Pablo Prigioni

Rockets waive Gary Payton II and reportedly Tyler Ennis

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The Rockets entered the day with five point guards with guaranteed salaries: James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Pablo Prigioni, Tyler Ennis and Gary Payton II.

That seemed like too many, but Houston had just 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries. There didn’t seem to be urgency to drop a player with a guaranteed deal.

Yet, the Rockets will drop two.

Rockets release:

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced today that the team has waived guard/forward P.J. Hairston, forward Le’Bryan Nash, and guard Gary Payton II.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Barring another move, this opens the door for Houston to keep Bobby Brown (whose biggest impact in the preseason was causing an international incident) and Kyle Wiltjer, a stretch big who went undrafted out of Gonzaga.

The Rockets come out behind in their trade for Ennis. They have could have just waived the player they dealt, a lower-paid Michael Beasley, and saved a little money.

Payton, undrafted out of Oregon State, is an intriguing project. But Brown is probably more capable of helping now, a bigger factor for that roster spot with Beverley injured.

Report: Rockets trade Michael Beasley to Bucks for Tyler Ennis

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
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The Bucks wanted to trade for wing help after losing Khris Middleton for most of the season.

So, they’re dealing point guard Tyler Ennis for… Michael Beasley?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Beasley found a niche as a high-volume, surprisingly efficient scorer off the bench for the Rockets last season.

I’m not sure how that translates to Milwaukee.

Beasley did most of his damage in Houston at power forward. Shifting up to small forward will take away his speed/ball-handling advantages. He won’t replicate Middleton’s floor spacing or defense – especially his defense.

Still, Ennis was superfluous with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Matthew Dellavedova and Michael Carter-Williams at point guard. The Bucks are probably better off taking a chance on Beasley on the wing rather than leaving Ennis to rot on the bench.

Ennis won’t step into a clear role with the Rockets, but he’s just their third point guard with a guaranteed salary, joining Patrick Beverley and Pablo Prigioni. Gary Payton II, Isaiah Taylor and Bobby Brown loom on what will likely be less than fully guaranteed deals.

The No. 18 pick in the 2014 draft, Ennis has yet to find his footing in the NBA. He’s in the final guaranteed season of his rookie-scale contract, and the Rockets have a team option on his $2,666,707 salary for 2017-18 they must decide on by Oct. 31. If Ennis makes the regular-season roster, they could exercise the option just because it’s so cheap in case he breaks out. See Solomon Hill. But first, Ennis must prove he’s more valuable than Payton, Taylor and Brown.

This might also suggest Houston is close to a deal with restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas, who could step into Beasley’s backup power forward role.

Jason Terry confirms Rockets told him they will not bring him back next season

Associated Press
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The Jet is going to be landing somewhere other than Houston next season.

The Rockets extended the contract of James Harden this summer, then rolled the dice on Eric Gordon‘s health to get more shooting — but that will soak up most of the minutes at the two guard spot (assuming Gordon and Pablo Prigioni play together off the bench). They will not need the services of Jason Terry, something Terry himself confirmed to Justin Termine of Sirius XM NBA Radio.

Terry has said he wants to play a couple more years then jump into a front office (or maybe coaching) job.

He averaged 12.1 points a game and shot 35.6 percent from three for the Rockets last season, numbers that will likely decline as he turns 39 next season.

Nobody has snapped him up yet, but at the very least he’s the kind of veteran that teams will turn to in training camp or during the season when they are hit by an injury, or a player did not pan out as they expected and they need more guard depth. I’d be surprised not to see him back in the NBA next season.

Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Friday: Can Pacers, Heat, or Clippers force a Game 7

Associated Press
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Indiana, Miami, and the L.A. Clippers are playing for their playoff lives tonight — can any of them force a Game 7 on Sunday? Here’s what to watch for if they are going to:

1) Can the Pacers survive a couple of minutes when Paul George gets some rest? Paul George played 41:05 in Game 6, taking short rests at the start of the second and fourth quarters. That turned out to be too much — the Pacers were -18 in those 6:55 George got a blow. During his rest at the start of the fourth, Toronto started a 21-2 run that turned their 13-point deficit into a lead. The Pacers scored just one bucket in the first 9:30 of the fourth quarter. It wasn’t just George out to start the fourth as George Hill, Monta Ellis, and Myles Turner joined him in watching the start of the team’s downfall while sitting — Frank Vogel trusted a bench that has been good to him all season, and it let him down. Check out these numbers from Game 5: Rodney Stuckey 1-of-10 (and a turnover right in front of a taunting Drake), C.J. Miles 2-of-8, and Ty Lawson was virtually nonexistent. The bench must do better for the Pacers.

Don’t expect much trust of that bench — or George to get much rest — in Game 6. This is a game the Pacers can win, but they will need more offensive balance as DeMarre Carroll continues to be physical with George. Hill, shooting 57 percent in the series, needs to be a catalyst for a little more balance in the offense. Defensively, the Pacers need to slow the Raptors successful “small” lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Bismack Biyombo — that group got stops and scored driving the lane to spark the fourth quarter run. The Raptors have struggled in closeout games recently, and the Pacers are feisty, but Indiana needs to get another big lead and not let up. They don’t want this to come down to a late Solomon Hill three again.

2) Can Miami knock down enough jumpers against Charlotte to survive another day? Forget the last play of Game 5 and if Dwyane Wade was fouled or not. It’s moot. The real question is Miami’s shooting, and sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words (from Jesus Gomez at SB Nation):

Heat shot chart

After Nicolas Batum was injured and forced to sit, Hornets’ coach Steve Clifford doubled down on his defensive strategy, went big and decided to pack the paint on defense — cut off Dwyane Wade or Goran Dragic slashing into the lane, or Hassan Whiteside on the roll, make the Heat players beat them with jump shots. It’s worked. Miami’s offense has gone stagnant. Look at the scoring at the rim the last three games — Miami is shooting less than 50 percent at the rim. Miami has been an inconsistent team on the road all season and if they don’t find a way to stop the penetration of Kemba Walker (he’s getting to his spots on the floor) and Jeremy Lin, and if they don’t hit a few jumpers, the Miami players will be golfing with Ray Allen by this weekend.

3) Can Clippers get one game-changing, series-saving night from Jamal Crawford? Or Jeff Green? Or anyone? Injuries have swung this series, with the Clippers looking like Memphis West — they need someone to step up with a big night to extend their season. Anyone. That is not going to be Paul Pierce — I know he and Doc Rivers have a history, but the game has passed Pierce by and in 2016 he should not be getting many if any playoff minutes (Rivers needs to start Wesley Johnson or someone else). Usually, I’d say look for a big J.J. Redick night, but with his heel injury his is just not moving the same way, and that has been an issue for the Clippers all series because he is central to their halfcourt offense. One little combination to watch for Los Angeles: Pablo Prigioni and Cole Aldrich had real chemistry this season and showed a little in Game 5, Rivers needs to play them together and let them find a groove.

However, with the comfort of home, expect to see more of the fourth quarter Damian Lillard— who had 16 points for Portland in that frame, part of a 37-point quarter when the Blazers pulled away in Game 5. The Clippers reserves held their own for three quarters in Game 5, but the added minutes and responsibilities wore them down physically and mentally by the fourth, and Portland just got stronger. It’s hard to see how the Clippers win this game without someone just going off in heroic fashion for a night.

Damian Lillard gets hot in fourth, Trail Blazers pull away for win, 3-2 series lead vs. Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — For three quarters, the shorthanded Clippers did one of the things they had to do to have a chance in the final games of this series: Stop Damian Lillard. The Clippers trapped him, aggressively challenged him, never let him get comfortable, even switched DeAndre Jordan out on to him at points. It worked, Lillard was 1-of-10 shooting for six points.

Then on the first possession of the fourth quarter, Lillard crossed-over Pablo Prigioni in transition, created space and hit a three. Less than two minutes later, the exhausted Clippers — mentally and physically — forgot to get on Lillard in transition and he drained another good look bucket. Suddenly he was feeling it.

“We know he can hit tough shots and once he gets an open look and he gets to see that ball gown in, his eyes kind of light up, and we know he’s going to finish the game off,” C.J. McCollum said.

Lillard did finish it off with 16 fourth quarter points sparking a 37-point quarter, turning a tied game after three into a 108-98 Portland win.

The Trail Blazers now have a 3-2 series lead heading back to Portland Friday night, where they can close it out against the Clippers. Win that game and they will get the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the second round on Sunday.

Without Chris Paul (fractured hand) and Blake Griffin (quad injury), Doc Rivers went experimental all night. He started Austin Rivers, Paul Pierce (who struggled all game), and Jamal Crawford in effort to find some offense. But it was his defense that got the job done in the first half.

The Clippers defensive philosophy didn’t change, they kept trapping Lillard and McCollum and daring anyone else to beat them. Maurice Harkless tried (17 first half points) but the defense worked as Lillard was 0-of-5 shooting in the first half and McCollum was 3-of-9. The Clippers held the Trail Blazers to 35.9 percent shooting in the first 24 minutes, and Los Angeles led 50-45 thanks to 10 points each from J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan. The third quarter saw each team make a nice run (McCollum had 10 in the quarter), but it was tied 71-71 with 12 minutes to go.

The fourth quarter was like a different game for Los Angeles. And Portland.

“Fatigue had a lot to do with it,” said Austin Rivers. “A lot of our guys were tired. We fought hard. We just made some simple mental mistakes and with Blake and Chris out, we cannot really afford to make mistakes. We do not have to be perfect, but we have to have perfect intentions.”

Doc Rivers emphasized it was more mental fatigue than physical — his team was hyped up to win and played well, but these are guys in new roles with larger minutes and it caught up with them.

Once Lillard got going, everything seemed to go the Blazers way — including threes banking in. Also, the Blazers in the second half made an adjustment, going with more isolation sets for Lillard and McCollum so the Clippers could not trap him, as well as running other actions to get their guards going.

“A lot of times it ended in (Allen Crabbe) having the ball and me coming off a flair, C.J. coming off a pin-down, or visa versa,” Lillard said postgame. “There was a guy on the weak side so they couldn’t have a guy over-helping, and we executed really well down the stretch.”

After the game, the Clippers said all the right things about cleaning up their execution and getting a win on the road in Portland Friday night to extend the series. But this game didn’t have that feel at all — at home where more shots are likely to fall for the Blazers, it’s hard to imagine the Clippers getting the win.

But the play of neither of these teams Wednesday night is going to put any fear in the hearts of Golden State, with or without Curry. Neither team was impressive, save for Portland for a stretch in the fourth quarter.