Dwight Howard

Orlando tries to send message to Howard: Look, we can beat Bulls

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Everything Orlando does for the next 6 days is colored by Dwight Howard trade talk.

That includes their 99-94 win over Chicago Thursday night — the Magic are trying to convince Howard that they can be contenders with him in tow if they just make a couple tweaks. Beating the actual contenders from Chicago and snapping their eight-game win streak — even if the Bulls were without Richard Hamilton (shoulder injury) and playing their fourth game in five nights — can be taken as a sign if you want it. Like finding a burn mark on a pancake that vaguely looks like the Virgin Mary can be a sign if you really are desperate for it to be.

I doubt Howard sees it that way. The fact is this game will have little if any impact on Howard, but it may make the Magic lean even more to the idea that they are not going to move Howard before the deadline.

As for the game itself, these are the kinds of outings that will keep Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau up at night but are really just lockout induced — this was the fourth game in five nights for Chicago, who flew in after beating Milwaukee on Thursday. They looked like a team with tired legs.

Orlando started out hot, putting up 37 points on the Bulls in the first quarter and shooting 67 percent well into the second quarter. The Magic hit 7 of 13 in the first half — it is very difficult for any team to defend them when they are knocking down threes. Orlando finished 11-26 (42.3 percent) from three for the game.

Especially when Howard is playing well. And he was. He overpowered the Bulls inside and had 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting for the game.

But the Bulls chipped away at that lead. They got close to Orlando a few times but struggled to get over the hump — a couple turnovers and a couple threes by Jason Richardson sparked a 13-4 run by the Magic to end the third quarter and keep the Magic up by 8 (79-71).

But in the fourth the Bulls finally got there. A Carlos Boozer elbow jumper gave Chicago a 91-89 lead with 2:50 left. But they couldn’t hold it — The Bulls shot 2-for-10 as a team in the final five minutes with Kyle Korver going 0-5 and Derrick Rose going 0-3. (At one point in the fourth quarter they were 0-8 on shots to tie the game or take the lead.) Chalk that up to tired legs on a tough stretch.

The momentum seemed to turn in the fourth when Jameer Nelson threw an impressive ally-oop to Howard. Next trip down for the Magic Rose defended a Nelson drive well but in a scramble for the loose ball Nelson gets it and kicks to a wide-open Ryan Anderson for three. That was pretty much it.

Jason Richardson had 18 for the Magic, Hedo Turkoglu had 13. Carlos Boozer had 26 for Chicago (and shot 2-of-3 in the final five minutes, the one Bull to hit shots) and Rose had 17.

Orlando can try to convince themselves this means something big if they want. It doesn’t. But if they convince themselves it does it can be more fuel on their fire not to trade Howard. It’s hard to view this game through any other lens.

Glenn Robinson III does his best to salvage Dunk Contest, gets victory in process

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NEW ORLEANS — This year’s NBA All-Star Dunk Contest was doomed to disappoint, it was never going to match last year’s epic battle. It started in a hole.

It never climbed out. Don’t take my word for it, check out what JaVale McGee thought.

Saturday was an underwhelming night of dunks punctuated by a couple of moments of brilliance.

The Pacers’ Glenn Robinson III had the most of those moments — which is why he won the event. His strong night started with his first dunk, which may well have been the best of the contest.

The final one from Robinson, the one that sealed the victory, may be the other best dunk of the competition — dunking over Paul George, the Pacers mascot, and a Pacers dancer.

“I originally planned for it just to be PG (Paul George),” Robinson said afterward. “I knew I had to bring out something special. We added the mascot and the cheerleader. I really just wanted to get up high and dunk that thing hard, man. My adrenaline was going. It felt like I was looking at the rim. All I knew was the crowd go crazy. I pointed like this because, man, everybody seemed to sleep on me, didn’t really think I was going to win this thing.”

Event favorite Aaron Gordon, who should have won a year ago, opened the contest with an innovative idea — a drone dunk — but he couldn’t execute it and there were a few attempts before he nailed it.

Gordon didn’t advance out of the first round, and his first dunk summed up the 2017 Dunk Contest — interesting ideas that didn’t quite pan out like planned. (To be fair, Gordon has been battling injuries recently, that may have thrown him off).

If it wasn’t going to be Gordon, a lot of people expected it to be the bouncy Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. who won, and he reached the Finals in part thanks to this spectacular dunk that woke the Smoothie King Center up.

DeAndre Jordan was okay, but without Chris Paul throwing him lobs it didn’t quite feel the same. Jordan can dunk with such power in game, but we didn’t see that Saturday.

In the end, it was Gordon who was making the plays.

“I’m not really a known dunker,” Robinson said. “I practiced. I prepared. I know I’m a jumper. And like I said, I’m a guy that stays out of the way. But when it’s time to shine, that’s my thing. That’s what I wanted to do. I knew all along I had some things planned, and I just wanted to show the world.”

Glenn Robinson III wins underwhelming dunk contest on over-people, below-rim dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — Glenn Robinson III won the dunk contest with the second-best dunk of the night, going over a few people and under the rim — a narrow path to slamming victory.

It would’ve rated as the event’s best dunk if he were truly under the rim rather than somewhat in front of it. And he did have the best body of work to win the contest.

But the best single dunk was still by runner-up Derrick Jones Jr., who went between the legs on a pass off the side of the backboard.

NBA stars shoot threes to raise $500,000 for Sager Strong Foundation in touching moment

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NEW ORLEANS — The spirit of Craig Sager is strong during All-Star weekend in The Big Easy and he’s going to get a spot in the Hall of Fame, deservedly so.

After Eric Gordon won the Three-Point Contest, he and the other finalists Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker stayed on the court to shoot threes to raise money for the Sager Strong Foundation — they would shoot threes for a minute and for each make the foundation would get $10,000. Then they brought out help — Reggie Miller, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, DJ Khaled, and others to knock down shots. That raised $130,000.

Stephen Curry tried to push that to $500,000, but it was Sager’s son that actually did it (with an assist from Shaquille O’Neal).

It was a touching moment for a great cause.

Derrick Jones Jr. catches pass off side of backboard, jams between-legs dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — With defending runner-up Aaron Gordon eliminated in the first round, Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. might be our best hope to save the dunk contest.