Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge ruining Dwight Howard’s chance at redemption

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With his feet held to the fire, Dwight Howard brought the heat.

It took only one playoff game with the Houston Rockets for Howard’s detractors to come out in full force. He lacked the maturity and focus to win in the postseason, they shouted from all directions. But if Howard thought he could escape the spotlight by bolting Los Angeles for Houston, he was sadly mistaken.

Right now, though, Howard and his Rockets have a bigger problem to escape – LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge coolly dismantled the Rockets. Again.

The Trail Blazers forward scored 43 points with eight rebounds and three blocks in Portland’s 112-105 Game 2 win Wednesday.

In two games, Aldridge has 89 points, 26 rebounds and five blocks. More importantly, the Trail Blazers have two wins in Houston.

Teams that open a best-of-seven series with two road wins have won 15 of 18, including sweeping half of them. With Portland rolling, having won seven straight and 11 of 12 dating back to the regular season, this series could join the quick enders.

Howard has lost his last seven and 11 of 13 playoff games, and for him, the doubters will grow only louder. Not even ultra-focused and effective starts will save him.

“We have to play inside out, play their bigs and make it a long night for those guys,” Howard told Jonathan Feigen of Ultimate Rockets before the game. “I have to demand the ball, get it and go to work.”

And he did.

Howard made his first six shots to notch Houston’s first 13 points, outscored the Trail Blazers by himself through the game’s first four minutes and was singlehandedly matching his teammates’ combined scoring  as late as three minutes remaining in the first half.

By halftime, he had 25 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

His second-half production (seven points, six rebounds and two blocks) would be great for most players, but Howard isn’t most players. His physical talents lend themselves to the perception he should be more dominant – which a petty Shaquille O’Neal perpetuates during halftimes – and more is demanded of him.

Sometimes, that’s fair. Howard failed to pass out of double teams Wednesday, and his individual success remained isolated from team success. Howard’s teammates shot just 37 percent while he was on the court, and when he went cold (missing seven straight shots at one point), he still didn’t integrate his teammates well enough.

But sometimes, the demands on Howard reach unhealthy levels. He said he’d do more in Game 2, and he absolutely did. There are limits on what one player can contribute. Even if Howard didn’t perfectly parlay the attention he received into better looks for his teammates, James Harden (6-of-19 shooting) and Chandler Parsons (5-of-15 shooting) are certainly capable of doing more without their center’s help.

Not that anyone will forgive Howard for the shortcomings of his teammates. Howard’s playoff record is treated as his own although we all know postseason success requires a full team effort.

In a twist, Aldridge gets all the benefit of the doubt Howard doesn’t. Aldridge’s 46 points and 18 rebounds in a Game 1 victory gave him leeway Howard will never receive.

But Aldridge – who has never won a playoff series, let alone led a team to the NBA finals like Howard did the Magic – didn’t rest on his laurels.

He became the first player with consecutive 40-point playoff games since LeBron James in 2009 and just the second since Tracy McGrady in 2003.

Aldridge knifed through the Rockets’ defense off the ball and used expert footwork on the ball to create space, shooting 13-of-19 from mid-range.

aldridge shot chart 4-23-14

To be fair, Aldridge received help Howard didn’t.

Dorell Wright made 3-of-4 3-pointers and added a slick cutting dunk for 15 points on five shots. Damian Lillard shot just 3-for-14, but he got the line (10-of-12 on free throws) and kept the ball moving to the right spots (11 assists).

Howard vs. Aldridge was a tantalizingly fun matchup, and Rockets-Blazers is too. If not for a couple different breaks in an overtime game Sunday, the series could be tied 1-1. Heck, Houston wasn’t that far from winning Game 2.

But in Howard’s world, close doesn’t cut it. Only Aldridge’s.

Not that he needs the margin for error.

Reports: Boston interested in trade for Andrew Bogut, Mavericks not there. Yet.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Andrew Bogut #6 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts to scoring during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.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 Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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There has been speculation around the league that now that the Dallas Mavericks are struggling, there will be a sell-off. Harrison Barnes is a future lynchpin, Dirk Nowitzki isn’t going anywhere, but there are a lot of players that are more win-now than the place the Mavericks seem to be, so those guys could get moved for future assets.

At the top of the list: Andrew Bogut.

In a shock to nobody, there is a report that Boston would be interested, via A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE.com.

As the February trade deadline draws near, the Boston Celtics are expected to take a close look at adding a defensive-minded, rebounding big man with Dallas’ Andrew Bogut likely to emerge as a target.

The former No. 1 overall pick is the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. He is due to make $11.027 million in this, the last season of the contract.

Dallas (4-15) has the worst record in the NBA and are likely to continue building for a post-Dirk Nowitzki with a high lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Adding another first-round pick from Boston would benefit a squad that has to increase its quality depth going forward. Having another first-round pick can only enhance their roster.

While you can see the logic from the outside, inside the Dallas’ offices they are not in that place, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources tell ESPN that Mavs have no immediate intention to shop C Andrew Bogut, as their focus, for now, is trying to salvage their season. However, Mavs management recognizes that Bogut has significant value in the trade market as a proven championship-caliber complementary piece in a contract year and could become motivated to move him if and when it becomes clear that the Mavs have no hope of making the playoffs this season. Several league sources said the Mavs should be able to get a first-round pick from a contender for Bogut.

Let’s be honest: Dallas isn’t making the playoffs. They can make their worst-in-the-West record look a little better — six of their next eight games are at home, at some point they will get Dirk Nowitzki back — but they are not climbing over six teams and making up the 11 games they are below .500 just to get in the mix for the potential eight seed.

Which means expect them to be looking for deals as the deadline nears, and Andrew Bogut may well get moved. But we’re going to get past Christmas before that talk starts to gain real traction.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down Eastern Conference standings with Dan Feldman

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 11: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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One-quarter of the way into the NBA season, we know a few things about the Eastern Conference.

As expected, the Cavaliers are the team to beat. Toronto has established itself as a clear second in line, but Boston is third and finally getting healthy. After that there are a lot of questions about who are playoff teams and who is going to slide. Will the Knicks hold on? Will Atlanta bounce back? Will the Bulls regress?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Rockets match offer sheet, will keep Donatas Motiejunas

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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Give the Brooklyn Nets front office credit, they tried. GM Sean Marks is being very creative trying to rebuild a team after his predecessor Billy King — on the orders of ownership — burned all future assets in hopes of having a good team to open the new Barclay’s center.

The Nets went after Houston big man Donatas Motiejunas with a creative four-year, $37 million offer sheet. It didn’t work, the Rockets matched, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and since confirmed by others.

To make room on the roster, the Rockets have waived Bobby Brown.

The match expected. The offer sheet was constructed so that if Motiejunas’ ongoing back issues are severe the Rockets can pay him $5 million for this season and be done — a move that is not likely. If they keep him past Jan. 10 of this season, they owe him another $3.5 million. There is a March deadline to pick up the $9 million for next season. More importantly, the last two years of this contract are not guaranteed, meaning there isn’t a lot of risk for the Rockets and the contract is very tradable. Which could happen next summer (because of how late in the year the deal was signed he cannot be traded this season).

There’s also a chance this signing just works out — on paper, Motiejunas is a good fit in the Mike D’Antoni system. He’s a big man who seasons ago he shot 36.8 percent from three — he can space the floor on James Harden drives, and in transition he could run to the arc or post up smaller defenders inside on a cross match. There’s a lot of potential there, he’s going to get some run.

Draymond Green’s agent, B.J. Armstrong: NBA changes rules to increase revenue, not improve quality of play

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 16:  NBA legend B.J. Armstrong participates in the Haier Shooting Stars competition, part of 2008 NBA All-Star Weekend at the New Orleans Arena on February 16, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  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 Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Now that he got Donatas Motiejunas an offer sheet from the Nets, agent B.J. Armstrong can lodge back-in-my-day complaints on behalf of another client.

This time, it’s Draymond Green.

The Warriors forward has come under increased scrutiny for his unnatural acts, a new area of emphasis by the NBA’s competition committee. Green vigorously defended himself, but Armstrong goes even further.

Armstrong, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“The fact that everyone is trying to cover their positions or justifying why they did what they did, the (league’s perspective) was kind of disappointing from this viewpoint: Since I’ve been a part of this league, I can’t recall when they’ve actually made rules that have actually helped to improve the game of basketball,” Armstrong, whose client was given a Flagrant-1 foul when he kicked Houston Rockets star James Harden on Thursday, told USA TODAY Sports by phone.

“Every move has been made with some motive, to make the game look a certain way, to speed the game up, to do all of these things. But what, when the competition committee — whoever those people are — what have they actually done to improve the game of basketball? … Not to put more people in the stands, not to make the game more appealing for people globally. What has been done to improve the game of basketball? That’s it. That’s it. That’s my only question.”

The competition committee is comprised of two owners, four general managers, three head coaches and a players-union representative.

To the bigger point: What improves the game of basketball? That’s such a subjective standard. Creating a pleasing product that appeals to customers seems like a good start. I sense Armstrong – who won three championships with the Bulls in the 1990s – believes it’s making the game look like when he played.

Yup, to Armstrong, those grind-it-out, clog-the-paint games of the 90s were preferable to today’s contest. And that’s a fine opinion. Even I have a fondness for those 90s games.

But most fans disagree, and the NBA is a business trying to attract fans – which makes Armstrong’s complaints absurd.

At least until you remember he’s just an agent sticking up for his client. Then, it all makes sense.