Bullseye - The Point-Forward All-Stars has, for several weeks now, been putting together themed-teams to highlight specific traits shared between its team members. Collections have included the Non-Champions, the All-Payday team and now, the All-Bullseye team, featuring All-Stars who will be facing heightened scrutiny for various reasons come playoff time. The team is comprised of Chris Paul, Joe Johnson, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard.
For Howard, the extra attention will be focused primarily on his ability to return to his playoff-winning ways.
It’s hard to believe that a No. 1 overall pick and an eight-time All-Star who advanced to the Finals as a 23-year-old has won a total of two playoff games over the last three years. As James’ Heat made the playoffs their personal playground, Howard, who had been considered an MVP candidate for a number of years and whose Magic advanced further than James’ Cavaliers in both 2009 and 2010, ducked out the side door. He is only now returning.
Other than a no-show in the Round 1, I can’t imagine too many scenarios where the Rockets are viewed as a failure after this season. Coming into the season, no one except for Jeff Van Gundy really expected anything more than a second round exit for Houston. And if the season ended today, the bracket would actually shake out pretty nicely for the Rockets. (6-1 combined against Portland and San Antonio)
So as long as Dwight Howard performs at something close to his usual rate and doesn’t get ejected from any elimination games where the Rockets are being swept, there’s no where to go but up for the big-man.
So why wouldn’t “Red Bull” work? What am I missing? It’s certainly a better idea than the guys who emailed me trying to nickname Beverley either ”The Doberman” or “The Pat Bull.”
The Doberman! I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool that a silly thing I made up like that got to someone like Simmons, even if he did rip on it. But in my defense, it’s not near as bad as “the Terrier”. (What are you thinking, Chris Ryan?) And even I have to admit, Spartak and Red Bull are pretty solid nicknames. Spartak wins my vote simply for its originality. Plus, Bev just feels like a Spartak.
Lin is an afterthought now (he looked good against Portland, but before that was playing about 15 minutes per game). Harden and Howard might be the faces of the franchise, but Patrick is the heart. He makes them feisty. I loved how they mixed it up with the Pacers last Friday (that is, until David West got involved … let’s be honest, there are limits to the Beverley influence). This was always going to be a good offensive team that could pour on the points. With Patrick they actually have some swagger. I never thought I would say this about this Houston team, but they’re pretty tough!
Beverley does provide something to this team that Harden and Howard just can’t. I haven’t looked at the schedule, but doesn’t it seem like Beverley’s return from his wrist injury coincided with Harden’s edge showing up? From the cold-blooded shots, dust-ups with the opposition over seemingly innocuous events and just a general tone of combativeness that was never there with Harden before these last few weeks, Beverley really does seem to be rubbing off on his backcourt-mate, if not the whole team.
Lightweight Genius - I don’t even know what that means, but I know that Jalen Rose meant it as a compliment when he used it in his podcast to describe Dwight Howard’s decision to leave the Lakers for greener pastures in Houston. Other compliments included Rose calling Harden and Howard two of the top-ten players in the league, saying Howard is the best center in the league and NBA All-First Team-er and admitting that the Rockets are going to be a very tough out in the playoffs.
As I said the other day, the Rockets need some wins in this tough stretch to keep the good vibes going, but for a city’s sports scene that was often ignored nationally prior to Howard’s arrival other that to make Matt Schaub jokes, the increase in attention has been exciting. When Patrick Beverley is getting an entire column on Grantland, you know you’re doing something right.