Kurt Helin

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)

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


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.

Heat look good in playoffs, but this summer can they keep Wade, Whiteside, Deng, and Johnson?

Miami Heat's Hassan Whiteside, left, is congratulates by teammate Dwyane Wade after dunking against the Chicago Bulls duirng an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Miami. (David Santago/El Nuevo Herald via AP)
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Through the first week of the NBA playoffs, the Miami Heat have looked like the second best team in the Eastern Conference. The Heat offense has been explosive against a usually stout Charlotte defense, with a ridiculous team true shooting percentage of 63.7 percent, and scoring 136.9 points per 100 possessions. What all that means is they are outscoring the Hornets by more than 20 points a game.

The Heat have a talented roster (even with Chris Bosh sidelined): Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, and the just added Joe Johnson.

The one problem? All of them are free agents this summer and retaining all of them will prove difficult if not impossible.

Like nearly every other team this summer (thanks to the salary cap spiking by $22 million to $92 million), the Heat will have cap space — but the cap holds from big contracts change the dynamic. Bobby Marks, the former Nets executive working for The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, breaks it down and gets into the cap holds (placeholder estimates that assume a team re-signs a free agent).

Although the Heat only have $49 million in guaranteed contracts this summer, $52 million in free-agent cap holds will push Miami over the salary cap. Although Whiteside has a $1.2 million cap hold, finding enough room for Wade, Whiteside, Deng and Johnson will be difficult. The cap hold for Wade and Deng is $42 million combined.

The big challenges start with Wade and Whiteside. Wade has taken less than he could have gotten on the open market in recent contracts to help Miami build, and he wants a payoff.

Then there is Whiteside — Miami has his “early Bird” rights, which means they can go over the salary cap to offer him up to the mid-level exception (which will be around $8 million). The problem is Whiteside is going to get offers in the $20 million a year range. The only way Miami can offer that is to dip into their cap space. Which Pat Riley would have to clear out, and makes you wonder about the future of Deng in particular in Miami. Or, the Heat may just lose Whiteside (some teams are hesitant to give him near max money, but a few teams will jump in with both feet).

Maybe Riley can get Wade to be patient and sign last (because Miami has his Bird Rights and can exceed the cap to sign him. Maybe Johnson will take less to stay with the Heat. Maybe he can convince Whiteside to take one last year at less than market value — but don’t bet on that one.

Whiteside has another option, however. He can sign a one-year contract with cap space at a below-market salary, which would establish his Bird rights. He then could sign a long-term contract in 2017 when the cap is expected to rise to a record $109 million.

More than likely this Heat roster making a playoff run is not going to be back in the same form next season. The one silver lining is Chris Bosh will be back.


Carmelo Anthony was not at Phil Jackson’s triangle summer school

New York Knicks coach Kurt Rambis, right, confers with forward Carmelo Anthony during a timeout in the second half against the Denver Nuggets during an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 110-94. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

This past week, a reported 10 Knicks players were at the team’s practice facility getting some Triangle 101 (and maybe 201) from the man who popularized the offense in Phil Jackson, and the man he now wants to guide that offense as coach in Kurt Rambis.

Carmelo Anthony was not among the group.

Read into that what you want. Marc Berman of the New York Post has the details.

According to a basketball source, Anthony was not one of the 10 Knicks who were part of Phil Jackson’s triangle workshop held Tuesday and Wednesday in Tarrytown.

That’s not deemed a huge snub, considering the film and oncourt demonstration sessions were a season review of the same concepts that have already been taught and nothing new, according to a basketball source….

Attendees were rookies Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant, second-year men Cleanthony Early and Langston Galloway and rehabbing newcomer point guard Tony Wroten, who didn’t play in a game or participate in a practice. But also joining were veterans Sasha Vujacic, Jose Calderon, free-agent-to-be Kevin Seraphin, Robin Lopez and Kyle O’Quinn.

Anthony was reportedly getting rehab on his injured knee.

This news tidbit feels like a Rorschach test — what you see in this story says more about how you feel about the triangle offense and Anthony than it does about the actual events. In general, the reaction to Anthony not attending this bit of summer school should be a shrug.

However, if you are down on Anthony, you can say he’s not a team player and doesn’t care about winning. If you’re down on the triangle, you can say you support Anthony’s protest move (what seems clear is Anthony doesn’t like the offense). Whatever. It doesn’t impact what the Knicks are going to do this summer. Whatever that is.