Dwight Howard has no choice except to make more demands.
Fortunately for the Houston Rockets, Howard won't be demanding a trade or the head of Kobe Bryant. His instructions are simpler, more realistic this time around. He just wants the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers.
"We have to play inside out, play their bigs and make it a long night for those guys," Howard said, per the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. "I have to demand the ball, get it and go to work."
This seems reasonable enough.
Key offensive players struggled during the Rockets' Game 1 loss to the Blazers, most notably James Harden and Howard himself. The two tallied 54 points between them, but their contribution came on a combined 17-of-49 shooting (34.7 percent).
To the Rockets' credit, they did feature Howard often in Game 1. He attempted 21 shots on his own, including nine in the fourth quarter, and would have received even more if foul trouble didn't limit him to three minutes of action in the third.
Admittedly, this appears to be more about strategy than an unhappy Howard. The more times he touches the ball, the more free throws the Rockets are likely to attempt. Portland sent him to the line 17 times in Game 1. While Howard connected on only nine of his free throws, those are still additional scoring opportunities.
Feeding Howard also forces the Blazers' big men, specifically LaMarcus Aldridge, to work harder on the defensive end. Aldridge torched the Rockets for 46 points in Game 1, leaving Howard to wax the importance of tiring him out.
"We have to go right back at him," Howard said, via Feigen. "You have to make him play defense and make him use his energy on defense. Make him have to run around and guard."
The message becomes blurred here. Aldridge spent most of the night matched up on Terrence Jones. Is Howard saying he needs more touches, too?
Is Howard even focusing on the correct end of the floor?
Despite shooting just 41 percent overall in Game 1, the Rockets offense did what it does best: put up shots—105 of them, in fact. It was their inability to protect leads and prevent the Blazers from scoring that did them in.
As much as the Rockets had pledged to play their way, to steadfastly stick to their regular-season style in the post-season, playing their way included their familiar shortcomings.
The Rockets, however, reconvened at Toyota Center on Monday having to fix issues after one playoff game that they could not after 82 regular-season games.
That begins with finding a way to defend Aldridge. He had averaged 26.8 points and 15.5 rebounds in the four regular-season games before dominating Sunday’s Game 1, scoring 46 points to match the most ever against the Rockets in a playoff game, and grabbing 18 rebounds.
If Howard really wants to help the Rockets, he should demand to defend Aldridge more. Jones wasn't up to the full-time challenge. Should he step in, things could turn out differently.
There's also another potential fix: Instead of demanding more shots, Howard could, you know, actually make the most of the shots he's given:
no, dwight. you have to make more shots once you GET the ball. http://t.co/EB7jZ3A7sP— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) April 22, 2014
Making more of his free throws in Hack-a-Howard and Deck-a-Dwight situations would also help. So would Harden making more of his shots. And actually playing defense.
There is so much the Rockets need to improve upon in Game 2. Dumping the ball down low to Howard on the off chance they can (slightly) diminish Aldridge's energy levels shouldn't be priority No. 1.
"As a leader of this team, I can say whatever I want to these guys, but they're not going to follow me unless I go out and do it now," Howard said after Game 1, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
So do it, Dwight. Do it now, do it in Game 2.
Go out and make shots.
Then demand more of them.