Lakers ride out Boston’s emotional high to get win they want

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In the end, the Boston fans got what they came to see — they witnessed history. Ray Allen has now made more 3-pointers than anyone else in NBA history.

But the Lakers left with what they wanted — a win over a quality opponent. It reinforces that their play of late has not been just smoke and mirrors, it was a reminder they still have the Larry O’Brien trophy until somebody pries it out of their cold, dead fingers.

Was it a statement win? No. Neither the Lakers nor the Celtics make statements in February.

But it was clear that winning the game meant more to the Lakers.

First, however, they had to ride out an emotional high from Boston. The Celtics were pushing to get Ray Allen his record on what seemed like the perfect night for the coronation of a great player. And he obliged.

With that record-setting energy, Boston had the early lead. That lead grew to 15 points early in the second quarter as Boston had great ball movement and some easy buckets in transition. The Celtics were knocking down their jumpers, and when they do that, they are hard to beat.

Through it, the Lakers stayed close because they made a point of using their size advantage — Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol each had 12 first-half points. Then the Lakers made a 10-0 run late in the first half as they started to defend and get dribble penetration.

The Lakers lost the last meeting because it was the Kobe Bryant Show — this time he took just three shots in the first half. Kobe was going to involve his teammates this time.

In the third quarter, the Lakers came out with a renewed defensive intensity — something they have shown more of recently — while the Celtics seemed to have deflated emotionally. The result was the Lakers forcing more contested jumpers, the Celtics missing now and ending up with just 15 third-quarter points. Now it was the Lakers on top and they were able to maintain the lead through the first part of the fourth quarter while Kobe and Gasol got an extended rest. The Lakers’ depth worked for them in this game the way the Celtics could not.

When Kobe came back in and went on a personal 6-0 run (using some nice weakside two-man action with Gasol). That run was followed by Bryant driving, drawing three defenders and dumping off to Gasol for the dunk.

Boston’s lack of depth because of injury caught up with them in this one, especially after backup point guard Nate Robinson left with a bruised knee. Boston missed having Shaquille O’Neal inside to bang with Bynum, too.

In the big picture of the NBA season this game matters little to the Celtics — they have already proven they are back and are contenders.

For the Lakers, it was a measuring stick to make sure the recent run of good play was not a mirage.

It wasn’t a statement. All this game said about June is that if these two teams meet again, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.