Dwight Howard is ‘pissed’ – at Hawks, losing or both?

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The Hawks reconfigured their whole philosophy for Dwight Howard.

But their season ended in the first round against the Wizards.

After sounding unhappy during the series, Howard expanded on his displeasure in his exit interview with the media.

How difficult was it to play just 26 minutes per game, including only four minutes per fourth quarter, against Washington?

It’s very difficult. I want to play. I want to be out on the floor. I want to make a difference, make an impact and can’t do that on the bench

Were there conversations with Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer?

Nah. But we’ve got to get ready for next year.

Did you think limited playing time was due to matchups?

No, I didn’t. It doesn’t matter about a matchup. I want to play. It doesn’t matter who’s out there. I want to do the best for my team and this city. It’s why I came here. So, it is upsetting. I want to get out there and play. You work hard and you watch it being from taken from you – not the coach taking it, but Washington taking the opportunity from us, moving to the next round.

Do you expect your role to change next year?

I’m just going to work on my game, get in the gym. I continue to do the stuff I do everyday, and I want to see it utilized.

Is it safe to this wasn’t the role laid out when you signed last summer?

I’ll let you say that. I just want to get ready for next year. That’s all I’m thinking about.

You appear to be biting your tongue.

Just want to get ready for next season. Have a good summer, get my body right, get ready for next year.

How do you channel your frustration going forward?

It’s my 13th season, so I’m pissed. I don’t get younger. I’m not going to be 25, 26. So, yeah, I’m pissed.

I’m upset, because we’re not playing no more. I want to play. I don’t want to watch someone else hold up the trophy.

Did you have any difficulty blending into the pick-and-roll offense?

If you watch the games, I did a million pick-and-rolls. So it can’t be me blending in with the pick-and-roll. I did that, so you can’t use that.

What reason –?

I have no idea. All I said was, I did pick-and-roll. I did everything I was asked to.

What reason did Budenholzer give when you talked to him?

I haven’t spoken with Bud, so there’s nothing.

Does losing feel worse this year than previous years?

It feels bad every year. You’ve got to watch somebody hold up a trophy, it hurts. And you know you work hard, so it pisses you off. I’m sure if you wrote the best stories in the world and nobody read your stories, and they told you to stop writing and you saw somebody else’s story who wasn’t as good as yours getting put out there, I’m pretty sure you’ll be pissed, too. So, yeah, that’s how it is in basketball. You work hard. Sometimes you don’t win, but it piss you off, because you want to win. If you don’t want to win, you shouldn’t be playing

Howard didn’t say anything directly disparaging about the Hawks, but he left the door wide open for people to believe he’s upset with the organization. As Howard said, he’s in his 13th season. If he didn’t want to give the impression he’s unhappy with the team, I think he’d know how to do that.

The Hawks are at a crossroads. Are they building around Howard and Paul Millsap? Are they rebuilding around Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince and Tim Hardaway Jr.? Something in between?

Howard is clearly pushing for a certain direction, and that’s fair. I don’t blame him for not embracing a patient approach. He’s a 31-year-old big man. A long-term plan won’t apply to him.

But the Hawks have to do what’s best for them. It’ll depend on Millsap, who’ll likely opt out, and what the team wants – a higher floor or a higher ceiling? Millsap and Howard raise the floor but limit the ceiling. Millsap’s free agency could determine how Atlanta proceeds around Howard – or maybe even without him at all.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.