OAKLAND – Even with Dwight Howard’s availability in doubt for Thursday’s Game 2, Rockets coach Kevin McHale is still insisting he’d prefer to play a big lineup against the top seeded Warriors.
Howard’s effectiveness early in Game 1, combined with shaky play from Warriors centers Andrew Bogut and David Lee, helped to stake the visitors a 16-point lead that quickly evaporated before halftime. Howard is officially questionable with a sprained left knee, but wasn’t able to practice on Wednesday.
“I’d love to be able to go big against this Warriors team,” McHale reiterated on Wednesday. “We’ve got to punish them on the boards. We had 14 offensive rebounds; the problem is so did they. But five, six or seven of those were driven by their guards coming in and rebounding from the perimeter. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
“If they go super small, believe me, there are holes in that lineup. We’ve just got to exploit them.”
Enter, potentially, Clint Capela. The 21-year-old first round pick of the Rockets last June played nearly 13 minutes in Game 1, with 9 points and 4 rebounds. The Switzerland native was named to the NBA D-league’s All-Defensive First Team this season.
Although the six-foot-10, 240-pound Capela is smaller than the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard, McHale sung his praises on Wednesday.
“Every day you watched him in practice you liked him a little bit more,” McHale said. “You were like, ‘man, he’s playing better and better and better.’ He’s an easy guy to coach. He’s an easy guy to gain confidence in because he’s just so diligent and he’s just a hard working kid.”
Trevor Ariza said: “He’s a player who learned very fast, and he’s willing to do anything to win.”
No one is expecting Capela to replace Howard, who is arguably the Rockets’ best defensive player.
“Clint is not going to turn into Dwight Howard overnight. He might, but he’d have to hit the weight room,” McHale joked.
If Steve Kerr continues to lean towards a smaller lineup, the Rockets have already shown they can have some success, even without Howard. James Harden, in particular, thrived with Golden State’s diminutive five-some on the floor. The MVP runner-up led Houston with 28 points in Game 1, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 9 assists.
Ariza added 20 points, going 7-for-10 from the floor.
“Trevor has been fantastic. He had another good game last night,” McHale said.
Although they surrendered their early advantage, McHale pointed out that it was a tie game with a little more than five minutes to go. A break here and a bounce there, and it could easily be the Rockets up 1-0 in the series.
“It was a 97-all game, and we didn’t make the plays that were there to be made,” McHale said. “I don’t think we played particularly well. We had stretches where we played well.”
“We made some mistakes defensively that hurt us. We had some bobbled balls in the paint and some different things, that if we catch and gather them, they’re dunks. We had three or four of those. All those plays make a difference.”