Dwight Howard, Mike D’Antoni wisely dodge questions about Kobe’s role in loss to Wizards

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In the aftermath of the Lakers’ embarrassing loss at the hands of the Wizards on Friday, any remotely astute observer could tell you that there was plenty of blame to be placed squarely on the shoulders of Kobe Bryant.

It’s not a bad thing in Bryant’s eyes; he’ll gladly take all of the heat anytime his team loses. In this particular case, it was well-deserved.

In addition to Bryant’s lack of team defense, which has been a consistent issue all season, his going into hero-mode offensively down the stretch made it easier than it needed to be for Washington to hang on for the victory.

We all saw it, and Bryant’s teammates and head coach saw it, too. Just don’t expect them to go on record as saying so.

Dwight Howard (as seen in the video clip above, via Shahan Ahmed of NBC Los Angeles) gave only a smirk as his response to a question of how Trevor Ariza, who torched the Lakers for 25 points and knocked down seven three-pointers, consistently got so wide open for those looks.

Mike D’Antoni had plenty to say in his postgame press conference, but stayed away from a pointed question where the response would have clearly been to blame Bryant for the team’s late-game staleness offensively.

The question was something to the effect of, what did he attribute to the ball sticking on offensive possessions late in that fourth quarter.

You can see D’Antoni’s response here, and it’s pretty hilarious.

“Oh, I don’t know, that’s a good question,” D’Antoni said, extremely sarcastically. “I wish I knew.”

D’Antoni’s expression told us that of course he knew. But there was no way he was going to say it.

“What, are you going to throw me a piece of dynamite,” he said, after a hearty laugh that suggested we were all in on the same joke.

Howard and D’Antoni handled the situation perfectly. There’s enough drama surrounding the otherworldly expectations placed on this Lakers team given the talent assembled on the roster, and the players and coaches don’t need to feed into that by calling out Bryant on a night where he hurt the team more than he helped on both ends of the floor.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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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.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.