Wednesday night NBA grades: Dwight Howard looks like guy Rockets thought they signed

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering why anyone would live in a dumpster for a year, voluntarily

source:   Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets. The NBA game is in large part about exploiting mismatches. With all due respect to the solid season Miles Plumlee is having, him trying to cover Dwight Howard is a mismatch. One the Rockets went to again and again. Howard finished the night with 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting (plus he was 12-of-18 from the free throw line) and he had 14 rebounds. The Rockets struggled with the Suns this season in previous meetings, but they just pounded the Suns with the big guy Wednesday and he delivered.

source:   Jeff Green, Boston Celtics. Aggressive, attacking Jeff Green poked his head up Wednesday, which I think means six more weeks of winter. But when you get a sighting of Green when he is on you see one of the better scorers in the game. Sure, a night like this likely means he goes into hibernation for another week, but the Celtics don’t get the win over the Sixers without him. Green had 36 points on 11-of-18 shooting, plus he had eight rebounds. Nice of him to put on a little showcase game like this before the trade deadline.

source:   The Cleveland Cavaliers. What. A Tire. Fire. If you lose to a team that has dropped seven games in a row, is on the second night of a back-to-back and by the end of the game had only four eligible players left on the court, you have SERIOUS issues. It isn’t just one thing, it’s everything — management, coach, star players, role players, locker room attitudes, offense, defense, pretty much everyone and everything.

source:  Steve Blake, Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, if you get a triple double on the Cavaliers “defense” it still counts. In his second game back from injury Blake had 11 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Plus, he had a key three late when the game was still in doubt. He may be the best point guard the Lakers have on the roster now.

source:   Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs. Tony Parker didn’t play after halftime for San Antonio due to a sore back. With the game close in the fourth quarter and first overtime, the Spurs were looking someone to step up with big plays, and Mills was that guy — he had 17 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and overtimes of the Spurs win. He was the guy knocking down the big snots like it was no big deal. He had a quiet first half but was there when needed.

source:  Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. When you talk about the best power forwards in the game — LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki (not a traditional four but still) — Griffin wants to be mentioned in that group. And nights like this with a gaudy stat line — 43 points 17 rebounds and 6 assists against the Miami Heat help that cause. He has played fantastic ball with Chris Paul out. But he gets a “B” here because even with all the highlights dunks and good plays he was still just 16-of-34 shooting overall and 14-of-25 inside eight feet. Good, but not quite great.

Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge

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LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.

That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.

The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.

Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.

Via NBA.com:

“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.

“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”

Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.

God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?