Wednesday playoff previews: Rockets know they need a win

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Three games on Wednesday night, two series where Game 1 followed form and one — Portland beating Houston — that could be shaping up as one of the best first round series in either conference.

Charlotte Bobcats at Miami Heat (Heat lead series 1-0). Al Jefferson says he is going to play, but after two injections in his foot to kill pain and a couple days in a walking boot, how effective he can be remains to be seen. If he is off his game, the Bobcats are in trouble because you know the Heat will continue to attack the rim, and if that goes well and the defense is drawn in they will kick out for good look threes. If Jefferson is off his game, expect to see a whole lot of Chris Bosh featured by the Heat (he was 4-of-13 shooting despite advantages in Game 1). Without peak Jefferson the Bobcats need to find offense from somewhere — that could be a lot of Kemba Walker, but it needs to come from somewhere. It’s going to be a tough series for Charlotte, but expect the Bobcats to put up a fight, They did all season.

—Kurt Helin

Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs (Spurs lead series 1-0). The question for Game 2 is the same key one we had before the series: How can the Mavericks slow down the Spurs offense? In Game 1 the Spurs leaned on its biggest names — Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili accounted for 65 of the team’s’ 90 points, and 25 of the team’s 35 field goals — but in Game 2 you can expect more from Kawhi Leonard and others. Expect less isolation and for Danny Green to have a better game.

On the other side Dallas has to keep Tony Parker out of the paint, he broke down their defense off the pick-and-roll all night — Dallas switched everything and Parker just tore apart the mismatches. Shawn Marion will again get the start on Parker, but expect more Devin Harris in that role as well. With Dirk Nowitzki and an expected better game from Monta Ellis the Mavericks will get points. The question remains can they get stops, or will they go home down 0-2.

—Kurt Helin

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets (Blazers lead series 1-0). Is LaMarcus Aldridge ready to put the Portland Trail Blazers on his back and keep them there?

Aldridge returned to early season MVP-ballot-worth form with 46 points and 18 rebounds in Portland’s Game 1 overtime victory, and the Trail Blazers might need another heroic effort from their power forward to win Game 2 tonight. With Dwight Howard and James Harden both pledging to get more aggressive offensively, Aldridge’s defense could be pivotal. He can double team Howard with Robin Lopez and rotate to help cut off Harden’s drives.

If that saps Aldridge’s energy on the other end, Damian Lillard should test the hobbled Patrick Beverley. How healthy Houston’s top stopper is could go a long way in determining Game 2 and the series.

—Dan Feldman

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.