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Houston’s point guard battle still interesting, up in the air

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Monday night the focus around the Houston Rockets was how Omer Asik and Dwight Howard would play together. And the answer was Asik was really rusty and so the whole thing was awkward, but it’s too early to tell how it ends (probably with an Asik trade).

However, I still find the point guard battle in Houston more interesting.

Jeremy Lin has been penciled in as the starting point guard for the Rockets, and before training camp opened he Dwight Howard reportedly had some pick-and-roll chemistry. Lin is an offensive guy and he started for the Rockets Monday night and played 33 minutes and this preseason he’s averaged 12 points on 50 percent shooting and 5.3 assists a game in 27.8 minutes.

Patrick Beverly is a much better defender and he can space the floor and knock down the three (he is 6-of-8 in the preseason). The thinking goes that if you just start him — as the Rockets have experimented with during the preseason — the team defense gets better, the offense runs through James Harden (as it should anyway) and Lin becomes the scoring spark plug off the bench. That worked pretty well at points against Indiana this preseason.

After Monday night’s exhibition against Dallas when he played the two together for a stretch, coach Kevin McHale said he had “two starting point guards” and wasn’t sure when he would make a call. McHale praised Lin, as reported at the Houston Chronicle’s Ultimate Rockets blog.

“I thought (Lin) did a lot of nice things,” coach Kevin McHale said. “He broke people down; he had eight assists. Between he and (Beverley), they had 13 assists and four turnovers. I liked when they were both in the game.”

“I thought they were both really solid (defense),” he said. “Any mistakes that they do make are mistakes because they’re trying really hard and getting after it. They stay in place. They use their hands. They’re both diligent guys.”

If Lin is even decent defensively it makes a lot of sense to start him (I don’t want to read too much into defensive improvement seen in preseason games). The fact that a very active Howard is on the back line cleaning up mistakes helps Lin. And the fact as we move closer to the season Lin is starting and getting more minutes than Beverly makes one think that is where McHale is leaning.

But the second unit lacks scoring punch, unless you are a bigger believer in Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi than I am. Yes, there would be overlap with starters to have some scoring on the floor at all times, but there is some real logic to the Lin as a spark plug idea. He could thrive in that role if he accepted it.

McHale has a lot of interesting options to play around with, a lot of puzzle pieces to see how they fit. The point guard spot is one and it may well be Lin’s to lose, but the change has to be tempting still.

Report: Bulls telling teams they plan on keeping Jimmy Butler

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 14:  Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls warms up prior to action against the Toronto Raptors in an NBA game at the Air Canada Centre on March 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Bulls defeated the Raptors 109-107. NOTE TO USER: user expressly acknowledges and agrees by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Bulls are trying to find their identity. They used to be a defensive team, but they went and got an offensive coach in Fred Hoiberg and by the end of the season had slid badly on that end of the floor. They are no longer Derrick Rose‘s team, but they didn’t have the personnel to run Hoiberg’s system. The Bulls need to figure out who they are and what players on the roster should be part of that team moving forward.

Expect Jimmy Butler to be part of that future. He’s the best player on the team, but he rubs some teammates the wrong way, and there have been rumors the Bulls would listen to trade offers.

The Bulls are telling teams they plan to hold on to him, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com.

A league source tells CSNNE.com that the Bulls, while still open to listening to offers for Butler, are telling teams that are inquiring about his availability that their plan for now is to keep him in the fold.

And while there was some thought that a top-3 pick coupled with a few decent players might be enough to entice the Bulls to pull the trigger on a deal to trade Butler, CSNNE.com has been told such an offer would have to include at least one “legitimate, NBA starter” for the Bulls to even possibly consider trading him.

“And that might be a stretch,” the source indicated.

What is the hardest part of assembling a potential NBA title contender? Finding the elite, cornerstone player you need who can lead your team at both ends of the floor. The Chicago Bulls have that in Butler, he’s locked up under contract until at least the summer of 2019 on a good contract (a max before the TV deal money kicked in), why would they trade him?

Stranger things have happened, especially with the Bulls, but unless they want to tear it all down and rebuild — and they don’t — getting rid of Butler doesn’t make sense.

The better question is who will be around Butler come next fall.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 =

Watch all 25 threes from Cleveland in Game 2 win

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Apparently, all it takes is a little public discussion of LeBron James‘ “broken” jump shot to get him back on balance and knocking down the three ball — he was 4-of-6 from deep Wednesday.

Then again J.R. Smith was 7-of-13, Kyrie Irving 4-of-5, and as a team the Cavaliers knocked down a record 25 threes — while shooting 55.6 percent — as they wiped the floor with the Hawks in Game 2.

In case you’re curious where the Cavs were hitting from, here’s the team’s shot chart.

Cavaliers threes shotchart

Report: Rockets to interview Mike D’Antoni, Frank Vogel for coaching vacancy

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures during the game against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center on February 28, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 126-122.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.

The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.

Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.

Cavs set single-game three-point record in blowout win over Hawks

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On Monday, the Hawks played the Cavaliers close and even led in the fourth quarter, leading plenty of optimism that Game 2 would be equally competitive, that the Hawks had something to build on.

Nope.

The Cavs dominated from the start on Wednesday, with a 123-98 final score that was far closer than the game actually was — the Cavs led 74-36 at the half and led by as much as 38 at one point in the second half.

The Cavs also hit 25 three-pointers, which is the all-time record for a single game — regular season or playoffs. J.R. Smith hit seven of them, along with four each from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and three for Kevin Love.

18 of Cleveland’s threes came in the first half, also a playoff record, and this was all Atlanta could do:

That’s the kind of night it was for the Hawks, who now trail 2-0 in the series as it heads back to Atlanta.