Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Lin’

Rockets’ Beverley not lost for season

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

HOUSTON –Prior to Saturday night’s game against the Clippers, Pat Beverley said if the medical staff would let him just slip a protective brace onto his injured right knee, he would have been back in the Rockets’ lineup.

That time might now be closer than originally thought.

Following an examination by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, the word is that Beverley will be able to avoid surgery for the torn meniscus and be able to return to the court after several weeks of rehab.

When Beverley suffered the injury on Thursday, it initially was thought that he was lost for the season, which would have been a significant blow since he brings critical aggressiveness and defense to the Rockets’ starting lineup.

However, following another MRI and an exam at his office in Alabama, Andrews determined that Beverley will be able to work his way back through a rehab regimen. He is expected to be sidelined for at least another week. Exactly when Beverley returns will depend on the pace of his rehab progress.

Beverly had said on Saturday that the swelling already had gone down in his knee and he was feeling no pain.

“It’s always a great thing,” Beverley said. “No swelling is a great thing. It wasn’t in the same area where a lot of players tore their meniscus at. It’s a pretty solid area. I feel pretty confident about it.”

The Rockets had their five-game winning streak snapped by the Clippers with Jeremy Lin replacing Beverley in the starting lineup. Beverley is averaging 9.9 points through 53 games this season.

Beverley hopeful for quick return

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Arena Link: Matt Bullard

HOUSTON – You can hold off all the doom and gloom talk about the end of Patrick Beverley’s season for the moment.

The Rockets point guard, who suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee on Thursday, will travel to Alabama to be examined by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews on Monday and is hoping for a relatively quick return.

“I’m gonna see the best knee doctor in the country,” Beverley said. “I talked to him on the phone. He seen it. It really looks good. We’ll see how long it lasts. Maybe 10 or 14 days, maybe four weeks. It just depends on he gets his hands on it and sees how it is.”

Beverley spoke to the media before Saturday night’s game at the Toyota Center with the Clippers as he was pulling a workout shirt and sneakers before heading to the weight room. He was upbeat and talking confidently.

“I feel pretty good,” Beverley said. “I just feel like I knocked knees with somebody. It hurt a lot the first day. I don’t really feel a lot of pain today, which is a good sign. No swelling.

“Like I said, I don’t feel a lot of pain. It’s always a great thing. No swelling is a great thing. It wasn’t in the same area where a lot of players tore their meniscus at. It’s a pretty solid area. I feel pretty confident about it. I’m about to go lift weights right now and get some work in.”

Beverley said at this point he wasn’t even considering having the meniscus removed, which is an often common procedure in the case of basketball players.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” he said. “No one’s gonna remove anything. We haven’t even discussed about surgery yet. From the looks of things, I don’t think I’m gonna have to get surgery. We don’t know. We have to go see Dr. Andrews Monday and for him to make his educated decision on it.

I know how my body reacts to certain things. I know how I feel right now. I fee great. I just feel like I banged knees with somebody. I feel like if I put on a brace, I’d be all right to play today. But we got to get his opinion and see how go from there.

“If I feel healthy, I’m gonna play.”

Jeremy Lin will be in the starting lineup while Beverley is out.

Morning Shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo | Pau backs Kobe’s L.A. viewpoint | McHale: Noah should win DPOY | Bynum focusing on playoff role | Jazz home-game attendance in major slump

No. 1: Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo — The rumors about where Carmelo Anthony might sign this summer have been buzzing ever since he said he’d opt out last October. While the Los Angeles Lakers and perhaps Chicago Bulls have led most of the chatter — as well, of course, is the option that ‘Melo will stay in New York — a new team may be entering the fray. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the Houston Rockets could make a big push for Anthony this summer:

Could Carmelo Anthony rocket off to Houston?

According to a league source, the Rockets will make a bid for Carmelo Anthony this summer, even though they probably won’t have cap space and would have to orchestrate a creative sign-and-trade. The source said Houston asked the Knicks about Anthony before February’s trade deadline.

The Knicks have held discussions with the Rockets about power forward Omer Asik. Even though Rockets president Daryl Morey is the pioneer of advanced statistics and Anthony has never fared well in some efficiency categories, Morey’s old-school instincts believe he could form a terrific Big 3 with Dwight Howard and James Harden. Rockets management also believes Anthony has made advancements in the grit department the past two seasons.

The only way the Rockets can get under the cap is by dealing the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin, who is entering the poison pill year of $15 million, and Asik, also scheduled to make $15 million.

But even if the Rockets don’t, a desperate Knicks team could take on Lin or Asik and draft picks if Phil Jackson doesn’t believe in building around Anthony. The Knicks still would be set for 2015’s free agency and Lin wold be a drawing card during a season the Knicks may want to tank and fall into the lottery.

Howard has been most outspoken in encouraging Anthony to consider smaller markets than New York just like Howard did in eschewing Los Angeles.

The Lakers, Clippers and Bulls are other potential destinations for Anthony, who said his “first priority’’ is to remain a Knick if he likes their future blueprint.

***

No. 2: Pau glad Kobe called out Lakers’ front office — If you somehow managed to miss it Tuesday night or all day Wednesday, Kobe Bryant — in announcing his season was over — was not happy when asked about the Lakers’ long-term outlook and front office (you can read all the quotes here).In short, Bryant is wondering what kind of direction the Lakers are going and he’s not about to wait around for a full rebuild. While what L.A. does next is anyone’s guess, teammate Pau Gasol supported Bryant’s words, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

The bond Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol formed runs in many directions, and it doesn’t just include winning two NBA championships and meshing complementary personalities together.Gasol also supported Kobe Bryant for publicly questioning the front office. Those included issues ranging from wanting executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to improve their relationship, decide Mike D’Antoni’s future as head coach and build a championship caliber roster this offseason.

“I’m glad that he spoke his mind,” Gasol said following the Lakers’ 131-102 loss Thursday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “He wants to win. He’s got two years under contract with the franchise. He wants to be in the best possible position to win. Whether you do that publicly or internally, that’s totally up to you. He spoke his mind and you have to respect him for that.”

Will the Lakers pull that off?

Perhaps easier said than done.

Meanwhile, the Lakers don’t expect LeBron James to leave the Miami Heat if he opts out of his contract. The Lakers aren’t thrilled about Carmelo Anthony should he opt out of his deal with the Knicks. The Lakers wouldn’t want to spend a max-level contract on Cleveland’s Luol Deng and on Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. GM Mitch Kupchak had suggested earlier that the Lakers may use their financial flexibility more conservatively both to save up for a star-studded 2015 free-agent class and because of recently-imposed harsher penalties for high-spending teams.

“It makes things harder for teams, but it is what it is,” Gasol said. “The rules keep changing over the years. But you have to adjust and make the best out of it.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant sounds off on the Lakers’ future during his news conference

***

No. 3: McHale backs Noah for DPOY — Rockets coach Kevin McHale knows a thing or two about defense. As a player, he was an All-Defensive Team first or second teamer six times, is the Celtics’ second all-time leading shotblocker and, oh yeah, currently coaches former three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Dwight Howard. So it carries some hefty weight when McHale, speaking before last night’s Rockets-Bulls game in Chicago, says that Joakim Noah of the Bulls is the DPOY. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com has more:

Kevin McHale said Thursday that Bulls center Joakim Noah should win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award based on his performance this season.

The Houston Rockets coach knows a special defensive big man when he sees one. He was one himself, being selected multiple times to the NBA all-defense team. He has also coached two previous award winners in Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.

McHale included Noah in that elite category Thursday. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks this season.

“He’s played very well,” McHale said after his team’s shootaround at Moody Bible Institute. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.”

McHale was complimentary not only of Noah’s defensive game but of his offensive one as well.

“He’s just more confident in what he’s doing,” McHale said. “He’s making plays with the pass. He’s driving and kicking. When he was coming out, I thought he’d be a pick-pop-and-drive playmaking 4. He’s doing more of that now.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah talks after the Bulls’ win over the Rockets Thursday

***

No. 4: Bynum embracing long-term view to season, playing time — Center Andrew Bynum made his Indiana debut on Tuesday night and gave Pacers fans a nice taste of what he can bring to the court: eight points, 10 rebounds and solid interior defense in about 15 minutes. Bynum won’t play tonight in Philly (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth that he’s more concerned with gearing up for the playoffs than getting in tons of regular-season game action:

Short-term, Andrew Bynum sat out the Pacers’ practice on Thursday, will sit out their game in Philadelphia on Friday, and then return the following night in Detroit.

Long-term? That question mark will follow him everywhere he goes for the remainder of the season, particularly on the walks from the training room to the basketball court. Does the 26-year-old eighth-year pro have enough left in his knees to recapture something resembling his All-Star level of two seasons ago, or is backing up a healthier player his future job description?

“I don’t think back-to-backs are prime right now,” he said, resting in an end zone seat at Hinkle Fieldhouse following the team’s workout. “There’s two more left after this one, and we don’t want to risk anything. It’s more about being healthy for the playoffs.

“I’m pleased with the way it’s responded to the treatment I’ve been getting. I don’t have any swelling, just general arthritic conditions, I guess. We want to calm it down. Everything is about not causing a flare-up that causes me to miss four or five consecutive days. If I can play two really strong hard days and take a day off and it’s fine, that’s the remedy we want. We don’t want to have any bone bruises or flareups, because that’s when you start to lose conditioning.”

Bynum is to the Pacers what Greg Oden is to Miami: a talented 7-foot center with tender knees, being nursed along in hopes he can be a difference-maker in the quest for a championship. They’re in a gimpy-legged race to the finish line, and who remains healthiest could have a lot to say about who reaches the NBA Finals.

As for Bynum, the Pacers would be thrilled to keep getting what they got in Tuesday’s game against Boston.

“He got me excited,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. “He’s one heck of a basketball player and he’s really going to help us. Now it’s a matter of getting as much work as we can in with him while managing the soreness in his knees. Hopefully come playoff time he’s healthy and as far along as we can get him.”

Beyond that, Bynum has no way of knowing what lies ahead. But he wants as much as he can get out of his remaining years.

“I think I have to monitor my body, always staying in shape, being more professional,” he said. “A lot of times in the summer I would take two months off and then attack it like a boxing training camp where I’d go for eight weeks twice a day, really hard. I obviously have to change that. It’s a young man’s game, and I’m still young in the human sense, but as a basketball player, a thoroughbred, I’m pretty old. So I have to revamp my training strategy.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks after Wednesday’s practice about his role and his debut

***

No. 5: Jazz home-game attendance in sharp decline – Given that the Utah Jazz are firmly in rebuilding mode and are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the worst record in the Western Conference (22-43), the fact that attendance is down in Salt Lake City isn’t shocking. But according to Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune, the rabid fan base in Utah has taken attendance for the team’s home games to levels not seen since before 1991:

As he walks out onto the court with his team before each home game, of course Tyrone Corbin sees them.

“You notice,” the Utah Jazz coach says. “You notice the green seats.”

And for Corbin, who spent three seasons in Utah as a player and a decade as a coach, he’s seen more of them this season than ever before. With the Jazz, owners of a 23-42 record, firmly in rebuilding mode, attendance — an average of 17,947 announced fans per game, though there are often far fewer than that actually in the building — has dropped to the lowest the franchise has seen since moving out of the Salt Palace and into the Delta Center in 1991.

It’s a four-percent decline from a season ago, and a nine-percent decline from a peak of 19,908 six seasons ago when the Jazz won the Northwest Division and made it to the Western Conference semifinals.

The drop, however, was not unexpected for a franchise that let four of its five top scorers from last year leave for free agency to make playing time for a younger, developing base.

“We anticipated that we would have a slight decline,” Jazz president Randy Rigby said.

It would be a hit to the bottom line, Rigby added, especially in one of the league’s smallest markets, where ticket sales are a “critical component” of financial viability. Helping ease concerns, Jazz officials believed the team had a fan base that was “supportive of the plan and strategy.”

With just nine home games remaining in the season, franchise leaders have been happy with the numbers they’ve drawn. After drawing the ninth-most fans in the NBA on average last season, the Jazz have dropped to 14th-most and are still above the league average of 17,297. Among teams with losing records this season, only the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are drawing more fans.

Commitment to the rebuild took faith and market research. Rigby said Jazz officials also heard the message from fans last season that they would endure rebuilding, taking “short-term pain for a long-term reward.”

“They’ve been very supportive of the plan and the strategy,” he said.

And as the season draws to a close, Rigby is still preaching “patience in a very impatient business.”

“We all want to have a winner sooner than later,” he said. “But we’re not going to skip steps. We’re going to do it right, so we can have something that will be sustainable for a long period of time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a Q&A on the team’s website, Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro said he hopes Rudy Gay sticks with the team long term … It doesn’t seem likely that Al Horford will be be back anytime this season … Jazz veteran forward Marvin Williams is having an MRI on his back today … Wizards guard John Wall says the reason Kemba Walker gets calls is because he screams a lot … The Blazers got some bad news: both LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams will be out for a little while … Milwaukee’s guard rotation of Nate Wolters, Brandon Knight and Ramon Sessions have been playing well lately …

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson made up for his dunk fail the other night with this monster slam on Omer Asik last night …


VIDEO: Taj Gibson powers one down against the Rockets

Lin’s spark can light Rockets’ fire

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin talks about his play after Houston’s win over Portland

The Rockets look powerful when Dwight Howard is making his presence felt in the low post, grabbing rebounds for put-backs, spinning in the lane to drop in those jump hooks he’s honing in during workouts with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.

The Rockets look like a tough nut to crack when James Harden is weaving like a wild-eyed taxi driver through traffic in the lane to finish for improbable layups and stepping back to stab in his long 3-pointers with ease.

But the Rockets become positively confounding to defenders when Jeremy Lin is doing all of the things he can do. Which is why Lin’s recent emergence from a slump is worth noting.

“We need Jeremy,” said coach Kevin McHale. “He just makes a lot of things happen and when he is rolling it just gives us more versatility to do different things.”

While there will never be a return to the “Linsanity” days in New York, that ability to strike inside and out, create for his teammates, get all the way to the rim and hit a critical shot from the outside is what can elevate Houston to being the most difficult offense to stop in the Western Conference.

The Rockets don’t need him to be the big hammer in their attack as much as a bowling ball that strikes and send pins scattering.

When the Rockets trailed the Trail Blazers midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, Lin came back onto the floor as part of a small lineup that simply exploded. From the end of regulation through overtime, he scored 18 points, dropped in a trio of treys, grabbed a rebound and made a steal. His final line: 26 points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist. It was his highest scoring game since Nov. 13 and, more important, it was the first time in weeks that he’d played pain-free.

Since the All-Star break, Lin had been bothered by a tightness in his back that did not keep him out of the lineup but did keep him from looking like himself. He was slow, tentative, unsure of each movement on the court and, as usual, it brought up the old debate on social media. One side says that he’s overrated and a fabrication of the hyperventilating media while the other side says he’s underused and under-appreciated by McHale.

The latter, of course, is patently untrue since nobody benefits more from an effective Lin than McHale, who in three seasons with the Rockets has shown himself to be nothing if not adaptable.

It certainly helped that the Rockets went 8-2 coming out of the All-Star break and charged to a spot near the top of the conference standings. But in the first eight games, Lin struggled badly, shooting just 29 percent (16-for-55) and averaged only 6.3 points and 2.6 turnovers.

In their past three games, Lin has shot 14-for-28, averaging 15 points and 2.0 assists.

“If you ask me if it feels good to be back, yes,” Lin said. “It feels good.”

It didn’t help combat Lin’s critics that during his struggles he never missed a game. However, it probably also doesn’t help that Lin can sometimes be his own most difficult impediment. Perhaps it’s a product of being one of those deep thinkers from Harvard, but Lin can occasionally tie himself into mental knots. When he is at his best, Lin is instinctive, unpredictable, like a spark that can ignite a wildfire. When he hits a rough spot, it tends to linger and you can almost see the wheels turning inside his head as he tries to figure out what’s gone wrong.

The difference is striking.

“Without Jeremy Lin, we don’t win that (Portland) game,” said teammate Chandler Parsons. “He has been struggling lately, but we believed in him. He has been great all year long. Everyone goes through rough patches.”

Not everyone has to live up to a two-week fantasy from two years ago that instantly made them a cult figure all around the world.

“I tell him to just relax and play basketball, be the player that he can be,” McHale said. “We don’t need Linsanity.”

But the return of Jeremy Lin’s spark and unpredictability to go with the foundation of Harden and Howard would make the Rockets a very tough out in the playoffs.

Rockets stake claim as NBA’s best


VIDEO: Harden’s huge night rallies Rockets past Blazers in OT

HOUSTON — This is what it’s like to stand on the beach when the birds start to twitter, the winds begin to kick up and the ocean is suddenly roiling and full of foreboding.

There’s not much you can do when the tsunami rolls in and the Trail Blazers were just the latest to get washed away.

It’s past the point where the Rockets are an interesting little side trip on the road to June and thoughts of a championship.

Right now, Dwight Howard, James Harden and their dangerous buddies are in the fast lane with the top down and passing everybody else on the freeway.

Miami? Been there.

Indiana? Done that.

Portland? Please.

The Rockets spotted the Blazers a 12-point lead going into the fourth quarter and still didn’t panic. Not even when it took a flick-of-the-wrist, never-a-doubt 3-point statement at the end of regulation.

That statement? We’re as good as it gets. The best team in the NBA.

“I think so,” said Chandler Parsons. “We’re playing well. We don’t think we’re done. We’re not getting arrogant or conceited or anything, but we think we can play with anybody and we’ve proved that this week. It’s fun because we know we can even get better.”

“Yes. Yes. We are,” said Harden.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast. To the outside world, it probably wasn’t even thinkable this season.

So here are the Rockets with the best record in the league (23-6) since the start of 2014, with 15 wins in their last 17 games, and with the surging confidence that comes from having not only survived a grueling week that was supposed to examine their credentials, but aced the test.

It’s no longer about them just constantly trying to push the pace and beat every opponent with a crazyball attack of firing up 3-pointers.

Now they’re learning to win games like the one Sunday night, when it starts in a torpor, improves eventually to a slog and they manage to come out the other side because they just don’t stop grinding.

“I can feel guys coming together,” said coach Kevin McHale. “Their chemistry is improving. Their belief in each other is improving. They’re bonding has improved and you can feel that. And it’s nice.

“That’s what makes sports special, when you get around guys that are bonding and fighting together. It’s kind of why you’re in the business. That’s the hope for all us guys that have been doing it for many, many years, that belief that together you can get something accomplished.”

Jeremy Lin came off the bench to end his slump and with his biggest-scoring game since November with 26 points.

Harden popped in 20 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The unique ability of Harden to suddenly turn it on and turn around a game when the Rockets started out making just 1-for-13 on 3-pointers is part of what makes them dangerous.

But it’s also a growing sense of purpose inside the locker room that says there is no reason they have to honor a predetermined pecking order and wait their turn.

Howard is in his 10th season. He’s climbed nearly to the peak with a trip to the NBA Finals in 2009 with Orlando and knows how quickly the best-laid plans can fall apart.

This was a night when the Rockets’ big men were getting beaten on the boards by Portland through the first half. Then McHale went to a small lineup and it all turned around.

Howard knows there are nights when he can be the fearsome low-post beast that gobbles up rebounds and points in the paint. But he also feels like he can almost blend into the background, put in an honest day’s work and his team will still survive.

The Rockets are a bunch that you can practically see growing taller and stronger right before your eyes.

“We’re as good as we are right now,” said point guard Patrick Beverley. “We don’t really look for other teams. We just go out there and try to play the type of basketball we know how to play. We don’t focus on other teams. We focus on us.”

Beverley will sink his teeth in, Parsons will scratch and claw, Howard will do the heavy lifting and Harden makes magic happen.

It’s enough to make you change your notions of just which is the team to beat in the wild, wild West as the playoffs approach.

San Antonio is currently the No. 1 seed in the conference. But the Rockets are 3-0 against the Spurs.

The Thunder are the No. 2 seed. But the Rockets didn’t just lose on Sunday afternoon to the, uh, Lakers Lite.

Is it possible the best team in the NBA is gathering like a hurricane off the Gulf Coast of Texas?

The week ahead might hold the answer as a three-game road trip to OKC, Chicago and Miami looms.

“We just want to hold up that trophy come June,” Howard said. “We’ve got to stay humble. That’s the message. We cannot get cocky. We cannot lose our focus. That’s when you fail. So you got to stay humble.

“We’re getting better. We’re not satisfied. We still have a ways to go. But I like the way we’re playing. No fear. We make mistakes. We get in the huddle. We come out and try to get the job done. We’re together. That’s the sign of a good team.”

And maybe, just maybe, much more.


VIDEO: James Harden discusses his monster game against the Blazers

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Howard happy in Houston as L.A. return looms | Report: Kings trade Thornton to Nets | Report: Knicks interested in Lin? | Report: Celtics eyeing Utah’s Hayward | James all business in win over Mavs

UPDATE: 1:03 p.m. ETDENG, SHUMPERT ON MARKET?

A few new names are starting to surface in the trade rumor mill, with the biggest being Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Luol Deng. According to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, Deng, whom the Cavs acquired in a December trade with Chicago as they jettisoned Andrew Bynum, is on the block. Team officials are reportedly concerned they might not be able to re-sign the unrestricted free agent forward this summer:

As they evaluate the team and look to make a deal to help it secure a playoff berth, Cleveland Cavaliers officials are making recently acquired Luol Deng available ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, multiple league sources told ESPN.com.

The Cavs traded three future draft picks and Andrew Bynum to the Chicago Bulls to acquire Deng on Jan. 7. But the deal hasn’t worked out how either side hoped.

Cleveland isn’t determined to trade Deng, but with his impending free agency a concern, new general manager David Griffin is testing the potential market for the veteran forward. Getting value for Deng may be a challenge because his contract expires in June. He cannot be packaged with another Cavs player in a deal due to trade rules, though trades can be structured in a way to get around this issue if teams are motivated enough.

Sources say the Cavs are concerned about being able to re-sign Deng this offseason, as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent for the first time. Several teams with cap space, including the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, are expected to be interested in Deng.

Apart from Deng being put on the block, the Clippers and Knicks might also be working out a deal that would send guard Iman Shumpert to Los Angeles. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the trade that point-guard hungry New York might be working on:

The Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks are discussing a deal centered around guard Iman Shumpert, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

In proposed deals, the Clippers would send the Knicks a package that includes point guard Darren Collison for Shumpert and point guard Raymond Felton, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks are shopping Shumpert hard, and the Clippers have been receptive to listening on a potential deal, league sources said.

The discussions and proposed players are still fluid, league sources said, and a deal isn’t close to being reached. Nevertheless, Shumpert is an object of interest for the Clippers and the recent return of All-Star point guard Chris Paul makes Collison more expendable.

***

No. 1: Howard hoping it is ‘Rockets’ time’ to shine — No need to get into all the gory details here, but suffice it to say, Dwight Howard‘s one season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t work out how either he or the team expected. After joining the Houston Rockets via free agency last summer, Howard has slowly but surely found his footing and is looking more like the dominant force he once was as a member of the Orlando Magic. As the Lakers host Howard and the Rockets tonight (10:30 ET, ESPN), Howard said he’s plenty happy in Texas and talks about how he’s moved on from L.A. Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

Dwight Howard isn’t regretting leaving the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s happy in Houston and confident he made the right decision last July to spurn the Lakers’ five-year, $118 million offer for the Rockets’ four-year, $87.6 million deal.

But on the eve of his first game against his former team at Staples Center, he did admit there were things that could’ve changed the outcome.

“There’s a couple things that could’ve been done, but that’s over with now,” Howard said with a coy smile Tuesday afternoon. “I’m in a better place, our team is doing great and the Lakers, they’ll come back. But hopefully this is the Rockets’ time.”

Howard’s Rockets won seven games in a row heading into the All-Star break. The Lakers (18-35) are lottery bound after losing seven straight home games. Their .340 winning percentage is the franchise’s worst since 1959-60.

“I think I still might follow them on Twitter, that’s about it,” Howard said, when asked whether he’d been following the Lakers season. “I don’t pay attention to what’s on TV and what’s being said. I just focus on my team.”

His new team is on a roll, sitting in a tie for third place in the Western Conference at 36-17 after a torrid February. Howard is averaging 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds this season, nearly identical numbers to what he put up last season in L.A. (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds).

But Howard has noticeably improved each month as he continues to recover from back surgery in April 2012. Howard averaged 25.8 points on 65.7 percent shooting from the field in February after scoring 18.8 points a game on 54.9 percent shooting in January.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale attributes that to health and chemistry with his new teammates.

“Dwight’s one of those guys, I think he plays better when he’s having a good time and is comfortable,” McHale said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a guy who plays better when he has a joyfulness about him.

“When I watched him last year, he just looked out of sorts the whole year. He didn’t look like the guy that I’d seen in Orlando. Now what caused that? I would say 70 percent of that was physical with the back and probably 30 percent of that was environmental. I guess it was a funky environment around here.”


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks about his first return trip to L.A. to face the Lakers

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UPDATE: 1:49 p.m. ET — KINGS, NETS PULL OFF TRADE

Per our own David Aldridge, the Kings and Nets have completed a trade that sends Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn in exchange for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, confirming a trade first reported on by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski

No. 2: Report: Kings’ Thomas has sprained wrist; trade talks for Thornton heat up — Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas is in the midst of a career-best season, averaging 20.2 ppg and 6.3 apg. But he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury of late and an MRI reveals he has a wrist sprain that he’ll play through, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Aside from that, though, the Kings are apparently heating up trade talks to help their guard depth, with Marcus Thornton at the center of those discussions:

Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas has strained ligaments in his shooting wrist, an MRI revealed, and further complications could lead to him missing time, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Despite the recent diagnosis, Thomas has been determined to play through the pain, sources told Yahoo Sports. Nevertheless, there could come a time in the near future when Thomas could need to consider procedural remedies for the wrist, sources said.

The wrist issue is considered “a short-term nuisance,” one source said, and will have no long-term bearing on Thomas’ career.

In the aftermath of the Kings’ trading of Greivis Vasquez to the Toronto Raptors in December, Thomas, who is 5-foot-9, has flourished as Sacramento’s starting point guard. Thomas will be a restricted free agent in July and has expressed a strong desire to remain with the Kings as a centerpiece of the franchise’s rebuilding with center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay.

As the NBA trade deadline approaches on Thursday, the Kings are in a state of upheaval. Sacramento’s talks with Brooklyn on a deal to acquire guard Jason Terry and forward Reggie Evans for Kings guard Marcus Thornton have progressed to a serious stage, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Kings are discussing a trade of guard Jimmer Fredette with several teams, sources said.

***

No. 3: Report: Knicks interested in Lin? – Remember back in the 2011-12 season when Jeremy Lin took New York by storm with his inspired, out-of-nowhere play for the Knicks? Apparently, the Knicks themselves haven’t forgotten about it either — even after Lin left N.Y. for Houston as a free agent in the summer of 2012. According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford via a podcast with fellow ESPNers Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe, the Knicks are reportedly interested in re-acquiring the point guard. Keep in mind, too, that yesterday New York was linked in trade talks that might net it point guards Kyle Lowry or Rajon Rondo, too:

The New York Knicks are interested in trading for Jeremy Lin.

The Knicks let Lin sign with the Houston Rockets in the 2012 offseason.

New York has been searching for trade possibilities at point guard.

Lin’s contract expires after the 14-15 season, which preserves their cap flexibility for 2015.

***

No. 4: Report: Celtics interested in Jazz’s Hayward — This is one trade rumor that isn’t that hard to understand if you can play a simple game of connect the dots. Before he was Utah’s leading scorer, Gordon Hayward was a star at Butler University from 2008-10 and helped the Bulldogs to the NCAA championship game in 2010. His coach at Butler? Brad Stevens … who is now the first-year coach of the Boston Celtics. A Hayward-Stevens reunion has been much talked about when it comes to Hayward, who will be a free agent this summer and could pair up with his old coach in Boston. But according to CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely, the Celtics are interested in trying to get Hayward sooner than that:

The Celtics have expressed some interest in acquiring Utah’s Gordon Hayward, a league source tells CSNNE.com.

Hayward, who starred for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens while at Butler, will become a restricted free agent this summer after he and the Jazz could not come to terms on an extension this past fall.

The biggest challenge appears to be finding assets currently on the Celtics’ roster that are appealing to the Jazz.

Despite Utah’s desperate need for a point guard, there’s little interest in Rajon Rondo primarily because they don’t anticipate he’ll re-sign with the club beyond his current contract which is up in the summer of 2015.

Jeff Green is another option, but the Jazz aren’t all that interested in him, either.

It would appear the one thing that might nudge Utah towards giving serious thought to dealing Hayward, would be if the Celtics were willing to part with at least one of their stockpiled first-round picks.

But two league sources, both having had recent conversations with the Celtics, told CSNNE.com on Tuesday that Boston is “very reluctant” to part with any of their first-round picks in facilitating a deal.

In fact, Boston appears focused on adding more picks or assets with any deal they strike between now and the trade deadline.

***

No. 5: James all about business in win over Mavs — As part of NBA TV’s interview with LeBron James, one of the questions asked of him was who would be on his theoretical NBA Mount Rushmore. James told the interviewer, Steve Smith, that he saw himself as being one of the NBA’s four all-time greats when his career is over and since then, that comment has sparked much debate about all-time greats and LeBron’s place among them. More talk on that topic last night before the Mavs-Heat game from Dallas might have also motivated James as he dropped 42 points in Miami’s win. Our own Jeff Caplan has more from Big D: 

As news cycles go, Mt. Rushmore is burning Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman deep. James didn’t ask for it, but he did say it and now we, the media, can’t stop asking anybody associated with a round, orange ball whom they’d put on their own Mt. Rushmore.

Shawn Marion, the 6-foot-7 Mavericks small forward who did a magnificent defensive job on James during the 2011 Finals — and is just the type of savvy veteran (and a free agent this summer, to boot) Miami loves to place around its King sculptor — said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround that James wouldn’t be on his Mt. Rushmore, at least not yet.

By the time the news of this injustice got back to James during his pregame media session in the visiting locker room about 90 minutes before he buried Dallas with 42 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 117-106 win, it came to him in the watered-down context that he flat-out didn’t make the cut on Marion’s Mt. Rushmore.

James was already in something of a foul mood, having decided to reveal a stern demeanor to show his teammates that the league was back open for business, and so was he. Less than 72 hours after rocking the stage with the The Roots at a New Orleans warehouse party, and 48 hours after playing in the All-Star Game, the Mt. Rushmore recurrence again put LeBron in a mood to scale the mountain.

“I really don’t care what people say or what people think, that’s not for me or my concern,” James said. “I think, once again, it was blown out of context. But, I feel like when it’s all said and done, my personal goal is that I can be one of the greatest to ever play this game, and I won’t sell myself short and I won’t continue to stop believing and saying and thinking what I believe in as far as personal goals. So, it doesn’t matter what Shawn Marion says, or what anybody says about the way I play the game of basketball.”

Is Mt. Rushmore becoming bulletin-board material? James was asked.

“I don’t need bulletin board material,” he answered. “My bulletin board material is the name on the back of my jersey and the name on the front of my jersey; and the youth and the kids that I inspire every day, every time I go out on the basketball court. And I witnessed that Saturday when I had my foundation event in New Orleans, when I was able to give back to a Boys And Girls Club and see over 30, 35, 40 kids smiling the whole time by my presence being there. My calling is much bigger than basketball. While everybody else focuses on just basketball, I’m focused on bigger and better things.”

He wasn’t finished: “And, you know, nobody can still guard me one-on-one.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about Miami’s win in Dallas

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Kings be looking to part with star point guard Isaiah Thomas? … Celtics veteran forward Brandon Bass is plenty prepared to hear his name discussed in trade rumors … Gerald Wallace of the Celtics remains miffed at the Bobcats for trading him 2011Chris “Birdman” Andersen surprised fans and reporters last night by getting rid of his trademark mohawk. But after the game, he told Heat.com that it’s not gone, but merely “trimmed down” … Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger wants Mike Miller looking for his shot more on offense … Pacers center Andrew Bynum has been impressing coach Frank Vogel with his dedication to work out and improve himself … Bucks get swingman Carlos Delfino back in the mix soon

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Two posters served up last night, one by Nene (on Jonas Valanciunas) and another one from Gerald Green (on Kenneth Faried) …


VIDEO: Nene goes up strong and draws a foul from Jonas Valanciunas


VIDEO:Gerald Green posterizes Kenneth Faried with an alley-oop jam

Rockets Getting Some New ‘Lincertainty’


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin has 18 points and four assists off the bench as the Rockets beat the Bucks

MILWAUKEE – Before Linsanity – those heady few months in the winter of 2012 that turned Jeremy Lin into a near-household name and helped the NBA heal from the rancorous lockout that delayed its season – there was uncertainty.

And after it, too.

About a week before his basketball world blew up (mostly) in a good way, Lin was praying just to keep his job. At a pregame chapel session in Miami on Jan. 27 that season attended by some players from both teams, Lin asked: “If you could say a prayer for me that I don’t get cut.” Fellows such as Landry Fields and Jerome Jordan, Lin’s Knicks teammates, and Heat forward Udonis Haslem heard a fringe guy sweating out the deadline date that year for contracts to be guaranteed.

Then Lin scored 25, 28, 23 and 38 points from Feb. 4 right through the Feb. 10 deadline, then kept going. In 11 games, the undrafted Harvard guy averaged 23.9 points and 9.2 assists while shooting 50 percent and helping New York win seven in a row and nine of 11.

Life hasn’t been the same since: a frenzied “15 minutes” of fame as a pop culture icon, massive All-Star vote totals inspired at least in part by Lin’s Asian-American heritage and a three-year, $25 million contract from Houston in free agency.

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been uncertainty.

In a season and a half with the Rockets, Lin has established himself as a solid NBA rotation player but not that meteor streaking across the middle of 2011-12. He started 82 games last season but dipped in production (13.4 ppg, 6.1 apg, 44.1 FG), then got pancaked in Houston’s playoff series against Oklahoma City (4.0 ppg, 6-of-24 shooting, as many turnovers as assists).

This season, Lin has been in and out of the starting lineup, due partly to injuries (10 games missed with a knee sprain or back spasms) and partly to other injuries and combinations in the Rockets’ deep backcourt (James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Aaron Brooks). Mixed results and dissatisfaction among fans even fueled some Lin trade rumors, though his $15 million “balloon” salary in 2013-14 likely doesn’t have clubs beating down GM Daryl Morey‘s door.

But a light of sorts went on for Lin on Jan. 28 against San Antonio when he subbed as a starter for Harden, and it stayed on since he moved back to the bench. Beginning that night, Houston has won five straight and Lin has been in attack mode, averaging 16.0 points, 6.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 33.3 minutes, while shooting 50 percent (38.9 from the arc). His numbers prior to that were down across the board, in reserve or starting.

“Just trying to be aggressive, just trying to play free and trying to be myself out there,” Lin said after the Rockets’ 101-95 victory over Milwaukee Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. “That’s the biggest thing, just embrace whatever role they give me, big or small.”

Lin scored his 18 points in the first 19 minutes he logged against the Bucks, shooting 8-of-15 with four assists and a pair of steals. He played the entire fourth quarter and posted one particular roundabout highlight feed to Dwight Howard. He ran the offense up to a point, but kept his offense as a priority too.

“I still am responsible for getting other people going,” Lin said, “but I just think for me, whether I’m at the one or the two, I want to try to be very aggressive and attack a lot. Some nights it’s getting other people involved and some nights it’s getting myself involved.”

Houston coach Kevin McHale wants nothing less. “He needs to be aggressive,” McHale said recently. “Jeremy plays his best when he’s attacking, and when we have some pace in the game it really helps him.”

Lin has 19 appearances in reserve so far and 24 as a starter, so he needs to stick with the bench if he wants to get into the discussion for Sixth Man balloting. Harden is somebody who knows a little about that role, filling it to hardware- and conference-winning effect for the Thunder before his trade to Houston.

“He’s doing a great job,” Harden said of Lin. “He’s getting a feel for the game before he checks in, and once he checks in, he’s being aggressive and making the right plays. The more games he can get used to coming off the bench, the better off he’ll be.”

Playing the game mentally before actually playing in the game is the key, Harden said. “It’s the first six or seven minutes of the game,” said the Rockets’ leading scorer. “Knowing how the game is played, knowing who’s hot on the other team, knowing who has it going and who doesn’t have it going, and then just going out there and having an impact.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns exploring deal for Gasol | Allen gets Super Bowl title, NBA next? | Heat not worried about Bynum in Indy | Rockets have dynamic duo in Beverley and Lin

No. 1: Suns exploring possibilities for Gasol deal – Since the Phoenix Suns have already shown us that they don’t have any idea how to tank properly, they might as well swing for the fences in the Western Conference playoff chase. And that means exploring all of the possibilities for a potential trade for Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol. They’ve been searching for some big man help since trading Marcin Gortat, and Gasol is apparently available. The Suns have the assets to make the deal happen, as reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor’s $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol’s $19.3 million.

The Lakers engaged in similar trade discussions in late December and early January with Cleveland in a proposed deal that would have sent Gasol to the Cavaliers for the partially guaranteed contract of ex-Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who then would have been waived to help L.A. save roughly $20 million in salary and luxury-tax obligations.

Those talks, though, broke down because of the Lakers’ insistence on receiving another asset of value in addition to the significant financial benefits, only for L.A. to see Cleveland successfully switch gears and trade Bynum to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng.

A trade for Okafor’s expiring deal would not save the Lakers as much as a deal for Bynum would have, but it would come with undeniable financial benefits. The $4.8 million difference between Gasol’s cap number and Okafor’s would immediately drop the Lakers less than $3 million away from the league’s luxury-tax threshold, meaning one more smaller deal before the Feb. 20 trade deadline could conceivably be enough to take them out of tax territory completely.

There would also be salary savings involved because insurance began picking up 80 percent of what remains on Okafor’s contract once Phoenix passed this season’s 41-game midpoint because of a long-term neck injury that has sidelined the nine-year veteran all season.

The Suns are known to be shopping Okafor’s contract aggressively in advance of the trade deadline as a means for whoever acquires the 31-year-old to potentially save more than $5 million in salary payouts thanks to the insurance coverage.

***

No. 2: Allen trying to double up on title this year?– It doesn’t get much sweeter than Sunday night for Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, whose NFL team pummeled Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl in New York. Well, it could actually get a little sweeter for Allen if the Trail Blazers find a way to get to the same stage come June and get a shot at winning a Larry O’Brien Trophy. Don’t laugh. Because as Kevin Garnett famously told us in Boston, “anything is possible.” Seth Prince of the Oregonian poses the question and fans in Portland respond:

The fourth time was the charm for Paul Allen, who achieved his first world championship as an owner tonight as the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
He also led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, as well as the Seahawks to the Super Bowl XL in 2006. All of those seasons ended with Allen’s teams losing.
It raises the question, do you think he’ll be able to bring an NBA world championship to Portland with the Trail Blazers? Let us know in the comment thread below and share how you think he’s matured as an owner through the years.

***

No. 3: Heat not worried about Bynum joining the Pacers – If they are worried at all about Andrew Bynum joining an Indiana Pacers team that has already shown an ability to challenge them, the Miami Heat aren’t showing it. They’re acting like the Pacers’ acquisition of Bynum,  a player they reportedly pursued as well, means nothing in the chase for Eastern Conference supremacy. Perhaps it’s easy to feel that way when you still have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to lean on, not to mention Chris “Birdman” Andersen and even a getting-stronger-every day Greg Oden sharpening his skills. Whether they are just playing the role or not is a question that won’t be answered unless the Heat and Pacers square off in the playoffs. In the meantime, David J. Neal of the Miami Herald takes the temperature of the Heat now that Bynum is wearing blue and gold:

The Heat locker room publicly shrugged Saturday at the signing and likely did so privately aside from a few witty jokes. This is a team that believes, correctly, that while time and pain have improved Indiana, whether or not the Heat complete the championship hat trick relies largely on itself.

Can Dwyane Wade be Dwyane Wade again for an entire Eastern Conference final? The Heat can get through the rest of the East with Wade on a maintenance plan or having games where he’s an above average player. It will take an extra game here or there, which you never like, but that’s not a problem against any two teams not named Indiana put together.

Against Indiana, Miami will need six or seven games of the future Hall of Fame Wade to get the job done. Bynum neither helps nor hurts in that regard.

Can Chris Bosh continue to be that helpful omnipresence, having a hand in most wins even if that hand’s not doing what stat-minded fans and media wish it were? Bosh draws Hibbert and Bynum out of the middle with his range, then makes them work and getting up and down the floor.

The Heat knows it’s about the three-point line, both defending it and scoring from behind it. If the Heat’s snipers misfire, that lane gets packed like Miami Beach streets during Art Basel and those penetration-and-ones dwindle to not often enough.

Hibbert’s Metallo, the super-strong villain with the kryptonite heart. Great against Superman, not the most useful guy against the rest of the Justice League. Hibbert hurts no team more than he does the Heat, yet still, the Heat find ways around and over him. Bynum’s Hibbert Lite at this point.

Most ridiculous is the idea Indiana signed Bynum to keep him from the Heat. Although the Heat has nothing against height, it already has a big guy with unreliable lower limbs, one who showed tremendous determination just to get back to being able to take the floor. Greg Oden embodies the diligence, grit and good citizenship the Heat likes to think of as its franchise hallmarks. Oden might not be a problem for opponents the way it hopes, but the Heat knows he won’t be a problem for them in the locker room or after midnight.

***

No. 4: Rockets have their own dynamic guard duo in Beverley and Lin – Phoenix, Golden State and Oklahoma City aren’t the only Western Conference playoff teams that can boast of having guard rotations loaded with talented players at the same positions and making it work to their advantage. The Houston Rockets have their own version in Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin, a pairing that hasn’t been seen healthy and attacking like they were in the preseason until now. And it’s a sight to see for Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who has been looking for a spark from his point guards. They give the Rockets the sort of balance needed with All-Stars like James Harden and Dwight Howard on the other side of the scale. Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle discusses the finer points of the two-point guard system the Rockets are tinkering with:

Right from the start of training camp, Rockets coach Kevin McHale liked what he saw when guards Pat Beverley and Jeremy Lin were on the court together.

He saw them complement each other all through the preseason and was excited about what they would bring to the Rockets.

Then came the injuries. Beverley, 25, was hurt in the first game of the season (bruised ribs) and was sidelined. The two-point guard experiment was put on hold.

When Beverley came back, the two flourished, providing a mix of Beverley’s stifling defense and Lin’s attack-minded offense. Then came a knee sprain and back spasms for Lin, 25, then a fractured hand for Beverley.

Now that both have recovered from injuries and are back on the floor together consistently, McHale sees flashes of the preseason.

“I like those two playing together,” McHale said. “I thought earlier in the year, they were our best combination on the floor. Those two have a nice symmetry between them. They both enjoy playing with each other. They are very respectful for each other, and they work to help each other.”

When the two play together, the Rockets are 15-7. When they start together, the team is 5-1.

In the Rockets’ 106-92 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, the two were balanced. Lin had his first career triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists; Beverley went scoreless but had 10 rebounds, eight assists and a career-high five steals.

“Pat was unbelievable,” guard James Harden said. “Then Jeremy came off the bench and gets a triple-double. Those two are playing really good basketball together.”

Beverley averages 32 minutes per game; Lin plays 31. Much of that time they are on the floor together.

“I think we play really well together,” Beverley said. “We played together last year. We know each other well. We know each other’s games, and I think it works really well.”

Lin said when he and Beverley are in the game at the same time, they bring the Rockets the fast pace they seek.

“I think it just sets a tempo,” Lin said. “We push the ball hard. Just having two point guards out there definitely changes the tempo.”

That tempo and the mix of the two point guards’ strengths bring a different dimension to the Rockets.

“We have wanted to play them together all year,” McHale said. “I like that combination. With injuries, we haven’t been able to as much as we have wanted to.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant showed off his otherworldly scoring abilities in January, but also shined as a facilitator/passer as well for the mighty Thunder  … Kings coach Mike Malone is still trying to coax his team into being a defense-first outfit … The Chicago Bulls are open for trade business but All-Star center Joakim Noah is what we in the business call untouchable … Pacers boss Larry Bird insists the signing of Andrew Bynum was about two things, “he’s big and he can help us.”

ICYMI of the Night: Celtics fans have been waiting all season for Rajon Rondo to look like, well, Rajon Rondo. With only one game on the slate yesterday, Rondo had a perfect opportunity to take the spotlight and he did so …


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo dominates against the Magic

Rockets Still Adjusting To Expectations




VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Rockets superstar Dwight Howard

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin McHale has been at this long enough to know that “title talk” in July, even when you have all the ingredients seemingly in place, is delusional.

So many things can happen between winning the free-agent sweepstakes and winning a Larry O’Brien trophy that banking your season on winning the NBA’s summer title (last summer it was wooing the top free agent on the market, Dwight Howard, to Houston) means next to nothing to the Rockets’ coach. A Hall of Famer and champion during his playing days with the Boston Celtics, McHale that once the reality of the regular season sets in, none of that summer hubbub matters.

And make no mistake, the Rockets are in the midst of adjusting to that new reality. The expectations haven’t changed, the ultimate goal is still trying to get on par with the rest of the best in the Western Conference. They’re still aiming for that No. 1 spot and a chance to play for that title trophy … but it just may not be as soon as many Rockets fans hoped.

Injuries to key players (it’s not an excuse, it’s a fact), growing pains, significant off-court drama (Omer Asik) and general inconsistency throughout the season’s first two months have the Rockets sitting outside of the top four in the Western Conference standings in advance of tonight’s matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

“I think we’re still in the searching mode,” McHale said recently. “We had so many injuries that it’s hard to get any symmetry. We’ve had two or three main eight or nine guys out for stretches. So where are we at? We’re still searching, trying to find ourselves. And at a certain point, if you never do find it, it’s called lost. But I assume we’re going to find it at a certain point. We’re in that phase where I think we’re getting a lot better in some areas, but it just seems like it’s the two steps forward-one step back phase right now.”

James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, Jeremy Lin and Asik have all missed games with injuries since the start of training camp, squashing any chance the Rockets had of developing the chemistry McHale knew Houston would need in order to try and live up to its summer and preseason hype.

Howard is the only Rocket to have played in all 39 games this season, which is an impressive bounce back from the tumultuous season he had alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol with the Los Angeles Lakers last season.

In fact, Howard is the one certainty the Rockets have been able to count on this season.

His work ethic, attitude and spirits are at all-time highs. The petty chatter and foolishness that marked his lone season playing alongside Bryant in the L.A. fish bowl have dissipated with the change of scenery.

“From what I understand he’s been fantastic in every way imaginable,” said a former Eastern Conference executive now working as a scout. “He’s back to the Dwight he was before the past two years changed so many people’s perspective on him. He’s back to working without all that added stress and it shows. He’s playing with that energy we used to see from him in Orlando.”

McHale confirmed as much about Howard’s transition and fit with the Rockets.

“That’s the positive,” McHale said. “Dwight’s playing a lot better. I think we’re figuring out how to get Dwight the ball a lot better. We’re not missing him as much. We’re starting to figure out the angles we have to get at to get him involved more and to get easy baskets and stuff. We put in some different stuff offensively and defensively that works, because I don’t know if you knew this or not but everything works on paper. So I just think everybody, the staff and this entire group, is getting more accustomed to each other and how we’re going to have to operate. You know, hopefully, in the future you can bring back the entire core group healthy and then you can know what works and what doesn’t work.”

The dynamic inside-out duo of Howard and Harden definitely works. It is the Rockets’ answer to what the Oklahoma City Thunder (with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – when healthy), Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul — when healthy — and Blake Griffin) and San Antonio Spurs (Tony Parker and Tim Duncan) boast. The Rockets’ stars have found a way to thrive without either star having to subjugate their game for the other to flourish.

Harden is the league’s fifth-leading scorer (24.6 points) and Howard is a walking double-double with his customary perches among the best rebounders (4th in the league, 12.7) and field goal percentage leaders (5th in the league, 58.0 percent). But they’re also still in the midst of getting comfortable playing off of one another.

“It takes time,” Harden said. “We knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight. But we’ve got a good team. When you get new faces, though, you have to give it time, you have to adjust.”

That’s not a problem for Howard. No transition could be tougher than the one he tried to make in Los Angeles last season. He never fully embraced the change of working in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s system and the Lakers’ faithful never seemed to fully embrace him as the future of the franchise. That made for a messy breakup totally understandable to anyone paying attention to the details of what went down.

Whatever hiccups he had playing with Kobe, Howard is working hard to avoid with Harden. They’re developing some synergy and continuing to explore the boundaries of what they can do.

“It’s getting better,” Howard said. “We talk every day. We try to find ways to get better between me and him, pick and roll situations, where he likes the ball and where I like the ball and stuff like that. It takes a while. This is our first games together. But we should have it by the time the end of the [regular] season comes.”

Whether or not that’s in time to pave the way for a deep playoff run remains to be seen.

Then again, those plans have been adjusted, right along with the Rockets’ championship expectations.


VIDEO: Chandler Parsons joins the Inside the NBA crew to talk all things Rockets

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.