No drama in reunion, just easy Rockets win vs. Lakers (VIDEO)

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Wise move, NBA television executives, choosing to pull Wednesday night’s Lakers at Rockets game off the national broadcast (not that the Spurs/Mavs game that replaced turned out to be a thriller). There is no Kobe Bryant and the “Dwight Howard reunion” drama had played itself out long ago.

This was simply another mid-season NBA game where the more talented, deeper team won handily — but it would never seem to end thanks to a few minutes of hack-a-Howard.

Didn’t matter, the Rockets blew the game open in the third quarter and won 113-99 behind 38 points from James Harden. Howard finished with 20 points and 13 boards.

For the Lakers, the pain continues — after Tuesday night’s loss Nick Young said the Lakers’ locker room felt like a “funeral.” I’m not sure what feels worse but the Lakers are headed there — they have dropped nine of 10 (losing those games by an average of almost 14 points) and they are about to head out on their annual Grammy road trip and eight of their next nine are road games. Kobe will not be back for that stretch. Things look pretty bleak, and while being bad to get a better draft pick may be the right thing to do on paper it is no fun for the team going through it.

Los Angeles led in this one early, simply by outworking the Rockets in the paint. Pau Gasol hit three of his first four (and had 15 in the first half), Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill being physical with Howard. Then in the second quarter Nick Young had eight points (he finished the night with 25), Jodie Meeks added 7 points (21 on the night) and the Lakers were up five at the half.

Part of that was the Rockets just did not play good defense — they are an inconsistent team and it showed on that end. James Harden got beaten off the dribble by Kendall Marshall, and there was no defensive rotation to cover the basket.

The third quarter was completely different.

James Harden exploded for 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, the Rockets were more aggressive on defense forcing seven turnovers and turning them into easy transition buckets. The Lakers shot just 33 percent in the quarter.

Houston won the third quarter 33-15. That theme continued on into the fourth and the Rockets were up 20 and in control.

So with just under five minutes left Mike D’Antoni ordered “hack-a-Howard” and at first it worked. Howard started 2-of-6 from the line and the Lakers closed the gap to 11. But then the Lakers just started missing their chances and Howard ended up 7-of-16 (he hit five of the last 10) and the Lakers couldn’t close the gap.

In the end the Lakers started to expose the Rockets flaws, but with all the injuries this roster can’t sustain that level of play against a good team when it is focused. And the Rockets got focused and won.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard told me he wants to stay with Spurs

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.

Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green

Get Up on ESPN:

Green:

I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.

I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.

Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.

And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.

Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.

If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.