Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers v Minnesota Timberwolves

Zach LaVine alley-oop dunking a football. Because he can. (VIDEO)

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Minnesota’s Zach LaVine has spent the early part of his offseason working on increasing his vertical… wait, what?  This is the guy who won — and for a year revived — the All-Star Dunk Contest by leaping out of the building. How much more vertical leap does he need? Was the moon out of reach? But here you go:

And for fun, LeVine is dunking footballs off three-quarter court passes. Because he can.

Please do the dunk contest again next year Zach. Please.

(Hat tip to Lang at NBA.com’s All Ball).

 

Watch James Harden drop 45 on Warriors in Game 4

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets- Game Four
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Maybe he should go to a Drake concert before every game.

Some Rockets fans were oddly all over James Harden for going to the concert in the off night between Games 3 and 4. Which is just silly on a lot of levels — this guy carried the Rockets all season to this point, but he’s not serious or committed enough now?

Harden was plenty of committed. And aggressive. And on in Game 2.

Harden had 45 points as he attacked the paint, drew fouls, knocked down 7-of-11 threes and was the best player on the court. He got help from Elimination Game Josh Smith, but Harden was the guy at the heart of it all.

That’s three out of four games this series Harden has been fantastic. He’ll need three more like that if the Rockets have any hope of making history and coming from 3-0 down in an NBA playoff series.

If NBA upgrades’ Dwight Howard’s blow to Bogut to a Flagrant 2, Howard will be suspended for Game 5

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets - Game Four
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Atlanta’s Al Horford was ejected from Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals for a blow to Matthew Dellavedova’s head. Agree with it or not with the call (and I don’t, I thought it should have been a Flagrant 1), the NBA backed it.

Based on that Al Horford precedent, Dwight Howard should have gotten a Flagrant 2 and ejected for that blow to Andrew Bogut’s head in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals Monday. He wasn’t, he got a Flagrant 1.

Here’s what should worry Rocket fans (and Kevin McHale):

The NBA will review that flagrant foul, as they do all of them, and they may upgrade it to a Flagrant 2 after the fact.

And if that happens, Howard would be suspended for Game 5 Wednesday in Oakland.

The NBA has a point system, and if a player picks up more than three points for flagrant fouls in the playoffs, he gets suspended for a game. Howard already has two points for two Flagrant Fouls earlier in the postseason, and a Flagrant 2 would be worth two points.

Go ahead and argue if you want Rockets fans. If you watched the Howard/Bogut video above and said “but Bogut fouled Howard first” you’re right. It also doesn’t matter, according to referee Kenny Mauer who made the call on Horford. He said Sunday the fact the blow was retaliation for a play where Dellavedova earned a technical was irrelevant. Mauer also said the blow to the head gave him no choice but to make the call to toss Horford.

If what Horford did merited a Flagrant II and an ejection, Howard should have gotten one as well. It will be interesting to see how the league handles this one.

 

 

Elimination game Josh Smith is a thing, Rockets live to play another day

Josh Smith
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For the fourth time these playoffs, the Houston Rockets stepped on the court knowing if they lost they could make tee times for golfing the next morning — their season would be over.

On just the Rockets’ second possession of the game, Josh Smith walked into a straight on three early in the clock — a shot the Warriors will gladly let him take.

Smith drained it.

He did it again a couple minutes later, capping a 12-0 run by the Rockets to start the game that set the tone for the night. The Rockets held off the Warriors charges in a wild game to survive and get to play in Game 5 Wednesday.

“He started it off for us, knocking down shots and being aggressive,” James Harden said of Smith. “That’s what we need, our four men — Josh and TJ (Terrence Jones) — to be aggressive. Be aggressive and attack the basket. He kind of got it going for us, and the other guys picked it up.”

Smith has done this all playoffs — when the Rockets are up against the wall, it’s Smith making plays. Elimination game Smith is a thing.

In the four Rockets’ elimination games this season, Smith has 63 points on 22-of-34 shooting (64.7 percent). In those games, he’s hit 10-of-18 from three. Most impressive, in those games he’s 10-of-13 on contested looks — even when the defense comes out on him he’s knocking it down.

If your reaction to that is “he can’t sustain that level of play” you’d be right. Over the course of a season he will not sustain it — but in a playoff series he doesn’t have to. Just a quarter here (say, the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Clippers) or a game there.

Smith just isn’t ready for his time with the Rockets to end. He came to Houston mid-season after Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons paid him just to go away. Smith was a free agent with options, but chose to come to the Rockets because of a relationship with Dwight Howard and the chance to win. When this season is over, Smith is a free agent who could land anywhere. But he’s not letting that time come to an end just yet.

It’s not just Smith; other guys step up in these games as well.

“Josh (Smith) got us off to a great start, James (Harden) had a phenomenal game… I thought Trev (Ariza) did a really good job for us early, hit some big shots”

James Harden is obviously the engine for the Rockets’ offense and in the four closeout games he has a combined 125 points (including 45 against the Rockets Monday). He has hit 34-of-60 shots in those close out games and has a dozen threes.

Beyond him, Dwight Howard has 70 points in those games and is shooting 53.9 percent on contested looks in those contests. Trevor Ariza has 74 points in the games and is 16-of-33 from three. Corey Brewer has knocked down some big shots, particularly in the Game 6 comeback against the Clippers.

The Rockets will need three more can’t miss games from Smith and friends to advance past the Warriors, and that is unlikely. It goes back to the idea that the Rockets can’t sustain that level of shooting, that their role players will regress to the mean. Probably during Game 5 in Oakland.

Maybe. But the Rockets don’t have to sustain the crazy level of shooting that long. Just enough to survive another day. If you don’t think that can happen, you haven’t watched this resilient Rockets team these playoffs.

Danny Ainge consulted with Celtics’ guard Isaiah Thomas about potential free agents

Isaiah Thomas
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There is nobody on the Celtics who should feel their roster spot is safe. Well, maybe Marcus Smart to a degree, but in general GM Danny Ainge has a lot of assets that he is willing to wheel and deal to build the Celtics roster.

Which is why him reaching out to Isaiah Thomas about free agents is a sign the guard might be around for a little while.

Speaking with the Boston Globe, Thomas — who was traded to the Celtics mid-season and helped spark their run to the playoffs — said Ainge called him up to talk about free agents and who would fit in Boston.

“Danny said if there’s any free agent out there I’m interested in, to let him know,” Thomas said by telephone. “That has me excited. For him to ask for my input means a lot, because it means I’m definitely, right now, a part of the future, and they also value your word and what you think about the game of basketball. It means a lot, and it’s a mutual respect we have. Now, hopefully, we can get a few guys.”

So who does Thomas want? Like he’s going to name names. But he did say what he was looking for.

“A defensive-minded player,” he said. “It’d be nice to get one of those in the draft. A lot of the big men out there could definitely help us out. But I know Danny is always up to something.”

Thomas told Ainge he could be a valuable recruiter when free agency begins. Thomas said that when he played for the University of Washington, he helped persuade several high school prospects to join the Huskies.

Well then Isaiah, get on the phone to DeAndre Jordan and Roy Hibbert right now.

Thomas is a good fit on the Celtics right now — a dynamic scorer that the fans will love. He will put up points on a team that could use a little offensive spark, he averaged 19 points a game for the Celtics last season. No, he’s not terribly efficient (41 percent shooting), but he can score.

In the end, Thomas is an asset that can be moved just like every other Celtic. If Ainge gets the right offer, Thomas is gone. But for now, it sounds like Thomas can move out of the hotel where he has lived in Boston — seriously, ever since he was traded — and get an apartment. But he may want to hold off on buying just yet.