Danny Granger to make return for Pacers Saturday night

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We are about to see one of the two returns that could make the Eastern Conference playoffs more interesting.

Danny Granger is expected to make his season debut for the Indiana Pacers Saturday night against the Pistons, reports Mike Wells of the Indy Star. Granger has missed the entire season with a knee injury and his return was expected this weekend.

Without Granger the Pacers are 34-21, currently the second seed in the East. They have the league’s best defense but an offense ranked 21st in the league.

Granger, the Pacers leading scorer at 18.7 points a game last season, can help change that. He is not the most efficient scorer (he shot just 41.6 percent last season) but he can space the floor and knock down threes (38.1 percent clip last year) and if he can learn to co-exist with the newly emerged All-Star Paul George the Pacers will now have a couple of players who can create their own shot, break down defenses and put the ball in the basket.

Indiana showed last year they have no fear of the Heat (they were up 2-1 in that series and forced the Heat to adjust their game) and they have a defense that can keep Miami’s stars in as much check as anyone. The Pacers can attack the Heat with size, one vulnerability teams want to go after.

Ultimately, Indiana will need the Roy Hibbert of last season to show up (it’s not been his best season, to be kind) to have a real chance. But in an East where we are trying to see who will break out of the pack and really try to challenge the Heat for conference supremacy, the Pacers may be the best call. Chicago, when it gets Derrick Rose back and the Knicks if they can get their defense back, are in the mix. But before the season I saw the Pacers as the second best team in the East and now that may finally be coming together.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.