Thursday NBA playoff previews: Which Indiana team shows up?

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Three Game 3s, each one the series is tied 1-1. You’ve seen the math — the team that win Game 3 goes on to win the series the vast majority of the time. Here are some previews.

Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks (Series tied 1-1): The Pacers got their mojo back in the second half of Game 2 in time to even the series, but things are far from fixed on the offensive end of the floor. The league’s top defense came together and played like it in shutting Atlanta down in the second half, but Indiana got unusually stout offensive contributions from Luis Scola and George Hill, who combined for 35 points on 14-of-22 shooting.

The Pacers will need David West and Lance Stephenson to resume their customary offensive roles on the road in Game 3, and it would be nice if Roy Hibbert could do more than the six points and four rebounds on 1-of-7 shooting that he did in his team’s last win. Role players tend to struggle on the road, especially in the postseason. If the Pacers don’t get the numbers they’re accustomed to from their key players, they could find themselves once again trailing in the series.

—Brett Pollakoff

Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies (Series tied 1-1): Memphis imposed their will on Game 2 — the pace was slower, Tony Allen was making Kevin Durnat’s life difficult, Marc Gasol was working out of the high post and when the weakside help came he carved them up with passes, Russell Westbrook took a few “what are you thinking?” shots. Those are issues for Oklahoma City going into Game 3, but here is the bigger one — they couldn’t get stops. The Memphis Grizzlies had an offensive rating of 117.4 points per 100 possessions in Game 2. All game long OKC would make a run, hit a dramatic shot, and Memphis would go down and just execute, make an extra pass and get the bucket.

Westbrook is getting outplayed by Mike Conley and Scott Brooks switched Thabo Sefalosha on him to get some stops last game (which worked better). Whoever is on Conley Thursday night needs to keep him out of the paint. Memphis will continue to do what they do, they will grind. As always in this series tempo is key, OKC needs to let its thoroughbreds run. Still, the Thunder are too talented not to score whatever the tempo, but they need stops, too.

—Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (Series tied 1-1): When you think about what Golden State needs to do differently from Game 2’s 40 point loss, the easy joke is “everything.” And that’s pretty accurate, but there are a few concrete steps. First, they have got to double team Blake Griffin. Throw a variety of looks at him, but doubles need to be part of it. Take the ball out of his hands. Griffin has 51 points in 49 minutes of play this series, they can’t just leave David Lee on him. You can’t stop him, but slow his rolls to the rim and force him to shoot jumpers.

Golden State has to take care of the ball, they had 26 turnovers in Game 2 and that fuels the Clipper break and highlight show. The Warriors also need to get the good Klay Thompson from Game 1 back — Doc Rivers has made it a point that Stephen Curry is not going to beat them, so someone else has to. Along those same lines, back home the Warriors need the ball movement of Game 1 to return.

—Kurt Helin

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.