Apr 24, 2014, 1:40 AM EDT
With his feet held to the fire, Dwight Howard brought the heat.
It took only one playoff game with the Houston Rockets for Howard’s detractors to come out in full force. He lacked the maturity and focus to win in the postseason, they shouted from all directions. But if Howard thought he could escape the spotlight by bolting Los Angeles for Houston, he was sadly mistaken.
Right now, though, Howard and his Rockets have a bigger problem to escape – LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge coolly dismantled the Rockets. Again.
The Trail Blazers forward scored 43 points with eight rebounds and three blocks in Portland’s 112-105 Game 2 win Wednesday.
In two games, Aldridge has 89 points, 26 rebounds and five blocks. More importantly, the Trail Blazers have two wins in Houston.
Teams that open a best-of-seven series with two road wins have won 15 of 18, including sweeping half of them. With Portland rolling, having won seven straight and 11 of 12 dating back to the regular season, this series could join the quick enders.
Howard has lost his last seven and 11 of 13 playoff games, and for him, the doubters will grow only louder. Not even ultra-focused and effective starts will save him.
“We have to play inside out, play their bigs and make it a long night for those guys,” Howard told Jonathan Feigen of Ultimate Rockets before the game. “I have to demand the ball, get it and go to work.”
And he did.
Howard made his first six shots to notch Houston’s first 13 points, outscored the Trail Blazers by himself through the game’s first four minutes and was singlehandedly matching his teammates’ combined scoring as late as three minutes remaining in the first half.
By halftime, he had 25 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
His second-half production (seven points, six rebounds and two blocks) would be great for most players, but Howard isn’t most players. His physical talents lend themselves to the perception he should be more dominant – which a petty Shaquille O’Neal perpetuates during halftimes – and more is demanded of him.
Sometimes, that’s fair. Howard failed to pass out of double teams Wednesday, and his individual success remained isolated from team success. Howard’s teammates shot just 37 percent while he was on the court, and when he went cold (missing seven straight shots at one point), he still didn’t integrate his teammates well enough.
But sometimes, the demands on Howard reach unhealthy levels. He said he’d do more in Game 2, and he absolutely did. There are limits on what one player can contribute. Even if Howard didn’t perfectly parlay the attention he received into better looks for his teammates, James Harden (6-of-19 shooting) and Chandler Parsons (5-of-15 shooting) are certainly capable of doing more without their center’s help.
Not that anyone will forgive Howard for the shortcomings of his teammates. Howard’s playoff record is treated as his own although we all know postseason success requires a full team effort.
In a twist, Aldridge gets all the benefit of the doubt Howard doesn’t. Aldridge’s 46 points and 18 rebounds in a Game 1 victory gave him leeway Howard will never receive.
But Aldridge – who has never won a playoff series, let alone led a team to the NBA finals like Howard did the Magic – didn’t rest on his laurels.
He became the first player with consecutive 40-point playoff games since LeBron James in 2009 and just the second since Tracy McGrady in 2003.
Aldridge knifed through the Rockets’ defense off the ball and used expert footwork on the ball to create space, shooting 13-of-19 from mid-range.
To be fair, Aldridge received help Howard didn’t.
Dorell Wright made 3-of-4 3-pointers and added a slick cutting dunk for 15 points on five shots. Damian Lillard shot just 3-for-14, but he got the line (10-of-12 on free throws) and kept the ball moving to the right spots (11 assists).
Howard vs. Aldridge was a tantalizingly fun matchup, and Rockets-Blazers is too. If not for a couple different breaks in an overtime game Sunday, the series could be tied 1-1. Heck, Houston wasn’t that far from winning Game 2.
But in Howard’s world, close doesn’t cut it. Only Aldridge’s.
Not that he needs the margin for error.
May 27, 2015, 2:02 AM EDT
J.R. Smith on the national stage of the Finals is going to be so much fun.
May 27, 2015, 1:25 AM EDT
The Hawks have an excellent foundation to build on.
May 26, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT
This one was over early.
May 26, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Injury issues continue to pile up as Atlanta is on the verge of elimination.
Storms in Houston forced Dwight Howard to remain at arena with fans until 2:30AM after Game 4 win over Warriors
May 26, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Severe flooding in the area had fans — and at least one player — stranded.
May 26, 2015, 8:09 PM EDT
May 26, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Inconsistent ruling, but a good one for the Rockets.
May 26, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
Curry reported no symptoms after the game or on Tuesday, which means expect the regular Curry back for Game 5 Wednesday night.
May 26, 2015, 6:17 PM EDT
There is no timeline but this could impact training camp and the start of next season.
May 26, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
If he’s used in the aging shooter role on the court and veteran locker room presence off it, bringing him back for another season for a few million makes sense.
May 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
We talk flagrant fouls — the NBA has to find some consistency.
May 26, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT
May 26, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Would the league really upgrade a foul and bench a star player in an elimination game?
May 26, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT
Not that it will be enough to get the Hawks a win.
May 26, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT
The Nets just do not have good rebuilding options going forward.
May 26, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
Minnesota’s Zach LaVine has spent the early part of his offseason working on increasing his vertical… wait, what?
May 26, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
Will Nuggets sell low?
May 26, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT
How and why?
May 26, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT
Pay up, Cleveland
May 26, 2015, 11:34 AM EDT
Mohammed, 37, already one of NBA’s oldest players
- Cavaliers complete sweep of Hawks, advance to NBA Finals 40
- Kyrie Irving back in Cavaliers lineup for Game 4 vs. Hawks 5
- NBA: No Game 5 suspension for Dwight Howard, flagrant-1 for hit on Andrew Bogut stands as called 18
- Report: Kyle Korver to have surgery on his ankle 5
- PBT Podcast: We’re back (finally), talking Curry, Harden, and what should be a Flagrant Foul 0
- PBT Extra: Will Dwight Howard’s foul on Bogut be upgraded to a Flagrant 2? Should it? 13
- PBT Extra: Horford/Dellavedova incident ups tension in Hawks/Cavaliers Game 4 10
- Elimination game Josh Smith is a thing, Rockets live to play another day 6