Will Dwight Howard stay with Lakers after season? Yes. Probably.

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We didn’t need John Cusack driving across country with Daphne Zuniga to teach us there are no sure things in life. Unexpected twists turn what seem predestined into something all together different every day.

So sure, it is possible that come next summer when Dwight Howard becomes a free agent he will choose not to re-sign with the Lakers. Maybe the Kobe Bryant and Howard relationship blows up mid-season. Maybe Steve Nash goes Gilbert Arenas in Howard’s shoe. Maybe a lot of things. But none of them are likely.

You should bet that Dwight Howard will sign a max free agent contract with the Lakers next summer (it is financially in his interest to become a free agent then re-sign rather than extend, thank you new CBA). He stays in L.A.

Nobody around him is saying it’s a certainty, because you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, but all the whispers out of the usually talkative Howard camp are that he wants to remain a Laker. He has hinted in tweets he isn’t going anywhere.

The Lakers have a few things on their side in keeping Dwight. One is guaranteed money — they have Howard’s Bird rights and can offer larger raises and a fifth guaranteed year on his contract. No other team could do that. And while the money isn’t enough to keep him if he wanted out, an extra locked in year is a nice bit of stability.

Second, the Lakers in Los Angeles can offer the kind of exposure, the kind of marketing opportunities other markets (outside New York) simply cannot. Howard likes the spotlight, he wants to be loved by fans, and he wants to do television and movies. While he’d be smart to keep his head down for a little bit and just play basketball after how his move out of Orlando hurt his PR, the Lakers can offer him a stage few other teams can.

The Lakers can also offer a chance at a ring. For the next two seasons at least, the Lakers will be considered serious title contenders. There is still the mountain to climb that is Miami, and getting by the Thunder will be far from easy, but the Lakers are talking titles right now. Then in two summers the Lakers have the opportunity to restructure the roster again around Howard (and Steve Nash for one more season) with a lot of cap space. Howard is not going to land in a spot where he is more likely to win titles.

Finally, there is the image issue. Howard damaged his brand with his terrible handling of how he left the Orlando Magic. When people are saying you handled your exit worse than LeBron James, you did it very wrong. But how you fix that image is to win games on the court and be likeable off it (Howard doesn’t have the personality to go with the Kobe Bryant “go ahead and hate me, I don’t care” attitude). To start a free agent bidding process this summer is to stir up all the muck that is just starting to settle. The smart move is to stay in Los Angeles and win rings. Ask Kobe and LeBron what that can do for your image.

With all that stacked up, it’s difficult to see Howard bolting Los Angeles this summer to play for the Mavericks or another side with cap space.

Never say never. But from the word out of his camp to just plain logic, it’s hard not to see him staying with the Lakers.

Markieff Morris calls Paul Millsap a “crybaby,” Millsap responds “It definitely got personal now”

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The Atlanta Hawks owned the Washington Wizards from the opening tip Saturday, making it a 2-1 series with an easy win.

It’s a series now — and that includes trash talk.

Paul Millsap had 29 points, pulled down 14 boards, got to the line 11 times, and led the Hawks to the win. He got the calls he wanted this game, but Washington’s Markieff Morris was not exactly down with high praise for Millsap.

The key line here: “”He just did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. Get all the calls and you a crybaby.”

Millsap was asked about that comment in his postgame presser — and the best part may be Dennis Schroeder’s reaction.

“It definitely got personal now, yes. I mean, I don’t care. So what? He can take his loss and go back to the hotel and be ready for the next game.”

These two have already had a beef this series.

Game 4 in this series just got a lot more interesting.

Marc Gasol game-winner tops Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance, evens Spurs/Grizzlies series 2-2

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Best. Game. Of. The. Playoffs.

So far at least.

Kawhi Leonard scored 16 consecutive points for the Spurs down the stretch of regulation to force overtime, then in OT hit a corner three with 7.2 seconds left to tie the game at 108-108. Leonard finished the game with a career playoff high of 43 points.

It wasn’t enough. Because in those final seconds Marc Gasol did this.

The 110-108 Memphis win ties the series at 2-2 as it heads back to San Antonio for Game 5. I might not want to sit next to Gregg Popovich on the flight home.

While Gasol hit the big shot, he never gets the chance if Mike Conley isn’t every kind of amazing through the clutch parts of this game. Conley finished with 35 points, and that includes a floater in the lane that forced OT (although Leonard got a pretty good look to end it in regulation and just missed). I’m surprised the Spurs switched on the pseudo pick on this play.

The Spurs struggled to get stops down the stretch, mostly because they had David Lee and Tony Parker both on the floor and Memphis did a good job getting switches onto those defenders. Spurs starting center and best defensive big Dewayne Dedmon missed the game due to an illness, and that ended up mattering.

Hawks take control early, romp past Wizards 116-98

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ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 29 points, Dennis Schroder had 27 and the Atlanta Hawks delivered an early knockout blow against Washington, cruising to a 116-98 victory Saturday that sliced the Wizards’ lead to 2-1 in the opening-round playoff series.

After two tight losses in Washington exposed some bad blood between the teams, Atlanta returned home and built a 25-point lead by late in the first quarter.

The Hawks were never seriously challenged by the Wizards, who were essentially a one-man team. John Wall kept up his dazzling play in the series, scoring 29 points, but the point guard got no help from his teammates.

The other Washington starters combined to score 30 points on 14-of-45 shooting.

Millsap also had 14 rebounds, while rookie Taurean Prince chipped in with 16 points.

Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta.

The Hawks came out intent on moving the ball, getting open looks and cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the first two contests.

Talk about following the game plan.

Atlanta pushed out to a double-digit lead before the game was 3 minutes old and stretched the margin to 38-13 with just under a minute to go in the opening quarter on Schroder’s 3-pointer.

Wall did everything he could to spark the Wizards. He posed along the baseline after a thunderous dunk, which might have had more effect if the Wizards weren’t losing by 23 at the time. He also darted through the lane against a collapsing defense to bank in an improbable shot, drawing gasps from the Atlanta crowd.

Wall made all but one shot and scored 21 points in the first half, but the Wizards trailed 64-46 heading to the locker room. The other four Washington starters had just 18 points.

Beal, in particular, had a miserable night after averaging 26.5 points in the first two games. He was held to 12 points on 6-of-20 shooting, missing all six of his attempts beyond the arc.

TIP INS

Wizards: Wall is averaging 31 points per game in the series. … F Otto Porter Jr. left in the third quarter with a strained neck and didn’t return. … After a video review, Jason Smith was called for a flagrant foul against Millsap late in the third quarter.

Hawks: C Dwight Howard remains a non-factor in Atlanta’s offense. He scored five points and took just four shots, giving him a mere 15 attempts over the first three games. He did have 11 rebounds. … Schroder had some issues at the free-throw line, making only half of his eight attempts. Millsap did, too, going 5 of 9. … Atlanta had a double-digit lead for the final 44:24 of the game. … Prince picked up a technical foul for taunting the Wizards after an alley-oop dunk in the closing minutes. … The Hawks had just 11 turnovers.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic to play, start vs. Golden State in Game 3

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In 20 games after the Trail Blazers traded for him, Jusuf Nurkic averaged 15.2 points 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Portland was 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court and went 14-6, a surge that helped get them into the playoffs. Then a leg fracture had him sidelined for the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.

Until Saturday.

He will play limited minutes, but the Blazers will take it.

Portland is down 0-2 to the Warriors but are coming home to take on a Golden State team that will be without Kevin Durant again (strained calf) and coach Steve Kerr (illness).

Nurkic gives Portland some hope, he certainly helps their defense. We’ll see if that’s enough.