Celtics find their offense in Rondo, Heat still pull out OT win

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There are occasional games where the Celtics offense looks good. Games where Rajon Rondo looks like the best point guard in the land, driving the lane and knocking down threes. Games where the Celtics and passing and cutting and scoring with the shots they want.

Boston had one of those nights Wednesday. In a series where they were expected to struggle to score Rajon Rondo dropped 44 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. He scored all 12 Celtics points in overtime. Ray Allen was knocking down threes. Paul Pierce had 21. Boston put up 111 points. Their offense showed up.

And the Heat still won in overtime 115-111 to take a 2-0 series lead heading back to Boston.

“It’s tough to have (Rondo) play that way and not win the game,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward. “He basically did everything right. We had a lot of opportunities to win the game.”

This one is a punch to the gut for Boston. This was the game they needed to win. They played with the energy and resolve of a younger team, they were physical and just took the game to the Heat. Boston pushed Miami off the spots on the floor they wanted to be, Boston cut off the penetration. It worked.

They led by 15 in the first half, and while you knew a Heat run was coming the Celtics fought those runs off and had chances to win it. They will regret not doing so.

In the end, the Heat made plays. Miami showed the kind of resiliency we usually just credit to veteran teams like the Celtics. LeBron James got the offensive rebound on his own miss at the end of regulation robbing the Celtics of a last shot. (LeBron would miss a second attempt to win in regulation, a 20-foot jumper over Rondo when he should have attacked more. Then late the Celtics struggled to stop the LeBron/Dwyane Wade pick and roll. Wade attacked and got a key and-1 over Kevin Garnett. On the whole Boston did a good job on Wade, trapping on the pick-and-roll with bigs and trying to take the ball out of his hands. It’s why the picks set by LeBron worked so well — you can’t trap off him. Wade finished with 23 (LeBron had 34).

The Heat kept attacking — they took 47 free throws as a team. It’s a sign they were trying to get to the rim. LeBron took 24 free throws alone and helped Paul Pierce to foul out.  The Celtics as a team only took 29 free throws. They think they got robbed (and they did at a key point in OT when Wade fouled Rondo on the head and it was not called).

Udonis Haslem stepped up with some timely key shots, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Boston just does not have people they can turn to for that kind of bench scoring — the Celtics had 7 bench points. It’s not enough. That kind of effort from the starters and to not get a win hurts.

Boston heads home and needs to replicate that offensive performance — their offense has been a roller coaster all season but this time the Celtics have to find a way to do it again. And a little better. Get a few more calls at home and make it stick.

Because now they have to win 4 of 5 from the Heat. And with their athletes, you know the Heat will keep making plays.

Reports: Rockets think Chris Paul could be sidelined for up to a month

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The Rockets’ opening night win over the Warriors was a boost to their confidence — they believe they can challenge the Warriors next May in the playoffs.

Chris Paul is a big part of that plan, which is why we may not see him for up to a month (even though he is listed as day-to-day, and officially only out Saturday). With that, the Rockets are considering adding another point guard to the roster. Marc Stein of the New York Times and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news Friday afternoon.

At the top of the free agent point guard list is Jameer Nelson, the veteran was just waived by Denver to make room for Richard Jefferson, and the Rockets have reached out to him. C.J. Watson and Trey Burke also are available.

Chris Paul and Harden still need to smooth out playing together, something that will take time on the court together. CP3 being out until mid-November is not ideal, but the Rockets are thinking about May, and ideally June, so they will sacrifice a few games now to have him healthy then.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.