Magic get ultimate revenge on Dwight Howard, beating the Lakers and humiliating him in the process

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There really is nothing that could happen in one game for the Orlando Magic that could possibly make up for what Dwight Howard put them through a season ago, considering the way he forced his way out of town and left the franchise in a full-blown rebuilding situation.

But for a single night, the Magic and their fans got everything they could have asked for.

Orlando not only beat the Lakers in Los Angeles, but did so by humiliating Howard in the process. A 40-point fourth quarter and some timely missed free throws from Dwight powered the Magic to a 113-103 win at Staples Center, a result that dropped the Lakers to a record of just eight wins against nine losses on the season.

The loss part wasn’t so surprising if you’ve watched the Lakers at all this season. In games where they’ve failed to bring the intensity defensively from the very start, lesser talented teams have been able to hang around and gain confidence to the point where it becomes too late to stop them.

Howard’s performance on the night was a bit of a surprise, however, and the team seemed to take his lead a bit from an energy standpoint. It’s not as if Howard had any reason to ratchet up his game against his former team after the way he did them, as he clearly got what he wanted while Orlando was left trying to pick up the pieces. But still, an above average energy level would have been nice.

Instead, Howard managed 21 points and 15 rebounds on 6-of-13 shooting. That may seem like a good game, until you realize that seven of those rebounds came in the first quarter, and nine of those points were scored in the fourth quarter — and seven of those came at the free throw line.

Ah, yes. The free throws.

Howard finished the night 9-for-21 from the foul line, good for just 42.9 percent. He’s the first Laker to attempt more than 20 free throws while making less than 50 percent since Shaquille O’Neal back in 2004, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That was a non-championship year for the Lakers, and Shaq’s final one in Los Angeles, so it’s not exactly a statistic you want to see duplicated if you’re the Lakers.

More important than the sheer volume of Howard’s free throw misses was the way that they came, which was after the Magic went to the strategy of intentionally fouling him at various times throughout the night. Your math may vary depending on which side of the Hack-A-[blank] argument you come out on, but there’s no denying that if missed free throws by the target of the strategy on one end are followed by made threes by the team doing the fouling on the other, it’s unbeatable. And that’s pretty much how it went for Orlando in the fourth quarter of this one.

The Lakers did some curious things with their rotations, getting Devin Ebanks some random minutes for no apparent reason, while Jordan Hill — an energy player who actually might have helped on this night — received a DNP-CD. Jodie Meeks, he of the seven three-pointers in Friday night’s win over the Nuggets, similarly was used sparingly to the tune of just nine minutes off the bench.

The Magic got solid performances all around, led by a 30-point, five-rebound, five-assist night from Arron Afflalo, 23 points and 12 rebounds from Glen Davis, and 19 points and 13 assists from Jameer Nelson. But a reality check shows that this is a team that came into Sunday night at just 5-10 on the season; this wasn’t as much about the Magic’s strength as it was about the Lakers’ weakness.

As Dwight paraded to the line with his team trailing and continued to miss after the Magic continued to put him there on purpose, his former fans in Orlando must have been beside themselves with glee. They deserve it, too. While the damage Howard did to the franchise will quite literally take multiple seasons to repair, the very least the Magic can do is make the limited time they spend with him in the future as miserable as possible.

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Steve Kerr to see Stanford specialists about back issues, is optimistic about return to bench

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If he were not coaching a perennial contender and a team where he genuinely has a deep bond with the players, the GM, and his fellow coaches, Steve Kerr might have walked away from basketball for a while. The pain from spinal fluid leakage from a couple of back surgeries he had two summers ago (the ones that led to Luke Walton coaching the first half of the season in Golden State) would have been too much.

But he tolerated and managed the pain as best he could, until a few days ago when it became too much. Kerr did not coach the final two games of the Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers and said he would not return to the bench until healthy enough to do so.

Kerr’s next step is to talk to specialists at Stanford University’s medical program, and Kerr is optimistic about the long-term prognosis, he told Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

He revealed to NBCSportsBayArea.com that in recent days he has spoken to several people who have experienced the debilitating effects of a cerebrospinal fluid leak and been able to overcome it. He says that because his symptoms have intensified over the past week, in an odd twist, that may make it easier for specialists to trace the precise source.

“That’s what the next few days are all about,” Kerr said, standing down the hallway from the visitor’s locker room. “They’re trying to find it. If they can find it, they can fix it.”

He’ll begin in the coming days by consulting with specialists at Stanford Medical Center, which has some of the more respected surgeons in the world.

Kerr said his spirits have been lifted by other people who went through this, people who told him doctors found the leak and it changed their lives, that they bounced back to 100 percent. He said that the first back surgeries did their job in relieving his lower back pain, but it has led to spinal fluid leakage that is worse than the symptoms the first surgery solved.

Whether a fix can happen to get him back on the bench these playoffs is immaterial, we all hope it happens just so Kerr the person can go back to enjoying his life without chronic pain. He’ll be around the team as much as he can through the playoffs, but there are far more important things going on with him than basketball right now.

 

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.