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.

Former Magic player Keith Appling arrested for third time in four months

Orlando Magic's Keith Appling (15) makes a shot in front of Philadelphia 76ers' Jerami Grant (39) and Nerlens Noel (4) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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Former Magic player Keith Appling was arrested in May.

Former Magic player Keith Appling was arrested in June.

Former Magic player Keith Appling was arrested in August.

Robert Allen of the Detroit Free Press:

Former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling was arrested after a traffic stop Sunday, his third arrest since May, Detroit police said.

Appling, 24, was pulled over at about 9 p.m. on the city’s east side after driving away from a traffic stop, and a gun was found in a bag on the side of the road, according to an Associated Press report.

Kyle Lowry wishes Bismack Biyombo a happy 48th birthday

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 talks to Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors in the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Bismack Biyombo might have left Toronto, but he didn’t escape jokes about his age from the Raptors.

Biyombo – according to official records, which have been disputed – turned 24 yesterday.

Unofficially? Kyle Lowry:

Hakeem Olajuwon, David Stern enshrined in FIBA Hall of Fame

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 27:  Hakeem Olajuwon (L) greets NBA Commissoner David Stern looks on during the 2013 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June 27, 2013 in in the Brooklyn Bourough of New York City.  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 Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The FIBA Hall of Fame (not to be confused with the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is not to be confused with the NBA Hall of Fame, which doesn’t exist) enshrined Hakeem Olajuwon and David Stern in its 2016 class.

Olajuwon won a gold medal with Team USA in the 1996 Olympics. A Nigeria native, he has helped promote basketball in Africa.

After growing the sport’s popularity stateside, Stern pushed to globalize basketball as NBA commissioner.

The full list of 2016 inductees:

PLAYERS
Panagiotis Fasoulas (Greece)
Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria/USA)
Manuel Raga (Mexico)
Juan Antonio San Epifanio (Spain)
Michele Timms (Australia)
COACH
Jorge Canavesi (Argentina)

CONTRIBUTOR
David J. Stern (USA)

The criteria:

The over-riding objective of the Hall of Fame is to reflect the history of the sport.
The honour may be awarded posthumously.
The key conditions for induction to the FIBA Hall of Fame are:
•    Outstanding achievement at the international level from a personal effort or initiative
•    Having contributed to the performances of players, technical officials, coaches, and administrators or to the global development of basketball.

Olajuwon and Stern seem to fit the bill.

Now, if only there were a Hall of Fame that appropriately recognized NBA achievements.

Blake Griffin went back to Oklahoma for alumni weekend, heard Thunder recruiting pitch

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Blake Griffin reportedly doesn’t want to leave Los Angeles when his contract is up next summer. This is a guy who has done stand up, is executive producer of a television show, and is generally loving the perks of living in Los Angeles.

Still, the dream lives on in Oklahoma City that he will come in and be the next star there and pair with Russell Westbrook.

Griffin was back in his native Oklahoma for alumni weekend with the OU basketball team, and he heard the sales pitch.

Griffin blows this off, just like he is going to try to blow off the dozens and dozens of reporters who will ask him about his summer plans during the season.

But he has to know the recruiting pitches are coming all season, especially when he visits OKC.