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NBA PM: Can Dwight Howard and James Harden Bounce Back?

Dwight Howard wants the ball more, but what the Rockets really need is more efficiency from him and James Harden… News and notes from around the league…

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Can Dwight Howard and James Harden Bounce Back?

When Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets last summer, it was to wipe the slate clean, start a new chapter of his life and move past the worst three-year stretch of his career. During that time he went from being the most dominant big man in the league and unquestionably the premier center in the game to overrated in the eyes of many.

That’s how quickly things can change in the NBA, but the thing that made Houston so attractive to him was that the move held the potential to change things back to the way they were in relatively short order. They had a young team that reminded him of the one that he went to the NBA Finals with in Orlando, a coach who is widely regarded as one of the most skilled low-post players ever and a fan base that was overjoyed by his arrival. Unlike the Los Angeles Lakers’ fan base that had high standards and never fully embraced him, the Rockets’ faithful embraced him wholeheartedly immediately.

Yet, all those things led to only a modest increase in production from the year prior, still well short of what he did during his heyday with the Magic. At 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game during a 54-28 campaign, though, there was little for anyone to complain about. However, now in a 0-1 hole in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers, Howard wants his role and touches to increase.

“We have to play inside out, play their bigs and make it a long night for those guys,” Howard said to the Houston Chronicle during Tuesday’s practice. “I have to demand the ball, get it and go to work.”

Howard actually saw the ball quite a bit in Game 1, getting up 21 attempts from the field and 17 from the charity stripe. He was far from efficient, though, shooting just 42 percent from the field and 52 percent at the line. While the Rockets laud him as the best center in the game and went on a campaign to help him earn votes for the Most Valuable Player award, he wasn’t even the best big man in the game on Sunday.

That honor belonged to Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who topped Howard’s 27 points and 15 rebounds with 46 points (17-31 FG, 10-13 FT) and 18 rebounds.

“We have to go back at him,” Howard said. “You have to make him play defense and make him use energy on defense. We have to make him run and guard.”

On Wednesday night, we’ll see how much more dedicated the Rockets are to getting Howard the basketball, but the team has to feel really torn about the idea. They had their most success last year when they were pushing the tempo and hurting teams with their long-range shooting and transition game. Now they’re being asked to sacrifice those in order to give Howard the touches he wants, but the results weren’t exactly encouraging enough to do so even more in Game 2.

“We have to dump the ball down to him,” Rockets forward Chandler Parsons acknowledged. “He has to make plays. He’s had a lot of success against [Robin] Lopez. We have to keep feeding him the ball. That doesn’t mean we have to slow down. We want to get out in transition and run.”

As important as Howard is, it’s not all about him. He went to the Rockets to form a dynamic one-two punch with James Harden, who shot an abysmal 8-28, including 3-14 from beyond the arc. What is more important for the Rockets than simply force feeding Howard to keep him happy is taking quality shots and not settling so much from beyond the arc. If Howard and Harden can improve on their efficiency, it could have an uplifting impact on the rest of the team, just like Aldridge’s did for his Blazers.

“When you’ve got your best player playing like that, it fires you up,” Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard said regarding Aldridge’s performance. “When he went out of the game, I felt like our team … had to have L.A.’s back and come through for him.”

Notes From Around the League

Here’s a look at the latest coming across the wire today in the NBA:

  • In his end of season press conference, Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro said that the Kings plan to offer Isaiah Thomas a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent and that they feel very good about the position they are in with Rudy Gay. Gay has an option for next year worth just over $19 million. He has to decide before June 30 if he wants to pick it up or become an unrestricted free agent .
  • Cleveland Cavaliers interim GM David Griffin said that the team has gone from “asset accumulation mode” to “target acquisition mode,” signifying that they’re trying to win next year, not continue building for the future. The question remains whether Griffin will be the one calling the shots. His interim tag has not been removed yet, and there is reportedly some interest in him from the Detroit Pistons, who are looking for a new lead executive with Joe Dumars recently resigning.
  • Kentucky’s star freshman power forward Julius Randle declared for the NBA Draft today as expected. Randle has always been pinned as a one-and-done candidate and his strong season,capped off by a double-double filled NCAA Tournament run to the championship game, cemented his status as such. For a full list of the early entry declarations and analysis on them all, checkout our who’s in and who’s out of the 2014 NBA Draft article.
  • For the third time in his career, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been named the NBA’s Coach of the Year. Popovich guided the Spurs to the best record in the NBA, but winning this award does come as somewhat of a surprise because excellence has basically become expected from Popovich. However, his team exceeded expectations enough in the eyes of voters this year to put him past runners up Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns and Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls.

 

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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