Kurt Helin

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 18: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors warms up before Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on April 18, 2016 in Oakland, 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 Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Stephen Curry would be “very” surprised if he doesn’t play in Game 4 Sunday

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Steve Kerr and everyone around the Warriors will go out of their way to tell you there is no correlation. But…

After Golden State lost Game 3 on a James Harden shot, didn’t we all know Stephen Curry would be back for Game 4? The organization was going to be extra cautious bringing him back(Curry had wanted to play Thursday) because it’s an ankle injury and he has a history with those, but the second they paid a price for not having him the equation would change. Thursday they paid a price.

Which brings us to Curry’s practice comment Friday.

The Warriors want to close this out in five games, and they wanted Curry to play in at least one game again before the second round (too much rest equals rust).

Rocket fans are jumping on Charles Barkley for being Charles Barkley today; they are defending their team on social media against the questions of how the bench reacted. Good for them, they reacted as fans should. This was a good win for the Rockets.

With Curry back, it was also the Rockets last of the season.

NBA: James Harden should have been called for offensive foul on game-winning shot


Is this even a surprise?

Down one with 10.7 remaining after an Ian Clark layup gave Golden State a one-point lead, James Harden brought the ball up the court. Andre Iguodala picked him up 30 feet out. Harden drove hard to his preferred left, spun back to the middle — and as he did pushed off on Iguodala to create space. It worked, Harden stepped back and nailed the 13-foot jumper. Ballgame.

The NBA reviews the calls in the final two minutes of close games.

The league said Harden should have been called for an offensive foul, that he pushed off. Watch the video above, he did. No question.

Two things here:

First, sorry Warriors fans, but that report and $4 will buy you a latte at Starbucks. It’s nice so you can use it to complain, but it’s ultimately meaningless. The bucket still counts.

Second, and key for Harden and other scorers, is there is zero chance any referee would call it in that situation. Referees swallow their whistles the last couple minutes in the playoffs, and Harden knows it. He made the smart play. This was about as likely to be called as Michal Jordan’s push off on Byron Russell.

Dwight Howard to critics of game winner celebration: “shut up”

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets waits on the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

It caught everyone’s attention because we hadn’t seen anything like it — James Harden hit the game-winning shot to beat the Warriors Thursday night and Dwight Howard, along with most of the Rocket’s bench, was stoic. Here’s the much seen Vine again, in case you need a 1,000th viewing.


People have tried to read into the team chemistry of the Rockets because of that clip, suggesting they were unhappy this series was now going to go at least five games.

Dwight Howard wants those people to shut up. Here are his comments from practice Friday, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“I think everybody made a big deal out of nothing, and we were very happy we won the game,” Howard said after Friday’s film session. “But I think more so we were kind of upset we put ourselves in that situation. It took a last-second shot to win the game when we clearly had the game beat from the beginning of the game.

“So for all those people saying we weren’t happy and excited because James hit the shot, shut up.”

This has been the company line since the moment it happened — from the players, from Daryl Morey, from the Houston media. The team was more relieved than anything after blowing a big lead, and they were concerned about the 2.7 seconds left on the clock.

I’m not buying it.

I don’t expect the Rockets bench to go all Monmouth, but I’ve seen too many close games as a basketball fan to know the reaction of an emotionally invested bench to a game winner. I’ve seen plenty of teams in that situation cheer/clap/yell for 5-10 seconds, then realize they need to get back to business to preserve the win. But a reaction like they just were told the IRS is auditing them?

You shouldn’t read too much into this incident as an indication of chemistry issues on the team — and you don’t have to. The evidence of chemistry issues has been laid out all season. Add this to the mix if you want, or don’t, it doesn’t make this a functional locker room.

Now, at the request of Dwight Howard, I will shut up.

Kevin McHale on Dwight Howard: “He is not what he used to be down there in the low post”

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 17:  Head coach Kevin McHale talks to Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Toyota Center for the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 17, 2015 in Houston, Texas. 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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This past season, Dwight Howard got 297 shots out of post ups, a little over four times a game. He shot just 47 percent on those and scored at an average of 0.82 points per possessions, well below the 1.06 100 the Rockets averaged overall on offense.

Howard has never been a great post-up player, but he used to be more of a threat down there. Those days are gone if you ask former Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale, who was on SiriusXM NBA Radio Friday with Rick Mahorn and Jonathan Hood.

“Throw it down to him occasionally but if you throw it down to him on a steady diet the poor guy just can’t get down low and move any more.  I think that back bothered him, his hips are tight from that and he just wasn’t the same player.  He’s worked hard on it.  The kid does work hard on his physical conditioning and trying to get healthy and stuff.  But he is not what he used to be down there in the low post.  And I think the knee surgery, too.”

Injuries have robbed Howard of some of the explosiveness we remember from his days back in Orlando.

One of the misfires of Howard’s career was his demand to be an old-school post player because that was never his strength. He has always been far more dangerous as the roll man — even this season he shot 63 percent and averaged 1.10 points per possession when he got the ball back as the roll man. Numbers showing him far better on the roll exist for every season of his career. Even today, the threat of him rolling opens things up for the Rockets. But he got the ball just 91 times as the roll man this season, far fewer than in the post. He doesn’t like that roll role. Just ask Mike D’Antoni.

Howard seemed to let Shaq and other old school big men get in his head about what a “true” center was. Howard never played to his strengths enough, and that was mobility. He never had the lower body to be a classic post up center, but he could have thrived in a more hybrid, mobile role. But it’s not like he’s going to change

Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Friday: Where can Boston generate some offense?

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Isaiah Thomas #4 of the Boston Celtics reacts as he walks to the bench in the final minutes of their 89-72 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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“Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time”

—Unfortunately it was not long enough. RIP Prince.

1) At home, can the Celtics find a way to keep it close early and give themselves a chance?
Down 2-0 in the series, allow me to be Captain Obvious and say Game 3 is must win for Boston. The first step for the Celtics in getting that win? Don’t go down by 17 points early. The first two games in the series followed the same script of Atlanta dominating early — behind Al Horford, who has averaged 20 points a game in the first two — then the Celtics scraping and clawing their way back (with varying degrees of success). Boston can’t play that game again. Sounds simple enough (this is where the “we just have to play harder” cliche comes in), but executing it is going to be more difficult. Which brings us to….

2) How can Boston generate points against Atlanta’s stout defense? It’s been a perfect storm of trouble for Boston: They weren’t a good outside shooting team to begin with, they lost Avery Bradley who was one of their few good shooters, and Atlanta has the second-best defense in the NBA during the regular season. Boston has looked rushed by that defense — even when a Celtic gets an open look they are shooting too quickly to get it off before the help arrives, and with that he gets out of rhythm and misses.

Isaiah Thomas is counted on to generate good looks for the Celtics, both for himself and others, but he is shooting just 33 percent this series thanks to a combination of Jeff Teague’s length and the great help defense of the Hawks. Stevens has to get Thomas going. Maybe move him to two guard and have Marcus Smart handle the ball, running Thomas off staggered screens or pin downs to get open. Brad Stevens needs to come up with something because the Celtics needs points.

3) At home, can the Pistons get better production — especially defense — from their bench? Through the first two games of the Pistons/Cavaliers first round series, the Detroit starting five (Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond) are playing the Cavaliers fairly closely. Those starters have played half the team’s minutes together — 48 — and are just -2 points per 100 possessions against the vaunted Cavaliers. However, as a team the Pistons are -10.7 per 100 for the series — once the bench players come in, the Pistons struggle.

As our own Dan Feldman of NBC noted, in Game 2 – with LeBron James playing – Cleveland outscored Detroit by 11 in the six minutes with the majority of Pistons starters on the bench (early in the second and fourth quarters). The Pistons starters can’t make up that ground.

Role and bench players tend to play better at home where they are comfortable — the Pistons will need that to avoid an 0-3 hole. In particular, once the bench players come in they need to do better defending the pick-and-roll. Cleveland has torn up the Pistons pick-and-roll defense — the starters do not get off blameless here by any stretch, they need to improve on P&R defense, but the bench has been a mess. If that doesn’t change, the series could end on the Piston’s home court over the weekend.