Harden on NBA2K 16 cover

There are three covers for the new NBA2K 16 installment. One of the covers features Houston Rockets guard James Harden. 

   
Also the only player to finish ahead of Harden in the MVP vote, Steph Curry, lands one of the covers. (does not include daughter, Riley)

 

  

The third cover features the next great NBA superstar Anthony Davis.

  

Rockets Howard still unsure about game two

Houston_RocketsAs the Rockets prepare for game two of the western conference finals, the only thing that is certain is the Dwight Howard that took the floor to start the series will not be available for Thursday night’s game. That’s not to definitively rule him out of the contest after he suffered a left knee sprain in the first quarter of game one, but it was clear watching him try to labor through the pain in several short stints that followed, he will not be the same player, if he plays, this soon after the injury. On Wednesday’s day between games, Howard said the knee felt no better.

“The same. The same,” Howard said, when asked about how his knee felt the day after he suffered the injury. “You know, it was very sore.  It was throbbing during the game.  But just another test that I think I’ll be able to overcome.”

At Thursday’s gameday shootaround, Howard was wearing a brace on his left knee and coach Kevin McHale said he was trying to get comfortable with it, calling him a game-time decision.

Howard, who would certainly be limited if he should try to play through the injury, missed 41 games, mainly due to a right knee injury during the regular season. While it’s accurate to say they’ve successfully dealt with him being out or limited during the season previously, their means to cope with the absence are quite different.

When Howard missed his 41 regular season games, the Rockets turned to the same player 38 times to fill his void. Donatas Motiejunas, who finished eighth in most improved player voting this season, averaged just over 30 minutes a game in those games he played without Howard. He averaged 13.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, while shooting 51.1 percent  from the floor, while he took on the role of top low-post option and presence. But with the back injury and subsequent surgery he had late in the season, he is not available to fill-in this time.

Enter Clint Capela. The 21-year old rookie, played in just 12 regular season games for the Rockets, while spending the bulk of the season with the Rockets d-league franchise in the Rio Grande Valley. But he’s played in all 13 of the Rockets postseason games as Howard’s primary backup at center. He’s shooting 67 percent from the floor in the playoffs and has made his last ten shots. His per 36 minute averages are excellent at 18 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes. Among players with at least 100 minutes played this postseason, his rebounding ranks third, behind only teammate Howard (15.0) and the Clippers DeAndre Jordan (14.0).  Similarly his blocked shot numbers would place him second behind only the Cavaliers Timofey Mozgov (2.9).

While he has thrived since joining the rotation, he’s only played roughly eight minutes per game. Potentially he could be leaned on a whole lot more. “When you have different players, you have different strengths on the floor,” McHale said about dealing with injuries and different lineups. “So when you have different strengths on the floor, you’ve got to play to different things.  But 90 percent of it is‑‑ Clint (Capela) is not going to turn into Dwight Howard overnight.  He might, but I don’t know.  He’s got to hit the weight room.”

After some laughter, he continued, “You know, those are really impossible questions to answer because different players bring different things, like we’re a different team every time we make a substitution.  Your team changes a little bit.  We’ve just got to go out there and play.”

Capela played one minute and 12 seconds in the regular season against the Warriors, missing his only shot in a Rockets 12-point loss back in November. In Tuesday’s game one, Capela was very effective, making all four his shots, grabbing four rebounds and scoring nine points in just under 13 minutes.

“They’re a different ballclub, for sure,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Capela has been playing really well, and I’m sure he’ll probably fill in at the 5 for him. You see the growth of him over the course of the season.
You know, we’re going to prepare as if Dwight is playing, and if not, we’ll adjust the game plan a little bit.”

Terrence Jones had his own injuries during the season and also was not available for many of the games Howard missed during the regular season. Jones first 21 games back after his nerve injurywere all played without Howard and Jones averaged 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game during that strethc. He has not been nearly as consistent or productive in the playoffs, as he’s come off the bench in the last four games. He missed eight of his ten shots in game one.

Western conference at-a-glance, 4/1

15 days of regular season remain and Golden State has inched closer to earning home court advantage throughout the entire NBA playoffs. In losing to the Warriors, the Clippers lost ground in their pursuit of home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Last night: Warriors 110, Clippers 106; Spurs 95, Heat 81

Golden State rallied from 17 points down to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles, 110-106. They extended their winning streak to ten games, while snapping the Clippers streak at seven. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined to make 14-of-25 shots in the final three quarters for 47 points after making just 2-of-11 shot in the opening quarter. The Warriors are now 5.5 games up (with eight to play) on the Hawks for home court throughout. Warriors Draymond Green missed the game to rest his shins. Clippers Jamal Crawford missed his 14th straight game with a calf injury, although is tentatively scheduled to return within the week.

San Antonio won on the road at Miami, 95-81, leading nearly wire-to-wire. Kawhi Leonard scored 22 points in 38 minutes, Tony Parker was the only other Spur to play more than 26 minutes, he played 26:05. They finished March 12-3 for the league’s second best record, behind only Golden State, who went 16-2.

Tonight: Spurs at Magic; Kings at Rockets; Mavericks at Thunder; Clippers at Blazers

Six of the top eight teams are in action tonight. The Rockets host the Kings, who are without Rudy Gay who suffered a concussion on Monday night. They could also be without DeMarcus Cousins, who say out  Monday’s loss to Memphis with various minor injuries. Reports also suggest the Kings are contemplating shutting Cousins down for the remainder of the season. Houston is 2-0 against the Kings, though one of the wins came in overtime in Sacramento. Since Houston plays at Dallas again on Wednesday, Dwight Howard will only play in one of the two games and it has not been determined which one that will be. Houston is banged up as usual, with Donatas Motiejunas (back) and Kostas Papnikolaou (ankle) out and Terrence Jones (pneumothorax) still questionable. Pat Beverley had surgery on his left wrist on Tuesday and is out for the season.

The Clippers try to start a new win streak as they play at the Blazers. Los Angeles has won two of the three games against Portland, including the one previous meeting in Portland. That night they got 25 points from Crawford, who is not expected to play (calf). Also Portland was without Robin Lopez in that game, but had Wes Matthews back then in January, but he’s now out for the season (achilles).

The Spurs are at the Magic where they can clinch a playoff berth with a victory. San Antonio has beaten Orlando seven straight times. They have also won four straight overall, topping those opponents by an average of 21.2 points per game. On the second night of a back-to-back, it’s likely some Spurs will get a rest.

If Oklahoma City has any hopes of avoiding Golden State in the first round, then they need a win tonight at home against the seventh seeded Mavericks. Monta Ellis (calf) missed the Mavericks last game, a 104-99 loss to the Pacers, but he went through practice on Tuesday and is listed questionable for this one. Oklahoma City can even the season series with a win and have won six straight at home and 20 of their last 22 in their home arena. Westbrook is averaging 31 points (1st in NBA) and 10.2 assists (2nd in NBA) per game since the beginning of February. Obviously, the Thunder continue forward without Kevin Durant, who had bone graft surgery on his right foot Tuesday and will be held out of basketball activities for four to six months. Nick Collison ankle), Andre Roberson (ankle) and Serge Ibaka (knee surgery) are also out.

Here’s the look at the standings and the remaining schedule. Click the graphic to enlarge. Check back daily for the latest updates.

nbaremaining41

Click here for tiebreaking procedures

Playoff quarterbacks, inside the numbers

Among the 12 playoff quarterbacks, only Arizona’s Ryan Lindley will be making his playoff debut and first career playoff start. Here’s a look at the other 11 starting quarterback’s postseason careers:

NFLPLayoffQBs

Indianapolis was the only team with a negative turnover margin (-5) to make the playoffs. Also, they were (+5) against Tennessee and Jacksonville and (-6) against playoff teams. They had positive turnover margin in only five games.

Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, now in his fourth season, will be making his 4th career playoff start. In his first three playoff games, he has thrown a total of two touchdown passes, one to his own team and one to his opponents.

20 active QBs have thrown at least 50 postseason passes, they have all been on the winning side at least once, except for Andy Dalton.

Peyton Manning entered the league in 1997. Among the 30 QB’s (active or retired) with at least 120 postseason passes since then, including Manning, Andy Dalton is the lowest rated passer at 56.2. He’s also the only QB with less than four touchdown passes. He has one.

Half of the starting QBs were first round picks by their current team. 11 of the 12 starting QBs have only played for the team that drafted them. Peyton Manning is the exception. (Lindley was on the Chargers practice squad for part of 2014, but has only played games for the Cardinals.)

Draft rounds for the playoff starting QBs: 1st round (7-Manning, Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Flacco, Stafford, Newton, Luck), 2nd round (1-Dalton), 3rd round (1-Wilson), 6th round (2-Brady, Lindley), undrafted (1-Romo)

Tom Brady has been the Patriots starting quarterback for their last 26 playoff games. He and the team won each of the first ten games he started, including three Super Bowl wins. In their last ten playoff games, they have just four wins. He has 16 touchdown pass an eight interceptions in those 10 games, but he had six of those touchdowns in one game. THey’ve scored 17 points or less in five of those ten games and lost all five. They’re 18-8 in the 26 games overall and no quarterback has been at the helm for more playoff wins than Brady.

Since 2008, when Joe Flacco entered the league, he has 19 TD passes in the playoffs – which leads the NFL. His Ravens also have 9 wins in his 13 starts. That’s the most victories, too. Although Russell Wilson, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have a higher winning percentage over that time.

But in that same time, among the 19 quarterbacks with at least 70 attempts, Flacco is the 13th rated passer and the only quarterback with a lower completion percentage is are Andrew Luck.

Roughly one-third (33.8 percent) of Flacco’s career postseason passes were thrown during his ridiculous, four-game championship run in 2012, when he threw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He had a passer rating of better than 106 in each of those four games, yet his career postseason passer rating in 13 games is just 86.2. That’s because in his four postseason trips before that magical run, his passer rating was a pathetic 70.4 and he had the same number of touchdown passes as interceptions, eight. Miraculously, the Ravens still managed to win five of those nine games.

Watt unanimous All-Pro selection

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt received only 45 of a possible 50 votes for All-Pro at his listed position of defensive end. But five voters voted him at defensive tackle, which means all 50 voters felt J.J. Watt’s historic season was worthy of first-team All-Pro selection. Technically, he’s a first team performer at defensive end and since only three players received more votes at defensive tackle – he’s also a second team All-Pro at that position as well. No other Houston player received any votes.

Here is the 2014 AP All-Pro First Team:
WR: Antonio Brown (PIT), Dez Bryant (DAL)
TE: Rob Gronkowski (NE)
T: Tyron Smith (DAL), Joe Thomas (CLE)
G: Zach Martin (DAL), Marshall Yanda (BAL)
C: Maurkice Pouncey (PIT)
QB: Aaron Rodgers (GB)
RB: DeMarco Murray (DAL), Le’Veon Bell (PIT)
FB: John Kuhn (GB)

DE: J.J. Watt (HOU), Mario Williams (BUF)
DT: Marcell Dareus (BUF), Ndamukong Suh (DET)
OLB: Justin Houston (KC), Elvis Dumervil (BAL)
ILB: Luke Keuchly (CAR), Bobby Wagner (SEA)
DB: Darrelle Revis (NE), Richard Sherman (SEA)
S: Earl Thomas (SEA), Eric Weddle (SD)

P; Pat McAfee (IND)
K: Adam Vinatieri (IND)
KR: Adam Jones (CIN)

Repeaters from 2013 were Watt, Thomas, Suh, Kuechly, Sherman and Thomas.

Click here for the total voting breakdown.

Rockets to add Josh Smith

Never satisfied, the Houston Rockets are on the verge of adding their third player in less than a week to a rotation that already had the team near the top of the western conference standings all season.

Multiple reports early Wednesday afternoon suggested the team has agreed to a deal with free agent forward Josh Smith. This acquisition comes just days after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey swing a deal to add wing Corey Brewer and guard Alexey Shved.

Smith was surprisingly waived on Monday by the Detroit Pistons, who had signed him to a four-year, $54 million contract prior to the 2013-14 season.

With such a large salary commitment still due Smith, it was not surprising that Smith went unclaimed by Wednesday’s 4:00 p.m. central deadline. The Rockets had engaged in discussions last offseason in an attempt to acquire the 29-year old forward, but were unable to reach any deal.

Even with the emergence of Donatas Motiejunas as a capable scoring threat in the paint, the uncertainty regarding Terrence Jones’ return from his nerve injury in his left leg, leaves the Rockets eager to add another front court player that can help on both ends of the court.

Smith spent nine years in Atlanta, before moving on to Detroit, and has often been described as mercurial, with a penchant for me-first basketball. His shot selection has been a source on constant criticism and rightfully so. He is a career 27.8 percent 3-point shooter, which is compounded by the fact he shoots so many of them.

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, 88 players have attempted at least 500 3-pointers. Only two of them are successful on less than 30 percent of those shots. One is Josh Smith.

The other? His soon-to-be new teammate Corey Brewer.

The key to making both of those two, new, established veteran acquisitions thrive with the Rockets is putting them in a better position to take, and hopefully, make shots better suited to their skills.

In one outing, Brewer already displayed how he will help this team offensively. His 2-of-4 3-point shooting was merely a bonus. He plays the passing lanes brilliantly and for a team that wats to run, he adds a capable facilitator on the fast break.

Following a deflection from Brewer, he pushed the ball up court and found James Harden streaking to the basket for a slam dunk. Later in the game, he again created a turnover and pushed the ball up court. He found Jason Terry well behind the 3-point line and even with a less than perfect pass, Brewer picked up another of his four assists on the night, when Terry swished home the 2000th 3-pointer of his career.

Smith can help the Rockets offensively by staying close to the basket. By grabbing rebounds, and likely by running pick and roll with Harden in similar fashion to how Dwight Howard runs it with the all-NBA shooting guard.

Harden is adept at quickly launching alley-oop passes to Howard, but has been frustrated in similar pick and roll plays with teammates playing below the rim. Smith only has 10 dunks this season, and averaged 0.8 dunks per game in his 105 games with Detroit, after posting nearly 1.4 dunks per game in his 676 games with Atlanta.. But some of that is a factor of playing more small forward with the Pistons than he likely will play with Houston.

The bottom line is with his long track record of being a subpar long range shooter, he must be committed to taking better shots.

Consider now, how Smith could help defensively. Remember that list of 88 players? Well, Smith has more blocked shots than any player on that list. By a lot. Kevin Durant has the second-most blocked shots with 172. Smith has 293.

He’s also 21st on that list of nearly all small forwards and guards in steals. Three of the 20 players in front of him, will now be his teammates, Brewer, Harden and Trevor Ariza.

Smith has been a good help defender off the ball at the rim his entire career, which is something the team desperately needs when Howard is off the floor. He’s a good rebounder and should be an asset in transition, too.

Signing a player of Smith’s caliber to just under two million dollars for the remainder of the season is well worth the risk for a player that if he were a model teammate and team player, would clearly not be available otherwise.

The Rockets were 0.9 seconds away from trying to close out their first round playoff series in May with the Blazers at home in a game seven. With a team they thought could challenge for an NBA title coming off a 54-win season.

Roughly seven months later, the Rockets have pursued and failed to acquire Carmelo Anthony, Kyle Lowry and Chris Bosh. They allowed Chandler Parsons to become a restricted free agent and ultimately decided not to match his lucrative three-year contract offer from the Dallas Mavericks.

But they were also aware from their series loss against Portland that there were issues with the style and focus. They were not a bad defensive team over the course of the 2013-14 regular season, but they were a bad defensive team in the playoffs.

After not making any of those enormous impact acquisitions, the Rockets instead have added two players who impact the game tremendously with their defense and have won an NBA championship in Ariza and Brewer.

They added a veteran in Jason Terry, who has also won a title and has continued to be an excellent 3-point shooter.

Now they’ve added Josh Smith, who if nothing else, can help fill the void left by Terrence Jones, who has been out since the fourth game of the season with a nerve issue in his left leg. Jones has remained out indefinitely for the last several weeks as the team is unsure when he might regain the needed strength in his leg.

Houston’s next game is Friday night in Memphis for the third meeting if the season between the two teams. Each team has a lopsided victory in the two meetings. Smith could be in uniform for that game and likely in the starting lineup if available.

Week 15 edition: Will the Texans make the playoffs?

If the Texans win their final three games, which would include a first-ever win at Indianapolis, then the Texans almost assuredly will make the playoffs. At 7-6, they are currently 8th in the AFC and trail three teams, Baltimore, San Diego and Pittsburgh by just one game.

The Texans also have a 6-3 record in the AFC, which would move to 9-3 with three wins obviously. That would guarantee them the best conference record among all the wild card contenders, except for one – Pittsburgh, who could also have a 9-3 record and has a head-to-head win over the Texans. Although, if the Steelers and the Texans each win their remaining three games, the Steelers would win the AFC north and the Texans would then have a 10-6 record and have the best conference record among all wild card teams. (Remember the Steelers could still match the Texans 9-3 conference record without winning the division potentially if they lost at Atlanta this week and the Bengals win their next two games before losing to Pittsburgh in the season finale. The Bengals would have already clinched the division, though could still be playing for seeding….and so on…etc…continued…you get it.)

If the Texans are 10-6 and with the Steelers as a division champ, the only way the Texans would NOT be in the playoffs as a wild card team is if the Chargers win out (vs Den, at SF, at KC) AND the Bengals win their next two games, before losing to the Steelers in week 17. (Though if the above happens AND Denver loses out (at SD, at Cin, vs Oak), the Texans would be the final wild card team and the Broncos would miss the playoffs!).

Here’s a look at the AFC situation in a nutshell, plus my projections for the remaining games. Note I do not have the Texans winning at the Colts and I do not have them making the playoffs at 9-7. I also include the final standings and playoff set-up should my projected results play out (h/t ESPN Playoff Machine).

Wk15Playoffs

Wk15PlayoffMachine

Here’s a link to the playoff machine. Just a slight tweak to the above, like a Ravens loss in week 17 to Johnny Football, would put the Texans (9-7) in the playoffs, even if all my other projected results stay the same.

Quick Hits: 1st half, Eagles 17 – Texans 14

Texans down 17-14 at the half, but are (+2) in turnovers. The Eagles are having little trouble moving the ball, with 268 yards of offense in the first half. Most of that came through the air with 202 yards passing from the combo of Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez: 17-22, 202 yards two touchdown, two interceptions.

– When both Texans starting corners went down early in the game, it figured to spell trouble for the Texans. Well, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is smart, they attacked Andre Hal consistently the rest of the half. Hal gave up a long 59 touchdown to Jeremy Maclin almost immediately after he came in for Kareem Jackson (knee). He was beaten on the second touchdown toss, too, when backup Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez threw one right past him to Jordan Matthews in the back of the end zone.

Johnathan Joseph left the game to be evaluated for a concussion, he Went to the locker room, then returned to the sidelines, then returned to the locker room again, all before halftime. Rookie Jumal Rolle found the field quite a bit and off a tipped pass intended for the Eagles Josh Huff, Rolle got his first career interception.

Turnovers clearly kept the Texans right in the middle of this one and turnovers is exactly what has plagued the Eagles all season. Pressure on Nick Foles forced a throw well behind Riley Cooper. That ball was picked off by A.J. Bouye who returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. Following the Rolle interception, Houston went 68 yards in four plays for their second touchdown. Most of those yards, came on the 56-yard touchdown reception from Arian Foster. Foster beat former Texan Connor Barwin and won a race for the endzone for his 10th touchdown of the season (seven rushing, three receiving)

Overall: The Texans have struggled to run the ball and they a costly false start early in the game from Duane Brown that forced them to punt. The Foles injury has not really done anything negative to the Eagles offense. Sanchez has looked darn good for a guy that hadn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2012. The Texans have to get competent play from Bouye, Rolle and Hal the rest of the game, because it doesn’t appear that either Jackson or Joseph will return.

1st half stats

Fitzpatrick 6-9, 110 yards, TD, 145.6 passer rating, sacked 3 times
Foster 9-32 rushing, 2-63 receiving
Watt 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss
Mercilus 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss

 

Rockets Notebook: Houston on cruise control

Rockets notebook

Taking advantage
When the schedule was released it was pretty apparent the Rockets were dealt a big break. All that remained was the Texans going all in and taking the whole pot. Four teams that were not playoff teams last season and were not expected to make any serious improvement this season would elcome the Rockets to the 2014-15 season.

Three games in, the Rockets have hardly been tested on their way to a 3-o start. Their average margin of victory over the Lakers (0-4), Jazz (1-2) and Celtics (1-1) is 14 points and James Harden has been able to sit out the entire fourth quarter of two of their lopsided wins because, well, the games were so lopsided.

The soft patch of the schedule continues for one more game with Monday’s game against Philadelphia (0-3), before they finish their second back-to-back of the season against the Heat on Tuesday night.

As easy as 1-2-3
The Rockets 3-point shooting has been excellent thus far and while the competition, or lack thereof, should be noted, the Rockets must be given some credit for taking and making shots. As a team, the Rockets are shooting 42 percent on 3-pointers,  having made 38-of-90 shots, including at least 12 makes in each game. They rank second in the league in 3-point accuracy, trailing only the Hawks (48 percent). Houston finished 15th last season at 36 percent.

Houston made two significant additions to the team in hopes that they could help raise the team’s shooting from long-range and so far, so good. Trevor Ariza, acquired in a sign-and-trade deal with the Wizards, leads the Rockets across the board with 18 attempts and 10 makes, connecting at a 56 percent clip. Jason Terry, who was added just before training camp, in a trade with Sacramento, has come off the bench to make 6-of-11 3-pointers.

A third addition to the team, 24-year old rookie Kostas Papanikolaou, has rebounded tremendously from the preseason with his 3-point shooting. In the preseason, Papanikolaou launched 32 3-pointers, but made only seven of them for a lousy 22 percent. Through his first three NBA games, he’s made an impressive 5-of-11 3-pointers and along with Ariza, is helping the Rockets capably replace Chandler Parsons, who departed for Dallas in the offseason.

Additionally, the Rockets opponents are unmercifully bad from long range. After the Lakers (3-10) and the Jazz (3-18) made a woeful 21 percent of their 3-pointers in the first two Rockets victories, the Celtics nearly posted an all-timer. Boston missed their first 22 3-point attempts, before Jeff Green finally knocked one down. Boston finished 1-of-25 for an insane four percent. Through three games, Rockets opponents are 7-of-53 (13 percent). That’s three fewer makes than Trevor Ariza has by himself.

Bumps and bruises
When the Rockets depart for Philadelphia, they’ll have four of their 15 players dealing with some sort of injury. Both Dwight Howard and his backup Tarik Black, both suffered leg injuries in the win against Boston on Saturday night. Howard said after the game he banged knees in the first quarter  and it was really sore. This time it was his right knee, he had hurt his left knee similarly, knocking knees with a teammate in practice during the preseason.  Howard remained in the game and played through it, although when he checked out of the game with 5:47 remaining, just three seconds after throwing down a slam for his 13th and 14th points of the game, he went straight to the locker room to get it looked at and began to get treatment. He said he hoped to play against Philadelphia on Monday, but would know more Sunday and of course Monday before the game.

Black, a rookie from Kansas, took a shot to his left quadriceps during the second quarter, and while he tried to keep it loose after halftime by riding the bicycle while he was out of the game, he did not return. After the game, he said he didn’t think it was that bad, and figured he’d be ready to go on Monday.

Guard Pat Beverley missed the Celtics game with his hamstring injury suffered against Utah and is listed as day-to-day. He has had a history of quick, nearly miraculous recoveries from injury, but unfortunately he’s had an incredible amount of practice with recovery in the last two seasons, having worked through a torn muscle in his mid-section, a fractured right hand, an abdominal strain, a right knee sprain (meniscus tear), dehydration in the playoff series that included a visit to the hospital and now this strained hamstring.

Rookie center Clint Capela has been inactive all three games so far this season as he continues to work through a groin injury, although he has been able to do some work in practice recently.