If you had any concerns about how Dwight Howard would look upon his return to the lineup after missing 11 games with a knee issue, he would like to show you his 26 points on 11 shots, including going 8-of-10 inside eight feet from the rim. Oh, and his 13 rebounds. And his three blocks. And the fact that Denver went 3-of-9 at the rim when Howard was there to contest shots.
If you had any concerns about how Donatas Motiejunas would fit in at the four and in a different role next to Howard, he’d like to show you his 13 second quarter points on his way to 25 for the game. Howard gave Motiejunas space, deferring to the guy with the hot hand (if you believe in the hot hand, that is).
If you had any concerns about how James Harden would look having to share the ball a little more, well, he’d suggest you watch this video of his triple double.
All of which is to say, Houston looked very good beating Denver Saturday night.
It’s a mistake to read too much into one December game, but the Rockets looked like a team on a 64-win pace (which in the ridiculous Western Conference is still just the three seed). And one that just got its defensive key back.
Mike Conley took over late — he has 16 fourth quarter points Saturday night keying Memphis’ comeback from 18 down on the road to force overtime against a feisty Philadelphia team (that has played improved ball the last couple weeks).
That takeover included a contested three at the end of regulation to force overtime. The drawn up play got the ball to Marc Gasol out above the arc, a shot he could hit, but Hollis Thompson read the play well and switched out to take away his shot. Gasol can’t create off the dribble out there so he threw it to Conley, who got himself enough space to get off the shot and force overtime.
In OT Conley added six more points, bringing him to a career high 36 as the Grizzlies escaped Philly with a win. And it was escaped, because for 42 minutes Memphis was terrible and Philadelphia was the better team, but Memphis had a better last 11. Down the stretch Conley owned Michael Carter-Williams and that was key.
Ray Allen has options.
He’s in Miami right now, spending time with his family and golfing, probably throwing in some holiday shopping. He’s also staying in shape, keeping that beautiful jump shot tuned up, and is expected to decide sometime after the first of the year if he wants to return to the NBA and make a run at another ring. However, there is no timetable for a decision his agent Jim Tanner confirmed again to Shams Charania of RealGM.
If he returns Cleveland has long been considered the front runner as Allen would only come back to chase a ring and could pair with his Miami friend LeBron James. But there are plenty of other teams out there interested. First Saturday came this tweet from Jordan Shultz of the Huffington Post and NBC Sports Radio:
But there are others interested as well. Starting with Allen’s old coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers, reports Dan Woike of the Orange County Register.
“I think in two or three weeks, he’ll start thinking about teams. I don’t think right know he is. I think he wants to get through the holidays,” he said of Allen’s process. “…I think he’s doing the right thing, honestly. He’s earned this right, to look at the teams and say, ‘I fit here,’ and jump if he wants to do that.”
Shams Charania of RealGM added that the Grizzlies would like to be in the mix (and they could certainly use the outside shooting).
Allen is likely thinking about things now, but there is no pressure or timetable. He’s a retired free agent, he can come back whenever he wants. Wherever he wants. So he can get in a few more rounds of golf in a nice, warm climate and let things play out a little then make is call.
But I’d still bet on Cleveland.
Turnabout is fair play.
Just a couple nights ago Orlando lost at the buzzer on a Bradley Beal alley-oop. Saturday night the Magic were down one with 3.4 seconds to go after Tobias Harris split a pair of free throws (then forced a Hawks miss). They inbounded the ball to Tobias Harris out top, who drives left and goes up at the elbow, draining the rainbow.
Harris finished with 20 points on the night to lead the Magic.
Dwight Howard has been out 11 games with knee issues and, in what has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, the Rockets have still thrived going 8-3. However, if they are going to be a threat when they want to be in the postseason they need Howard back — they need his defense.
Looks like they will get that Saturday night.
Howard has been upgraded to probable and is expected to play Saturday night against Denver, the team announced. Howard talked like a guy going to play at shootaround, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
The Rockets have been an improved defensive team this season, playing almost six points per 100 possessions better than a year ago thanks to a better scheme and better effort from guys on the roster (including James Harden, who is trying harder but still has his moments). But they need Howard as that anchor in the middle, when he has played this season the Rockets defense is 10.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. The offense also improves with him out there.
It will be interesting to see how Howard and Donatas Motiejunas blend now. Motiejunas played well in Howard’s absence, averaging 15 points a game on 57 percent shooting in his last 10. He was getting more touches in the post, now those touches will come more at the elbow or out near the arc as he plays more of a stretch four role. If he can keep up his level of play it will be huge for the Rockets.
Also for Houston, Trevor Ariza is listed as probable.