The votes are in – how’d I do?

Now that all the major NBA awards have been announced, I’ll share how I did with my unofficial votes. My votes listed first, followed by the actual results.

MVP
1. Harden 2. Curry 3. Paul 4. James 5. Davis 6. Westbrook
ACTUAL
1. Curry, 2. Harden 3. James 4. Westbrook 5. Davis

Coach
1. Kerr 2. Popovich 3. Budenholzer 4. McHale 5. Snyder 6. Stevens
ACTUAL
1. Bud 2. Kerr 3. Kidd 4. Stevens 5. Pop 6. McHale

Rookie
1. Wiggins 2. Mirotic 3. Noel 4. Payton
ACTUAL
1. Wiggins 3. Mirotic 3. Noel 4. Payton

Defensive Player
1. Leonard 2. Green 3. Gobert 4. Jordan
ACTUAL
1. Leonard 2. Green 3. Jordan 4. Davis 5. Gobert

Most Improved Player
1. Butler 2. Gobert 3. Motiejunas
ACTUAL
1. Butler 2. Green 3. Gobert (8. Motiejunas)

Sixth Man
1. Thomas 2. Williams 3. Crawford
ACTUAL
1. Williams 2. Thomas 3. Crawford

All-NBA
1st: Curry, Harden, James, Davis, Cousins
2nd: Paul, Westbrook, Griffin, Aldridge, M Gasol
3rd: Irving, Thompson, Duncan, P Gasol, D Jordan
ACTUAL
1st: Curry, Harden, James, Davis, M GASOL
2nd: Paul, Westbrook, Aldridge, COUSINS, P GASOL
3rd: Irvng, Thompson, Duncan, D Jordan, GRIFFIN
(The 15 players I unofficially voted for, all made 1st, 2nd or 3rd team.)

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.

Howard’s return is imminent for Rockets

Houston_RocketsDwight Howard has not played in a game for the Rockets since January 23, when he played just under nine minutes against Phoenix. He’s had a bone marrow aspirate procedure in early February and was expected to be re-evaluated four weeks after that date. Things have progressed positively as his rehab work has now included on-court basketball activities.

Houston has been forced to play without power forward Terrence Jones for the last two games because of pneumothorax (partially collapsed lung) and no definitive time table has been given for his return. Following the Rockets 110-100 win over the Pacers, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale made it sound like the Rockets next game is at New Orleans on Wednesday and it could be Howard’s next game too.

“We’re so down on bodies. We don’t have a lot of practice time. We may just have to start throwing him out there & let him get some minutes in the game, whether he starts off at 15 or 20 minutes, you know just get game time,” McHale said. “He’s gotta start playing here pretty soon, otherwise the season is just going to go by and you can’t wait for the playoffs to come back. So, we’ll see.”

Howard has missed 38 games this season and while Houston has gone a remarkable 25-13 in those games, Houston has been getting out-rebounded regularly, including by a 40-35 margin by the Pacers on Monday night.  Houston is 22-10 in the 32 games that Howard has played. He’s averaging 16.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game this season.

Josh Smith, has been spending much of his time playing center in Howard’s absence, but he, too, is among the walking wounded, playing through a right ankle sprain against the Pacers. Smith had 18 points on 4-of-6 3-pointers and five rebounds in just under 29 minutes off the bench in the win.

Houston has 12 games remaining, including six of their next eight on the road.

 

NBA power rankings: What they’re saying about the Rockets

Here’s a look at where the Rockets sit in the various rankings for this week:

USA TODAY – compiled from a group of ten voters:

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Houston is behind Golden State and Portland. Howard is again listed as questionable for Wednesday night’s rematch against the Warriors who are a league-best 17-2 and are riding a 12-game winning streak into their game Monday night against the woeful Timberwolves. Click for full rankings.

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Yahoo – Marc Spears

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Spears adds a positive note on Howard, though it was not echoed by anyone following Rockets Monday practice. Seeing them in the five spot might be a bit low, they have wins against two of the teams ahead of them, San Antonio and Memphis. But they have also lost two games to teams ahead of them, Golden State and Memphis. Click for full rankings.

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ESPN – Marc Stein

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Up four spots from number seven a week ago. The Harden note should be 25, 6 and 6 as Harden is one of just two players even averaging six points and six rebounds a night. The other is Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who is averaging less than nine points per game. Click for full rankings.

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SI.com – Matt Dollinger

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One more instance of media picking up on only one of the things that McHale said about Dwight Howard. Before the Rockets Saturday win over Phoenix, McHale said he didn’t expect McHale back anytime soon. Then during his post-game press conference, just several hours later that same day, McHale said, “hopefully we’ll get back Dwight back and Isaiah (Canaan) back, hopefully, relatively soon.” So which is it? Most nationally media outlets picked up the comment from before the game and completely ignored the one after the game. Click for full rankings.

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NBA.com – John Schuhmann

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The only non-top five ranking comes here. It appears to be due to the belief from Schuhmann that injuries are eventually going to slow Houston down. Also, note their recent winning streak actually moved them UP to seven from eight a week ago. If their defensive rating stays top five all season, then the Rockets will be ecstatic. Should note that the Mavericks are one spot ahead of the Rockets after a week that had the Mavs losing badly at home to Phoenix (who the Rockets beat easily the next night) and a pair of wins against eastern conference teams that required buzzer-beaters. Click for full rankings.

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ProBasketballTalk.com – Kurt Helin

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Yet another site clinging to one McHale quote, but not the other. Also, a hat tip for Donatas Motiejunas, who is averaging 14 points, 7.8 rebounds and shooting 58 percent in his last five games. He also has not picked up more than three fouls in any of the five games, while averaging over 31 minutes per game. Click for full rankings.

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By the way, my power rankings would look like this:
1. Warriors, 2. Blazers, 3. Rockets, 4. Spurs, 5. Grizzlies
6. LA Clippers, 7. Mavericks, 8. Raptors, 9. Cavaliers, 10. Bulls
11. Suns, 12. Wizards, 13. Hawks, 14. Kings, 15. Pelicans
16. Bucks, 17. Thunder, 18. Heat, 19. Nuggets, 20. Celtics
21. Magic, 22. Nets, 23. Pacers, 24. Jazz, 25. Lakers
26. Hornets, 27. 76ers, 28. Knicks, 29. Timberwolves, 30. Pistons

Dwight is Not Hakeem

This doesn’t need to be said, does it? I sure hope not, but let’s make sure no one gets confused.

photo courtesy rockets.com/Jason Friedman

photo courtesy rockets.com/Jason Friedman

Dwight Howard is a highly decorated, highly athletic NBA beast. Hakeem Olajuwon is the same, just a retired version. As expected, the duo along with other members of the Houston Rockets staff, including head coach Kevin McHale, have already begun workouts in preparation for Howard’s “Rockets launch.”  When Jason Friedman, Rockets.com beat writer tweeted out the photo of the on court workout, it once again got fans wondering just how awesome and unstoppable Howard was about to become after these lessons.

I’ll say it, too – it would be tremendous if Howard started to play even a little like Dream on offense. But that is very, very unlikely. It’s the same point I’ve been making since the pursuit of Howard began. He’s entering his 10th season – he is what he is. When healthy, he is the best center in the NBA. In my opinion, clearly the biggest difference-maker in the paint in this league. Period. But an offensive force? A go-to, first-option player, like Olajuwon? I’m gonna again say no.

Expecting Howard to develop as an offensive player seems more like hope, than a real possibility. He’ll score off of effort and brute force, just like Shaquille O’Neal, or at least that what he should be trying to do. He’s not going to just flat out beat guys with his quickness in the blocks or with a wide-array of moves both with his back to and facing the basket, as Hakeem consistently did. Improvement with footwork, recognition of situations and maybe slightly quicker decision-making can be things that Dream passes on to Howard. Just don

‘t expect much else. Howard acknowledged as much, saying he’s not trying to emulate Olajuwon, but rather trying to pick up things, much smaller things, that could enhance his own game.

The offense should fit him well. It should be a lot like what he had around him in Orlando, except better, mainly because James Harden is significantly better than any teammate he had there. Who he is today, could very well be good enough to help guide Houston to a title. There have been questions about his motivation to work in the past and at least this early trip to the court, might suggest he is, as he says on his own twitter page, “After the ring!”

Dream is truly a one-of-a-kind offensive talent, arguably the most skilled offensive shot maker from the post in league history. In other words he’s what Dwight is not. But a championship…or two…could certainly make them seem similar enough.

– Wex (@awexler)

I posted this video awhile back, but I’ll re-post it here, because the draft express crew did such a great job analyzing Howard’s game.