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Stan Van Gundy puts chances at ’50-50 or worse’ that the Lakers can retain Dwight Howard after this season

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The Lakers momentarily stopped the bleeding on Friday, playing smart and together in an easy 102-84 home victory over a decent Utah Jazz squad.

The team will need a lot more performances like that one just to sneak into the playoffs this season, and the way the rest of the year plays out will have long-term consequences on the way the franchise looks over the next several years.

Dwight Howard, as you may have heard, will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season. The Lakers traded for him believing that his re-signing in Los Angeles was a virtual certainty, given the storied history in Los Angeles, the perfect weather, and the chance to play for a team that does its best to field a championship-contending roster every single year.

But with the disastrous way things have started for this star-stacked Lakers team, along with the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, whose offense doesn’t traditionally feature its post players, Howard may consider other options more closely when the time comes.

His former coach, Stan Van Gundy, sees the chances of Howard remaining in Los Angeles as no more than a 50-50 proposition.

From David Baumann of ESPN Radio 1080 in Orlando:

I asked Stan Van Gundy if he thinks Dwight Howard will be wearing a Lakers jersey by the end of the season: “That’s going to be an interesting thing,” Van Gundy said. “I think they will keep him for the rest of the year. I think they still think they’ve got a lot to offer and can re-sign him. So, I think he’ll be there for the rest of the year, but I think it’s ’50-50′ or maybe even worse odds for the Lakers that they can retain him at the end of the year and if they realize that, you could see them make a move at the trading deadline.”

The Lakers have no plans to trade Howard at this stage, but Van Gundy has point, here.

If the team comes to the realization that Howard leaving is more likely than him staying, they would be wise to see what they could get for him before the Feb. 21 deadline passes.

The worst thing for the Lakers would be to see some improvement in the coming weeks which encourages them to keep the roster intact, only to see the team revert to its losing ways in the second half of the season, which could negatively impact Howard’s chances of staying.

The reality right now is that Howard doesn’t know what he wants, and likely won’t before the book on this season is closed. It’s almost certain that the Lakers will keep Howard through the end of the year, but predicting the future beyond that is essentially impossible.

Report: Heat complained to ‘highest levels of the league office’ about favorable calls for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker

Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (15) is congratulated by Jeremy Lin (7) after making a basket against the Sacramento Kings in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. The Hornets won 127-122 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The Heat and Hornets are clearly tiring of each other, six games of testiness culminating with Game 7 today.

One particular battle line being drawn is over Jeremy Lin (6.3) and Kemba Walker (5.5), who lead players in this series in free-throw attempts per game.

Marc Stein:

ESPN sources say that one of the factors that ramped up the tension between the teams stems from Miami complaints to the highest levels of the league office after Game 4 about what the Heat deemed to be favorable officiating for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker.

Lin and Walker relentlessly driven to the basket. That’s why they’ve attempted so many free throws. If Miami wants to keep them off the line, trap them harder on the perimeter.

That said, this is part of playoff gamesmanship. If the Heat plant a seed with referees – through the league office or otherwise – that Lin and Walker are drawing too many fouls, maybe that affects a call today. With the margins so narrow, every little bit helps.

Watch LaMarcus Aldridge drop 38 on Thunder

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Oklahoma City has more than a few adjustments to make after a brutal defensive effort in Game 1 of their series against San Antonio, but at the top of the list is sticking with LaMarcus Aldridge on defense.

He was killing them from the midrange, and more than half of his looks were uncontested — the Thunder know he can knock down that shot, right?

It was a fantastic performance from Aldridge; we’ll see if he faces tougher defense in Game 2.

NBA: Trail Blazers scored after uncalled illegal screen by Trail Blazers in final minutes

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Should we be preparing for Game 7 of the Trail Blazers-Clippers series today?

If the officials had called the final minutes of the last game correctly, maybe.

Portland won Game 6 to take the series 4-2, but a missed call a key missed call helped clinch.

With 1:45 left, Mason Plumlee got away with offensively fouling Jamal Crawford, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Plumlee (POR) sets the screen on Crawford (LAC) without giving him room to avoid the contact.

A correct call would’ve meant a Trail Blazers turnover. Instead, Damian Lillard ended the possession with two made free throws.

Portland’s advantage when the Clippers began intentionally fouling: two.

Would the Clippers have won if the refs called Plumlee’s offensive foul? Impossible to say. The final 1:45 could’ve played out much differently.

But this missed call, the only error in the Last Two Minute Report, certainly boosted the Trail Blazers’ odds.

Four Things to Watch in two Game 7s Sunday

during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:

1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.

2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.

3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.

4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.