Elimination game Josh Smith is a thing, Rockets live to play another day

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For the fourth time these playoffs, the Houston Rockets stepped on the court knowing if they lost they could make tee times for golfing the next morning — their season would be over.

On just the Rockets’ second possession of the game, Josh Smith walked into a straight on three early in the clock — a shot the Warriors will gladly let him take.

Smith drained it.

He did it again a couple minutes later, capping a 12-0 run by the Rockets to start the game that set the tone for the night. The Rockets held off the Warriors charges in a wild game to survive and get to play in Game 5 Wednesday.

“He started it off for us, knocking down shots and being aggressive,” James Harden said of Smith. “That’s what we need, our four men — Josh and TJ (Terrence Jones) — to be aggressive. Be aggressive and attack the basket. He kind of got it going for us, and the other guys picked it up.”

Smith has done this all playoffs — when the Rockets are up against the wall, it’s Smith making plays. Elimination game Smith is a thing.

In the four Rockets’ elimination games this season, Smith has 63 points on 22-of-34 shooting (64.7 percent). In those games, he’s hit 10-of-18 from three. Most impressive, in those games he’s 10-of-13 on contested looks — even when the defense comes out on him he’s knocking it down.

If your reaction to that is “he can’t sustain that level of play” you’d be right. Over the course of a season he will not sustain it — but in a playoff series he doesn’t have to. Just a quarter here (say, the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Clippers) or a game there.

Smith just isn’t ready for his time with the Rockets to end. He came to Houston mid-season after Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons paid him just to go away. Smith was a free agent with options, but chose to come to the Rockets because of a relationship with Dwight Howard and the chance to win. When this season is over, Smith is a free agent who could land anywhere. But he’s not letting that time come to an end just yet.

It’s not just Smith; other guys step up in these games as well.

“Josh (Smith) got us off to a great start, James (Harden) had a phenomenal game… I thought Trev (Ariza) did a really good job for us early, hit some big shots”

James Harden is obviously the engine for the Rockets’ offense and in the four closeout games he has a combined 125 points (including 45 against the Rockets Monday). He has hit 34-of-60 shots in those close out games and has a dozen threes.

Beyond him, Dwight Howard has 70 points in those games and is shooting 53.9 percent on contested looks in those contests. Trevor Ariza has 74 points in the games and is 16-of-33 from three. Corey Brewer has knocked down some big shots, particularly in the Game 6 comeback against the Clippers.

The Rockets will need three more can’t miss games from Smith and friends to advance past the Warriors, and that is unlikely. It goes back to the idea that the Rockets can’t sustain that level of shooting, that their role players will regress to the mean. Probably during Game 5 in Oakland.

Maybe. But the Rockets don’t have to sustain the crazy level of shooting that long. Just enough to survive another day. If you don’t think that can happen, you haven’t watched this resilient Rockets team these playoffs.

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.