Dwight Howard's new nickname: "foul on you"

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Thumbnail image for Howard_game.jpgDwight Howard has really stepped up his game in the playoffs. Well, one part of his game. He tends to foul a lot during the regular season (3.5 per game), but during the playoffs he has been on fire.

So much so that his teammates have nicknamed him “foul on you” Howard told the Associated Press after practice.

“That’s my new nickname. They’ve been killing me all day calling me
‘Foul on You,”‘ Howard said of his teammates after shootaround Monday
before their playoff game against Charlotte. “So I’ve accepted by new
role.”

Howard has fouled out of one playoff game and picked up five fouls in the other two (a 5.3 per game average). That has limited his playing time to 27 minutes a game. It hasn’t hurt the Magic who are up 3-0 in the series (thank you Jameer Nelson) so is it really a concern?

Well, Stan Van Gundy thinks it is, as he told the Orlando Sentinel. And if he does…

Stan Van Gundy ordered Dwight Howard to review videotape with him of some of the fouls he received on Saturday, and the Magic coach wants Howard to make adjustments…

Howard met with Van Gundy in the visitors’ dressing room (after practice Sunday), where they spent about 15 minutes poring over the tape. When asked about the meeting, Howard said, “It’s top secret — we can’t tell you guys. It’s a top-secret meeting. Coach told me not to say anything…”

“Everybody’s trying to tell me what I should do. I just can’t allow myself to get frustrated. Things are going to happen,” Howard said. “My teammates say, ‘Why you got to fight all the time?’ You’re playing basketball. You don’t want anybody to think you’re weak and soft out there, so sometimes you go to battle. I just have to try not to get into a wrestling match.”

Howard walks a fine line. First, he is stronger than everyone else he goes up against. Second, he is expected to be the power presence on the offensive block for Orlando, he had to make some moves and risk picking up an offensive foul. He is also the primary — and often only — help defender on Orlando. All of that means he is going to pick up fouls by just playing basketball his way.

But he has to avoid the silly ones, the borderline ones. Some of those calls have gone against him this series, some were just mistakes by Howard. Those are the calls he needs to eliminate.

Against the overmatched Bobcats these foul issues are no big deal. In the next round against Atlanta, things change.

Cavaliers’ Kendrick Perkins not into “all that new stuff” like Chewbacca

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Chewbacca was at Game 3 in Cleveland Saturday. Sitting courtside.

Why? Because growing up on Kashyyyk he played a little hoop and admires LeBron James‘ skill? Because Drake gave him the tickets? Maybe. I mean, it’s not like that was just a clever little publicity stunt for a movie.

After the Cavaliers’ win, Kevin Love decided to make a little joke of it with noted humorist Kendrick Perkins, and it went over as well as expected (with Dave McMenamin of ESPN catching it).

That’s vintage Perkins.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.