Houston Rockets

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PBT Awards: All-Rookie team

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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

First team

  • Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
  • Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls
  • Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers

Second Team

  • Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
  • Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets
  • K.J. McDaniels, Houston Rockets
  • Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets

If you’re asking why Clarkson on the first team instead of Smart, look at the numbers. Clarkson has a higher true shooting percentage (.528 to .492) while using a higher percentage of the offense. Clarkson turns the ball over a lower percentage of possessions, hits his free throws, and looks like a future starter. Smart is the better defender (by a lot) and shoots the three ball a little better, but I like Clarkson as a future NBA starting point guard.

Brett Pollakoff

First team

  • Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls
  • Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
  • Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers

Second team

  • Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets
  • Tarik Black, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
  • Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets
  • Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves

The first four names on the first team seem like fairly obvious choices, but then it gets murky pretty fast. Clarkson makes it based on being second among all rookies in PER — and because none of the second-team guys had a compelling enough season in total to take his spot.

Sean Highkin

First team

  • Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
  • Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls
  • Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Marcus Smart, Boson Celtics

Second team

  • Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets
  • Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • K.J. McDaniels, Houston Rockets
  • Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets

Wiggins is going to run away with Rookie of the Year, and he deserves it. Other than him, three rookies set themselves apart by showing star potential: Mirotic, Noel and Payton. Smart would be in their category if he hadn’t missed so much time, but he still gets the nod for his tremendous defensive potential and better-than-expected shooting, playing a major role on a surprise playoff team.

There’s not a very high bar to clear to make second-team All-Rookie — you basically have to stay healthy and not be a complete embarrassment. Clarkson was the only bright spot for the worst Lakers season ever. We still don’t know what position LaVine is, but he won the dunk contest, so that’s cool. Nurkic is a legitimate piece for the Nuggets. McDaniels has barely played in Houston, but he was fun in Philadelphia. Bogdanovic slipped in the second half of the season, but his hot first half is enough to get him on here.

Dan Feldman

First team

  • Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls
  • Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
  • Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

Second team

  • Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets
  • Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets
  • Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
  • Tarik Black, Los Angeles Lakers

The top four players on my first team were easy calls. The last spot came down to Smart and Clarkson, and I really could go either way. Smart’s defense gave him the slight edge. Clarkson filled in admirably as a starting point guard, because the Lakers needed one. Smart would have provided impactful defense in any situation.

After Clarkson, the second team was difficult to fill out. Finding 10 players deserving of All-Rookie, rarely an easy task, was especially challenging this year, when so many key rookies spent only a partial season playing. How do you rate the many candidates who were only a tick above replacement level but played two to three times as much as Jabari Parker, who was much better when healthy but played just 25 games? Yeah, it was that kind of season where a 25-game-playing Jabari Parker got serious consideration.

Georgia police will not file charges against Dwight Howard for child abuse

San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets
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Back near the start of the season, reports came out that Dwight Howard was being investigated for abusing one of his children, a charge leveled by the child’s mother. It was something Howard’s attorney said was baseless at the time.

After a six-month investigation, no charges will be filed against Howard. Mark Berman of Fox News in Houston has the story.

The Atlanta, Ga. Police Department declined to press charges of child abuse against Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard…

“I can confirm we are not moving forward with charges in this case,” said Sgt. Gregory Lyon, in an email to FOX 26 Sports….

“We are gratified that the Atlanta Police Department, after fully examining the frivolous allegations against Dwight Howard, has closed the case and decided not to proceed with charges,” said (Howard’s attorney David Oscar) Markus in a statement to FOX 26 Sports. “Dwight Howard will continue to act in the best interest of his children and do whatever is necessary to protect their welfare.”

Howard did not discuss the charges.

Howard and the Rockets are gearing up for the playoffs. After a season racked with injuries, Howard has put up double-doubles in Houston’s last three games and played in the mid-20s in minutes. His play will be key if the Rockets advance out of the first round in a stacked Western Conference.

PBT Weekly NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Spurs, Cavs finish season in top slots

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors
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This is the final PBT Power Rankings of the season, and the goal is to put them in the order they have a shot at winning the NBA title. San Antonio moves in front of Cleveland because I believe today the Spurs are the better team. As for the bottom, it’s the Timberwolves who get the “honor.”

 
source:  1. Warriors (65-15, Last Week No. 1). Steve Kerr has not given his young charges a game off down the stretch, although some have seen their minutes shrink a little. We’ll see if that changes. They have taken their foot off the gas a little of late but will still finish first in defensive rating and second in offensive rating for the season.

 
source:  2. Spurs (55-26, LW 3). They have won 11 games in a row, and may need to make it 12 on Wednesday against the Pelicans to ensure they get the No. 2 seed out West (and in theory they could still miss it). As noted by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, during this win streak the Spurs have outscored opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions. That’s insane.

 
source:  3. Cavaliers (51-29 LW 2). Cleveland resting all it’s stars Sunday made it far more likely they get the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Coincidence? I wouldn’t bet on it. Boston’s young team will be just happy to make it, a nice, soft first playoff experience for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

 
source:  4. Hawks (60-19, LW 4). There are a lot of questions about how it happened off the court, but the Thabo Sefolosha injury really hurts the Hawks in a potential matchup with the Cavaliers. He would have seen a fair amount of time on LeBron James, plus his defense was key to their stingy second unit.

 
source:  5. Clippers (54-26, LW 5). They come into the postseason the second hottest team in the league (behind San Antonio) but there is not a lot of faith in them coming out of the West. It all comes down to their lack of depth and the lack of versatility/flexibility that comes with a short rotation. That’s Doc Rivers the GM tying the hands of Doc Rivers the coach again.

 
source:  6. Rockets (54-26, LW 6). They lost both ends of the home and home with the Spurs and that saw them fall to the six seed in the West (although they still could finish as high as the two seed). Even with Dwight Howard playing better of late this seems to symbolize the limits of how far this roster can really go.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (51-29. LW 7). They will be the four seed in the West but will not have home court in the first round. The foot injury (sprain) LaMarcus Aldridge suffered could be big trouble if it lingers into the postseason and limits Portland’s best player.

 
source:  8. Grizzlies (54-26, LW 8). Injuries make this team very vulnerable in the first round — Mike Conley has a foot issue, Tony Allen is not yet back, and Saturday Marc Gasol rolled his ankle. Two tough games for seeding issues, at Golden State then Indiana. The good news is they have a lot of tiebreakers in their favor in the middle of a crowded West.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (48-31, LW 10). In his last 15 games, Rajon Rondo is shooting a respectable 47.5 percent. That doesn’t matter. All those teams battling for the 2-6 seeds in the West covet the two seed most of all, they see Dallas as the softest first-round matchup.

 
source:  10. Bulls (48-32, LW 9). Go ahead and make the case that when all of their starters are there — Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah — they are 17-5. Yes, they have played much better at the United Center of late. I still haven’t seen consistent enough defense from the Bulls this season to think they can flip the switch. They are the third best team in the East but well back of the Hawks and Cavs.

 
source:  11. Pelicans (43-36, LW 11). They control their own destiny, a win on the road against the struggling T-Wolves Monday night puts them in a strong position. But if OKC beats Portland Monday the Pelicans may have to beat the Spurs the final game of the season and that will be a tall order and the Spurs likely need that win, too.

 
source:  12. Thunder (43-36, LW 13). Russell Westbrook is trying, but the Thunder defense is the reason they need help to get in the postseason. Huge game Monday, they need to beat the Trail Blazers (because the Pelicans will beat the Timberwolves). Their final game against the Timberwolves should be a win, if they are still in the playoff mix.

 
source:  13. Raptors (48-32, LW 14). As division winners — while the Bulls are not — they have the tiebreaker over Chicago for the 3/4 seed race. They will be home for the first round of the playoffs and may win 50 games. That said, their Swiss cheese defense has them being pretty average since the All-Star break. The Raptors should beat the Bucks if if they are the three seed, but a matchup with the Wizards (who do defend) could be a challenge).

 
source:  14. Wizards (45-34, LW 12). Washington will be the five seed starting on the road in the playoffs, but they are the second best defensive team in the East (behind Milwaukee). That plus John Wall’s attacking style means they can get out of the first round, they will not be an easy out.

 
source:  15. Jazz (37-43, LW 15). The Jazz and their fans need to consider this season a success — they found a front line that might really work for them in Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. They need to find more offense, but if history is an indicator expect patience from the Utah front office this summer.

 
source:  16. Celtics (37-42, LW 19). Cleveland gave the Celtics a gift Sunday sitting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and pretty much every other Cav you can name. Of course, that likely means they get the fully-loaded Cavaliers in the first round. Nonetheless, just making the playoffs is a big step for the Celtics and will be a good experience for their young team.

 
source:  17. Bucks (39-40, LW 17). The win over Brooklyn on Sunday secured the six seed for Milwaukee (meaning they face Toronto or Chicago). The last time the Bucks won a playoff series was 2001, and that streak likely continues, but just getting in will be a good experience for a young, growing Bucks team.

 
source:  18. Nets (37-42, LW 18). They should be able to get the eight seed, especially since they have the tie breaker over the Pacers. However, a win over Chicago Monday night would be a big boost to their chances.

 
source:  19. Pacers (36-43, LW 20). They likely need to beat Washington and Memphis — no small feat — and get some help to make the postseason. Paul George did his best to help and even dunked for the first time this season on Sunday, it just may be too much of a slow start to overcome.

 
source:  20. Heat (36-43, LW 21). Obviously there were major roster shifts followed by major injuries, still it is odd to see the four-time NBA Finalists missing the playoffs all together this season. The last team to lose in the Finals then miss the playoffs was the Lakers the year after Shaq was moved.

 
<source:  21. Suns (39-41, LW 16). Would they have won the eight seed if they had not made their deadline trades? It’s moot, they might have been the eight seed and got smacked down in the first round. Better to think and plan long term.

 
source:  22. Pistons (31-49, LW 22). It’s another losing season in Detroit, but at least one where we started to see Stan Van Gundy play a foundation for the future. A future without Josh Smith. Also likely one without Greg Monroe, who will bolt as a free agent this summer. But likely one with Reggie Jackson in the fold.

 
source:  23. Hornets (33-47, LW 23). Their defense went from top five to top 10, a slip that hurt their chances for a return to the playoffs. That and the Lance Stephenson acquisition not working out, look for the Hornets to try and move him this summer.

 
source:  24. Magic (25-55, LW 24). There are moments you see a potential future with Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, and Nikola Vucivic. Then there was the second quarter against the Knicks, when the teams combined to score 15 points, when you are reminded just how far they have to go.

 
source:  25. Nuggets (30-50, LW 25). If you’re looking for a positive, Danilo Gallinari looked much improved at the end of the season. Nuggets management needs to decide what kind of team it want to build then go get a coach to fulfill that — then stick with it for a few years.

 
source:  26. Kings (27-53, LW 26). They made their moves — George Karl is in and Vlade Divac is the big voice in the front office. Now let’s see if those guys can put a team that will take advantage of the force of nature that is DeMarcus Cousins.

 
source:  27. 76ers (18-62, LW 27). They developed a foundation on defense and will add Joel Embiid (plus their own lottery pick) to the mix next season. They could take a nice step forward. But they also may not get any of those conditional picks they have (Lakers, Heat and Thunder picks all have protections).

 
source:  28. Lakers (21-59, LW 28). Jordan Clarkson can play at the point. They get Julius Randle back. They will have whoever they draft Top 5 (they have an 82 percent chance of keeping the pick). That plus Kobe Bryant makes the Lakers more interesting next season — and we haven’t even talked about Rajon Rondo or other potential free agents.

 
source:  29. Knicks (16-64, LW 29). Let the Greg Monroe watch begin. He would be a good get, but what they really need is some lottery luck and a top pick who can be a foundational player to pair with Carmelo Anthony (and just take the best player, don’t worry about position).

source:  30. Timberwolves (16-64, LW 30). Andrew Wiggins will be the Rookie of the Year. Pair him with a healthy Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine next season — with Kevin Garnett mentoring — and they shouldn’t end the season this low on the list. Well, if Flip Saunders can get these guys to defend.

LeBron James gets first-place MVP vote from Cavaliers beat writer

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets
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Is Stephen Curry or James Harden the NBA MVP?

It appears to be a two-man race at this point, the Warriors and Rockets guards near locks to finish 1-2 in the voting.

LeBron James said he’d vote for himself, though – and at least one actual voter agrees.

Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

Trying to wade through the NBA’s postseason awards ballot is both an honor and a welcomed burden. You want to do your best to get it right by your standards, even if sometimes you’re the lone voice in the field.

As a voter I spend all year taking notes, watching as many games as my schedule allows (on League Pass on off nights) and chatting with other players, coaches and front office folks on their views of who belongs where. Toward the end of the season I begin asking players for their opinion

Here is my full ballot, as submitted to the accounting firm Ernst & Young this weekend, along with a brief explanation of why I voted the way I did.

MVP

LeBron James, James Harden, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis

Maybe I’m the only writer in the country who doesn’t get swept up in the Curry/Harden debate and votes LeBron No. 1. That’s fine. I’m ready for whatever scrutiny comes with it. I laid out a couple of weeks ago why I believe James is still the MVP of this league and I’m not wavering now.

He lifted an entire franchise and region with his return. He took a team going on its third coach in as many years, with the worst overall record the past four years, a dysfunctional locker room and a hands-on owner and (eventually) steadied it all. Not to mention Kyrie Irving’s development playing alongside him.

My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown paper. No other player in the league could’ve convinced Kevin Love to agree to a trade to Cleveland. No other player in the league could’ve pulled the Cavs from where they were to where they are. He is truly the league’s most valuable player.

Harden and Curry have both been fabulous as well. Harden earns extra points for improving defensively and carrying the Rockets while Dwight Howard was injured and doing it in the ultra competitive Western Conference. Westbrook’s effort in Oklahoma City has been Herculean at times without Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis is the future of this league. His place on this list is only going to keep rising.

First of all, kudos to Lloyd for posting an explanation of his ballot. Award votes became public last year – an excellent move – but voters were under no obligation to explain their rationale. In a profession where we constantly ask people to explain themselves, journalists should be transparent ourselves. So, I salute Lloyd for doing that.

And I don’t doubt the sincerity of his desire to get this right. Not everyone puts in so much time considering their award votes, to the detriment of the process. It’s clear Lloyd does.

But I just don’t understand this: “My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown.”

How can Lloyd say that with such certainty?

We all have biases, conscious and subconscious. I find it impossible to believe Lloyd would view the MVP race the same way if he weren’t covering LeBron and the Cavaliers daily. We’re all shaped by our experiences, and seeing LeBron up close so frequently leaves an impression. Same with Curry and writers in Oakland and Harden and writers in Houston.

As far as Lloyd’s explanation, I’m unconvinced Curry or Harden couldn’t lift the Cavaliers in a similar way. Just because they’re not from Cleveland and didn’t choose to, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t.

If Lloyd wants to cast the best ballot possible – and I believe he does – he should acknowledge that covering the Cavaliers colors his opinion. Then, he should grapple with the difficult follow-up question: How?

I’m not totally convinced Lloyd’s choice is wrong. I wouldn’t pick LeBron, but he belongs in the running. Lloyd could deeply consider how covering LeBron daily affects his opinion and still reach the same conclusion.

But when he dismisses that dilemma by stating unequivocally, “My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown,” it’s hard to chalk this up as anything more than hometown bias – even if it’s unintentional hometown bias.

Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: A lot of Westbrook may not be enough

Oklahoma City Thunder v Indiana Pacers
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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while watching the True Detective season 2 trailer over and over

1) Russell Westbrook tries to will Thunder into playoffs with 54 points, but it’s not enough. Oklahoma City may miss the playoffs, but it’s not for a lack of effort from Russell Westbrook. Sunday he dropped 54 points — on 43 shots, which is efficient compared to his recent big games — trying to will the Thunder past the Pacers. He couldn’t. Indiana won 116-104 behind 30 points from C.J. Miles. More than that, Westbrook may have cost his team a shot at the postseason when he got a techical in the fourth quarter. It was a quick whistle from Ed Malloy and should be rescinded by the league, but if it’s not Westbrook has 16 techs and would be out Monday night against Portland. The Thunder and Pelicans remain tied for the final playoff spot, but the Pelicans have the tie breaker. A New Orleans win Monday, and an OKC loss, and the Thunder can start making tee times for next weekend.

With the win, the Pacers moved into a tie with Brooklyn for the last playoff spot in the East.

2) James Harden kept the Thunder in playoff picture at all. The Thunder should send a nice gift basket to their old teammate Harden, the only reason they are still hin the playoff picture is Harden helped lead a come-from-behind win over New Orleans Sunday. Harden had 30 points, and the Thunder should thank Corey Brewer too, he had 13 in the fourth quarter for Houston.

As for the Rockets… the West is still a mess. Houston, Memphis and the LA Clippers are all 54-26, just half a game back of San Antonio at 55-26. While the Trail Blazers will finish with the four seed (they won the Northwest Division) the other four teams could finish anywhere from 2-6 still. With a couple games left. The West is a mess.

3) Cleveland helps Celtics take big step toward playoffs. If you can name the Cavaliers’ player, they probably rested on Sunday. Which is the smart move for Cleveland, it has wrapped up the two seed and wants guys fresh for the playoffs (even if the first round will be a virtual bye). No LeBron James, Kyrie Iriving, Kevin Love or much of anyone else. That was a huge break for the Celtics, who picked up an easy win 117-78 and with that moved into the seven seed, one game clear of Brooklyn and Indiana (tied for that eight slot). If the playoffs started today, Boston would face Cleveland. And get crushed.

4) Milwaukee’s you East six seed, hurt Brooklyn in the process. Brooklyn is the eight seed, tied with Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East, because the Nets lost to the Bucks. What that means for Milwaukee is they are locked in as the six seed in the East — which before the season seemed impossible. This Bucks team is taking a step forward (although I don’t love the trade for Michael Carter-Williams).

5) Kenneth Faried put on a show, dropped 30 on the Kings. The Manimal showed up to play on Sunday and had 19 points in the first quarter. He went on to score 30 in a 122-111 Denver win over George Karl’s Sacramento squad. Faried didn’t try to stretch his game; he just got to the rim. Check out this shot chart and video.

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