HOUSTON – Scrutinized for how much they play their starters during the regular season, NBA coaches can get away with shorter rotations in the playoffs.
They can do so because the schedule presents no back-to-back games and sometimes two days between games, such as the gaps between Games 1 and 2 and Games 2 and 3 of the Wolves-Rockets series.
That allowed Houston coach Mike D’Antoni to keep superstar James Harden on the floor for the first 16 ½ minutes of the second half in Game 1 when Harden was heating up and making it clear with his body language that he wasn’t about to come out on his way to a 44-point night.
“I can do that because of the extra day of rest,” D’Antoni said. “When I looked at him at the time for him to come out and he’s rolling and he’s like, ‘Hmmm, I’m not coming out,’ yeah, we take advantage of it. But I don’t want to do that much. I want to play him a certain amount of minutes more or so less, but we’ve got to win this game, whatever it takes to win this game. We’re not worried about the next game.”
Harden played nearly 41 minutes, including all but 1:20 of the second half. Jimmy Butler played 36 minutes while the Wolves try to monitor his minutes on his road back from knee surgery.
“He can probably play a little more,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said, “but I like where his minutes are right now.”
Not quite ready
Rockets forward Ryan Anderson missed his second consecutive game of the series because of a sprained ankle.
“I don’t think he’s quite ready,” D’Antoni said. “It’s better we take two or three more days and Saturday looks good right now.”
Wolves guard Derrick Rose says his role as a veteran who has seen it all is more than playing an expanded role (24 minutes in Game 1) on the floor.
“My job is to ease everybody’s nerves,” Rose said. “Before games like this, you kind of get nervous, antsy. But coming in, talking to guys, keeping them happy, crack jokes, lighten up the mood. Everybody handles it their own way. It’s a different experience for everyone.”
Back in Houston
Thibodeau assisted Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy for four seasons starting in 2003 and fondly recalls his time working with such players as Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady and for a franchise that also counts Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler among its greats.
“I loved my time here; the tradition of the Rockets is amazing,” he said. “I used to love walking into the practice facility and you look at that wall and see all the great players, all the great teams.”
• Wolves forward Taj Gibson continues to play with his neck hurting, enough that he said he has taken to sleeping on the floor sometimes to find some relief.
• The series has brought together Rockets player development coach John Lucas II with his son John Lucas III, who holds the same position with the Wolves. Thibodeau worked with John Lucas II in Philadelphia and San Antonio. “A great family,” Thibodeau said. “They’ve done an unbelievable job with their kids.”