Posts Tagged ‘Toney Douglas’

Game 2: AC and LeBron return

VIDEO: Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann preview Game 2 of The Finals

SAN ANTONIO — They’ve barely started and things are already hot, hot, hot between the Spurs and Heat heading into Game 2.

The basics:

Game 1 tips off Sunday night at 8 ET on ABC.

Bring the gallon jugs of water, lofts of cold towels and plenty of ice.

Stay hydrated.

You don’t want to cramp up in the fourth quarter when LeBron James just might exact his revenge on the faulty air conditioning system at the AT&T Center by adding to his legend.

The maintenance folks say everything has been repaired and temperature inside the arena won’t feel like a hot yoga class. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be sweaty moments as the Heat try to bounce back from the fourth quarter collapse in Game 1 that produced a 110-95 defeat.

The narrative:

LeBron has never won the opening game of a playoff series that was played on the road and that hasn’t exactly put a crimp in his career.

The Heat dropped the opener to the Spurs a year ago, but that was at home and made bouncing back a bit easier. Miami has been incredibly resilient over the past two post-seasons, following a playoff loss by winning a record 12 straight times.

But now out on the road, the stakes are highest, the situation most dire and opponent the toughest as Miami tries to avoid going down 2-0 in any series for the first time since the Heatles formed a band.

All eyes, of course, will be on James, who had to leave Game 1 on Thursday night with severe cramping and watch helplessly as teammates were rolled down the stretch by the Spurs.

James has been resting, getting monitored constantly by the Heat medical staff and promises to be at full throttle for tonight.

VIDEO: Rachel Nichols updates LeBron James’ condition as Game 2 nears

The subplots:

Danny Green made another big splash with his trio of 3-pointers to spark the Spurs’ big fourth quarter rally in Game 1. But kicking his feet like a duck below the water level was center Tiago Splitter. After being phased out of minutes in The 2013 Finals and coming off the bench in Games 5 and 6 in the 2014 Western Conference finals, Splitter started and came up big, hitting 5 of 6 shots for 14 points. His nine-point burst from late third to early fourth quarter was an example of how the Spurs must attack the smaller Heat in the low post.

Mario Chalmers is often the wild-card in the Heat lineup that can be an offensive weapon and some of the pressure off the Big Three. But Chalmers got into early foul trouble and wound up playing just 17 minutes, scoring only three points and having five turnovers against 1 assist. Chalmers has got to stay under control and stay on the floor, if only to help coach Erik Spoelstra manage minutes.

Xs and Os:

Just because Tim Duncan shot 9-for-10 in Game 1, don’t expect the Spurs to turn back the clock a decade or more and pump the ball inside to the Big Fundamental. Those days are gone and now Duncan gets his shots out of the flow of the passing game offense. It’s still all about keeping the ball moving and trusting that eventually enough open looks at the basket will produce the necessary points. One thing the Spurs cannot afford is another game with a glut of 23 turnovers. They’ll look to keep their passes simpler and take fewer chances.

Even putting talk of a faulty air conditioning system aside, it is likely necessary for Spoelstra to go deeper into his lineup to keep the likes of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh fresher down the stretch of games. With San Antonio’s bench so deep, the Spurs always have rested bodies on the floor and Spoelstra would benefit just from getting usable minutes from Udonis Haslem and Toney Douglas. The Heat also have to attack the basket and get to the line more. They shot just 11 free throws in Game 1.

VIDEO: Relive Tim Duncan’s monster Game 1 performance

Who’s hot?

Boris Diaw scored just two points in the series opener, but with his 10 rebounds, six assists and solid defensive work against James, finished with the highest plus/minus figure in the game at +30.

Bosh continues his evolution into one of the best 3-point shooting big men in the game. Spreading the floor was a necessary part in the Heat’s growth into two-time champions and Bosh nailed 3 of 4 from behind the arc in the opener.

Whatever happened to…

Chris “Birdman” Andersen continues to be MIA off the Miami bench. He played 17 1/2 minutes in Game 1, but was hardly the disruptive force that can change a game. He grabbed just three rebounds and had one bucket.

Bottom line:

The Heat habit is to follow a playoff loss with an inspired win. You’ve got to think LeBron won’t let anything cramp his style.

Warriors Bolster Their Beleagured Bench … And More, Possibility

VIDEO: Nuggets hold off Warriors in shootout

OAKLAND – They added a backup, and one who will play behind the best player on the team at that, an obvious and important perspective. The Warriors got a Jordan, but not Michael. A Celtic, but a 2013-14 model.

The Golden State move to improve the bench was acquiring Jordan Crawford from Boston on Wednesday, along with MarShon Brooks, as part of a three-team trade that also included Miami. Splashy it was not, not after weeks of talks around the league that included the likes of Andre Miller and Kirk Hinrich, players with bigger names and longer resumés. Neither was it the direct hit of getting a dependable distributor to run the offense when Stephen Curry sits or to ride together in the same backcourt and allow Curry to play off the ball.

But it was good. The Warriors essentially gave up nothing, sending only Toney Douglas to the Heat and got the chance for something. Crawford in particular, and maybe Brooks, will be a scoring punch for the bench that ranks last in the league in points. The move may also provide an energy infusion after a half-season of Douglas, who averaged 11 minutes per game and shot 37.2 percent, seeming lost as a regrettable free-agent signing.

In a Western Conference race so tight that the little things could turn into a big difference, the Warriors just got a lot of little things. They needed bench help in general and in the backcourt in particular, and got Crawford averaging 13.7 points and a career-high 5.7 assists as he served as Boston’s injury replacement at the point for the injured Rajon Rondo. Golden State was 26th in the league in free-throw accuracy at the time of the trade, and it got Crawford, who is shooting 87.3 percent this season and owns an 82.7 career mark. Those numbers give the Warriors another option for late-game situations.

Plus, the Warriors did it without surrendering players on rookie deals, a goal, or future first-rounders. Amazingly, they still have other options at their disposal. With five weeks before the trade deadline, they have one trade exception worth $11 million, another at $4 million and approximately $2.2 million of spending room before reaching the luxury tax. And, if necessary, general manager Bob Myers said, owner Joe Lacob is willing to cross the tax line for the right deal.

Little things. Little things that potentially become big things.

Myers, when asked if he would have been worried going into the playoffs with a shallow bench, Douglas not contributing and Curry (38 minutes a game) and Andre Iguodala (33 minutes a game) starting at small forward while playing back-up point guard, he said:

“We’re worried all the time. We’re always trying to get better. I’m worried tonight. I’ll be worried tomorrow. That’s what we do. We’re always trying to get better. But specifically to your question about the backup point guard, we did need to address it. We felt like with (Nemanja) Nedovic, (Kent) Bazemore and Douglas, somebody would step into that role and for a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen or hasn’t happened yet. We felt we needed to make a move … ”

The bench has been a problem all season, magnified by the memory of the reserves as a critical part of the success a year ago, and the reality that Douglas and Marreese Speights haven’t come within a hemisphere of replacing Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Now comes the chance at a recovery. Crawford and Brooks will join the lineup soon, the Warriors estimate Jermaine O’Neal is two or three weeks away from returning from wrist surgery, and Festus Ezeli, another important 2012-13 reserve now missing, is expected back possibly in February but probably on March.

Report: Warriors Get Celts’ Crawford, Heat Get Douglas In Multi-Team Deal

VIDEO: The Starters crew break down the Celtics-Warriors-Heat trade

From staff reports

The Golden State Warriors have been the hottest team in the league lately, with 11 wins in their last 12 games (and a 10-game win streak just a week or so ago). But as our own John Schuhmann has pointed out, Golden State has lacked in guard depth all season long, forcing it to play point guard Steph Curry and playmaking forward Andre Iguodala major minutes to offset that shortcoming.

But that changes with reports of a three-team trade between the Warriors, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat that will send Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks from Boston to Golden State for future picks. The Celtics will end up with Joel Anthony and some future Draft picks from the Heat, and the Heat get Toney Douglas from Golden State. Rumors of the trade were first broken by veteran NBA reporter Peter Vecsey and have been confirmed by Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

As part of a three-team deal, the Boston Celtics have traded guards Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks to the Golden State Warriors, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors will send guard Toney Douglas to the Miami Heat, and Miami sends center Joel Anthony and a future first-round pick and second-round pick to the Celtics, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Miami will send a first-round pick it owns from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Celtics, but that pick becomes two second-round picks should the Sixers miss the playoffs in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The Heat will save $11.5 million in salary and luxury tax with the unloading of Anthony’s contract. Anthony has appeared in just 12 games for Miami this season, averaging a little more three minutes.

Gary Dzen and Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe provide some additional context on the deal:

In a separate move, the Celtics assigned Rajon Rondo, out since last January with a knee injury, to their Maine affiliate in the NBA D-League. Rondo is expected to test his knee there before returning to the Celtics, possibly as early as Friday.

“Rajon is progressing terrifically in his rehab and this is the next step,” Celtics boss Danny Ainge said. “This is a brief assignment so that Rajon can participate in a workout this afternoon with the Red Claws and he will be called back up to the Celtics upon the conclusion of the workout.”

Rondo’s impending return and Boston’s rebuilding plans made Crawford expendable. When Rondo returns, he’ll join a backcourt rotation of Avery Bradley, Jerryd Bayless, and Phil Pressey.

Crawford, who is making $2.16 million this season, averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 assists, and 3.1 rebounds in almost 31 minutes per game this season will the Celtics. Brooks has seen very limited action since being traded to Boston over the summer.

After figuring heavily in Miami’s rotation three seasons ago, the 6-foot-9-inch Anthony was averaging 3.1 minutes per game for the Heat this year. He is owed $3.8 million in salary next season.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:



Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.



Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.



Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.



Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Stats Notebook: Rockets Make Two Deals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On the day before the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets were active, making two trades with the Pacific Division and shaking up their frontline.

Less than eight months after he was selected with the No. 5 pick in the Draft, the Kings gave up on Thomas Robinson, sending him, along with Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt, to Houston for Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas.

In a separate deal, the Rockets reached an agreement to send Marcus Morris to Phoenix.

Robinson has been somewhat of a disappointment so far, but it’s hard to judge a rookie after just 51 games. It’s especially to hard to judge a rookie after 51 games with a dysfunctional franchise.

Time will only tell whether the Kings made a mistake in drafting Robinson with the No. 5 pick or if they made a mistake in trading him. Either way, they made a mistake.

Here are some notes on the players that were dealt on Wednesday, from the new…

Lowest FG%, restricted area (minimum 100 FGA)

Player FGM FGA FG%
Austin Rivers 55 131 42.0%
Kevin Love 48 107 44.9%
Roy Hibbert 115 248 46.4%
Luc Mbah a Moute 64 138 46.4%
Brandon Jennings 115 242 47.5%
Thomas Robinson 74 152 48.7%

Rockets’ Red Glare Is All About Harden


– Sometimes the future looks so bright that you need sunglasses.

Or maybe that’s just the solar flare that is James Harden.

Three nights after the All-Star circus left town, Harden put on a show that could have filled all three rings under the big top.

There were a career-high 46 points to go with eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a blocked shot. It all came on 14-for-19 shooting from the field, 7-for-8 on 3-pointers and 11-for-12 from the line.

“That’s as efficient a game as you can play in the NBA,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale.

It was also necessary, since the Thunder are the Thunder and the Rockets were playing with only 10 bodies in uniform after the pre-game dealing sent Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas out of town.

While general manager Daryl Morey was doing his usual juggling act at the trade deadline — giving the Rockets a puncher’s chance at power forward with the addition of Thomas Robinson — Harden was once again the lion tamer, cracking his whip and taking complete control.

This was the kind of game that the OKC stars Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook usually put in a chokehold coming down the stretch, but instead it was their old buddy who took it into his hands and squeezed tight.

From the time he stepped to the free-throw line with the 6:29 left to play and the Rockets down by a dozen, the scoring the rest of the way showed: Harden 14, Thunder 12.

Any Rockets game has become the most entertaining NBA game to watch on any given night. That’s because of their frantic pace of play, constant desire to attack the lane, their ability to rain down 3s.

And Harden.

Nobody player has done more in the league this season to change the face and outlook for a franchise than Harden. With him relentlessly driving at the basket or pulling up to stab jumpers, he’s an offensive force every bit as unstoppable when he’s rolling as Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Give Morey credit for pulling off the deal that brought him to Houston and for also adding supporting cast members Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Give the G.M. credit for forging ahead with a plan that has the Rockets already well positioned under the salary cap for free agency next summer and for swinging Wednesday’s deal that could pay off huge if Robinson comes to town and delivers on the talent that made him the No. 5 pick in the draft.

The Rockets have become a team that is attractive to free agents because they have someone who belonged on the floor with the rest of the All-Stars Sunday night with a game and style and confidence that should draw help down the line like a magnet attracts metal filings.

Keep the sunglasses handy. Truth is, Harden might be just beginning to glow.

Rockets’ Gamble on Robinson Worth Risk

HOUSTON — Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and The Sundance Kid had nothing on Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey.

The itchiest trigger finger in the NBA got things rolling in the countdown to the trade deadline by shipping out two power forward candidates who hadn’t panned out and bringing back another with plenty of talent and still something to prove.

Officially, it was Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich going to the Kings for Thomas Robinson, Tyler Honeycutt and Francisco Garcia and Marcus Morris going to the Suns for a second round draft pick.

But the essence of the deal was the Rockets taking a shot at the 6-foot-10 Robinson, who was the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft and a bundle of raw ability that many evaluators thought was the No. 2 pick of the litter eight months ago.

In two seasons, Patterson never established himself as a low post player on offense and did not carry his weight as a rebounder. Morris, too, is a decent mid-range shooter who also does not make his presence felt on the glass.

While there were character issues that surrounded Robinson before the draft and he was labeled a problem early in Sacramento and did not bloom, it is a move that is certainly worth the gamble for the Rockets.

If Robinson gets his act together and plays up to his potential, they’ve got a 21-year-old power forward who could fit in nicely on a roster that will now give him all the minutes he needs. If not, he carries a manageable $3.5 million contract that is only guaranteed through next season and also more cap space for free agency next summer. The Rockets were a team that had room to sign a max level free agent and another significant player and now they’ve carved out more room.

It is not on the blockbuster level of Morey’s deal that landed James Harden four days before the season opener. But it’s the kind of shrewd, low-risk deal that could set the Rockets up for an even bigger bang down the line.

Clippers Top League’s Best Benches


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After Thursday’s 90-77 win in Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers are now 3-0 without MVP candidate Chris Paul.

All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.

The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.

Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.

That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.

With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …

L.A. Clippers

The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.

Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.

The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.

Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.

San Antonio

Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.

The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.

This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing. (more…)

Exposed Howard Covers Lakers Sins

HOUSTON — Evidently, it is also safe now to spit into the wind and pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. Because everybody, it seems, is tugging on Superman’s cape these days.

Dwight Howard couldn’t be more exposed if he were a magazine centerfold wearing nothing but a staple. At least in Playboy, they usually let you lay down on a soft bearskin rug.

Howard shot just 8-for-16 on free throws and it was actually his best night from the foul line in a week and a half.

Every time the Lakers center stands unguarded 15 feet from the basket, it is becoming less a surprising adventure than a sitcom rerun: The Big Clang Theory.

The Rockets were only the latest to intentionally foul Howard and send him to the line. The strategy — Bite-a-Dwight, if you will — continues to take a shark-sized chunk from the aura of the big man that the Lakers are falling all over themselves for the chance to pay $100 million to and give away the keys to the franchise.

The fact that the strategy worked — and gave the crowd at the Toyota Center great amusement — covered up a bigger batch of sins. The Lakers can’t take care of the ball, committing 19 turnovers, can’t keep opponents off the offensive glass and can’t defend consistently when the game is on the line.

Yes, the Rockets sent Howard to the line five different times in a 69-second span of the fourth quarter. Yes, he connected only five times on his 10 throws. But during that stretch Houston outscored the Lakers by just 7-5.

It was everything else the Rockets did in the fourth quarter — getting James Harden into the paint to draw fouls, getting easy dump-off passes to Greg Smith, getting open shots on the wing for Toney Douglas -- that made the difference.

Just as occurred on at home on Sunday night against Orlando, Howard’s ineptitude from the foul line was the lightning rod while everyone else in the lineup let the house burn down.

Now the talk shows and the Twitterverse will be teeming with the suggestions for coach Mike D’Antoni to chain Howard to the bench in the fourth quarter of close games.

“People have no clue what they’re talking about if they think I’ll take Dwight out in the fourth quarter,” D’Antoni said. “It’s pretty simple: You don’t do that to a guy. He made his foul shots and that’s not the reason that we lost that game. He has to work through this. You just don’t take out a franchise player and do something like that to him.”

Certainly not if you don’t want to risk turning a mental block into a full blown psychosis. If Howard is going to be the anchor to the Lakers in the post-Kobe Bryant future, then he can hardly be hidden away at crunch time like Grandma’s porcelain figurines every time the kiddies come to visit.

“That’s just a strategy that teams are employing and we have to figure out the best strategy to defend it,” Bryant said. “We’ve talked about it a little bit. He just has to keep working at it all the time and keep practicing and doing it over and over until he turns it into a strength.”

The more critical problem is the Lakers’ lack of discipline and defense when games get late. This was a game in which the Lakers once led by 17 and were still up by 13 early in the fourth quarter.

On a night when Harden was a myopic 3-for-19, Chandler Parsons 5-for-16 and Jeremy Lin 2-for-8, the Rockets kept working and grinding and did all of the little things to inch their way back and give themselves a chance. It was the kind of play that the Lakers seem to think is beneath them.

With Steve Nash still out with a fractured leg and Pau Gasol now going to the sidelines to rest his ailing knees, excuses are all around for the Lakers, if they want to use them.

So, too, is the easy scapegoat, Howard, hammering more metal than a blacksmith, at the line. But it is not Howard committing the defensive breakdowns. He’s stepping up to cut off a penetrator and nobody is rotating behind him. Howard is not the one leaving the likes of Douglas and Carlos Delfino wide open on the outside because the proper switches weren’t made.

“He’s not the reason that our defense breaks down,” D’Antoni said. “He’s not the reason that stuff happens.”

But as long as Superman keeps standing exposed at the foul line, the real problems stay hidden.

Linsanity Is Jeremy On The Bench Late

HOUSTON — It’s becoming a habit. For the second time in four games, Jeremy Lin spent the decisive minutes on the bench.

Talk about your Linsanity.

First he watched Toney Douglas try to stem the tide against Damian Lillard during overtime of a loss at Portland. Then at home on Wednesday night, Lin simply watched all but two minutes of the fourth quarter as Douglas lifted the Rockets to a 93-89 win over the Bulls.

“I’m happy because we lost three in a row and needed a win. That’s for sure,” Lin said.

Team camaraderie aside, the Rockets need their point guard of the present and future to be able to stay on the floor to run the offense down the stretch. But to do that he’s going to have to make significant defensive strides.

When the Blazers were making their comeback in the fourth quarter last week, Lillard drove around and shot over Lin as if he wasn’t there. At the start of the final period against the Bulls, it was Nate Robinson who got on a roll and devoured Lin. Acting Rockets coach Kelvin Sampson watched Robinson stick a 3-pointer in Lin’s face and then drove for a dazzling 360-degree layup when he had enough and turned to Douglas.

On one hand, it was Nate being Nate, taking off on one of those sprees that has occasionally made him a marvel in the league. On the other, it was Lin being Lin, bedeviled and bewildered defensively.

“You have to go with your instincts,” Sampson said. “You’re not always right with that stuff. But I felt like Toney gave us our best chance to win. Yeah, a much better matchup with Nate.”

Lin’s troubles putting the ball into the basket this season have been well known. He shot just 2-for-9 from the field against the Bulls and is now 42-for-126 (33.3 percent) on the season.

It’s one thing to try to straighten out a wayward shot. That’s an individual thing. But if he has to constantly be replaced for a capable stopper on defense, then he’s not going to be on the floor to play quarterback on offense and isn’t helping at either end of the floor at crunch time. The Rockets need a guy they invested $25 million in to be more than a part-time player and a late-game spectator.

“Yeah, I think that’s for reasons of defense,” Lin said. “I’m not really sure. Ask Coach. But I think it’s a defensive thing. I didn’t do a very good job of making Nate Robinson uncomfortable. I’ve got to do a better job.”