chance to close out the Rockets … The Miami Heat, heading to the Lottery for the first time in seven years, should like what they see wherever they draft … and when it comes to the Draft, don’t underestimate the importance of the interview.

ICYMI: Al Horford rebounds the missed layup by Dennis Schroder and puts it back to win game 5 for the Hawks:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Al Horford

Morning Shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lebron carries Cleveland | Houston blasts off thanks to Harden | New Orleans fires Williams | Will Wall return tonight?

No. 1: LeBron Carries Cleveland Going into last night, the Cavs and Bulls series was tied two games apiece, sure, but the Cavs found themselves beset by injuries and in need of some help. Enter LeBron James. The King went for 38 points, a dozen rebounds, six assists and three steals, and carried the Cavs to a 106-101 Game 5 win, giving the Cavs a series lead and leaving them one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. As Steve Aschburner writes, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler may be one of the league’s best defenders, but stopping LeBron James is not only nearly impossible, it’s nearly thankless as well…

So he got dressed slowly? Butler should have been doing everything slowly, from walking to talking. He is doing so much in the series and it’s not enough. His Bulls team is down 3-2 and Butler is signed up for another four or eight quarters of hell.

“Nobody cares,” Butler said of the wear and tear, along with the psychic scars, this series has inflicted. “Nobody feels sorry for me anyway. I’m supposed to produce at both ends of the floor. Make shots. And guard. I’ve just got to do better.”

Do better. Chicago likes to think of itself as a blunt, no-nonsense town and that’s a big-shoulders way of approaching his duty on James. When he subbed back in to start the second quarter, knowing that a third foul would sit him down again, Butler wasn’t surprised to be lined up again against James. No rest for the weary.

“It’s just part of the game plan,” said Butler, taciturn as the Texan he is when talking serious business. “Just got to guard without fouling. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. But that’s that. Can’t change it.”

James roared to his best game of the five so far in the series and patted himself on his own back for avoiding even a single turnover. Meanwhile, Butler was down the hall, quietly licking his wounds and searching for ways to do better in a largely no-win situation.

“I don’t mind him being my shadow,” James said. “I don’t mind it at all. I’ll take all competition. I love going against Jimmy. I think it brings out the best in myself. And I try to reciprocate back to him.”

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No. 2: Houston blasts off thanks to Harden The Los Angeles Clippers won Game 4 of their series against the Houston Rockets by 33 points, taking a 3-1 series lead in completely convincing fashion. Last night in Houston, with the Clippers holding the chance to close out the series, the Rockets fought back, making an adjustment to the starting lineup and getting a triple-double from a flu-addled James Harden in a big 124-103 win. As Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, it may have taken them four games, but perhaps the Rockets finally found their groove against these Clippers…

“We weren’t aggressive enough the first four games,” Harden said. “We were timid. They have really good bigs. We made a conscious effort to go into attack mode.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale tweaked his rotation a bit to play Harden for shorter stints, having him come out in the first quarter when Dwight Howard usually does. But when Harden returned, he took over, scoring 14 second-quarter points to take the Rockets to a 15-point lead. He still played 43 minutes, getting his first playoff triple double with a career playoff high 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“James started warming into the game,” McHale said. He was moving the ball. We attacked. Finally, we got to the basket. We got points in the paint and tried to attack and played a little bit more like we tried to play the entire year.”

“We play better when we play inside-out, attack downhill. We’re one of the best teams at getting points in the paint and we just weren’t doing it.”

When he knocked down a corner 3 with 2:02 left, he had 26 points, the Rockets had a 21-point lead and Harden could finally head to the locker room early.

“He wasn’t feeling well all day,” McHale said. “He had a hell of a game. He had an IV this afternoon and he played a great game for us and we needed it.”

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No. 3: New Orleans fires Williams The New Orleans Pelicans embarked upon a rebuilding program a few years ago, trading Chris Paul, drafting Anthony Davis, and slowly but surely creating a team that could be a postseason problem for the rest of the Western Conference. This season, the Pelicans not only made the playoffs, but they won a game against the mighty Golden State Warriors. So perhaps coach Monty Williams can be excused for showing up yesterday at the team’s facility thinking a contract extension was in order. Instead, writes John Reid, Williams was fired with a year left on his contract.

When Monty Williams came to the New Orleans Pelicans’ facility Tuesday morning for a meeting with executive vice president Mickey Loomis, he thought the discussion would be about a possible contract extension, league sources said.

Williams, whose contract was set to expire after the next season, had just ended the franchise’s four-year playoff drought and presumed he would be rewarded.

Instead, Williams was fired. He was completely taken aback by the decision, especially after recently receiving praise from ownership for reaching the postseason.

Loomis said the reason for the dismissal was more about the future of the franchise than Williams’ final season.

“I just felt like the end of the day, we had a good season and Monty did a great job, he’s done some really good things for us,” Loomis said. “But going forward, we just felt like our group needed something different to get to the next level.

“We’ve seen improvement from year to year. Obviously, we were excited to make the playoffs. But at the end of the day, the decision is to get to the next step up. We needed to do something a little different.”

Williams had a 173-221 record in five seasons with New Orleans and led the franchise to two playoff appearances, including his first season when he had All-Stars Chris Paul and David West.

Two weeks ago at his season-ending news conference, Williams spoke with excitement about the future of the team, which beat the Spurs to clinch a playoff berth and cap an improbable run down the stretch before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Western Conference’s top seed, Golden State. Williams, who guided the Pelicans to a 45-37 regular-season record, praised his players’ improvement over the past few seasons and looked forward to the possibilities.

“He was surprised, totally unexpected,” Loomis said of Williams’ reaction after losing his job.

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No. 4: Will Wall return tonight? John Wall suffered fractures to his left wrist early in Washington’s Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s missed every game since. But with the series now tied at two victories apiece and the Wizards needing a win tonight in Atlanta, could Wall swap his sharp sideline suits for a spot on the active roster? He made an appearance at Wizards’ practice yesterday and is a step closer to returning to action, writes Jorge Castillo in the Washington Post

For the first time in nearly a week, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall dribbled a basketball with his left hand Tuesday, a minor but crucial step in his recovery. Wall will have the five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand re-evaluated before Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Coach Randy Wittman said, and a decision will then be made whether the all-star will return for the game against the Hawks in Atlanta.

Wall, who sustained his injury in Game 1 on May 3, is officially listed as questionable. “When they check him again,” Wittman said, “I’m sure they’re either going to say ‘No, we need more time’ or ‘It’s up to you’ from a pain standpoint.”

Wall did some light shooting with his right hand for the final portion of the Wizards’ walkthrough at Verizon Center open to the media Tuesday. He held his lightly bandaged left hand off to the side. The Wizards then closed the practice court while several players, including Wall, and assistant coaches remained. About 30 minutes later, Wall emerged breathing heavily and sweating.

“The swelling is minimal now,” Wittman said. “It’s still a little but nothing where it was. Like we talked about, the doctors wanted to reassess things after that. What he’s doing now is fine according to them, to get a little feel for it so see how it feels, number one, again, from a pain standpoint.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol is hopeful he’ll be healthy enough to return in Game 6 … Now that he knows his knee is sound, Kyrie Irving is playing with peace of mindAlan Anderson underwent successful surgery yesterday … Craig Sager continues his fight against leukemia … The Philadelphia 76ers unveiled new logos yesterday …