Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard fires back at Kobe, says he has to watch out for himself

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Well Dwight Howard, you wanted to be the man on a bigger stage. Welcome to all that entails.

Howard has been banged up this season and while he’s been good he has not been the dominant force Lakers fans expected. And now they need him to be — the Lakers are trying to make a playoff push and a lot of that falls on the shoulders of Dwight Howard to be a leader with Pau Gasol out injured for six weeks (at least).

It falls on Howard’s shoulder, the one with a torn labrum he has struggled to play through. And the bad back that hasn’t been right all season. He’s been out the last three games because of the shoulder. Kobe Bryant decided to push Howard in a very Kobe and very public way, saying the team needs him and to just suck it up.

Howard didn’t like that at all, and shot back at shootaround in Boston Thursday. Howard went through shootaround but is a game-time decision tonight. Here is what Howard said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com. On Kobe telling him to play:

“That’s his opinion. That’s it. He’s not a doctor, I’m not a doctor.”’

What really boiled Howard’s blood was calling his competitiveness into question.

“”I want to play, I mean, why wouldn’t I want to play? But, at the same time, this is my career, this is my future, this is my life. I can’t leave that up to anybody else because nobody else is going to take care of me. So, if people are pissed off that I don’t play or if I do play, whatever it may be, so what? This is my career. If I go down, then what? Everybody’s life is going to go on. I don’t want to have another summer where I’m rehabbing and trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year. That’s what I want to do.”

Kobe did backtrack a little at shootaround, saying he doesn’t know how Howard’s body feels.

Howard has said recently that he tried to play through back issues last year and it made them worse and forced the surgery he had and that he is still struggling to overcome. Howard said he learned a lesson from that.

And Howard knows he is a free agent next summer, he’s looking at a max deal. He’ll get that so long as the injuries don’t hold teams back.

For his first seven years in the league Howard was basically injury free, missing just four games. But the last couple years have been a struggle for the 27-year-old physically and he is struggling to deal with this.

My feeling is Kobe’s message got through, Howard will play against the Celtics. But how many more games before he aggravates that shoulder again? Can he really play through it and be effective? Can he lead the Lakers on the defensive end?

As I have said before, at the start of the season it was a lock Howard would re-sign with the Lakers this summer. Now I think it’s still likely, but that lock is open and other teams are going to try to push through that door.

Glenn Robinson III does his best to salvage Dunk Contest, gets victory in process

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NEW ORLEANS — This year’s NBA All-Star Dunk Contest was doomed to disappoint, it was never going to match last year’s epic battle. It started in a hole.

It never climbed out. Don’t take my word for it, check out what JaVale McGee thought.

Saturday was an underwhelming night of dunks punctuated by a couple of moments of brilliance.

The Pacers’ Glenn Robinson III had the most of those moments — which is why he won the event. His strong night started with his first dunk, which may well have been the best of the contest.

The final one from Robinson, the one that sealed the victory, may be the other best dunk of the competition — dunking over Paul George, the Pacers mascot, and a Pacers dancer.

“I originally planned for it just to be PG (Paul George),” Robinson said afterward. “I knew I had to bring out something special. We added the mascot and the cheerleader. I really just wanted to get up high and dunk that thing hard, man. My adrenaline was going. It felt like I was looking at the rim. All I knew was the crowd go crazy. I pointed like this because, man, everybody seemed to sleep on me, didn’t really think I was going to win this thing.”

Event favorite Aaron Gordon, who should have won a year ago, opened the contest with an innovative idea — a drone dunk — but he couldn’t execute it and there were a few attempts before he nailed it.

Gordon didn’t advance out of the first round, and his first dunk summed up the 2017 Dunk Contest — interesting ideas that didn’t quite pan out like planned. (To be fair, Gordon has been battling injuries recently, that may have thrown him off).

If it wasn’t going to be Gordon, a lot of people expected it to be the bouncy Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. who won, and he reached the Finals in part thanks to this spectacular dunk that woke the Smoothie King Center up.

DeAndre Jordan was okay, but without Chris Paul throwing him lobs it didn’t quite feel the same. Jordan can dunk with such power in game, but we didn’t see that Saturday.

In the end, it was Gordon who was making the plays.

“I’m not really a known dunker,” Robinson said. “I practiced. I prepared. I know I’m a jumper. And like I said, I’m a guy that stays out of the way. But when it’s time to shine, that’s my thing. That’s what I wanted to do. I knew all along I had some things planned, and I just wanted to show the world.”

Glenn Robinson III wins underwhelming dunk contest on over-people, below-rim dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — Glenn Robinson III won the dunk contest with the second-best dunk of the night, going over a few people and under the rim — a narrow path to slamming victory.

It would’ve rated as the event’s best dunk if he were truly under the rim rather than somewhat in front of it. And he did have the best body of work to win the contest.

But the best single dunk was still by runner-up Derrick Jones Jr., who went between the legs on a pass off the side of the backboard.

NBA stars shoot threes to raise $500,000 for Sager Strong Foundation in touching moment

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NEW ORLEANS — The spirit of Craig Sager is strong during All-Star weekend in The Big Easy and he’s going to get a spot in the Hall of Fame, deservedly so.

After Eric Gordon won the Three-Point Contest, he and the other finalists Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker stayed on the court to shoot threes to raise money for the Sager Strong Foundation — they would shoot threes for a minute and for each make the foundation would get $10,000. Then they brought out help — Reggie Miller, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, DJ Khaled, and others to knock down shots. That raised $130,000.

Stephen Curry tried to push that to $500,000, but it was Sager’s son that actually did it (with an assist from Shaquille O’Neal).

It was a touching moment for a great cause.

Derrick Jones Jr. catches pass off side of backboard, jams between-legs dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — With defending runner-up Aaron Gordon eliminated in the first round, Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. might be our best hope to save the dunk contest.