Dwight Howard responds to Kareem’s attack on his game, mental fortitude

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We need some games soon, because I am weary of talking about Dwight Howard leaving the Lakers.

But not everyone is done talking about it — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was talking about it. Kareem and Howard have never meshed well. Which is putting it kindly. They are civil, but very different people with different views on a lot of things.

Kareem is promoting his new book and went on ESPN’s First Take and said this:

“Dwight is an extraordinary athlete, he has incredible athletic ability, but basketball is a game where the most important muscle you use on the court is the one between your ears. Dwight’s basketball IQ is not up to speed for him to be a dominant player. He has problems at both ends of the court, he doesn’t have a go-to move. I had to prepare Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to play against Dwight in the playoffs in 2009 for the World Championship and it was an easy job, because if you take certain things away from him he doesn’t have an answer for it. So he needs to develop some skills, at both ends of the court, that would enable him to consistently contribute to a winning effort, and he hasn’t done that.”

Speaking to Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com, Howard responded on Friday.

“Well you know, I don’t pay any attention to that stuff,” Howard said on Friday just off the floor of the Toyota Center. “I did hear about it but everybody is entitled to their own opinion. When I joined the Lakers, I was the greatest center and then when I left, I was the worst, mentally I wasn’t capable of playing center. I understand that a lot of things are said out of emotion but I would say that if he has anything to say, I’m here in Houston. We can talk man to man. That’s how I feel about it…

“I mean, it’s emotion and the fact that I left the Lakers. It is what it is,” Howard said. “I’m in a great place right now. And there’s no need for me to go back and forth with him. The one thing I would say is that he’s old enough that whatever I do, doesn’t even matter to him.

“I mean, he’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. If I’m Kareem, I’m like ‘why?’ Four championships, five championships, whatever (note: six). I’ve been in Airplane, did movies with Bruce Lee. I’m not worried about the young whippersnappers, you know. Just wish him good luck. But people do things different and when I’m done playing I’m going to do whatever I can to help the next generation get better.”

Howard has said he likes working with Hakeem Olajuwon better because Olajuwon’s game was more about quickness than Kareem’s and Howard knows his greatest asset is quickness. There’s something to that, but he also certainly could have learned from Kareem, who was an incredibly fundamentally sound player.

Whatever. Lakers fans hate Howard and they will boo him when the time comes. Howard will say he doesn’t care but he will feel a little stung. And eventually everyone will move on.

Then we can start talking about games. Finally.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.