Posts Tagged ‘Trevor Ariza’

Morning shootaround — May 28

VIDEO: Highlights from Game 5 of the Western Conference finals


Thompson develops concussion-like symptoms | Reports: Magic, Pelicans interested in Skiles | Report: Bulls mull firing Thibodeau

No. 1: Thompson develops concussion-like symptoms after Game 5 — Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson took an accidental knee to the head by Houston’s Trevor Ariza late in Game 5. He suffered a cut, from which blood was coming out of, and had to leave the game, but eventually did return. After the Warriors wrapped up their Finals berth, however, Thompson said he wasn’t feeling well and developed concussion-like symptoms. has more on the story:

Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson developed concussion-like symptoms after Wednesday night’s series-clinching Game 5 win over the Houston Rockets, the team announced.

“Klay Thompson was evaluated by the Warriors medical staff immediately after suffering an injury during tonight’s game and was put through a concussion evaluation,” the team said. “At the time he did not show any concussion-like symptoms. After the game he began to not feel well and developed concussion-like symptoms. He will continue to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff tonight.”

Thompson said in a televised postgame interview that he was “feeling a little dizzy,” before adding, “We got a week off — or close to it. I’ll be all right. I’ll get my health back.”

The injury occurred when Ariza, caught in the air on a shot fake, hit the right side of Thompson’s head with his right knee. Ariza was called for a personal foul on the play.

Blood coming out of the cut prevented Thompson from checking back in to the game upon his return to the Warriors’ bench. He ended up needing three stitches to close the wound.

“He was definitely shaken up. We’ll evaluate him tomorrow. It was a bizarre night for him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in his postgame news conference before Thompson’s concussion-like symptoms were revealed. “Huge first half that really got us going, and then I left him in too long, he got his fourth foul and I thought I’d buy one possession, see if we could get him a shot, and when he picks up his fifth and when I do bring him back, he immediately gets hurt and out for the rest of the night.

“The break will be good for him. It’ll probably be good for all the guys with the run we’ve been on, but especially for Klay.”


VIDEO: Thompson suffers accidental blow to head in Game 5

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Ariza won’t ‘chip’ in on Curry’s talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers preview: Rockets-Mavs

VIDEO: West Series Preview: Rockets – Mavericks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Southwest Division comprises more than half of the Western Conference playoff bracket. So two of them have to play each other.

The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets both made changes to their roster in December, bringing the enigmatic Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith from the Eastern Conference. A month after they added Rondo to their mix, the Mavs were 30-13, a game ahead of the Rockets.

But things went downhill from there. The Mavs led the league in offensive efficiency at the time they traded for Rondo, but scored almost 10 fewer points per 100 possessions after the trade than they did before it. Their defense did improve some, but not enough to make up for the offensive drop-off.

The Rockets, meanwhile, survived a myriad of injuries to win the division and finish second in the West. They’re missing two starters and don’t have Dwight Howard at 100 percent, but have gotten by with a top-10 defense and an MVP candidate. That could be enough to get through an opponent that has had issues on both ends of the floor at one point or another.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Rockets-Mavs, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Houston Rockets (56-26)

Pace: 99.3 (2)
OffRtg: 104.2 (12)
DefRtg: 100.5 (6)
NetRtg: +3.7 (6)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Dallas: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets notes:


Dallas Mavericks (50-32)

Pace: 97.4 (9)
OffRtg: 107.2 (5)
DefRtg: 103.7 (18)
NetRtg: +3.5 (8)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Mavs notes:

The matchup

Season series: Rockets won 3-1 (2-0 in Houston).
Pace: 100.7
HOU OffRtg: 100.8 (19th vs. DAL)
DAL OffRtg: 97.9 (19th vs. HOU)

Matchup notes:

Report: Rockets’ Beverley out for season

The Houston Rockets’ injury issues continue. Just days after getting Dwight Howard back from a 26-game absence with a knee injury comes the news that point guard Patrick Beverley is going to miss the remainder of the season after having surgery on his left wrist.

Rockets MVP candidate James Harden serves as the Rockets’ facilitator and catalyst routinely. But Beverley’s work as a defender will no doubt be missed. The Rockets also have depth at the position in the form of veterans Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more on how Houston might offset the loss of its starting point guard:

Rockets guard Pat Beverley has opted to have surgery to repair ligaments in his left wrist injured last week in Indianapolis, a person with knowledge of the decision said.

The surgery will force Beverley to miss the remainder of the season, including the post-season regardless of how far the Rockets advance in the playoffs.

The Rockets’ starting point guard the past two seasons, Beverley has had multiple injuries, struggling through last season’s playoffs with a knee injury and going out this season after two games with a hamstring injury.

Beverley will be a free agent after the season, his third since the Rockets signed him in January 2012 as a free agent playing in Russia.

With Beverley out, the Rockets have started Jason Terry, going 9-0 in games Terry has started. He has split time at the point position, with the Rockets often using Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer or rookie Nick Johnson to match up with opposing point guards.


Morning shootaround — Feb. 28

VIDEO: Recap Friday’s 14 games with the Daily Zap


Rondo: All is well in Dallas | What’s wrong with the Wizards? | Bulls win, despite losing Gibson | Shorten the schedule?

No. 1: Rondo: All is well in Dallas — After an on-court blowup earlier this week between Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and point guard Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suspended Rondo for one game. Dallas lost that game without Rondo, against Atlanta, but in the meantime, Rondo says, he and Carlisle have been working to get back on the same page. And as’s Tim McMahon writes, Rondo is now hoping to focus on moving forward and keeping the Mavs in the playoff picture…

“I just got built-up frustration,” said Rondo, who has had a couple of long individual meetings with Carlisle since their blowup. “I take a lot of the blame for what I’ve been doing on the court, but just a little frustrated. The most important thing is communication with Coach. I’ve talked to a lot of the coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of staff members.

“Coach and I, when I first got here, we were talking a lot and watching film after every game. He’s backed off a little bit with the addition of Amar’e [Stoudemire], trying to help get him up to speed. Our communication was great at first. Not that it wasn’t so great, but it’s just that we weren’t communicating enough. That shouldn’t be the case the rest of the season.”

Rondo, a four-time All-Star who arrived in Dallas on Dec. 18 as the featured player in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, has a reputation for being difficult to coach. He frequently butted heads with Doc Rivers in Boston, but the Celtics won a title and advanced to another NBA Finals during their time together.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” Rondo said, chuckling. “Everyone’s personality is different. The personality and the DNA is different.

“I don’t think this is a problem at all. We lost a game [Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks], which hurt us seeding-wise, but we have to continue to move forward. I spoke with pretty much everyone in the organization, and everyone is on the same page.”

Rondo declined to discuss how play-calling responsibilities would be handled going forward. Carlisle has handled the vast majority of play-calling, which bothered Rondo, a nine-year veteran known for his basketball intelligence.

Carlisle, who stressed the importance of Rondo to the Mavs after the suspension was announced Wednesday, said he is done discussing the incident with Rondo.

“I know that you guys need to ask him a couple of questions, but I’m done talking about it,” Carlisle said. “Our other players are done talking about it. It’s over. In terms of NBA time, it’s light-years ago.”


No. 2: What’s wrong with the Wizards? — The Washington Wizards entered this season expected to not only contend for the Southeast Division title, but the Eastern Conference crown as well. But even with injuries slowing their roll this season, the Wizards are in a tailspin right now, last night losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington’s sixth loss in a row, its longest losing streak in two seasons. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, the Wizards’ loss was “code red for a team that just one month ago harbored title aspirations”…

It came on the heels of a team dinner Thursday. All 14 players dined together at a Brazilian steakhouse, which was captured in an Instagram post by Marcin Gortat with the caption “Team dinner…Staying together!”

The off-court camaraderie didn’t remedy their on-court ailments. A night later, they were dreadful in a loss to a team they dismantled by 35 points last month. The loss was the Wizards’ 11th in 13 games and 13th in their past 17 and could leave them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference depending on the Milwaukee Bucks’ fate against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night.

“I wouldn’t say rock bottom. It’s a tough stretch,” all-star guard John Wall said. “We’re still above .500, but the main thing is we got to get back to playing the right way. Until we do that, we’re going to keep losing games. The way we’ve been playing, you can lose to anybody in this league.”

Washington entered the night averaging a league-low 15 free throw attempts and shooting 23.3 percent from beyond the three-point line over its past five games. Without Bradley Beal (fibula), Paul Pierce (knee) and Kris Humphries (groin) available, the trend continued.

When the Wizards (33-26) last played in Philadelphia on March 1 of last year, Trevor Ariza, now a member of the Houston Rockets, made eight three-pointers and scored 40 points. On Friday, Washington made just 4 of its 17 three-point attempts (23.5 percent) and scored 39 second-half points.

The Wizards shot a paltry 32.3 percent from the floor and attempted 12 fewer free throws than Philadelphia. The 76ers were held to 35 percent shooting but outscored Washington by 28 points from the three-point arc and free throw line.

“We had some good shots, but we’re not making shots,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “[We’re] not playing with confidence right now. We’re short-cutting everything. To get out of this rut that you’re in, you can’t do that offensively. We have to execute offensively, and we took short cuts, which turned into bad shots. Until we execute, it’s going to stay like this.”


No. 3: Bulls win, despite losing Gibson — The Chicago Bulls continue seeing both sides of the coin. Earlier in the day, the Bulls announced that surgery on Derrick Rose had been successful, and they were putting a 4-6 week timetable on his return, which, even on the long end of that schedule, would have Rose back before the end of the regular season. Last night, without Rose, the Bulls beat the surging Timberwolves, 96-89. But taking the bad with the good, the Bulls lost big man Taj Gibson to a sprained ankle. With the Bulls struggling to stay healthy, Joakim Noah has been able to resume his old point-forward role and keep the Bulls above water, as’s Nick Friedell writes

“That part I think is innate,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah’s passing ability. “He had great vision and decision-making ability. He’s got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he’s got great vision, and if a guy’s open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it’s a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that.”

For his part, Noah wasn’t biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.

“I enjoy winning,” Noah said. “It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving.”

Noah’s offensive game has taken a back seat to Pau Gasol‘s throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it’s going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.

“It’s tough when your best player is out,” Noah said. “But I think today was positive news. Derrick’s a warrior. He’s going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back.”


No. 4: Shorten the season? — At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this weekend, at least some part of the conversation has been about the length of the NBA season. The NBA has played an 82-game schedule since 1967-68, but with the recent drumbeat to reduce wear-and-tear on players and reduce the amount of back-to-back games, is it worth considering shortening the season? As Brett Pollakoff writes for, the recently retired Shane Battier suggests slicing 22 games off the schedule…

“To me, 82 is here because somebody is making a lot of money,” Mike D’Antoni said Friday, as part of a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “Usually that’s the bottom line. They’re making money, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it’s a little more like a marathon, and that’s just the rules. 82 isn’t going anywhere.”

As D’Antoni summed up succinctly, without a large amount of data available to essentially prove that an 82-game schedule significantly puts the league’s players at risk, the financial incentive not to touch that magic number of 82 will remain too strong. And Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren echoed those remarks.

“It’s not just the number of games, it’s in what time frame,” Zarren said. “So there may be some tweaks that happen soon in the NBA to that. It’s a much more realistic thing than cutting games, because it’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie, and cutting the number of games cuts ticket sales, which shrinks the pie.”

Those are realistic perspectives, but they’re ones that come from a coach and a member of the front office.

On the player side, Shane Battier came up with a number of games that he believes would be ideal — not only to protect the athletes, but also to make the games that are played much more compelling.

“Personally, I think a 60-game season would be perfect,” Battier said. “Every game matters more. You can’t sleepwalk through a few weeks of the season — it does happen — and then all of a sudden wake up near the All-Star break and turn it on. Fans just want to see the best basketball players in the world at their highest level going head-to-head.

“Every team has a certain number of throwaway games. You just know. You just know you’re not winning tonight. You don’t have it. And then after the game, coach knows it, everybody knows it, coach comes in, says ‘Alright, bring it in guys. We’ll get ’em tomorrow. 1-2-3 team!'”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder lost the second half of a back-to-back, but not because of Russell Westbrook, who posted his third-straight triple-double … Don’t be surprised if the Knicks make a run at Reggie Jackson this summer … Is Baron Davis mounting a comeback this season? … Catching up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has reinvented himself in retirement as a culture vulture

One Stat, One Play: Ariza from the corner

VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Ariza from the corner

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Three-point attempts have been trending up for a while now. But the Houston Rockets have taken things to a new level this season.

Houston has attempted 42.2 percent of its shots from 3-point range, the highest rate in NBA history by a wide margin.


Both Trevor Ariza and James Harden rank in the top six in 3-point attempts. Ariza ranks second in the league in corner 3s…


Though he’s not shooting them as well as he did last season, when he led the league…


He has shot them well from the left corner…


Though three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard has missed 11 of their 21 games, the Rockets’ defense (ranked No. 2 through Wednesday) is more responsible for their 16-5 record than their offense. But their 3-point shooting makes them always tough to guard. And when Howard returns, their offense should climb from 20th in the league toward the top 10.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” featuring a fun play that results in one of Ariza’s 3s from the left corner.


With Howard hoping to return for Saturday’s game against the Nuggets, we may be seeing more of that play soon. In the meantime, you can watch a compilation of it here.

Houston visits the Sacramento Kings in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

Cavs and Rockets talk to Wolves about Corey Brewer

Corey Brewer

Corey Brewer is averaging 9.8 points and 1.4 assists in nine games this season.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of those teams (see Nuggets, Denver) with a lot of useful players that aren’t necessarily being put to good use.

Corey Brewer has been playing behind Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins on the wing, but has played the fifth-most minutes on the team through nine games. He’s a useful player on a good contract, getting paid $4.7 million this season with a player option for $4.9 million next season.

There are a lot of contenders who could use perimeter defense and it appears that the Wolves are taking calls, knowing that they’re not going to remain competitive in the Western Conference with Ricky Rubio sidelined indefinitely with a sprained left ankle.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Minnesota is in “active” discussions with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets regarding Brewer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, fresh off heavy back-to-back losses in New Orleans and Dallas and in the latest indication of their growing focus on the future, are in active trade discussions with multiple contending teams pursuing veteran swingman Corey Brewer, according to league sources.

Sources told that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets have emerged as the most serious suitors for Brewer, whose arrival would be a notable boost for either team in terms of depth.

Minnesota is believed to be seeking future assets in exchange for Brewer as it tries to accelerate its rebuilding effort in the wake of trading star power forward Kevin Love to the Cavaliers in August.

Both Cleveland (via their Keith Bogans trade to Philadelphia) and Houston (Jeremy Lin to L.A.) have trade exceptions that can absorb Brewer’s salary, so they wouldn’t need to send a player Minnesota’s way.

Cleveland currently ranks 25th defensively and needs all kinds of depth (second-round pick Joe Harris is currently getting 20 minutes a game). But interior defense is more of a problem and with LeBron James playing most of his minutes at small forward, it’s unclear how big of a role Brewer would have.

Trevor Ariza has fit in well with the Rockets, who have the No. 1 defense in the league through Saturday after playing a weak schedule. There seems to be less need for Brewer in Houston, but he’s still quality depth at a cheap price.

The Los Angeles Clippers are another contender who could use a defensive upgrade on the wing, but they probably don’t have the trade pieces to get a deal done with the Wolves.

McHale counts ways he’ll miss Parsons

VIDEO: How will the Mavs benefit with the addition of Chandler Parsons?

DALLAS — While Dwight Howard and James Harden have suggested the Houston Rockets will be just fine without Chandler Parsons because, well, they’re the best center and two-guard in the game, thank you, at least one member in red might just miss the small forward now playing in Dallas: Kevin McHale.

Parsons had been the sole survivor off McHale’s first team in Houston in 2011-12. The coach grew fond of the rapidly ascending second-round pick who, under McHale, emerged as a fringe All-Star candidate and a final cut this summer for Team USA.

McHale brought his Rockets to Dallas on Tuesday night to open the preseason. The 6-foot-9 Parsons led the Mavs with 14 points, all coming in the first half when he played a game-high 16 minutes, as if Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wanted to immediately show the Rockets exactly what they’ll miss.

“I talked to Rick about him. I told Rick he’ll do well for him,” McHale said. “I thought he was a good glue guy for the team. I think he’s in a good spot right now. Rick will do a good job with him. As with all young guys, he talked to me about it multiple times, he wanted to get a contract, he wanted to get all this stuff. Everybody, when you come into the league, you want a lot of stuff, and then when you get it, you realize it’s basketball and basketball is the most important thing. But I’m glad he’s got it. I’m sure he’ll settle down now and not be talking about money all the time. He’s killing me with talking about money all the time. He’s got enough of it now.”

McHale, of course, was grinning, if not aching inside. And Parsons, who has acknowledged that he never believed he’d be leaving Houston, is all smiles, too. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey passed on matching the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Mavs owner Mark Cuban hand-delivered to Parsons at an Orlando, Fla., bar in early July.

Chandler scored with relative ease on his old mates and in a variety of ways, sinking two of his three 3-point attempts, splashing a mid-range jumper, slashing to the basket and going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. The Mavs are anticipating a big year for their new acquisition playing off Dirk Nowitzki, the league’s 10th all-time leading scorer, and Monta Ellis, a super penetrator. The 3-ball, which Parsons shot at a 37 percent clip last season, should be readily available to him on the weak side.

“I thought Chandler got better every year,” McHale said. “He’s a good playmaker, good off the dribble, shoots that line-drive jumper just good enough it goes in every once in a while. He’ll make 3s even though you wouldn’t probably look at his shot and think he’s a 3-point [shooter], but he makes a high percentage of them. He’s a big guy, you can switch stuff with him defensively, so I mean he gave us a lot. He was a very good player for us and he’ll be a very good player for Dallas.”

McHale couldn’t stop.

“I just think he had a good all-around game, his ability to drive-and-kick, likes taking big shots,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to miss. We’re just going to have to fill in around him and find players that can come in and do some of the stuff he did.”

Houston signed veteran two-way forward and former Rocket Trevor Ariza to replace the 25-year-old Parsons in the starting lineup.

“Trevor’s got really good instincts defensively, he’s long, shoots the ball real well … so he’ll help,” McHale said. “Of course, he’ll have to help us a lot. He’ll have to have a big year for us like Dwight and James has to also.”

Houston believes Donatas Motiejunas is ready to make an impact. The skilled, 7-foot power forward had a game-high 18 points to lead the Rockets to the 111-108 victory in a strange exhibition that included 81 fouls and 109 free throws. The Rockets are hopeful Greek import Kostas Papanikolaou can contribute and that former Mavs guard Jason Terry has some 3-ball magic left in his game.

It’s certainly a reshuffled roster from the team that won 54 games in the first year of the Harden-Howard pairing. After flirting with Carmelo Anthony, it seemed Houston’s big-game hunting GM was on the cusp of signing Chris Bosh and bringing back Parsons to form a true heavyweight. But Bosh took Miami’s money and Houston was left empty-handed.

So now it’s up to McHale to figure out how to mold a handful of new role players, most unaccomplished in the league. And it’s up to Howard and Harden, the self-anointed best center and two-guard in the NBA, to lead and keep the Rockets in the Western Conference title conversation.

“Just play basketball,” Howard said after getting six points, six rebounds and six fouls in 15 minutes of game time. “I let the people up top do their job. I can’t focus on nothing but what I can do to help this team win. We got some pretty good pieces on this team and I think we’re going to continue to get better as the season goes on.”

Harden vows to add ‘D’ to his ‘A game’

VIDEO: Kevin McHale, James Harden and Dwight Howard discuss the upcoming season

HOUSTON — If there’s one thing the Rockets tired of more than seeing replays of Damian Lillard’s lethal dagger over the summer, it was hearing the criticism of James Harden’s defense. Or what there was of it.

The All-NBA first team guard was a virtual pin cushion on social media for his lack of commitment to the part of the game that didn’t involve his trying to put the ball into the basket.

“I hear it,” Harden said at the annual Media Day gathering on Monday. “I don’t pay attention to it. I’m not a really good defender. At times I can be really bad.

“A lot of stars, their defense is bad. That’s a category I know I have to get better at. For us to go and reach our potential, that’s something that has to be done. That’s one of the things I’m excited about this season. I have no choice.”

Harden raised some eyebrows when he told an interviewer that he regarded himself as the best all-around player in the NBA.

“I wasn’t saying that to be cocky,” he said. “I’ve just put such hard work and effort into my craft. Obviously we know there’s a lot of great talent out there in this league.”

Perhaps Harden even made the statement to set the bar even higher to motivate himself.

“Probably, to play the way I know I can play,” he said. “My teammates know I can play. Like I said, I got to get better at both ends. It’s just me focusing on all possessions. Being able to concentrate on small things.”

Coach Kevin McHale, with his pedigree as player, knows about the small and large things that go into the making of champion, including getting defensive effort from even the biggest offensive gun.

“We talked about all that,” McHale said. “We’ve constantly been challenging James to take on challenges. He knows he’s got to improve in areas. We asked him to do a lot last year. We’ll ask him to do a lot this year. There’s a lot of offensive pressure on him to deliver every night, but you still got to go out there and play the other side of the ball.

“He’s a young guy that’s growing into being a leader, growing into who he is. We won 54 games last year. He was first team All-Pro. I know there’s not anything above first team. that’s about as good as you get. He must have done a lot of really good things. Like all our guys, he’s got to improve in areas. He knows that. He’s not afraid to work.

“Your defense is based on help and help principles. But if (a teammate) gets beat every time, I say, ‘Oh, my God I got to get over and help again.’ If (a teammate) shuts down his guy, there’s a calmness in me. I’m not over-helping. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh my.’

“It’s a trust factor of doing your job on defense. It’s not always relying on the trust that is built in. Your object as a defender is to not use that help all that time. Use it when guys make great moves. You can’t get beat on average moves. You can’t get beat on just average stuff. You gotta just make guys work hard to beat you. It’s simple things.

“In the end, if you play on a team that is championship caliber team, there is a huge amount of trust. That trust comes from you doing your job night after night after night after night, so that everybody can trust each other.”

The Rockets are hoping that a lineup that includes three players — Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley — who love to sink their teeth in on defense can rub off and put some bite into Harden’s defense.

“It’s not the fact that I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m a pretty good defender. It’s me being focused on the small things that I lose track of. I know that. Like I said, in order for Rockets to reach potential, I got to get better at that end.”

Cuban’s summer: ‘Could’ve been worse’

By Jeff Caplan,

One of the biggest summer acquisitions in Dallas was former Mav Tyson Chandler. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

Mark Cuban is more than pleased to have Tyson Chandler back in Dallas. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Texas — With the hour-long line of smiling fans asking to take selfies, requesting autographs and even pitching business ideas as if this was a super-market version of Shark Tank finally dwindling, Mark Cuban leaned back on a shopping cart filled with palm-sized boxes of Simple Sugars facial scrubs, of which he owns a 33 percent stake, and exhaled a relieving, “Ahhhh…”

“It’s been a long day,” Cuban said, his recently replaced left hip reminding him that he’s still only five weeks removed from the operating table.

Dressed in his traditional blue jeans and a T-shirt, this was his final stop of a whirlwind Thursday at four Central Market grocery stores at opposite ends of the expansive Dallas-Fort Worth area. Cuban was promoting four products he’s backed on the television show “Shark Tank” and are now being carried by Central Market.

Cuban claims more people these days recognize him as a shark than as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. But, make no mistake, while Cuban enjoys helping burgeoning entrepreneurs obtain the American Dream, his undying passion remains running the Mavs.

And for the first time since Cuban chomped on a stogie and clutched the Larry O’Brien Trophy three summers ago, a bubbling of excitement surrounds the team. Among those who waited in line to shake Cuban’s hand or give him a hug: a wide-eyed dreamer who asked how to start some kind of mesquite wood business; the student council president of a local high school who pitched a-day-in-school idea; and an affable, gray-haired fellow Cuban said was his acting coach from 20 years ago (Cuban thought acting class would aid his social scene) who handed him a manuscript he wants made into a movie (Cuban owns Magnolia Pictures).

But many, many more asked one simple question: “Are we going to win this year?”

“I hope so!” Cuban responded to each.

Mavs fans had become used to disappointment in the post-title summers as Cuban failed to land a marquee free agent. He didn’t get a big fish this summer either, but a series of moves have ignited serious intrigue, starting with the reacquisition of championship center Tyson Chandler in a deal with the Knicks.

“It was kind of surprising that we got it done, just because with that many pieces and the fact that no one finds out,” Cuban said of the trade in brief moments when the selfie line died down. “I’m glad we got it done. We’re excited. He can kind of quarterback our defense, he makes everybody better defensively and he’ll make Monta [Ellis] better offensively.”

A few weeks later Cuban gambled and won, stealing up-and-coming small forward and restricted free agent Chandler Parsons from division rival Houston with an out-of-this-world offer sheet, a move that could have also blown up in his face. Cuban flew to Orlando, Fla., to hand deliver the contract offer at midnight and then he went out for drinks with Parsons and his parents.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would have 72 hours to match the three-year, $46 million offer. In the meantime, Houston signed Trevor Ariza, also a Mavs target, and the speculation game was churning hard on what Morey would do.

“I was 90 percent,” Cuban said of his confidence that he’d land Parsons. “Because of the way the numbers worked, and they’re a very logical organization, they’re very obvious, like we all are, like a lot of teams are, about their approach to building a team and flexibility.”

Then came a wrench. LeBron James signed with Cleveland, leaving former Heat teammate Chris Bosh in limbo. Reports suggested Bosh was leaning toward signing with Houston, and if he did, the Rockets reportedly would match the Parsons offer.

“I don’t think that [Bosh’s decision] mattered all that much, honestly,” Cuban said. “I guess they said they’d go for it if he [Bosh] had gone [to Houston]. That would have put them in a tough spot and they probably would have tried to do a sign-and-trade. And if they did a sign-and-trade then they would have had a hard cap, like you’re seeing with the Clippers, and that would have meant they couldn’t add anybody else at all.”

Ultimately, Bosh took Miami’s max deal and Morey pulled the plug on Parsons. Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.

Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.

“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”

Needless to say Cuban is looking forward to his young acquisition relocating to Dallas in the coming weeks and joining Ellis, Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, Brandan Wright plus other more under-the-radar pickups in Al-Farouq Aminu, Greg Smith and Richard Jefferson, and then eventually the elder statesman and now the heavily underpaid 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki when he returns later in September.

“I try to keep an even keel,” Cuban said of his excitement level for the season. “I don’t get all excited about winning the summer. That’s almost the kiss of death.”

Still, as summers go, this one was pretty good.

“It could’ve been worse,” Cuban said.