How Troy Daniels saved more than just Game 3 for the Houston Rockets

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Troy Daniels always had his mind on the playoffs.

The Houston Rockets shocked Daniels by recalling him from the D-League on April 9. After all, his Rio Grand Valley were in the middle of a playoff series.

At least the Vipers had three days off between games, so Daniels tried to make the best of the situation and focused on Rio Grande’s next postseason game the following Saturday.

“It was a big surprise. We didn’t expect it during the playoffs,” Daniels told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I think it will prepare me for Saturday, boost my confidence a little more, and have me ready for Saturday’s game.”

The night of his call-up, Daniels made 4-of-6 3-pointers in a loss to the Denver Nuggets, scoring a then career-high 12 points. He spent one more game with the Rockets, and afterward, they sent him back down.

Daniels scored 30 points for the Vipers that Saturday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa. By Saturday night, he was playing for the Rockets in Houston and back in the NBA for good.

Safe to say, his playoff confidence has remained in tact.

Daniels – an undrafted rookie from Virginia Commonwealth who didn’t sign an NBA contract until February, play in the league until March or play in the postseason until tonight – made the game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in the Rockets’ 121-116 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.

 

After dropping both games in Houston, the Rockets cut their series deficit 2-1 thanks to their surprising hero.

Daniels played just five regular-season games and not at all in Houston’s first two playoff games, but he acquitted himself well during two stints of action during regulation. So, when Chandler Parsons fouled out in overtime, Kevin McHale turned to the little-used rookie.

For most of the extra period, Daniels deferred. But when James Harden – who called Game 3 the Rockets’ season and then backed it up by scoring 37 points – lost his dribble in the final seconds, Daniels aggressively slid from the corner to the elbow and held his hands high above his head to give a passing target. Jeremy Lin scooped up the loose ball and kicked it to Daniels.

Daniels’ first inbounds touch of overtime gave the Rockets their first win of these playoffs.

Not only did his shot put the No. 4-seed Houston squarely back in this series, it restored faith in the entire Rockets system.

Houston general manager Daryl Morey, an unapologetic believer in analytics, has always been a target for old-school thinkers. They dismissed his constant roster tinkering, questioned his team’s complete negligence of mid-range shots and reiterated that stars – not numbers – determine NBA wins.

Well, Morey got the stars, trading for Harden before last season and signing Dwight Howard (24 points and 14 rebounds) this offseason.

But the Trail Blazers also have a couple stars in LaMarcus Aldridge (23 points and 10 rebounds) and Damian Lillard (30 points, six rebounds and six assists). If only the number of stars determined a game’s victor, this one would have gone to infinite overtimes.

Instead, Daniels ended it by taking one of those 3-pointers the Rockets love so much. Daniels probably had room to step forward a couple feet and attempt a slightly easier shot – albeit one worth 33 percent fewer points. By scoring from beyond the arc, Daniels made the Trail Blazers easier to guard on the other end.

Nicolas Batum missed a potential game-tying 3 with Howard contesting his shot and every Rocket geared toward the 3-point arc. Harden then hit a couple free throws to seal the win.

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On the other hand, Portland’s midrange maven struggled. After scoring 46 and 43 points in the series’ first two games, Aldridge shot just 8-for-22 tonight.

By roaming from the paint, Aldridge exchanges volatility for an ability to shoot unencumbered by double teams. When he’s hitting those shots, as he was in Games 1 and 2, he looks unstoppable. When he’s not, as was the case tonight, he can sap his team’s offense. Though the Trail Blazers scored well with Aldridge on the court tonight (112.3 points per 100 possessions), they scored even better with him off it (129.4).

Plus, by not venturing all the way out to the 3-point arc, Aldridge loses the extra-point-per-make protection that comes with his streakiness. There’s a reason people like Morey don’t like mid-range shots, even if Aldridge is one of the rare exceptions who justifies taking them at high volume.

And, of course, Morey’s frequent back-end roster moves paid off. He even waived veteran Ronnie Brewer – a key piece for playoff teams in Chicago and Utah – to sign Daniels in March. Morey saw a player who made 40 percent of his 3-pointers while attempting nearly nine per game during his senior year at Virginia Commonwealth and then put him in a unique D-League system. It spit out this:

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Daniels, who finished with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting (all 3-point attempts, naturally), is the postseason’s most-unlikely hero. But the fifth-seeded Trail Blazers remain in an unlikely place, too – up 2-1 on Houston. Daniels extended the Rockets’ season, but he hasn’t guaranteed them anything other than a Game 5.

Momentum has swung, though. The Rockets blew an 11-point lead with eight minutes remaining, and they still left the court in smiles.

Numbers don’t capture everything, and Troy Daniels – bred in Havoc, groomed in Hidalgo and beaming in the Rose City – showed that with every oversized joyous embrace he received from his teammates following the win that still leaves Houston trailing.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on LeBron James’ heavy workload: ‘Next, he might play 48 minutes’

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Except for his backpedaling hairline, LeBron James shows no visible signs of age.

At 32, still in his prime, and still at the top of his game, he’s defying time.

“Benjamin Button,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called him, referring to the fictional character who ages backward.

LeBenjamin?

Following a regular season in which he averaged more minutes per game (37.8) than any player, James logged 43.7 per game during Cleveland’s tougher-than-it-looked sweep over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. And as James and the defending champions await either Toronto or Milwaukee in the second round, James is taking advantage of the down time.

Not that he might need it.

Lue spent much of the season defending his use of James, who in all honesty is really the one in control of when he sits or doesn’t. At this point, Lue has given up worrying about resting the superstar.

“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of his minutes,” Lue said Wednesday. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games and then he had a week off again. So next he might play 48 minutes. … Bron today just said he feels worse when he doesn’t play.”

James wasn’t available for interviews as the team gathered for the first time in two days at Cleveland Clinic Courts, and it’s likely that he won’t speak to the media until the Cavs have a second-round opponent.

But as has been the case for months, James’ playing time was one of the prime topics presented to Lue, who believes that the four-time MVP’s heavy workload during the regular season is what enables him to play at such high levels in the postseason.

Consider that James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists, shot 54 percent from the field, went 9 of 20 on 3-pointers and led the Cavaliers to the biggest second-half comeback in league history during the series against Indiana, and it’s easy to see why Lue wants to move past the minutes chatter.

“With him playing the minutes he played during the course of the regular season, it has helped him in the playoffs,” Lue said. “Now he is able to play those 42, 43 minutes. Because he’s used to it. His body can take it, so, I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

Unlike the regular season, when brutal travel schedules, back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four nights can wear players down, the postseason allows for recovery. Lue also thinks too many teams are allowing outside pressures to influence how they use players.

“Teams are suffering,” he said, “because they listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes” and “some teams should play some guys more minutes, and it would’ve been different (playoff) series.”

James has ramped up his minutes nearly every postseason. Now in his 12th playoffs, he averaged 39.1 minutes last year and has only twice averaged less than 40 per game.

Lue trusts that the three-time champion knows how far to push himself without reaching his breaking point.

“He knows his body better than anyone,” Lue said. “He said he feels great and he feels worse when he doesn’t play, so we’ll see how that works out.”

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, Wednesday included some competition in the team’s weight room on an aerobic conditioning machine while the team’s in-house DJ from Quicken Loans Arena spun music. After the vigorous workouts, yoga mats were dragged onto the court and the facility’s lights were dimmed for some stretching and decompression.

Namaste, NBA-style.

The Cavs had a similar, one-week break between the first and second rounds last season. Kyrie Irving said it’s imperative to make the most of it.

“The mental preparation and physical preparation starts now and hasn’t stopped,” he said. “Took a brief day off or two and now just get back to work and get ready for whichever team we’re getting ready for. The work never stops.”

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

NBA fines Rockets owner Leslie Alexander $100,000 for confronting referee

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Rockets owner Leslie Alexander got up from his courtside seat, walked down the sideline and talked to referee Bill Kennedy during Houston’s Game 5 win over the Thunder.

It took less than a day for an investigation to yield the predictable result.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has been fined $100,000 for confronting a referee during live game action, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, NBA League Operations.

The interaction occurred with 0:13 remaining in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 105-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 25 at Toyota Center.

Per Patricia Bender’s database, this is the NBA’s largest fine in nearly two years. The NBA fined the Clippers $250,000 in 2015 for setting up DeAndre Jordan with an endorsement deal while trying to lure him back in free agency.

The NBA rightfully keeps owners on a tight leash. Unlike players, coaches and referees, who have their own unions, the league office represents the owners. So when one crosses the line – Alexander trampled over it – the hammer comes down hard. It’s an example to keep everyone else in line, and owners know they come out way ahead in this arrangement. Alexander might not like the punishment, but he benefits from owning a share of a league that so strongly dissuades such behavior.

David Stern: ‘Shame on the Brooklyn Nets’

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Brooklyn rested Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker for its final game this season, which had huge playoff implications. Not for the Nets, of course. They were long eliminated from postseason contention.

But the Bulls beat Brooklyn to reach the playoffs over the Heat, who also won that night.

Miami fans were obviously ticked, and they have company in former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Stern, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“I have no idea what was in the mind of the executives of the Brooklyn Nets — none — when they rested their starting players,” Stern, who still holds the title of Commissioner Emeritus, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday on the NBA A to Z podcast. “If you’re playing in a game of consequence, that has an impact, which is as good as it gets (you should play your players). Here we are, the Brooklyn Nets are out of the running. They have the lowest record in the sport. But they have an opportunity to weigh in on the final game with respect to Chicago. And they sit their starters? Really? It’s inexcusable in my view. I don’t think the Commissioner maybe can, or even should, do anything about it. But shame on the Brooklyn Nets. They broke the (pact with fans).”

The resting dilemma takes slightly different forms when it involves a team like Brooklyn rather than a certain playoff team, but the underlying conflict remains the same:

The team is better off resting its players.

The NBA is worse off, at least in the short term.

The league was robbed of an important competitive game that could’ve drawn higher ratings. The Nets had just beaten Chicago a days prior, but that was with major contributions from Lopez and Lin. Without them, Brooklyn had little chance and lost by 39.

The Nets weren’t playing for anything, not even a higher draft pick. They owe their first-rounder to the Celtics and already clinched the worst record anyway. Brooklyn was better off resting those veterans at the end of a long regular season.

There’s no easy answer. If the NBA bans resting, teams will sit players and assign to minor or made-up injuries. If the league shortens the season, it will lose revenue.

The best solution is to improve at the margins – provide more rest days (which the league will do next season) and schedule nationally televised games outside of grueling stretches of the schedule. That’s obviously no silver bullet, though. Bulls-Nets wasn’t nationally televised, and Brooklyn had the day off before and the entire offseason off after.

Another potential solution: Shaming teams into playing their top players. Stern is giving that one a go.

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.