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Rockets sound divided on offensive solutions

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The Rockets’ biggest problem was defense in their Game 1 loss to the Warriors.

But Houston’s offense wasn’t performing at peak levels, either.

Running an isolation-heavy attack, James Harden scored 41 points (9-of-15 on 2-pointers, 5-of-9 on 3-pointers, 8-of-10 on free throws). But the Rockets scored just 102.7 points per 100 possessions.

What should they do about that? Depends whom you ask.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni:

Q. You’re not worried at all about the iso ball wearing him down both ways?
MIKE D’ANTONI: I don’t think so. I mean, that was the best thing we had. I don’t know why it’s bad. Perception is not reality. Reality are numbers. Numbers are, that’s good. Numbers are, yeah, we had a couple 24-second violations and everybody goes, oh, and everybody goes crazy and our guys do sometimes. We can’t do that. We can’t do that. Yeah, it’s going to happen. We’re not going to be perfect. But the numbers show it’s pretty good.
Now, having said that, we’ve got to get into transition. We’ve got to get Trevor [Ariza] and those guys shots. We’ve got to get the ball moved up a little bit quicker, and we can do that. We control that.

Q. Are there things you can shore up offensively that will help you defensively?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Yeah. Well, one thing we can shore up is be sure to keep all the noise out. We talked about that. There are just too many, and rightfully so, I’m not complaining — but we play the way we play. When we’ve played that way, we’re pretty good. Again, we get a little upset on offense, as we did on defense, because we weren’t as good on offense. So we have to be able to understand where we have to do this a little bit longer, a little bit better, and up the ante a little bit.
Our pace has got to be up a little bit. There are things that we can do and we will do. That’s why I just expect us to be a lot better on Wednesday.
Q. What noise are you talking about?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Just everybody. I mean, just from ourselves. Like, oh, my gosh the iso, that’s all we do. No, it isn’t. That’s what we do best. We scored like 60 percent of the time on that. Oh, really? Oh, they don’t pass, everybody’s standing. Really? Have you watched us for 82 games? That’s what we do. We are who we are, and we’re pretty good at it. We can’t get off who we are. Embrace it. Just be better of who we are and don’t worry if somebody else solves the puzzle a different way. Fine, that’s how they solve it. We solve our puzzle this way. We’ve got to play at our strengths. We know our strengths and we’ve just got to do it better.

Q. There were questions afterward for James about kind of the comfort level of some of the guys on the offensive end. There were people asking questions about Eric Gordon and other players. Do you agree there were times that they looked a little uncomfortable? What you have to do to get the rest, not James and Chris, going and feeling good about what you’re doing offensively?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Like I said, this is how we play. It’s how we played all year. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be comfortable. Wee got some shots up there. I don’t know how many layups we just missed and they turned them into fast breaks. You just take that away, make the layups and defend a little bit better. We’ve just got to get in transition and we’ve got to defend better. A lot of things — up the ante.
But like I said, how are we going to get comfortable? We can put some blankets out there or something, but that’s not happening. You know what? Play through it. So be it. This just comes down to a dogfight. It doesn’t come down to feeling comfortable. Everybody’s feeling uncomfortable. Your hair should be on fire, and you should be playing and spitting blood out there.
This is hard stuff to overcome, one of the better teams ever in the history of the NBA. They’ve got to embrace the situation.

Eric Gordon, via Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

“I definitely would like to get the ball more for me to be aggressive and get good looks,” said Gordon, who took 13 shots. “Offensively with everybody, we really don’t get real good looks. … We can’t isolate as much against a good defensive team. I don’t care who you are. We have some of the best isolation players out there. But against a team like that, it’s going to be too tough.”

Clint Capela, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“We’re just out here waiting on (Harden and Chris Paul) to make the decisions,” Capela said. “This is what they do. This is what they’ve been doing all season long, so it’s something that is harder to do right now. Maybe we’re going to have to be more aware on the weak side, maybe (use) flares to get guys open, to get more movement, so all the focus won’t be on the guys on the weak side.”

In Game 1, the Rockets played the offensive style they used all season. They can’t simply overhaul their identity in two days.

That there’s even talk of them doing so speaks to the Warriors’ hegemony. Golden State instills panic in its opponents.

The Rockets shouldn’t panic, but they should make tweaks.

Attack in isolation quicker, so if the initial plan stalls, they can get into another action with more time before the shot clock expires. Use Chris Paul more in isolation with an eye toward Harden saving energy for defense. Play Clint Capela more than 30 minutes, because his lob-finishing ability limits the Warriors’ ability to rotate a rim protector toward the Houston isolationist.

That might not be enough. The Warriors are great.

But the Rockets’ best bet is sticking with what got them here and hoping to execute better.

Report: Jason Kidd holding off on Cal job until Lakers decide on Luke Walton

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The Los Angeles Lakers could be headed toward a departure with their head coach in Luke Walton. The Lakers will miss the playoffs yet again, this time coming up short despite adding LeBron James over the summer.

James has reportedly wanted Walton out for some time, and when the season ends many are expecting to see the two sides part ways. The list of potential coaching candidates for Los Angeles appear to be a group of also-rans, potential LeBron favorites who no self-respecting basketball decision-maker would want in charge of a championship-hopeful franchise.

One of those potential head coaching candidates is Jason Kidd, who was fired by the Milwaukee Bucks in January of 2018. We have seen rumors of Kidd being on the list of candidates for the Lakers job for some time, but now it appears that Kidd is basing his decision-making on the availability of the Los Angeles job.

Via Twitter:

Kidd holding out on making an employment decision until the Lakers decide what to do with Walton makes sense. That L.A. would be interested in Kidd to lead their group is another thing altogether.

Talent is a salve that has often pushed teams passed their failings, and this offseason for the Lakers will be a big-time test of that medicine. Los Angeles is not a well-run franchise, and the fact that they have expected anything different from their results speaks to the dissonance between their ability to make basketball decisions outside of branding.

But if they can add one or two big stars in free agency this summer, they might have enough talent on the roster to overcome the inherent issues with having LeBron run the team by proxy. It’s hard to have any faith in the Lakers to make the right decision at this juncture, and considering Kidd for the most important head coaching position in the NBA is par for the course.

Caris LeVert thinks Nets could land Kevin Durant

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Nobody is quite sure where Kevin Durant will play basketball next season. Many are expecting him to leave the friendly confines of the Golden State Warriors and strike it out on his own if they win the championship again this season.

The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers have all been mentioned so far. The Brooklyn Nets also seem like a potential suitor, and they will have significant cap space before needing to re-sign some of their current players.

Could Durant be interested in heading to New York toward a better run organization than the Knicks? At least one Nets player thinks so. Speaking to the New York Post, Caris LeVert said that he felt Brooklyn had all of the things needed to attract a superstar like Durant.

Via New York Post:

It’s pretty cool,” LeVert said before the Nets eliminated the Lakers from playoff contention with a 111-106 win. “It speaks to not only what we’ve done this season as a team, but to what D’Angelo has done on the court and also being a leader off the court that guys like Kevin Durant want to be close to him and a part of what he’s doing.

“I don’t think superstars, especially Kevin, want to be the one who has to carry the whole team, the full load on his own. He’s in his 30s now, so he definitely wants to go to a team that has a good core, has a good culture, has good guys on the team, and we fit all those categories.”

“[Russell’s] played at an All-Star level. Everybody wants to play with a great point guard, a great floor general, and he’s put himself in that conversation for sure. That lessens the load for a guy like Kevin Durant or another superstar who wants to come play with us. They don’t want to be the only one on the team, so that’s very attractive that D’Angelo has elevated himself to that level to play with.”

What Durant is thinking is anyone’s guess, and what he wants at this juncture is sort of up in the air. I think many of us are getting caught up in that idea of him needing to continue to win championships. That’s probably backed by the rumor that Durant wants to be seen as the best player of his generation.

But if Durant came away from Golden State having won three championships, and with a clear Hall of Fame resume, couldn’t he go somewhere for the final stage of his career simply for the money, the fame, and the branding? The Knicks would be a horrible basketball decision, but Brooklyn wouldn’t be a bad idea. Both would work for the latter strategy for Durant.

The Warriors star is hard to predict, and there’s no use trying to. But at this point, it appears that players are starting to make their overtures to attract one of the best players in the NBA.

Derrick Rose has surgery to remove elbow bone chips

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota Timberwolves guard Derrick Rose has undergone arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

The Timberwolves announced Saturday that Rose had the procedure done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The Wolves previously said Rose was unlikely to play again this season. They’re already eliminated from playoff contention.

Rose signed a one-year contract after joining the Wolves for the final few weeks of last season and their playoff series. When healthy, Rose has largely flourished, often playing off the ball instead of his natural point guard position. He averaged 18.0 points and 27.3 minutes in 51 games, his second-highest scoring mark since he tore his left ACL in 2012.

Rose missed 16 games earlier in the season for a variety of lower-body injuries.

More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Frustrated over Celtics collapse, Kyrie Irving questions defensive plan on Kemba Walker

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Charlotte closed Saturday game on a 30-5 run, much of it fueled by Kemba Walker who had 18 of those points and was 4-of-6 from three. It was a punch-to-the-gut loss for the Celtics that was reminiscent of the low point of the season, the back-to-back blown leads against the two teams from Los Angeles.

After the game, Kyrie Irving was frustrated and had words about the young players on the team and Brad Stevens defensive choices. Via A. Sherrod Blakely at NBC Sports Boston.

“Judge us when we have our full lineup,” Irving said [Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Gordon Hayward were out]. “But obviously when we come out and play like this with a bunch of young guys down the stretch, figuring things out … things are bound to happen but there’s no excuses….

“It’s one-on-one,” Irving said. “Down the stretch, I try to come in and help as much as possible. We should have probably trapped him more like every other team does in the league but we didn’t. He torches us every time we play them so it’s no surprise.”

What does the team talk about after a game like this?

“Being more mature down the stretch,” Irving said.

Of course, this is going to fuel the “is Kyrie happy?” and “is he going to leave this summer?” talk, but doing any of that before seeing what taste the playoffs leave in his mouth is premature.

Irving is right to be frustrated, however. With everyone. Here we are entering late March and we’re still asking “when are the Celtics going to get it together?” Most teams do trap/double/blitz Walker because he’s a one-man show and the theory is to let anyone else beat you. Walker did get some of those late 18 on catch-and-shoots working off the ball, but the critical ones late he was one-on-one with the ball in his hands — and he’s an All-Star, maybe All-NBA level player, he’s hard to stop.

Overlooked in this, the Celtics shot 2-of-19 in the final 8 minutes of the loss. It’s not just defense that blows a lead, it’s not scoring. Irving was 1-of-5 overall and 0-of-4 from three during the Hornets run. There is plenty of blame to go around.

The question is can the Celtics get on the same page and fix it before the playoffs?