Smoove operators: Josh Smith, Dwight Howard lead Houston past Dallas to 2-0 series lead

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Josh Smith and Dwight Howard were reliving their old AAU teammates days together.

Smith had seven fourth-quarter assists — five were lobs to Howard for rim-rattling dunks. Most of that came during a 19-4 fourth quarter Houston run where Smith’s passing carved up the slow feet of the Dallas defense. This was an 84-84 game early in the fourth quarter before the Smith-inspired Rocket Run.

Combine that run with 28 points and 12 boards from Howard, plus 24 points from James Harden, and you have a 111-99 Houston win Tuesday in Game 2. That puts the Rockets up 2-0 in the series as it shifts to Dallas — and puts the Mavericks in a must-win situation Friday night in Game 3.

Tuesday night Dallas was without Chandler Parsons due to injury, and they missed his defense on Harden.

This was also a game where — once again — Rajon Rondo was utterly ineffective for Dallas. To the point that after he picked up two fouls and a technical in the first :34 seconds of the second half Mavs coach Rick Carlisle never put him back in the game. Rondo has killed Dallas’ spacing (not just this playoff, since he came to town) and they were better with J.J. Barea on the floor (he had 13 points on 14 shots). Barea came in and Dallas hung around. Rondo was nowhere near his vintage self — he walked the ball up so slowly in the first half he got an eight-second backcourt violation — and after the game Carlisle dodged the questions about Rondo’s impact and how much they play him going forward (Rondo did not speak to the media). If one thing has become perfectly clear in these playoffs it’s that Rondo will not be a Maverick next season. However, in the 36 minutes Rondo has played in the two games in this series, Dallas is -37. If Devin Harris is healthy for Game 3 Rondo may not see the court.

If one thing has become perfectly clear in these playoffs it’s that Rondo will not be a Maverick next season.

Meanwhile, Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale went to his mid-season pickup in Smith and got a monster performance. Remember, this is the Smith that Stan Van Gundy waived and essentially paid to go away from his team.

Smith came in and scored seven straight points at one point in the third quarter, then ran a nice pick-and-roll with Howard, making the pass to set him up (Howard was fouled). Smith finished with nine points in the third quarter, 15 for the game.

Because Smith was feeling it, Tyson Chandler and other Mavs defenders gravitated toward him, and Smith carved up Dallas with his passing. Dallas just had a lot of minus defenders on the floor at the same time in the fourth quarter, and they lost guys and didn’t rotate on Houston cuts. It kept leaving Chandler in an impossible situation — watch Smith dunk, or get in his way and watch him lob to Howard for the dunk. Bottom line is the Mavericks shot 10-of-12 in the paint in the fourth quarter as they put on a dunking exhibition.

Howard, a dominant force early in Game 1, was not the same early in Game 2 — he was 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, had a few rebounds, and picked up two immature fouls that had him on the bench. Clint Capela stepped in with another solid performance in the first half. It was an uneven, back-and-forth first half that ended with Houston up 53-51. It wasn’t exactly art as both teams shot less than 40 percent.

In the third quarter, the Rockets started to find their groove. However, Monta Ellis came on with 11 points in the third quarter for Dallas — including a 30-foot buzzer-beater at the end of the quarter — and the Mavericks were right there, down by one after three. Ellis finished the game with 25 points. Dirk Nowitzki had 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. It wasn’t the big German’s night.

The fourth quarter was just too much Smith and Howard reliving their glory days. Dallas could not match their energy or execution (the Mavericks shot just 37 percent on the night).

Houston looks to be in control of this series — Dallas would need to win four of five to take it — and while Carlisle may figure out the questions that Houston poses, he may not have the right players to answer.

Kevin Garnett says first choice for 2007 trade was Kobe Bryant and Lakers

Celtics great Kevin Garnett and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
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Kevin Garnett didn’t have a no-trade clause when the Timberwolves were shopping him in 2007. But because he could either sign an extension with his new team or opt out in 2008, Garnett had massive leverage over where he went. Effectively, he could swing whether it was worth a team’s while to deal for him.

Four primary suitors emerged: Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Warriors.

Garnett’s initial top choice? Joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Garnett on All The Smoke:

I’m just being honest with everybody. I wanted to link with Kobe.

Kobe and I had a different connect. When Kobe-Shaq went on their little thing, a lot of people went with Shaq. A lot of people didn’t even f— with Kob. You know, Kob, whatever. One of the very few to just stay with him. I was a neutral guy, anyway. I show everybody love.

I tried to link with him, and I couldn’t get him on the line.

Garnett was working out at the time with Tyronn Lue, who was close with Bryant and encouraged Garnett to call back. Garnett did, but Bryant still didn’t return the call.

This only reinforces the notation that Bryant cost the Lakers stars. As singularly great as he was, Bryant just wasn’t about recruiting.

Bryant and Garnett would have been a fascinating pairing. They definitely had the talent to compete. Maybe the two notoriously intense stars would have meshed over a shared approach. Or maybe they would’ve driven each other crazy, a lack of balance between them.

The Lakers even had a trade framework in place involving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

But Bryant’s unavailability created an opening for Boston.

Garnett:

Danny Ainge flew in, and he just got right to it and showed the vision, the vision he was seeing. You ever have somebody talk to you and as they’re talking to you, you can see what they’re seeing, so much that you’re not even looking at them no more but you see it? That’s how he was painting it. And he was a Picasso. And this is Danny Ainge’s greatness, in him being able to lure you in, his charming ass. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know he was finessing me.

Garnett told the Celtics to keep Rajon Rondo, who was apparently initially part of the package going to Minnesota. They did, and it worked out extremely well. Boston won the 2008 title – over Bryant’s Lakers. (The Lakers won the next two championships, including over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.)

What about Phoenix, which – featuring Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – was the best of the four teams at the time?

Garnett:

I actually called Steve Nash just as a courtesy, and I guess the call he hit me back with was, “Yo, if you come down here, we need you to take a major pay cut.” And I was like, “OK, if I come down there, I’m playing with you and Amar’e right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I think they’re going to give Amar’e up for you and Shawn.” And I said, “So, who is it going to be? Just me and you?”

As for Golden State, which – featuring All The Smoke hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes – had just pulled a historic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks:

I was seeing how y’all was, but I needed a superstar.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.