Unimpressive Dwight Howard not helping his image

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Dwight Howard will be more than happy to tell you how he came back early from back surgery to help the Lakers. Doctors told him not to play until January but he pushed through pain so he could be out there from opening day for the Lakers.

He’s clearly not yet 100 percent physically. He’s not the explosive Howard on the boards and on defense that we remember from Orlando. His numbers are not bad — 17.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game — but he has gone from guy who was talked about as an MVP candidate a few years ago to a good player.

But it’s more than that, he looks lethargic at times.

He looks lost in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, like he’s unsure where to be in the sets. He looks like a guy thinking his way through the game, not just playing and reacting.

And his energy is down — watch how the Lakers energy picks up when Howard sits and Jordan Hill enters. Hill tries to make up for his lack of polished skills with effort.

All of this comes back to Howard, who is starting to take heat in Los Angeles for his lethargic play. Look at what Kevin Ding wrote in the Orange County Register (you really need to read the entire thing, it’s brilliant).

“Dwight Howard is basically Kosta Koufos” was the message I got from one NBA insider midway through the Lakers’ loss Wednesday night in Denver, referring to the Nuggets’ largely anonymous center….

This is what Howard is allowing to happen: As more substandard games go by without noticeable rust dropping off, the image repair that was supposed to happen this season is twisting into reputation tarnishing.

And that last bit is the key.

Howard thrashed his national reputation in the ugly way he pushed his way out of Orlando. But this is America, you can thrash your reputation pretty good but if you come back hard and win people tend to forget the past and move on. Just ask Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

But Howard’s play of late is only adding to his reputation, he looks like a guy who can coast and is happy to let Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash take the burden of leadership.

You should hear Los Angeles sports talk radio (which is often all Lakers and the Clippers with their 15-game win streak are almost ignored) where Howard’s play is getting ripped. He is not what people expected.

Howard has been good. But the Lakers didn’t trade for him to be good, they traded for him to be a force of nature. To fight to get things done. Right now he’s not doing that.

People are noticing.

And that is not helping Howard turn around his reputation after Orlando.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.