Pistons asking Greg Monroe to work on elbow jumper

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Greg Monroe is putting up numbers again — 17.3 points and 11 rebounds per game. He’s efficient doing that, as evidenced by a PER of 19.1 (a borderline All-Star kind of number).

Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks wants more — he wants a midrange jumper.

Monroe has taken 36 shots this season inside 8 feet (hitting 58.3 percent) and just 13 outside that range (hitting 23 percent). Which explains why Cheeks told the Detroit Free Press Monroe needs to develop more of a midrange game.

“I just told him today that if I was him, I’d practice that jump shot right at that left and right elbow,” Cheeks said. “I’d practice it 200, 300 times a day at that elbow spot. … Now he has to expand his game a little bit in making that jump shot at the left or right elbow. It opens up his game so much more. It makes it a little bit tougher.”

Monroe is 2-of-8 from the elbows this season, Vince Ellis at the Free Press says. Fits with the rest of his midrange game.

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Cheeks is right. Monroe is great at driving and finishing from the elbow, plus he is a fantastic passer for a big man, which makes him a great fit at the elbows in a “horns” set. But when he gets the rock there teams will just back off and dare him to knock it down. When he does, things will really open up.

Monroe says he’s comfortable with the shot and is working on it. Good. With Andre Drummond and Josh Smith in the frontcourt with him anything he can do to help create more space on the floor will help his cause considerably.

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

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.