Posts Tagged ‘Rockets’

It’s official: Howard returns to Rockets lineup

HOUSTON — After going through warmup drills about 90 minutes before opening tip, Dwight Howard prepared to rejoin the Rockets lineup Saturday for the first time in nearly a month against the Nuggets.

“Dwight will play tonight,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “He went through shootaround today. He went through a practice and ran a little bit on the road trip. We just haven’t had him on the floor a lot. He’s gonna play, as of right now. I hope. I sure hope nothing else happens.

“I’ll try to five him four- to five-minute stints and see what he’s got in the gas tank. When you consider how much he missed in training camp and consider how much he’s missed during the season, from us being together from the latter part of September till now, Dwight’s missed well over half our stuff.

“Catching a rhythm is hard when you do that. It’s just hard. NBA basketball is completely different than practice. It’s completely different than one-on-one workouts. So I don’t know what to expect. He’s a freakish athlete and he gets in shape real fast. So hopefully he’ll be able to give us something.”

Howard has not played since Nov. 17 at Memphis, suffering from a strained right knee. He has undergone platelet-rich plasma therapy in order to speed up the healing process, but still missed the last 11 games. The Rockets have gone 8-3 in his absence and are currently third in the Western Conference with a 17-5 mark.

Howard is averaging 18.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots in 10 games.

The plan is for Howard to play 20 to 24 minutes Saturday and McHale said he’ll use his usual eye-test and interaction with his player to gauge things.

“I usually talk to the guy: ‘How you doing? How you feeling? How’s your wind?’ ” McHale said. “There are times when you look out there go, ‘That guy can tell me anything he wants, but I’m not believing a word he said. I’m watching him play.’

“If a guy’s playing well and you say, ‘How you feeling? How’s your rhythm? How’s your wind? Do you need a timeout?’ You basically talk you way through with him. Then you get a better feel for that.

“But there’s some guys you watch play and go, ‘That poor guy’s got nothing. So I might as well take him out and save him from himself. A lot of these guys are competitive enough that they’re not gonna tell you.”

Morning shootaround — Dec. 7




VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors keep streaking | Two in a row for Philly | Rockets blast Suns

No. 1: Draymond Green-lights 12th straight — It takes a lot more than a one-trick pony to win 17 times in 19 games and it’s becoming more apparent with every passing day that the Warriors are far more than just the Splash Brothers. It was Draymond Green who stepped into the spotlight and led the way in Chicago as Golden State set a franchise record with a 12th consecutive win. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has the details:

“He was OK,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I know it was his career high and his numbers were incredible, but that is kind of who he is.
“He’s just a winner.”
With All-Star point guards Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose never really getting it going and up-and-coming shooting guards Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler producing stat lines similar to each other, Green helped the Warriors snap a five-game losing streak in Chicago.
The game was tied four times and the lead changed hands 10 times in the final 19 minutes, but the Warriors never trailed after a six-point spurt by Marreese Speights put them up 83-82 with 10:59 to play. Green made his sixth three-pointer to cap a decisive 8-2 run that extended the Warriors’ advantage to 95-87 with 6:24 remaining.
Green made more three-pointers than the rest of the team combined (five), had half of the team’s six blocked shots and four of the Warriors’ 14 steals. He added seven rebounds and three assists for good measure to a game in which he shot 11-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-13 from three-point range.
“Oh man, I might lose my job if I do that too often. I don’t know if I can keep doing that,” said Green, who took 13 threes to Thompson’s eight and Curry’s five. “I don’t know if there’s going to many nights when I take as many three-point shots as them, but tonight, the shot was there. I didn’t turn it down too many times, and when I did turn one down, they told me to shoot it.”
His shot helped the Warriors (17-2) clinch a franchise-best seventh consecutive win on the road, equaling a record set in 1969 and tied in 2013-14. The last time the Warriors had an 11-game win streak overall, the Bulls snapped it in January 1972.

***

No. 2: Break up the Sixers — It may have taken them more than a month and a flirtation with NBA infamy to get their first win of the season, but the Sixers didn’t waste any time getting victory No. 2 when they outlasted the struggling Pistons in overtime. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes how the young team is enjoying its sudden taste of success:

“We are on a great little run,” said point guard Michael Carter-Wiliams, who finished with 20 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots and 7 turnovers. “We played OKC tough. We came up a little short. But we wanted to build off that coming into this game.”
The Pistons dropped to 3-17 and lead the Sixers by only one game in the Eastern Conference standings. This was Detroit’s 11th consecutive loss. The Pistons are closing in on the franchise record of 14 straight losses.
The Pistons missed all 11 of their field goal attempts in the extra period. Their lone point came on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s foul shot with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left.
“I was pleased with our defense in that overtime,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose squad also held the Pistons to 18 points in the fourth quarter. “I thought our defense was tough.”
After the teams combined to miss their first nine shots in overtime, Henry Sims’ jumper gave the Sixers a 102-101 lead with 1 minute, 57 seconds left. Then Nerlens Noel’s 5-foot floater made it a 104-101 game with 29.9 seconds left. Carter-Williams and Robert Covington both added a pair of late foul shots in the seven-point win.
“Robert played great,” Carter-Williams said of Covington, who finished with a career-high 25 points off the bench. “I think Luc [Mbah a Moute], who had 14 points and 11 rebounds] made a couple of hustle plays. And Nerlens, Henry, and [Brandon Davies] were in there banging with their bigs and doing the best they can.
“So it was definitely a group effort.”

***

No. 3:Beverley returns in the nick of time — It’s been a tough start to the season for Rockets feisty point guard Pat Beverley as he’s missed 10 of the last 14 games with a nagging hamstring injury. But with Dwight Howard still sidelined and James Harden’s back finally giving out from carrying so much of the load, Beverley returned to make the big plays and shots that carried the Rockets to a fourth straight win and kept them on the heels of Golden State in the Western Conference race. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explains:

Beverley returned after missing the previous six games and 10 of 14 with a strained hamstring. But with the Rockets’ list of injuries growing nightly, they needed him to be back and at his best with the game on the line.
Beverley answered just in time, putting in the 3-pointer that stopped the Phoenix Suns’ charge and grabbing the rebounds that held them off 100-95 on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
“We don’t win that game unless Pat plays,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He made some big 3s and got some huge offensive rebounds.
“We were really struggling. We were running out of gas. James tweaked his back. Francisco (Garcia) is out. We were really running on fumes there.”
Even with Beverley back, the Rockets began the game with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou out, with Papanikolaou spraining his right knee Friday. Garcia left in the first half with a sore right leg.
Harden had carried the Rockets through the weeks of injuries, but when his back tightened Saturday, he struggled to move on the floor, eventually leaving the bench area to try to stretch. He played the final seven minutes in obvious pain, grimacing as he left the floor in the final seconds.
“I had a real tight back,” Harden said. “It was hard for me to even move. It was hard for me to change directions, and it was hard for me to really move and push off. It was a tough night.”
Harden was unconcerned that the back would be an ongoing problem.
The Rockets started fast, building a 22-point lead with Donatas Motiejunas sinking hooks and Jason Terry putting in 3-pointers early. But in the fourth quarter, the Rockets went seven minutes without a field goal as their lead shrank from 16 points to seven.
Finally, with 2:30 remaining, Beverley nailed his fifth 3-pointer of the night, ending the Rockets’ dry spell just in time.
“Patrick brings something we don’t have and that’s a point guard who plays excellent defense, knocks down shots and is a great team player,” Harden said. “Without Pat tonight, we probably would have lost that game. It was great just to have him back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tiago Splitter could finally be back in the Spurs’ lineup Tuesday night at Utah… Brian Shaw says there’s not much daylight between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant…  Are the Gasols the best brother combination in NBA history?…Andre Drummond admits that he made a fast mistake.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Kobe won’t pile on Howard with K.D.

HOUSTON — Kobe Bryant’s contentious history with Dwight Howard, as both teammate and opponent, is well-documented. The pair had a scrap in the season opener at Staples Center.

But on a night when Howard sat out of a 98-92 loss to L.A. due to a strained right knee, Bryant did not want to jump into the war of words between the Rockets center and Kevin Durant of the Thunder.

When Howard and Durant got into an argument Sunday night in Oklahoma City, Durant reportedly called Howard an expletive that questioned his manhood.

“No, I don’t feel that way,” Bryant said. “And I don’t think Kevin does either. At moments of confrontation during a game you’ll say things in the heat of the moment. I know Dwight. I’m sure Kevin does. We don’t feel that way about him.

“You get in an argument with somebody, you’ll say things out of frustration, out of anger that you really don’t mean. It’s a heat of the battle, heat of the moment.

“You (media) guys have all been in arguments, guys that are married. Sometimes you say things that you want to take back, that you don’t really mean. But it’s in the heat of confrontation.”

Because of knee, Dwight won’t see Kobe

Dwight Howard complained of a sprained right knee and sat out Wednesday’s rematch against Kobe Bryant, which of course only means two things are now inflamed: the knee, and the “soft” rap against Howard which came courtesy of Kobe.

The Lakers-Rockets game was the first meeting between the teams since the season opener, when Howard and Kobe competed against each other for the first time since Howard left the Lakers two summers ago. Their relationship wasn’t the best then, and when they exchanged elbows with seven minutes in the opener, won easily by the Rockets, it only escalated in public view.

Once they were separated, not only did Kobe call out Howard by saying “try me” repeatedly, he also yelled “soft.” Lakers coach Byron Scott said the obvious: “They don’t like each other. It’s as simple as that.”

Well, then. It could be a bit of frustration on Kobe’s behalf, because the downfall of the Lakers began when Howard signed as a free agent with the Rockets, rather than stick around in L.A. during Kobe’s sunset. The Lakers haven’t been a winner since, and began this season losing nine of their first 10. Meanwhile, Howard and the Rockets are second only to the Grizzlies in the West.

Speaking of Memphis, Howard said he tweaked the knee against the Grizzlies but appeared to downplay the injury, calling it “bumps and bruises” following a back-to-back. Howard also didn’t raise the knee as an issue earlier Wednesday at the morning shootaround, but apparently discomfort set in shortly thereafter.

Report: Bosh didn’t want ‘pressure’ of title chase with Rockets

You know the old saying: If you can’t stand the heat, stay with the Heat.

That’s pretty much the admission that Chris Bosh made about his decision last summer to turn down the free-agent offer to chase another championship or two with the Rockets.

When LeBron James chose to leave Miami and return to the Cavaliers in July, it was generally believed that Bosh would make a perfect fit with fellow All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston.

The Rockets made Bosh a max offer of four years, $88 million. The Heat eventually got him to stay for their own max of five years, $118 million. And it’s hard to anyone to tell someone else to simply give up $30 million.

But it wasn’t solely about the money. Bosh told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com that after four years of living under the microscope of intense scrutiny in Miami, he was ready to, well, not put so much effort into intensity-filled title chase:

“I could see where people would think that’s an attractive site,” Bosh told CBSSports.com, speaking of Houston, where half the NBA expected him to land back in July. “They were trying to win right away. And I was really happy to be touted that I possibly could’ve been out there. But you know, that doesn’t guarantee anything, and I know that. All that guarantees is a bunch of pressure.”

Before you jump on Bosh for taking the easy way out, consider what the past four years were like for him. He was never the most important corner of the James-Wade-Bosh triangle, except when he missed an open jumper or flubbed a defensive assignment. He had to sacrifice and unlearn key parts of his game to adapt to the more dominant talents and personalities around him. For four years, every day in the life of the Miami Heat was like being on tour with the No. 1 artist in the land.

The perpetual chase, the championship-or-bust environment, the celebrity status afforded basketball’s three-headed monster — all of it wore on James, who spoke often last season of the mental fatigue of pursuing a fourth straight trip to the Finals. Everyone was so busy chronicling James’ every word that they forgot to ask Bosh what he thought.

It wore on him, too.

“It’s incredibly difficult to win a championship,” Bosh told CBSSports.com. “I know that, and I know it’s a whole process.”

The Rockets had pushed all their chips to the center of the table in pursuit of Carmelo Anthony (who chose to stay in New York) and then Bosh, a perfect complement to Howard and Harden. With James gone and with Rockets GM Daryl Morey clearing the runway for Bosh to chase a third ring as the third wheel in his home state of Texas, it all seemed to be a fait accomplit. The Rockets sure seemed to think so.

“Did they?” Bosh told CBSSports.com. “… I think they’re still in contention for it even without me. It’s free agency. It’s a crazy time. It just kind of got crazy real fast and then it settled down completely.”

It did so when Bosh chose to settle down in Miami, a place that he and his family have adopted as “pretty much our second home,” he said.

“I’m familiar with people,” Bosh said. “I know how to get to work. And if there’s traffic, I know the shortcuts. It’s those small things that I really love about the city and I love about being comfortable that guided me back. And you know, if you can make a couple of dollars on the side, then it works out.”

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron loves seeing the Hawks| Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? | CP3 rescues the Clippers | Rockets talking mental toughness

No. 1: LeBron loves seeing the Hawks — Perhaps this is his way of taking out his frustrations on the San Antonio Spurs. Since he couldn’t do it against the real Spurs, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers went in on the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night in record fashion. LeBron, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group makes clear, loves seeing the Hawks:

LeBron James’ body language spoke volumes Saturday night.

Consider what was said in the second quarter of the Cavaliers’ 127-94 thumping of the Atlanta Hawks.

Cleveland was on its way to a 71-point first half, had drained its first 11 three-pointers, and would end the half with assists on 22 of 25 field goals. James wasn’t sprinting so much as he was gliding around the court, tossing one-handed, no-look, razor-sharp passes into traffic for layups.

The way he was moving around the court, his leg churning like pistons and eyes up, looking for open teammates with a little grin on his face – was a look seldom (if ever seen) on James since he returned to the Cavaliers.

He looked like he was having fun.

“I have fun every time I step out on the basketball court – win, lose, or draw,” James said. “I have a love for the game, I have fun, I show it on my face sometimes more than others. Inside, the kid is always excited to put another uniform on and go out and play.”

***

No. 2: Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? — Leave it up the Knicks, a team struggling in every facet in this early season, to worry about free agency before Thanksgiving. They are already poised to pick a fight with the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs … for Marc Gasol, who by the way is busy leading his Memphis Grizzlies to the top of the Western Conference standings right now. Those little details won’t stop Knicks Nation from dreaming about what could be. Frank Isola of the Daily News has more:

Phil Jackson has made a career out of taking pot shots at the San Antonio Spurs so even if the Knicks president doesn’t respect Greg Popovich’s club he should fear them.

The Knicks’ main free-agent target, Marc Gasol, is also being targeted as a possible replacement to Tim Duncan assuming Ol’ Man Riverwalk retires this summer. The Knicks will be players for the Memphis center mainly because of the first three rules of real estate — location, location, location — and because Gasol is familiar with both Jackson and Derek Fisher since older brother Pau spent the best years of his career with the Lakers.

Otherwise, staying in Memphis will be appealing to Gasol, whose team is a legitimate championship contender. The Grizzlies can offer Gasol the most money, and he has grown to love the city, having lived there since high school when Pau broke in with the Grizzlies.

Coincidently, Pau considered the Spurs this past summer but took more money to join the Chicago Bulls, much to Jackson’s chagrin. When Pau signed, Jackson tweeted a photo of lightning striking the city of Chicago. He might end up tossing his iPhone in the East River if Marc signs with the Spurs, arguably the best run franchise in all of pro sports. They also have the nucleus to remain a contender for years to come.

Signing with the Knicks strictly for basketball reasons is a tougher sell, although his Spanish teammate, Jose Calderon, will be a key part of the recruiting pitch. History, however, is not on the Knicks’ side. The last major free agent to make a significant impact was Allan Houston all the way back in the summer of the 1996. Back then, Jeff Van Gundy was winning big as the head coach, and Jim Dolan was learning to play the guitar, not running the Garden. Crazy coincidence, no?

***

No. 3:CP3 to the rescue for Clippers — It’s an act Chris Paul will probably have to perform more often than he wants to this season, rescuing the Los Angeles Clippers from despair the way he did against the Phoenix Suns. But that’s the burden he signed on for when he became the face of the franchise. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

After taking four days off to collect themselves after a difficult loss to San Antonio, Chris Paul made sure the Clippers played better basketball.

Paul took over the game in the third quarter and then saved the Clippers from imploding in the fourth, pushing Los Angeles to a 120-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at Staples Center.

Paul scored a season-high 32 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including five for six on three-point shots. He had nine assists and five rebounds in helping the Clippers score a season high in points.

When the Clippers’ 26-point lead was cut to 11 points late in the fourth quarter, Paul went to work.

He scored seven consecutive points in the fourth to help the Clippers pull out a victory in which six players scored in double figures.

He made two free throws, a three-pointer and a jumper.

The Clippers outscored the Suns, 42-20, in the third quarter in opening their big lead.

***

No. 4: Rockets talking mental toughness – The Houston Rockets have clearly turned a corner on the court from last season. They look every bit as fit to chase a championship as we thought they should have and would have a year ago. But the real test is about the mental toughness needed to win it all. And the Rockets are working on that, as should be expected after a narrow escape against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Jenny Dial-Creech of the Houston Chronicle explains:

After barely pulling out an 88-87 win over Philadelphia on Friday night, the Rockets practiced Saturday in preparation for their third set of back-to-back road games this season.

On Sunday, the Rockets will play at Oklahoma City and on Monday they will travel to Memphis.

“We already know these are two playoff teams,” guard Jason Terry said. “Both of these teams, barring they stay healthy, will be in the playoffs this year. Oklahoma is a tough team. We know their system very well.

“Memphis is a division opponent. It is sort of a rivalry. You have to say that because they are in the division so you never want to lose division games. It will be a tough challenge because they have two great big men that are the toughest two tandem in the league and you have a great, young point guard in Conley who pushes the tempo and is always on the attack.”

Terry said that headed into the road trip, he felt the Rockets were mentally stronger than ever thanks to the close call against the Sixers.

“We grew as a team,” he said. “On this journey that we go on through the regular season, there are going to be times where your mental toughness is tested and (Friday) was one of those times. We got back late from Mexico City. We didn’t practice. We came right back here and the game came so fast against a team that lost by 50 the night before. They were ready, they were hungry, they challenged us and we weathered the storm. I learned a lot about us, about our mental toughness. It’s good to see, and it’s good to see early on in the season. It won’t be the last test, but we passed the first one.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Magic finally get Victor Oladipo back in their starling lineup … The Chicago Bulls love what Pau Gasol brings to the Windy City  … Bradley Beal targeting a return to practice this week with the Wizards … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is keeping his (starting lineup) options open … The Milwaukee Bucks’ dedication to defense is paying off

 

Ailing Howard to miss unbeaten battle

HOUSTON — Another night, another anticipated showdown between Western Conference heavyweights goes up in smoke.

Rockets center Dwight Howard will sit out Saturday’s game between the 6-0 Rockets and 4-0 Warriors suffering from flu-like symptoms.
 Howard is coming off a rousing 32-point, 16-rebound, two blocked shot performance Thursday night against the Spurs.

However, that meeting between the unbeaten Rockets and the defending champs lost some of its shine when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.


The Rockets were already going to play without starting point guard Pat Beverley (left hamstring) and power forward Terrence Jones (right leg contusion).

Rookie Tarik Black will start for the Rockets at center and rookie Kostas Papanikolaou will open in Jones’ spot.

Superman’s return(?) lifts Rockets


VIDEO: Dwight Howard goes alley-oop crazy on the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We haven’t seen him in a couple of years, the smiling big guy who wore the cape and leaped over all things.

The dominant Dwight Howard we all grew accustomed to seeing while he starred in Orlando, the one who disappeared two years ago in Los Angeles and struggled a bit adjusting early on in Houston last season, was back on the floor Thursday night in Houston.  Howard crushed the (Tim Duncan-less) San Antonio Spurs, executing a series of alley-oop dunks early against the reigning world champs in the Rockets’ 98-81 demolition job.

Howard finished with 32 points and 16 rebounds and was unstoppable inside. The Rockets are 6-0 with James Harden and Howard leading the way.

Harden was splendid last season, a first-team All-NBA pick on a good team that couldn’t get out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Could Superman’s return lift them up to that next level this season?

I don’t see  why not.

If this is the Howard we’re going to see all season, maybe I need to take another look at the landscape in the West and put the Rockets in their proper position among the elite teams. Originally I saw them as a team capable of chasing that fourth spot behind San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder.

But early on it’s the undefeated Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors who are leading the pack. The Grizzlies have their own dominant big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. They’d be hard-pressed to look any better than Howard did against the Spurs.

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win all three awards in their career.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.