Brooks coaching part of Thunder’s problems vs. Heat

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Let’s be clear about this up front — Oklahoma City is not down 2-1 in the NBA finals because of Scott Brooks alone. First and foremost Miami has brought its best defensive focus and intensity for two games now, and when they do they can even slow the Thunder. Plus, Miami has that LeBron James guy and it turns out he’s pretty good.

But Brooks is part of the problem and a big part of the solution if the Thunder are going to come back in this series.

But with how he’s coached in the finals, he may regret shooting down a three-year, $11 million contract offer.

The most obvious mistake was sitting both Durant and Westbrook the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. Durant had picked up his fourth foul and Brooks sat him, as is tradition. (We can debate if that is a good tradition — you are sitting him now so he doesn’t get a fifth foul so you have to sit him, basically you’re punishing yourself now for what might happen.) Here’s an idea — if Durant has gotten in foul trouble the last two games covering LeBron James, don’t have him cover LeBron James.

At the time of that foul Westbrook made a couple bad plays and Brooks sat him, too.

Miami went on a 15-3 run and took the lead.

“I took (Durant) out because he had the foul trouble right there,” Brooks said after the game in a televised interview. “And Russell… Russell had a bad stretch for three or four possessions. I just took him out to kind of calm him down and put him right back in the game. I’ve done it before.”

With those two out the Thunder scored 7 points on their 11 possessions, and one of them was the lucky Derek Fisher four-point play. The offense died and the Heat were right back in the game.

The bigger issue for me goes back to the Thunder’s core lineup that plays Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins at the same time. It doesn’t work. It didn’t work at the start of the last two games because Ibaka wanted to be protecting the rim and not out at the three-point line chasing Shane Battier, and the result was two 17-point games for Battier and fast starts for the Heat.

In Game 3 Brooks didn’t change the lineup but he did get Ibaka out better on Battier to start the game — and the result was a layup line for the Heat in the paint. They got shots at the rim off cuts and penetration, the Thunder could not stop them.

Perkins and Ibaka were +11 together in Game 3 but Ibaka never saw the court in the fourth quarter and the issues with the two big man lineup remain.

Brooks has got to get his best matchups on the floor and think more outside of the box. If Durant is in foul trouble you have to keep offense on the floor with Westbrook. You need to get Ibaka in the paint where he is a feared shot blocker. It’s crazy to think this guy bested Gregg Popovich last round, but it can be easier to do that when you have the best pieces on the board to move around. Now that it’s a real chess match he has to step up his game.

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.