Update: Chris Paul trade moving fast, Dwight Howard not

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This much has become clear: It is very likely Chris Paul will be traded before the start of the NBA season and talks are fast tracked on that move. However, talks surrounding a Dwight Howard trade have slowed to a trickle as Howard has not told the Magic what he wants so that team remains focused on moves to keep him in house.

Chris Paul cannot be traded before Friday, Dec. 9, but Hornets GM Dell Demps is moving fast, listening to offers from around the NBA. After a meeting with Paul on Monday where it was clear CP3 would not sign an extension in New Orleans, Demps has refused to let this situation drag out as happened with Carmelo Anthony last year. This process has gained a real momentum.

Golden State may be the team in the lead right now. The Hornets offer is based around Stephen Curry and rookie Klay Thompson. But in addition they are one of the leaders in signing Tyson Chandler, reports Marc Stein of ESPN, a race the Warriors jumped into prior to the CP3 trade talk. Paul and Chandler played together in New Orleans and Paul has told teams it is far more likely that he signs an extension somewhere if Chandler is on that squad.

The Clippers and Celtics remain in the mix and have made first offers, reports Ken Berger at CBSSports.com.

The Clippers’ opening salvo was an offer that included restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan and Minnesota’s unprotected first-round pick, with L.A. hoping that the prospect of playing with electrifying forward Blake Griffin and the big stage of Los Angeles would be enticing enough to Paul that he would eventually commit to the team long term. Eric Gordon is not in the deal “at this time,” a source said, though it is understood that any deal that would include a commitment from Paul would have to include the sharpshooting guard….

But the Celtics stepped forward with an offer that would not have to come with any commitment from Paul that he’d re-sign with Boston after the season. According to a person familiar with the discussions, the Celtics offered Rajon Rondo, two future first-round picks, and restricted free agent Jeff Green in a sign-and-trade for Paul.

The Hornets would be fools to do a deal with the Clippers that did not net them Gordon, and Demps is no fool. The Clippers, obviously, would like to keep Gordon as the two guard next to Paul, which is why he is not in the deal currently. Also, reportedly the Clippers may have offered Chris Kaman instead of Jordan, but you can bet the Hornets prefer the younger and more athletic Jordan.

The Clippers and the Warriors face similar issues with Curry and Gordon, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

But the Hornets continue to meet with resistance from the Warriors and the Clippers on Curry and Gordon, sources told ESPN.com, because both teams are reluctant to part with their young backcourt cornerstones with no assurance from Paul that he will stay beyond this season.

Paul may have said he wanted to go to the Knicks, but that is only happening if he becomes a free agent and signs there this summer. As Berger notes, the best they can offer is Chauncey Billups (a $14 million expiring deal), Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert and Jerome Jordan. Not good enough. The Knicks are reportedly trying to get better trade assets. They should talk to Denver, where the Knicks sent all their assets last year to get Carmelo Anthony.

The other team in Los Angeles — the Lakers — are not out of the running either, reports David Aldridge at NBA.com. The Lakers package is reportedly Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Paul and the unpleasant contract of Emeka Okafor.

A team willing to take on Okafor and his three-year, $40 million deal may have an advantage in the talks.

If the Lakers send Bynum for Paul they would likely be out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes… if there will be one.

Howard and the Magic front office have spoken but unlike Paul he did not say he will not sign an extension to stay. Which means right now the Magic are more focused on bringing in a superstar to pair with Howard and keep him rather than sending him out.

They are targeting Deron Williams among others, according to David Baumann at Big House Sports Network (via Eye on Basketball). Also on the radar are Chris Paul and Monta Ellis, according to the reports. For the record, there is no way the Nets are trading Williams, they are trying to acquire assets to keep him there.

The problem for the Magic remains this — how do they get these players? While on his way out the door Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide said landing another star “… is certainly possible, teams like our assets.” What assets? There is nothing on the Magic roster a rebuilding team like the Hornets would want. Brandon Bass and J.J. Redick don’t cut it. And it’s hard to make a move with the Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu contracts sitting there.

But for now the Magic are intent on trying to keep Howard, and so that train has slowed way down.

Chris Paul, on the other hand, is very likely to be traded sooner rather than later.

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”