HOUSTON -- As the Rockets try to continue their march toward history Friday night, the troops will be bolstered by the return of Jeremy Lin. The point guard, who suffered a bruised chest and hasn’t played since Game 3, will come off the bench for Game 6 against the Thunder at the Toyota Center.
Lin has been attempting to get back onto the court for days, but had been unable to get rid of the pain.
“Once game-time comes around, I probably won’t feel anything,” said Lin after Friday’s shootaround. “It’s been the longest week, a really, really long week. Just the fact I get to play is a huge, huge burden off of my shoulders.”
Rockets coach Kevin McHale says that rookie Patrick Beverley will continue to start and Lin will come off the bench.
“Playoff series end up having kind of a life of their own and a rhythm,” McHale said. “To be thrown in the middle of that rhythm a lot of times, it’s hard to catch the rhythm. Our guys have a little bit of rhythm in this series, as Oklahoma City has a rhythm in the series. To be thrown out there – that’s why we have to be a little bit careful.
“We’ll bring him off the bench and see how much juice he has in the tank. It’s hard to enter a series when you haven’t played in a while, but we’re going to try to keep what we have going. Jeremy, we’ll try to fit him in there, see how he is and see how his arm feels. If he gets hit or anything happens.”
Lin has shot just 5-for-20 with 14 points and eight assists in the series.
Rockets shooting guard James Harden has been diagnosed with strep throat, but will be in the starting lineup.
HANG TIME, Texas — Patrick Beverley knows a thing or two about rough crowds.
There were those throaty and angry Euro League road games earlier this season when he played in St. Petersburg, Russia. There the seasons in Ukraine and Greece when he was pelted with coins and played with a bloodied face.
And, of course, there were those mornings on the mean streets of his native Chicago when just getting to school was a challenge.
So even though he’ll be regarded as public enemy No. 1 for taking OKC’s Russell Westbrook out of the playoffs when he hits the floor for Game 5 against the Thunder tonight, Beverley says he’ll barely notice.
The rookie point guard has been the target of vitriol on Twitter and on call-in radio shows ever since his attempted steal and collision with Westbrook in the second quarter of Game 2 resulted in a torn medial collateral ligament and a seat on the sidelines for the rest of the playoffs.
Police even investigated a part-time worker for the Thunder who had tweeted a death threat.
“You know what, that type of pressure really doesn’t get me,” said Beverley. “With the type of pressure I used to growing up as a kid, walking to the corner store without having something happen to me, I could really care less about Twitter or anything like that. It was just hard trying to go to school some mornings growing up.”
Beverley has been a hit with Rockets fans since he joined the team in January and steadily began to get more and more playing time. With Jeremy Lin sidelined by a bruised chest muscle, he started Games 3 and 4 and could be back in the starting lineup tonight, depending on Lin’s status.
In an arena known as Loud City, the hoots and criticism could hit unprecedented decibel levels.
“It’s going to be fun,” Beverley said. “I’m looking forward to all the boos and stuff. I understand the crowd is going to be amped up and I hope that is going to get us more focused.
“Every time you catch the ball, you’re going to hear boos, so at least I get to release some of the pressure off (former Thunder member James Harden).”
The 6-foot-1 guard is averaging 12 points and four assists in the series, including 16 points and a key late blocked shot in the Rockets 105-103 win on Monday night. He laughs and shakes his head when reminiscing about the road game atmospheres in Europe, where the fans in Greece were especially hostile.
“I’ve been hit in the face with quarters and played with blood running down my face,” Beverley said. “It’s worse over there, but I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be pretty bad (in OKC) too.”
HOUSTON – The temptation is to change without Russell Westbrook in the Thunder lineup. The temptation is to try to exploit that gaping hole in the backcourt.
But going back to that infamous apple hanging from the tree, temptation has often led to trouble.
“We can’t change who we are,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “We can’t suddenly change our style and become some team that we’re not. It’s not like we’re gonna show up and suddenly play like an inside-out team with Hakeem Olajuwon in the middle.”
The task for the Rockets in Game 3 tonight at the Toyota Center is to keep stomping down hard on the gas pedal, keep moving the basketball from side to side on the court and continue to play with the sense of urgency that was evident in their fourth-quarter comeback in Game 2.
The absence of Westbrook does not mean the Rockets are facing a situation that is any less desperate.
Of 44 previous No. 8 seeds to fall into an 0-2 hole in the first round of the playoffs, only one has managed to climb back out.
“We’ve got a one-game season,” McHale said. “That’s as simple as it is. We better be desperate. We’re down 2-0 coming home in a playoff series. We got to play well. We got to do all the things we did last game, but more.”
Rather than an OKC that is reeling, the Rockets have got to figure the Thunder will come rolling with an added measure of emotion. They have got to expect that the league’s second-leading scorer Kevin Durant will now have the ball in his hands even more and will put up more shots.
“That sounds like fun for me,” said Chandler Parsons, who will get the lion’s share of the defensive duty on Durant.
“Anytime someone goes down, it gives the team an opportunity for someone to step up. (Westbrook’s) a huge part of their team. They’re hurting right now. That’s one of their leaders. That’s one of their best players going down.
“Now we’ve got to really get them while they’re down. Obviously we have an opportunity…and we have to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Just because Westbrook is out doesn’t mean we’re not still down 0-2. The urgency’s still there and it’s probably even more now. Just understanding that it’s a very winnable game and we need to go in there and set the tone and really make this series fun by getting a win.”
The Rockets are expecting that Reggie Jackson will get the start for OKC in Westbrook’s place, but they can’t afford to concern themselves with match-ups.
Houston could be missing a cog in its own starting lineup depending on the status of point guard Jeremy Lin. He suffered a bruised chest muscle in Game 2 and is considered a game-time decision. However Lin did take part in Saturday morning’s shootaround. Big man Greg Smith was suffering from stomach distress and did not participate in the shootaround.
Nevertheless, what’s important for the Rockets is to clean up all of the problems in their own game. In the series opener, the NBA’s youngest team was overwhelmed by the first playoff experience for most of the roster and was swamped. When the ball moved better in their offense and presented open shots in Game 2, the Rockets made just 36 of 91 shots and were only 10-for-34 from behind the 3-point line.
And the one thing the Rockets cannot do at all is think for even a moment that Westbrook’s absence could make things easier.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” said forward Carlos Delfino.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The start of the NBA playoffs is just days away and that’s always a signal for superstars to ready themselves to step into the spotlight on the game’s biggest stage.
It’s also the time for those unsuspecting guys, the unsung contributors on playoff teams from throughout the league, to raise their level of play with their respective seasons on the line. We like to call them Hang Time’s Playoff Wild Cards, guys who will impact their teams and potentially the outcomes of their respective team’s first round series.
The Starting Five of HT’s Playoff Wild Cards Team (and just like Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, we don’t get caught up in positions. We’re going with the best five Wild Cards):
JEREMY LIN, PG, HOUSTON ROCKETS
By now Rockets fans know that the star point guard they snatched away from New York last summer is not the same guy who inspired Linsanity. What they’ve got is a guy who is much steadier and just as productive, statistically, through 82 games with the Rockets (13.4 ppg, 6.0 apg and 3.0 rpg) as he was in 25 games with the Knicks (14.6, 6.2 and 3.1). What makes Lin a Wild Card is knowing that he’s capable of getting on the kind of roll that created the Linsanity phenomenon. The right matchup in the playoffs could be all he needs to morph back into the player we saw during his magical ride in New York.
DANNY GREEN, SG, SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Green is easily overlooked on a team with superstars like Tony Parker and even Tim Duncan who are often foolishly overlooked by the masses when the conversation turns to the true superstars in the league. What cannot (and should not) be overlooked is Green’s season-long penchant for taking and making big shots, not to mention his 43 percent shooting (for the second straight season, mind you) from beyond the 3-point line. Green is the beneficiary of defensive attention being paid to Parker and Duncan, and he takes full advantage of defender’s inattention to detail all the time.
JEFF GREEN, SF, BOSTON CELTICS
If the Jeff Green that showed up after All-Star weekend is the same Jeff Green that shows up for the playoffs, the Celtics will be one of the postseason’s most dangerous lower seeds. Green has averaged 17.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 2.7 apg in 34.1 minutes a night since the break (compared to the 10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 1.0 apg he posted in 24.6 minutes before the break). Green has the size, athleticism and skill on both ends of the floor to battle elite small forwards. The Celtics need him to do it every night in the postseason.
JIMMY BUTLER, SF, CHICAGO BULLS
In a season when Derrick Rose‘s supporting cast has been under scrutiny every single night, Butler has shined in his opportunities to contribute, particularly on the defensive side of things. He’s the battled the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and more than held his own in those matchups. Some young players struggle with a sudden increase in minutes, many of them spent in different roles. But not Butler. The more he’s played the better he’s played, giving Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau yet another rugged contributor on a team filled with them. If Butler continues to score the way he has recently (15.6 ppg on 53 percent shooting in his last five games), he’ll have an even greater impact than expected in the playoffs.
COREY BREWER, SF, DENVER NUGGETS
This Wild Card thing is easy for Brewer. He does it daily for a talented and deep Nuggets team that has thrived all season by unleashing that depth on the opposition. What makes Brewer so effective in this role is his non-stop motor, his activity on both ends of the floor, his ability to shoot it from distance and the fact that he finishes at the rim and in transition. It’s pretty remarkable considering he doesn’t appear to have gained a single pound since middle school (we’re joking here). Brewer averages 12.2 ppg without any plays being called for him … ever. He should have “Wild Card” stitched across the back of his jersey instead of “Brewer.”
HANG TIME, Texas — Well, the Hornets are changing their name to the Pelicans next season. Maybe the Rockets just wanted to get in on the excitement and fun of their own identity switch.
The Houston Doormen?
The Rockets couldn’t have been more accommodating to the lowly Suns if they had carried their luggage, rolled out the red carpet for the Warriors and in the process set themselves up to fall through a trapdoor in the playoff race. Houston could have taken a step closer to clinching the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference on Monday night, but now face a must-win game on Wednesday against the Lakers in L.A. to avoid the No. 8 spot.
It is the story of a young team, in fact the youngest in the entire league, not coming into a game against a losing team with the proper sense of urgency and respect. The Rockets allowed the Suns to beat them down the floor most of the night for fastbreak buckets and also pound the ball inside in the paint.
You could chalk it up to former Rockets Luis Scola and Goran Dragic wanting to get in their licks against their former team. Scola showed off all of his veteran wiles, hitting 11 of his 16 shots for 26 points and 15 rebounds, while Dragic piled up 21 points and handed out 14 assists.
Houston’s James Harden shot 5-for-18 and finished with just 16 points, Jeremy Lin shot 8-for-19 and the Rockets turned the ball over 16 times.
Give the Suns, who’ve been accused of tanking games, credit for playing their final home game of the season with pride. But give the blame to a Rockets that was a half-step slow from the opening tip and never played as if their there was anything on the line. Which, of course, there was.
Now the Rockets must win against the desperate Lakers on Wednesday and have the Warriors lose at Portland in order to claim the No. 6 seed. If both the Rockets and Warriors win, Houston will finish seventh and face No. 2 seed San Antonio.
If the Rockets and Warriors both lose, Houston will finish eighth and open the playoffs against No. 1 seed Oklahoma City, a matchup with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that nobody wants.
If the Lakers beat the Rockets, the Warriors are sixth regardless and L.A. will finish seventh and play the Spurs.
In that case, you have to figure the Houston Doormen will at least have earned a nice tip.
HOUSTON — Maybe it was fitting that James Harden’s shot kicked off the rim, took a bounce and received an unintentional assist from Jermaine O’Neal that carried the Rockets into the playoffs.
It was Harden himself who practically fell out of the sky right into the laps of the Rockets just four days before the start of the season that began the return to respectability and relevance.
“I didn’t know who was on the team. I didn’t know what was going on,” Harden said. “I was still kind of shocked. Weeks went by and a month went by. We kind of gained confidence in one another that we can go out and compete with anybody in this league. It’s been that way through this whole entire season and now we’re in the playoffs.”
The Rockets are back in the postseason for the first time in four years, having spent the past three springs with their noses pressed up against the window pane, tantalizingly close and yet locked out of the fun. For three straight years — with win totals of 42, 43 and 34 (in lockout-shortened 2012) — they had been the last team to miss out on the playoffs. Or took the best record into the draft lottery. Any way that you said it, the result was simply frustrating.
While team owner Leslie Alexander has been steadfast to “dive” for a chance at the bonanza offered by the draft lottery, general manager Daryl Morey has been more frantic than a one-armed juggler of chain saws to make and remake the roster again and again and again. It was that constant turmoil that led to exasperation by former coach Rick Adelman and an eventual parting of the ways. It has been an ongoing process that still puts constant new challenges into the path of coach Kevin McHale in his second season.
Even now, the Rockets are a laboratory project still in development. Houston is the NBA’s youngest team with an average age of 24.9 years and opened the season as the most inexperienced NBA team in the shot-clock era, based on minutes played.
The Rockets are the sixth-youngest team in history to reach the playoffs. The Thunder teams of 2010 and 2011, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, are the youngest ever. Next in line are the Trail Blazers of 2009, led by Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Bulls of 2006 with Luol Deng and Ben Gordon and the Hawks of 2008, led by Joe Johnson and Al Horford.
Despite Harden’s rapid rise to the league’s elite level, his first appearance in the All-Star Game and rank among the league’s top five scorers along with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the Rockets are still greener than most young sprouts of spring. Harden has been to the playoffs the past three seasons and went to The Finals last year with OKC, but is still only 23. Point guard Jeremy Lin is 24. Center Omer Asik is 26, but his is only his third year in the league and the first that he’s played starter’s minutes.
Though a 13-6 record over the past six weeks has made the return to the playoffs seem inevitable, it was not made official until Utah lost to the Thunder shortly after the Rockets beat Phoenix on Tuesday night.
“I actually didn’t think I would be excited,” Lin said. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going for the six seed.’ Now that it’s really here, I’m actually really excited because no one really gave us a chance going into the season that we’d be in the playoffs.”
The Rockets have been a franchise stuck in a rut, mired in mediocrity since the glory days of their back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. While this is now their 18th winning record since the 1992-93 season — only the Spurs and Lakers have more at 19 — they have had precious little playoff success. In fact, the Rockets have won only a single playoff series — vs. Portland in 2009 — since 1997 when some of the names on the backs of the jerseys read: Olajuwon, Drexler and Barkley.
There was always hope and unfulfilled promise during the eras of Steve Francis, then Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. But never the kind of results that were expected.
So when the wheeler-dealer Morey was able to land Harden on the eve of this season, it was the first step in his long held plan to put a franchise-type player on the court to build around and then supplement with the likes of Lin, Asik and Chandler Parsons.
In the process, the Rockets have turned into a fast-paced, 3-point shooting, prolific offensive club that most often produces the most entertaining games of any given night on NBA LeaguePass.
This will all lead into a summer of trying to land another big-name free agent, another All-Star caliber player, who can vault the Rockets back onto the level of title contenders.
But first things first and that was Harden’s shot that bounced high off the rim, O’Neal’s unofficial assist by goaltending and finally the Rockets taking an initial step back into the playoff conversation.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson has been a believer in his team all season and that faith has been realized now in the form of a team that won six of its past eight games to strut into the playoffs, as opposed to slipping through the back door.
“We celebrated, and rightfully so,” Jackson told reporters afterwards, fighting back the tears that flowed in a reportedly emotional and raucous postgame locker room celebration. “People questioned us, and they should have. People doubted us, and they should have. But they underestimated the heart, the desire, the work ethic, the determination, the willingness to put in the time and then the favor of God.”
Much like fellow Tuesday night playoff clincher Houston, the Warriors have arrived to the surprise of many. They’ve done it without the hype-train that has accompanied the Rockets’ rise. There’s no James Harden or Jeremy Lin headliner on this Warriors team (although an All-Star like David Lee and shooting star like Stephen Curry certainly deserve whatever plaudits come their way).
The Warriors’ front office doesn’t have a figure like Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, the Wizard of Advanced Metrics Oz,to point to. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has gone about his business without a ton of fanfare. He’s plotting the course properly. The Warriors roster is sound. And they are built not just for a momentary playoff flash this time, but for a sustained period of playoff contention that Warriors fans have not experienced before.
“We should enjoy this,” Lacob said after Tuesday’s playoff-clinching win. “We’ve got to celebrate the little moments, too. Every step counts. This is an important first step for this franchise and this ownership group and for all of these guys and the coaches.”
How soon the Warriors take that second step remains to be seen. The playoffs provide all sort of opportunities for upstarts to attempt to “shock the world.”
One thing seems certain, though, and that is the Warriors shouldn’t have to endure another six-year wait between playoff trips.
That’s all the time we have left in the NBA regular season to sort out all of the issues facing us. And, Naismith knows, we have plenty of them.
Nine more (game) days to weave through the months of drama and finalize the playoff order in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, to see who will snatch this season’s scoring title, to see if the Los Angeles Lakers can salvage the dumpster fire that their season has been since training camp … there’s a host of other loose ends that need to be tied up before the postseason tips off.
We already know the eight players in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have clinched their playoff bids. All that’s left is to firm up the order beneath the Heat, who have a 10-game cushion in the standings.
The Knicks and Pacers are battling for the No. 2 seed (just 2.5 games separate the two). The Knicks surged ahead on the strength of their current 12-game win streak, fueled by their MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony and the streaky J.R. Smith.
The Nets are doing whatever it takes to hold on to their top four spot in the standings, and the coveted home-court advantage that comes along with it.
But at least the pecking order is pretty much set. Not so in the other half of the bracket.
SORTING OUT THE BOTTOM OF THE WEST …
The order in the West remains a bit muddled. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are playoff locks. The Spurs have already wrapped up the Southwest Division crown and the Clippers secured the first Pacific Division title in franchise history with their win over the Lakers Sunday at Staples Center.
“It just feels like something we were supposed to do,” Chris Paul said after shredding the Lakers for 24 points and 12 assists. “It means we’re headed in the right direction. We’re not satisfied. We understand this is something small compared to the big picture.”
The bottom of the standings in the Western Conference will come into a clearer focus in the last nine days. The Jazz have a half-game lead over the Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the playoff chase, courtesy of their huge win Sunday night over the Golden State Warriors.
The Jazz have four games remaining: against Oklahoma City on Tuesday, against Minnesota on Friday and in Minnesota on April 15, and at Memphis on April 17, the final night of the regular season.
The Lakers have a slight schedule advantage. Of their five remaining games just one (Wednesday night’s tilt in Portland) will come away from the Staples Center. But their last three will be against playoff teams; Golden State on Friday, San Antonio on Sunday and Houston on April 17.
The Jazz own the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Lakers the favorable schedule. As suspected, this one could come down to the final night of the season.
WHAT RACE FOR THE SCORING TITLE?
The three-time scoring champ doesn’t want a fourth title. Not right now.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said as much about his battle with Anthony for the scoring crown.
“He can have it,” Durant said last week, before admitting that he is rooting for Anthony to snag his first scoring title in his 10th NBA season.
Durant obviously has more pressing matters to occupy his time, namely the Thunder’s battle with the Spurs for the top overall seed in the Western Conference. OKC’s loss Sunday to Anthony and the Knicks didn’t help that cause.
Best guess: Anthony gets the scoring title (he’s scored 36 or more points in four straight games) and the Spurs get the top seed in the West.
EAST MATCHUPS UP FOR GRABS, AFTER HEAT-BUCKS
If form holds in the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 Heat will face off with the No. 8 Bucks, a matchup tilted heavily in favor of the league’s best team.
Everything else after that, however, is literally up for grabs.
The difference between the six other teams is negligible on any given night. With experienced playoff teams like the Bulls, Hawks and Celtics lurking in the bottom half of the East bracket, the higher seeds have to be extremely careful with home-court advantage.
The Celtics and Bulls, in particular, are teams adept at ignoring the obvious and playing above their heads in the playoffs. Two physical teams like this, built with defense in mind — teams that have shown themselves capable of pushing the Heat to the edge (remember the Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game win streak) — should have no problem making life difficult for higher seeds in the first round of the playoffs.
STILL HOPE FOR ROSE …
The Bulls have the one variable in the playoffs that could change the entire postseason landscape in former MVP Derrick Rose, who made it clear over the weekend that he has not abandoned the idea of suiting up this season.
Time is obviously not on his side. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Rose or the Bulls, who would surely welcome back their All-Star — their best player — to a team that has survived without him quite well.
With just six games left, Rose will have to accelerate his decision-making process and come up with an answer sooner rather than later. After weeks of speculation to the contrary, might Rose actually be ready for a return?
“Oh, no,” Rose said, when asked if he’d announce he’s sitting out this season. “I’m keeping it open.”
After Sunday’s game against the Pistons, the Bulls have just six regular-season games remaining.
“I’m not trying to think about that right now,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to help my teammates, give them confidence to go out there and play hard. I’ll play whenever I’m ready to play. Who knows when I’m ready to? Right now, all I can do is just cheer on my teammates.”
Rose first scrimmaged on Feb. 18 and has said whether he returns is as much a mental hurdle as a physical one at this point. Playing on a minutes limit wouldn’t bother him.
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” he said. “Of course I want to play more. But it’s not that big. I’m going to play whenever I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s 15 or 40 (minutes). I just love the game too much. Like I said, I’m just waiting and praying about it. And hopefully I’ll be out there soon.”
Bulls fans are waiting and praying as well, hoping that not only can Rose return but that he can thrive on his surgically repaired knee.
VUCEVIC CHASING HOWARD FOR REBOUNDING TITLE
No one gets a fancy trophy for winning the league’s dirty work award, the rebounding title.
But wouldn’t it be something if Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (11.8 rebounds per game) was able to catch and pass former Magic and now Lakers big man Dwight Howard (12.5) for the top spot? Vucevic has turned out to be the surprise gem of the multiple-player and multiple-team deal that sent Howard to Los Angeles and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming …
TROUBLE FILLING OUT YOUR ALL-NBA BALLOT?
If you are struggling with who goes where on your All-NBA first-team ballot, welcome to the club.
Outside of LeBron James and Paul, there are some extremely difficult choices that have to be made. Who gets the nod between Anthony and Durant at the other forward spot? And do you go with Marc Gasol at center and Kobe Bryant at shooting guard?
That relegates worthy candidates (based on the position-specific nature of the All-NBA team) like Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Howard and Tim Duncan to the second team, even though you could make a compelling case for each of them, too.
At least we have time to think about it … well, nine game days.
HOUSTON — Danny Green was sailing in on the right side for what would been a layup that stretched the Spurs run out to 12-0 and their lead up to six points with just under 1 1/2 minutes to play.
It’s not the first time nobody saw Patrick Beverley coming.
The Lakers had made him a second-round pick in 2009 and flipped him to Miami on draft night. He had previously spent a season in the Ukraine and when the pre-LeBron James Heat were doing everything they could to free up cap room, they packed his bags and extended his European vacation in Greece.
When the Rockets finally bought out Beverley’s contract from Spartak in St. Petersburg, Russia, and brought him home on Jan. 7, his first stop stateside was the NBA D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev.
“All I want to do is get a chance to show people that I can play,” Beverley said then. “Just give me a chance.”
It was the kind of move that drew little notice around the league, a young team adding another set of young legs.
A split second after the ball left Green’s hand on Sunday night, those young legs launched Beverley skyward. James Harden felt something zooming over his head like a meteor.
“You don’t usually see little guys making a play like that,” Harden said.
The little guy’s rejection of Green was big, big, big and it became huge when Chandler Parsons nailed a 3 at the other end, Harden bagged a pull-up jumper in the final seconds and the Rockets held on for a 96-95 win.
Sometimes these so-called playoff preview games can be more than a bit overblown. But having lost three times already to the Spurs this season and giving up an average of 123 points a game, it was a statement the Rockets needed to make, if only to themselves, as the possibility of a first-round Texas Two-Step series hovers.
Harden has long since proven himself as a frontline All-Star performer this season and Jeremy Lin’s game has steadily rounded into shape. And if there’s any surprise left in the Rockets’ backcourt, the 6-foot-1 Beverley has been doing all that he can to dispel it over the past two-plus months. He’s averaging five points and just under 16 minutes per game, but it’s when those minutes often come that are of note.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale put Beverley back in for Lin to play the point with 3:50 left, the score tied at 89 and going head-to-head against All-Star Tony Parker.
“I’m prepared at all times,” Beverley said. “Throughout this whole season I’ve been put in this situation a lot more than once. Orlando game, Wizards game. I just try to go out there and do what I do. Get some stops and make some open shots.”
Beverley made shots, open and otherwise, shooting 4-for-4 for 11 points in the first half and then played a critical role with his defense down the stretch.
“Patrick had a good game going,” McHale said. “Parker was driving hard and getting fouled, so we went with Patrick out there to get a little more defense and then Chandler switched off. I thought one of the biggest plays of the game was Patrick running down that block. That was a phenomenal block.”
After Harden’s jumper put the Rockets in front and the Spurs had their last chance, it was Beverley who prevented Tim Duncan from making a handoff return pass to Manu Ginobili to get the shot San Antonio wanted.
So here is the 2012 Eurocup MVP, who began another season playing on the far side of the world suddenly smack in the middle of a playoff race.
“I was on my way home from (shootaround) today and I called my mom and told her I still can’t believe I’m in the NBA,” Beverley said. “I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m enjoying it…I can finally show the world I can play basketball.”
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: It was pick-a-wild-finish night in the NBA after the thrilling endings to Heat-Cavs, Celtics-Hornets and Thunder-Grizz. We liked the finishes of all three — how could you not like the frantic action in Cleveland? — but our pick goes to the grit-and-grind guys in Memphis. The mostly unappreciated (by non-League Pass fiends) Marc Gasol came up with a big bucket in OT to seal the win (although, if you’re an OKC fan, you might have thought there was a little push-off going on there) after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seemed to vanquish the Grizz time after time in the fourth quarter. Our guy Zach Randolph struggled (thanks to killer down-the-stretch defense from Nick Collison), but Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless provided some smart guard play to offset Z-Bo’s absence in what was a playoff-type game through and through.
Round of ‘H-O-R-S-E’ gets Lin going — Entering Wednesday night’s showdown with the Jazz in Houston, Jeremy Lin had been hot, averaging 16.7 ppg, 5.2 apg and shooting 52 percent. But he was a bit worn down from the season’s grind and Alicia Keys taking over the Toyota Center, Lin headed to a different court and played a few rounds of H-O-R-S-E with his brother, who was visiting him. The light-hearted game obviously helped as Lin torched Utah for 24 points and six assists (most of which coming out of the pick-and-roll) as Houston got a big win to help its playoff hopes. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:
With a day off and orders to clear his mind, Jeremy Lin took the opportunity to head to the gym.
He did change things up a bit. With Alicia Keys taking over Toyota Center, Lin found a different court and a few different teammates. But Lin’s idea of a day off included basketball.
“It’s therapeutic,” he said.
After Sunday’s 30-point loss to Golden State, he and the Rockets needed the therapy, so Lin spent a chunk of Monday launching jumpers and playing HORSE.
When the Rockets reconvened at Toyota Center on Wednesday, Lin spent the night as if still goofing with his brother and buddies far from the cameras and lights. He repeatedly pierced the Utah Jazz defense, helping to drive the Rockets to a 26-point lead. And when the Jazz rallied in the fourth quarter, Lin knifed through them again, with one drive to a layup and another and a pass for a Chandler Parsons dunk that finally closed out the Jazz 100-93.
Lin made eight of nine shots in the paint as the Rockets went from launching 3-pointers to beating the Jazz at the rim, and from a series of slow starts to a rapid bolt from the opening tip that set the tone for the game.
“JLin made them pay,” Parsons said. “He’s a good player, especially in pick-and-roll. He’s fast. … He can get in the paint.”
“Jeremy really attacked the rim well,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought that Jeremy made some big hoops coming down the stretch when we needed them. They were really intent on staying with James (Harden) in the second half and really not giving him a lot of room, so Jeremy really broke free. Jeremy kept turning the corner and got in the paint. We needed all of those.”
“Sometimes, when you do that, you get the feel of the joy of the game back in you again,” Lin said of his day off in the gym. “I went and shot. My little brother is in town. My buddy is here. We just went out and messed around, played some HORSE. But we didn’t get to finish because other people started playing. Everyone had S.”
Karl amazed by Nuggets’ revival — Nuggets coach George Karl is the man with whom former Denver star Carmelo Anthony experienced his greatest NBA successes as well as some of his biggest letdowns, particularly in the playoffs. It’s hard to believe, but it has been more than two years since Denver sent Anthony to New York for a package of players that included Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and others. At the time, it looked like the Nuggets were embracing a full-scale rebuild, but Karl has kept Denver competitive and, this season, the Nuggets are one of the Western Conference elite and sport a 13-game win streak. Karl talked with USA Today’s Sam Amick about the Nuggets rise, the post-’Melo era and more in a solid Q&A:
Q. So you having fun yet?
A. You know, in coaching you don’t ever really have that joyful fun, but there’s no question that it’s enjoyable. It’s winning. And when you win and you’ve lost, what, four games in 60 days or something like that, it’s nice not having the headache of that day of losing. In the NBA, you win, and you think you’re going to win tomorrow. But as soon as you lose, you don’t think you’re ever going to win again.
Q. Are you as surprised as most people are with how quickly your franchise recovered from the Anthony deal?
A. I definitely think that the speed that we’ve built ourselves back into being a contender in the Western Conference has surprised me. We have one player on the team that played with Melo. The Melo trade was, what, two years ago in February? And you have to remember that one of those years was a lockout year. So probably the team has only played together less than 100 games … And then you had the Nene trade last year. Nene was another piece that we changed up. That was kind of the final addition that “we’re going to go with young players.” During the year, we played Kosta (Koufos) and Timo (Timofey Mosgov) a lot more than we played Bird (Chris Andersen) and Nene. We turned it over to all the young guys. The team has evolved. It’s worked hard. It has stayed focused … My team even last year always thought they could play with the big boys. Now that they have the consistency to play an 82-game season together and show that they’re good enough, that’s what we’re doing this year.
Q. Has your longevity and success allowed you to have a wall up between you and the fires that coaches are always putting out or is that still always there?
A. I don’t think there’s any question that I don’t think young coaches can maybe take the risks that I take. But in the same sense, I think my staff and I work very hard on explaining what we’re doing. And we have no problem with a player wanting to play, and we have no problem answering a question of why you’re not playing — in fact we encourage it, we like it, we want players to want to play, we want them to be angry when they’re not playing, but we don’t want them to degrade the team or negate the team (with) a negative attitude during the game or during practice or in the locker room. Do that one on one with me, do that one on one with (general manager) Masai (Ujiri), do that one on one with my assistants, and let’s talk this through. I try to tell players all the time — I’m 61 years old. It’s not personal man. I mean this is not personal. I’m past the time when I’m making a personal decision. I’m making a basketball decision based on who is playing well, who is playing hard, and who is more focused and more disciplined on that given night.
Q. That record is good enough at this point to have your group be in the discussion about title contention. I know that’s not where your head is at this point, but how do you see this idea that this deep and balanced group can take it to that level?
A. My first step is to get this team to win in the first round. And then, once you win in the first round, there’s confidence. Coach (Tim) Grgurich (formerly a longtime Seattle SuperSonics and Denver assistant) have talked about how this team responds me a little of my first full year in Seattle (in 1992-93). I think we played Utah in the first round, beat them in a Game 5 in the first round. We were down 2-1 in that series, and could’ve lost in Utah in Game 4. But we won Game 4 — that made us grow up. We won Game 5 in a really crazy game. I think it’s actually a record, where in the same game we had the lowest scoring half and the highest scoring half for a SuperSonic basketball team (the Sonics scored 30 points in the first half and 70 in the second half) … And that whole momentum of learning to win in that series, and then we took Houston to a seven-game series and beat them in overtime (in Game 5). It was really one of those weird series, where we won at home easy and they won at home easy and Game 7 was an overtime game. We won that game, and then we play Phoenix and we’re growing up right in front of ourselves (the Sonics lost to the Suns in seven games in the Western Conference Finals). You could see the confidence happen.
Now can we do that this year with this group? I think we can. I hope we can. I really think we can. That’s where I want to put this team. I want to put them in that place, the best chance possible to win a first round (series), and then see where our confidence goes from there.
Teague steps up against Bucks — Milwaukee boasts one of the more explosive backcourt combinations in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, with Ellis hot of late after a 25-point fourth quarter that helped the Bucks to a comeback win over the Magic. Hawks guard Jeff Teague has quietly established himself as one of the more solid guards in the East and took the challenge of playing against Jennings and Ellis to heart on Wednesday night, particularly with playoff positioning between the Hawks and Bucks on the line. Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution details just how Teague stepped it up against Milwaukee:
Teague finished with 27 points and 11 assists as the Hawks held off the Bucks 98-90 at Philips Arena in a key Eastern Conference game. It was one point shy of Teague’s season- and career-high point total.
The Hawks (38-30) won for the fourth time in five games and kept hold of the fifth spot in the conference playoff race.
Teague was challenged by Player Development Instructor Nick Van Exel at halftime to pick up his energy and play. The guard responded with 12 points in a decisive third quarter.
“C’mon,” is what Teague said Van Exel simply told him. “Me and him a little way we talk to each other. I knew what he meant.”
The Bucks (34-33) had a two-game win streak snapped. They lost for the ninth time in the past 10 games at Philips Arena. Jennings finished with 21 points but Ellis had just five. Larry Sanders had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Bucks.
“Not letting them get in a rhythm,” Devin Harris said of the success against the guard combination. “Obviously, Jennings did that a little in the third and the fourth (quarters). We try to take away easy baskets. Don’t let them getting any open looks. They run a lot of stuff off each other and (Teague and I) are able to switch and keep them in front of us.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going with the game tied 18-18 after the first quarter. The Hawks shot 30 percent (6 of 20) and the Bucks shot 25 percent (8 of 32). The Hawks made 12 of 19 shots in the second quarter to push to the lead at intermission.
Ellis and Jennings combined to make just 2 of 14 shots for four points in the first two quarters.
“I don’t get caught up in that,” Teague said of the challenge of the Bucks’ duo. “I just go out and play. They are talented players. They do what they are supposed to do for their team. I just try to help my team.”
Shumpert scared by knee pop – The good news for the Knicks last night? Carmelo Anthony returned to the lineup and New York romped past a downtrodden Magic squad. The (possible) bad news for the Knicks? Iman Shumpert heard a pop in his knee — the same knee he had surgery on and that caused him to miss much of the early part of the season. Howard Beck of The New York Times has more on Shumpert’s injury, which doesn’t sound serious and hopefully isn’t for a Knicks team that counts Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Kurt Thomasamong its wounded:
The Knicks are still awaiting the return of Chandler, who is dealing with a bulging disk in his neck, and they are moving on without Kurt Thomas, who was lost this week to a broken foot that might end his season.
But the Knicks could not escape the night without another injury, this time to their youngest player. Iman Shumpert tweaked his left knee — the same one that was surgically repaired last spring — late in the first half. He was held out of the second half as a precaution.
Shumpert said he felt a pop in the knee while pushing off toward the rim. The medical staff later told him it was probably scar tissue.
“Last time I felt it pop, I was out eight months, so I was just a little nervous,” Shumpert said, referring to the torn ligaments he sustained last spring. “It scared me more than anything.”
Doctors will re-evaluate Shumpert on Thursday, but no tests are planned.
Kurt Thomas sounded much less optimistic than team officials about his potential return this season. Thomas has a stress reaction surrounding a stress fracture in his right foot. The Knicks are projecting a recovery of two to four weeks. But when Thomas was asked if he would play again, he said simply, “We’re going to see.” Asked if the chances were 50-50, he said, “I think that’s a good number.” Thomas confirmed that he initially sustained the stress fracture in 2006-7, when he played for the Phoenix Suns, and that it never completely healed. The injury was aggravated last Thursday in Portland.
Bynum has surgery, starts rehab soon — Andrew Bynum is done for the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his gimpy knees and our crew on the weekly Blogtable chimed in on exactly where Bynum would fit in best for 2013-14. While we all sit back and wonder where the former All-Star big man will end up and, if he’ll ever be an elite-level center again, Jason Wolfof The (Wilmington) News-Journal reports that Bynum is starting rehab work on his injury this Friday:
One-time All-Star center Andrew Bynum had arthroscopic knee surgeries Tuesday to remove debris from both joints and will begin physical therapy Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers announced.
The 7-foot, 300-pounder, who did not appear in a game this season because of bone and cartilage damage in his knees, will refrain from any weight-bearing activities for about three weeks and will spend an additional three weeks on crutches, according to the team.
Bynum’s longtime orthopedist, Dr. David Altchek of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed the operations. The primary focus of the procedures was to clean out loose bodies from his knees in an attempt to alleviate pain and swelling.
Bynum, 25, was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise in his right knee in September, a month after the Sixers acquired him from the Los Angeles Lakers in a blockbuster four-team trade in August. The Sixers nevertheless expected Bynum to be ready to play in the season opener, but as the season progressed, the team and player repeatedly delayed the date of his expected debut. Bynum was diagnosed with a “mirror issue” in his left knee in November, when a piece of cartilage broke loose and his joint swelled after going bowling.