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


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.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win

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The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.