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.

LeBron James’ voting rights group converting arenas into polling places

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ATLANTA (AP) — If basketball icon LeBron James gets his way, NBA arenas and other sports venues around the country will be mega polling sites for the November general election.

James and his voting rights group, formed this spring with other black athletes and entertainers, are joining with other professional basketball leaders and Michigan’s top elections official to push for mega voting sites to accommodate in-person balloting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Than A Vote, the James organization dedicated to maximizing Black turnout in November, shared its plans with The Associated Press on Wednesday after the Detroit Pistons became the second NBA franchise to announce plans to use its arena for voting later this year. In Georgia, Fulton County elections officials this week approved the Atlanta Hawks’ proposal to use State Farm Arena as a polling site. Plans call for the arena to serve as a countywide early voting site ahead of Election Day.

The idea, which comes after Kentucky used large facilities in its June 23 primary, is to use large spaces that allow for in-person voting while still enforcing social distancing guidelines. It also underscores the attention on the mechanics of voting amid the pandemic, with the intensity already reflected in both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden warning that state and local officials have the power to “corrupt” the election.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called her “partnership” with the Pistons an “blueprint for other teams and leagues seeking to advance our common goal of protecting access to the vote for all.”

Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, said the arrangement in his city ensures “high turnout” in a safe environment. Benson, Pierce and David Fizdale, former New York Knicks head coach, will advise NBA franchises and arena management entities around the country on how to replicate the existing deals.

The Milwaukee Bucks also confirmed they are willing to use their home arena as a voting site in the most populous city in the key battleground of Wisconsin.

The coordinated push is a turnabout, of sorts, in the often-partisan jousting over voting procedures.

Some Democrats panned Kentucky elections officials for limiting in-person June primary voting in the state’s two most populous counties to Louisville’s Exposition Center and the University of Kentucky football stadium in Lexington. Voting rights advocates argued in federal court that the plan, part of culling voting sites statewide amid coronavirus concerns, would harm minority voters.

A federal judge rejected their claims, and voting proceeded without the melee that some advocates had forecast.

Now, Benson, a Democrat, is pushing the arena model not as an example of potential voter suppression, but a way to fight it. “One of our greatest challenges in protecting voters’ access to democracy this November is identifying accessible locations where citizens can safely vote in person,” she said.

Amid COVID, that could outweigh potential logistical difficulties of large sites. Lines for such venues can still be long — just as with normal polling locations — as was seen in Lexington at some points on primary day. Voters also could face traffic jams or public transit hiccups given the number of people involved. General elections also have considerably larger turnout than primaries.

Nonetheless, there’s a growing bipartisan push for large-venue voting. NFL executive Scott Pioli last week presented the National Association of Secretaries of State a plan for widespread use of professional and college sports facilities.

James’ group is officially nonpartisan. But the NBA star has been open about its emphasis on the Black community, where Trump faces intense opposition for his white identity politics. James has not endorsed Biden, but he endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the Bucks owners, the Lasry family, are major Democratic Party donors. Bucks executive Alex Lasry helped lead the effort that landed the Democratic National Convention in the city.

Missouri man freed from prison with help from WNBA’s Moore

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A Missouri man was freed from prison Wednesday after a county prosecutor declined to retry his case, punctuating years of work by WNBA star Maya Moore and other supporters who argued he was falsely convicted of burglary and assault charges.

Moore was on hand when Jonathan Irons, 40, walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center. She clapped as Irons approached a group of people waiting for his release. She then dropped to her knees at one point before joining a group hug around Irons.

He had been serving a 50-year prison sentence stemming from the non-fatal shooting of a homeowner in the St. Louis area when Irons was 16. But a judge threw out his convictions in March, citing a series of problems with the case, including a fingerprint report that had not been turned over to Irons’ defense team, according to The New York Times.

The Missouri attorney general’s office unsuccessfully appealed the judge’s decision, and the lead prosecutor in St. Charles County decided against a retrial.

Moore and Irons became friends after meeting through prison ministry, according to the Times. The 31-year-old Moore, a Jefferson City, Missouri, native who starred at UConn before helping lead Minnesota to four WNBA titles, put her career on hold last season to help Irons.

Moore said in January she planned to sit out a second season and miss the Tokyo Olympics. After Irons’ convictions were thrown out in March, she told the AP her plans hadn’t changed.

“’My decision to take another year was bigger than this case,” she said at the time. “But obviously this case was in the forefront of my mind. I’m looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family.”

Adam Silver: Restart broadcasts may need delay to keep cussing off air

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NBA players trash talk and swear more during a game than a Samuel L. Jackson character.

That’s not exactly insider knowledge. However, most of what is said is covered up by the ambient crowd noise and in-arena music at a traditional game. Nobody at home can hear Patrick Beverley‘s stream of consciousness.

But what is going to happen at the NBA’s restart in Orlando? With no crowds and less noise, and courtside microphones can pick up everything. Including language some fans may not want to be brought into their homes.

This is why the league many need a broadcast delay — similar to the seven-second delay used on some live broadcasts — so it can drop any offensive language, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the Time 100 interview.

“I think often players, they understand when they’re on the floor, they’re saying certain things to each other because it’s so loud in the arena, they know a lot of it is not being picked up. They may have to adapt their language a little bit knowing what they say will likely be picked up by microphones and in all seriousness, we may need to put a little bit of a delay.”

One solution would be to have a live stream available to fans where nothing is dropped. There are those of us — hard-core NBA fans — who want to hear the trash talk, want to listen to the coaches call out the play as the defenders call out what is coming and talk about set picks, etc. We all what to hear what LeBron James is going to say to J.R. Smith on the court. That should be available to fans, along with the video game look and other customizable streams.

The league may have fan’s faces on video boards around the court and music pumped in, but this is just not going to look and feel the same. There may need to be a delay to keep some of the language off the air (that happens at sporting events anyway), but it would be fun to give the viewers the option, as ESPN did with The Last Dance.

Report: Rockets signing Luc Mbah a Moute

Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute
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Rockets forward Thabo Sefolosha is sitting out the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

Enter Luc Mbah a Moute.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like Sefolosha, Mbah a Moute is a versatile defensive forward who can make open 3-pointers and fits well into Houston’s system.

In theory.

Mbah a Moute, who played well for the Rockets in 2017-18, looked like a major loss when he left for the Clippers in 2018. But he has struggled to stay healthy. He hasn’t played in the NBA since October 2018. Houston worked out the 33-year-old in March – and didn’t sign him. That’s telling.

Expect Mbah a Moute to fall behind Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker, Jeff Green, DeMarre Carroll and Danuel House on the Rockets’ depth chart. It’d be a good outcome for Houston if Mbah a Moute helps in spot minutes.

But if Mbah a Moute proves to be effective in a Rockets uniform, that’d at least look quite natural. We’ve seen it before.