Praise, and an appraisal, for Dwight Howard

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Dwight Howard.jpgLet me start by saying that despite what Mike Bianchi’s headlines would have you believe, Dwight Howard is not as great, as valuable, or as dominant as LeBron James. No one is.

But that doesn’t mean that Dwight isn’t great, valuable, or dominant in his own right.

Dwight Howard is, without a doubt, the most dominant defender in the NBA today. He alters the game in ways both direct and indirect on a play-by-play basis, and he has such defensive presence that teams simply must account for him at all times. One of the calling cards of efficient offenses is scoring in the paint, but when a giant with rocket boots that can bench press a school bus and has an almost ideal level of athletic coordination is standing in your way? Well, that task is a bit more difficult.

The scariest thing of all, though, is that Dwight hasn’t maxed out on his defensive potential. He can still improve his footwork, his perimeter skills, his judgment. He’s sniffing greatness as a defensive monster, and he’s only getting started. That’s frightening.

While Dwight may still live in LeBron’s shadow (who doesn’t?), he’s also the victim of a bit of an artificial hierarchy. Since the day LeBron James walked into the league, he was dubbed “the second coming.” His rise to greatness seemed preordained, and while no one could have truly anticipated the beast that LeBron has become, the narrative structure was already in place for James to rule the world by the tender age of 25. That’s where he is now, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.

As a consumer of the NBA product and the ever-growing hype machine, I have no qualms in saying that the predictions bordering on prophecy that have accompanied James’ career have made his story that much more interesting. The things he does on the court have seriously altered what we thought was possible, and though that may qualify as more revolutionary than myth-affirming, it doesn’t change the fact that LeBron is just about everything we’d hoped he be from a basketball standpoint.

But by the very nature of those predictions, LeBron must come first and all others must come second. It’s the side effect of feeding into LeBron-mania; all the other great players who happen to play at the same time as James may be good, but they’re not LeBron. When considering everything that James has done in his stay in the NBA thus far, is that standard even fair?

Hardly. But it’s the reality that great players — yes, great players — like Dwight Howard have to live with.

I’m not convinced that LeBron’s impact on the court is so far and above Dwight’s that they aren’t even in the same league. Far from it. James is the indisputable ’09-’10 MVP in my eyes, but that doesn’t mean Howard isn’t important, or great, or dominant. It just means that at this stage, LeBron is better. What’s important for Dwight is not that he’s the best player in basketball today, but simply that he’s making the best of his own unique talents. That’s what’s going to win games (and playoff series’) for the Magic, and that’s what, when all is said and done, will finally earn Dwight the praise he deserves.

Warriors pose for photos with Jahlil Okafor’s dad’s ‘FREE JAH’ shirt

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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Jahlil Okafor‘s father has not been shy about speaking out on his son’s behalf. NBA players are advocating for the 76ers to grant Okafor, who’s out of the rotation and on an expiring contract, his desired trade or buyout.

When both join forces…

Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry appear to really enjoy Chukwudi Okafor’s shirt. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily calling on Philadelphia to do anything. But they hadn’t to know how it’d be perceived.

It’s easy to predict free agents will avoid the 76ers as a result of the Okafor situation, but few anticipate getting stuck similarly. Players overwhelmingly value money, winning, role and location. If Golden State’s stars are applying any external pressure, it shouldn’t really move Philadelphia more than anything that has already been said and done.

A couple of Lonzo Ball’s triple-double assists look dubious (video)

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Lonzo Ball draws outsized attention because his father, LaVar Ball, lures onlookers and because the rookie plays for the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers.

So, when Lonzo gets a triple-double – like his 11-points, 16-rebound, 11-assists game against the Nuggets yesterday – it draws scrutiny.

Mo Dakhil of The Jump Ball:

The NBA defines an assist as a “pass that directly leads to a basket. … An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player’s pass led to the field goal being made.”

I wouldn’t describe either of those passing as leading directly to a basket. Ball’s teammates each hold the ball for a moment after receiving the pass then take two dribbles against set defenses.

But assists are subjective, and the Lakers aren’t alone in offering a home-court scorekeeping advantage.

Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice

So, criticize/laugh at the Lakers. But your favorite team probably manipulates assists in its favor, too.

Robin Lopez and T.J. Warren exchange contact, heated words (video)

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Robin Lopez whacked T.J. Warren in the head while chasing an offensive rebound. Warren didn’t like that, so he ran to the opposite end of the court and shoved Lopez to the floor. A heated confrontation ensued, though it didn’t escalate beyond yelling.

Warren received a flagrant foul, and Lopez was hit with a technical in the Suns’ 113-105 win over the Bulls.

Lakers blow 5-on-1 fastbreak (video)

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Corey Brewer is better at finishing fastbreaks than leading them.

Nice defense by Emmanuel Mudiay, too.

But at least the Lakers won.