OAKLAND — Dwight Howard downplays any perceived discord on the court for the Houston Rockets.
Poor play and missed chances, now that’s a different story altogether.
Whatever the problems, they’d better get fixed fast if the Rockets want to keep playing much longer. Houston headed home from the Bay Area in a 2-0 hole to the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Howard and James Harden still hardly look friendly on the court together or when they’re communicating. That’s no surprise given their complex relationship.
“That wasn’t jawing at each other. It was just emotion. It wasn’t saying anything crazy to each other,” Howard said after Monday night’s loss. “It might look like that but we both want to win. It’s emotional because we’re playing basketball and we’re trying not to go home. It was nothing bad.”
Yet both are disappointed the Rockets failed to capitalize on a Warriors lineup minus NBA MVP Stephen Curry, who sat out Monday night’s 115-106 win while nursing his injured right ankle. His status for Game 3 on Thursday night remained questionable, though he has ample time to receive treatment and stay off the tender ankle, and coach Steve Kerr gave Golden State a day off Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Texas.
The Warriors said Curry underwent an MRI exam Tuesday that showed nothing of concern, so he would keep working on it in preparation for the next game.
“We gave up too many offensive rebounds, to a really good 3-point shooting team, and turned the basketball over way too many times, especially in that first half,” Harden said. “With Curry playing or without him playing, we still have to do those things in order to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Breakdowns. Missed shots. Failing to block out. The Rockets must get back to fundamentals to get back into these playoffs against a Golden State team ready to ride the momentum of its record 73 wins all the way to a second straight title.
While Howard posted double-doubles in the first two games, he has struggled to establish himself inside and dominate the paint against Golden State’s rotating big men of Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and even Marreese Speights. In fact, Howard’s most noteworthy statistic might be in the fouls column — he fouled out Monday and committed five fouls in Game 1.
Howard had 10 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in Game 2, but he might have to do more if Houston is going to avoid being swept out of the first round in its rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals.
Golden State’s deep supporting cast picked up the slack with Curry hurt, and Harden for one considered it a missed opportunity.
Not that the job is much easier without the MVP.
“I mean, every time we step on the floor we feel like we’ve got a shot to win, no matter who is on the floor. Those guys over there are champions and they have a locker room full of champions,” interim Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “So regardless of if one guy’s out, the rest of the guys are champions, too, and they’ve got that spirit. So you can’t look at it and say, well, Steph is out.
“We understand our opponent. We understand how good they are as a team and the drive they have. So we can’t look at it’s a night off for us or anything like that. We’ve got to go out and play twice as hard and try to win.”
Whether Harden and Howard can find their way together will likely factor into how long the Rockets extend their season. It has largely been considered an uncomfortable fit between them since Howard arrived in Houston for the 2013-14 season.
For now, the Rockets are ready to get back on their home floor for the next two games.
“Like any good basketball team, we’re ready to make adjustments, and we will,” guard Patrick Beverley said. “They took care of what they were supposed to take care of, home-court advantage.”