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NBA Saturday: Rockets Silencing Doubters

The Rockets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA and proving that they’re legitimate contenders … Why the Magic bought out Glen Davis

Alex Kennedy



In recent weeks, the Houston Rockets have been one of the hottest teams in the league. Since Jan. 1, Houston has won 16 of 21 games to put their record at 37-18. The Rockets have solidified themselves as legitimate contenders, and they currently sit in third place in the competitive Western Conference.

Houston has been playing their best basketball in recent weeks, led by their All-Stars. Both James Harden and Dwight Howard have been filling the stat sheet in February, putting up their best numbers of the season by far.

Harden has averaged 27.9 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range. Howard has averaged 22.9 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks while shooting 60.8 percent from the field. The team has also received strong contributions from role players Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley. It took the Rockets some time to jell, but they’re finally playing to their full potential.

“We’re getting a lot better,” Howard said. “At the start of the season, we were all trying to understand each other and figure out how to play together, but we’re a lot better at it now. We’re going to keep getting better too. We’re playing great basketball right now and I’m very happy with our progress, but we’re not satisfied. We’re happy that we’ve come a long way, but we’re going to continue to work and get better.”

“We’re building something special in Houston,” Harden said. “It’s going to take some time, but people are starting to recognize now.”

Howard’s improvement has really allowed the Rockets to climb the standings. When Howard is playing as well as he has recently, Houston is almost unstoppable because he can dominate opposing centers, which then creates opportunities for the team’s perimeter scorers. Their inside-outside attack is capable of driving defenses crazy and it’s very difficult to game plan around.

“He is making it hard for them to contain him one-on-one down low and it’s opening up a lot of open shots on the perimeter,” Parsons said of Howard. “There is no way those guys can guard him one-on-one. They’re going to have to start bringing two and that’s when our offense will be unguardable.”

“I’ve just been patient and letting my teammates find me in the right spot,” Howard said. “I’m not rushing my shots. We just have to get some points in transition, work the pick-and-roll, and also post up. Once we get all three things figured out on the offensive end, and on the defensive end get stops, then we will become a better team.”

“He’s playing very well,” Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown said of Howard after a recent loss to Houston. “He’s obviously an All-Star and he might be one of the all-time greatest to play the game. When you have a guy like that, that you can just throw the ball into the post and command a double-team or know you’re going to get a decent look, that is a big time luxury.”

As the Rockets have developed chemistry, their ball movement has improved as well.

“It just opens everything up; the ball is zipping around and it is fun to watch when we see ourselves getting stops and moving the ball,” Lin said. “Dwight might score on a post-up. James might get a pick-and-roll or transition, Chandler hits a three. [The ball] is moving around and when you are attacking on all cylinders, it is really tough to stop.”

“Our ball movement has been a lot better,” Parsons said. “We’ve been throwing the ball ahead and we’ve been playing more unselfish. It’s so much easier for us when we do that and it just opens up so much more space to operate, little things that coach always talks about, throwing the ball ahead instead of dribbling it. When you dribble it, it gives the defense time to set up and they can lock in defensively.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Rockets’ season has been Jones, who has emerged as the team’s starting power forward. Jones barely played for the Rockets last season, appearing in just 19 games and spending most of his time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League. But in his second NBA season, the 22-year-old has averaged 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 52.2 percent from the field in 45 games as a starter.

“I think Terrence has had a really good year,” head coach Kevin McHale said. “He’s really come on, he’s playing really well. He just turned 22, he’s got a really bright future. He’s just got to keep playing and improving, which he will. … I think Terrence is getting a little more comfortable with starting and getting more consistent with his play and effort all the time. I said this all year, he had been coming on and playing really well. I think ever since he’s moved into the starting lineup, he’s been blossoming and growing. He’s still got a long way to go because he’s a young kid, but he’s been playing very well for us.”

Throughout the season, the Rockets have had some tough stretches as the team tried to get everyone on the same page. It took awhile for the other players to adjust to playing with Howard and vice versa, but they have worked through those issues on offensive end. With that said, the team could stand to improve defensively. Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, and Beverley have led the team on defense, but they can’t be the only ones committing on that end of the court.

“We have a lot of young guys who haven’t been in the league for many years, so they’re still trying to learn how to play the game of basketball,” Howard said. “For me, I’m trying to do whatever I can do to lead this team. On the defensive end, I’m teaching guys how to play team defense.”

Howard’s presence has been good for the young Rockets. The 28-year-old, as one of the oldest players in the locker room, has been a key leader for the Rockets. He has helped the team on and off the hardwood. On the court, Howard has experienced just about everything in his 10 NBA seasons. Off the court, Howard has tried his best to guide his young teammates. For instance, Harden has been dealing with criticism more than ever this season and Howard has tried to help him block it out.

“When you’re great, people are always going to try to find flaws in your game and they’re going to criticize you, but you can’t pay attention to any of that stuff,” Howard said. “Whatever we hear, we take it and use it as motivation. We have our own goal, which is to win a championship, so we can’t spend our time focusing on all of the negative things that are being said about us. If [we] weren’t good, they wouldn’t be talking about us. We’ve just taken on that mentality.”

“I’ve learned from him,” Harden said. “He doesn’t really talk about it, but I’ve seen the way he approaches it and he doesn’t really care about what people say. People are going to talk regardless, and that’s a good thing when they’re talking. I just go out there and do what I have to do. There’s always going to be some flaws in everybody, no matter what it is. I just don’t pay it any attention and I try to go out there and have fun. I hear it, take it for what it is, and use it as motivation.”

On Thursday, the Rockets sent Aaron Brooks to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Jordan Hamilton prior to the trade deadline. It was the seventh straight deadline that Rockets GM Daryl Morey had pulled the trigger on a deal, but this was a relatively minor move.

At this point, the major moves have been completed by Morey. The core pieces have been assembled. Now, it’s just a matter of seeing how far this team can advance in the postseason.

Rob Hennigan Explains Glen Davis Buyout

On Friday, the Orlando Magic and Glen Davis officially agreed to a buyout. Once Davis clears waivers on Monday, he will become an unrestricted free agent. The 28-year-old was averaging 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds this season with the Magic prior to the buyout.

Once the move was finalized, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan spoke with reporters and explained the decision.

“After the deadline passed, we just felt like this change was necessary and a good thing for our team and also for Glen,” Hennigan said, according to “It mutually benefitted both sides. … It opens up opportunities for players on our team to get some minutes. Those minutes, with (head coach) Jacque (Vaughn), they will be based on merit and have to be earned. With Glen leaving, it certainly opens up some minutes for our younger guys.”

Davis posted a statement on Twitter: “I want to first thank the Orlando Magic for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this Organization over the last 3 years,” Davis wrote. “Secondly, I want to thank the Magic fans and the Orlando community for welcoming me and my family into your family and for your support. Although I will no longer be a Magic player, I will continue to make Orlando my home. It’s great place to live and to raise my family. Thanks again for all of your support. I am eternally grateful. All my best!!!!”

While Davis was bought out, Hennigan made it clear that there’s still a place on the roster for other veterans such as Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Jason Maxiell.

“We value all of the veterans that we have on our team and they have an important role on our team,” Hennigan said. “Yes, we have a very young team, but you have to be careful about becoming too young and having too much youth. Finding that balance between young, old and everything in the middle is important.”

The Clippers, Nets, HEAT, Spurs and Warriors are among the teams reportedly pursuing Davis.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future

Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.

James Blancarte



On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.

Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.

Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.

Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.

“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”

Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.

“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”

Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.

“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.

While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.

“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.

Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.

There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.

“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”

Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.

“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”

Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.

“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.

Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.

“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.

When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.

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Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers

Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.

Spencer Davies



The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.

The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.

With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.

Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.

“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.

Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.

Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.

Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.

Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.

LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.

“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”

The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.

The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.

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NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start

Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.

Joel Brigham



There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.

“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”

Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.

“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”

That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.

“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”

As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.

“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”

Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.

“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”

He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.

“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”

The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.

“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”

That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.

“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”

Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.

“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”

He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.

Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.

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