Dwight Howard leads Lakers to win over Celtics

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Dwight Howard spent much of his media time in Houston over All-Star weekend deflecting questions about his future. If he can play out the remainder of the season the way he performed on Wednesday, the answers will speak for themselves.

Howard was active from the very start, and helped set the tone for his team as the Lakers led wire to wire in their 113-99 win over the Celtics.

It was an emotional night in Los Angeles, as the team honored owner Jerry Buss, who passed away at the age of 80 on Monday, with a video tribute and a speech to the crowd before tip-off from Kobe Bryant. The Lakers came out strong in the first quarter as a result, and Howard’s play was the catalyst for the effort that extended through to the final buzzer.

The criticism with Howard’s play to this point of the season can be partially blamed on injury. He began the season not fully recovered from back surgery, and then has played through the pain of a torn labrum in his right shoulder, while missing time due to the injury in two separate stretches.

But there’s also been an effort and body language issue which has been even more troublesome, and on display far more often than the team would like to see, especially given the franchise’s long-term vision that has Howard firmly in the picture.

Neither the injury nor a lack of effort was present in this one, as Howard went to work early, and looked every bit as dominant as we’ve seen him be in the past. Offensively, he was constantly working to establish good position inside, while setting solid screens for Steve Nash out top instead of slipping them too soon as he’s done the majority of the season.

Howard finished with a team-high 24 points and 12 rebounds on 10-13 shooting, and he helped get Nash going by clearing space with those screens. Nash finished with 14 points and seven assists on 6-7 shooting, and with his fifth assist of the night passed Magic Johnson to move into fourth place all-time in that category.

Howard and Nash played together in this one, and gave us a glimpse of exactly what the Lakers envisioned was possible when assembling this team over the summer. It’s only one game, of course, but the possibilities are exciting when you see the two play in this way, even for small stretches.

This game was never in doubt for the Lakers — the team led by as many as 14 in the first half, 19 in the third quarter, and 22 in the fourth, with Boston getting no closer than 12 points at any time in the final 12 minutes.

It was an off night offensively for Kobe Bryant, who finished with 16 points on just 5-15 shooting. But he, like the rest of the team played with a high level of energy, and matched Nash with seven assists. Earl Clark continued to produce inside, and hauled down a career-high 16 rebounds.

The Lakers had a lot going for them in this game in terms of motivation. They were waxed by the Celtics just two weeks ago, so there was some payback in order. There’s the increased desperation in place to make a run to the postseason now that the All-Star break is behind us. And of course, there was the emotion behind playing the team’s first game since the passing of its legendary owner.

It wasn’t a surprise that the Lakers were able to come out and play harder than a Celtics team known for effort above all else on this night. The play of Howard might have been, however, and if he can find a way to consistently perform at that level for the team’s remaining games, there won’t be any lingering questions about his future, or of who will be the star to anchor the Lakers franchise in the years to come.

John Wall takes over late, clinches Wizards 115-99 win over Hawks, Washington advances

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Closing teams out is hard.

Already up 3-2, Washington on the road was in complete control against Atlanta, up 22 in the third quarter, seeming destined to cruise to a win and a meeting with the Boston Celtics in the next round. Then it started to come apart. The Hawks moved the ball and made some shots, while the Wizards got tight. The lead shrunk down to three at 93-90 Washington, and Atlanta had all the momentum.

Then John Wall happened.

First, he made this play.

That changed the momentum as the Wizards closed the game on a 22-9 run where Wall scored the final 13 points on his way to 42 for the night on 25 shots. The result was a 115-99 Wizards win to close the Hawks out 4-2.

Washington starts the second round Sunday against Boston.

“I was just trying to close the game out, man,” Wall said of his block on Dennis Schroder and his run at the end of the game. “We had a big lead, but we knew those guys was not going to stop fighting. We had a couple careless turnovers, I had, but we just kept fighting and we came back and got this win.”

Heck, Wall was even taunting Julio Jones sitting courtside as he rattled off those late-game points.

Bradley Beal had 31 points in this one as well. Washington had 26 fourth quarter points, Wall and Beal combined for 24 of them. The Hawks went small in the end, benching Dwight Howard in the fourth again, and that was just fine with the Wizards, who have better athletes when small.

Wall and Beal learned over the course of this series to read and adjust to what Atlanta was doing. The Hawks chased and trailed over the top of picks all night, with their bigs staying back trying to protect the rim, and Wall and Beal both just took the shots given them and knocked them down. More than just those two, the packing of the paint by the Hawks in Game 6 allowed Bojan Bogdanovic, Otto Porter and others to step into clean midrange shots they missed earlier in the series. Washington made Atlanta pay for the Hawks’ defensive gameplan.

The feistiness of this game bubbled over in the second quarter when Bradley Beal had a breakaway layup and Kent Bazemore pushed him a little in the air. Beal got up and went right to Bazemore angry.

The referees reviewed that play and Beal and Bazemore got technical fouls with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jason Smith also getting them for jumping into the fray late.

For Atlanta, an interesting offseason begins where they will try to retain Paul Millsap, an unrestricted free agent, and if they can’t a rebuilding will start in earnest.

For the Wizards, it is on to Boston.

Bradley Beal, Kent Bazemore get technicals for scuffle in Hawks, Wizards

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It’s been a chippy kind of playoff series — one where Paul Millsap gets called a crybaby — and with the Hawks on the brink of elimination emotions were especially high on Friday night.

Kent Bazemore had been frustrated with a couple of calls (and no calls) and he took that out on the play above — he got picked by Kelly Oubre, who threw the ball ahead to Bradley Beal for a layup, and Bazemore gave him a little push in the air. It wasn’t much, but when a guy is airborne and defenseless that touch throwing off balance can lead to serious injury.

Beal bounced up and got in Bazemore’s face. Then an NBA version of a scuffle started.

The referees reviewed it and Beal and Bazemore got technical fouls with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jason Smith also getting them for their role later in the “festivities.”

The league should come in with a fine for Bazemore on this — you cannot let guys push other guys who are airborne, even slightly. That was a dangerous play, and I’m surprised the officials did not call a technical.

Report: Kevin McHale also in mix for team president in Orlando

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Cavaliers GM David Griffin — who doesn’t have a contract with the team beyond this year, but who LeBron James has endorsed — is on their radar.

Larry Bird, who is stepping down in Indiana, is a potential target.

You can add Kevin McHale to the list of former NBA executives the Orlando Magic are taking a look at in their search for a new head of basketball operations, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.

The Orlando Magic have serious interest in Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Kevin McHale for their team president position, according to two people with knowledge of the situation….But McHale, who served as Minnesota Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations from 1995 to 2008 while also serving as the team’s head coach on two occasions, is known to be on the Timberwolves’ short list as well. The Magic would strongly prefer someone who has previously been a general manager for the president position.

But McHale, who served as Minnesota Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations from 1995 to 2008 while also serving as the team’s head coach on two occasions, is known to be on the Timberwolves’ short list as well. The Magic would strongly prefer someone who has previously been a general manager for the president position.

McHale made some franchise-defining moves as the head man in Minnesota — he drafted Kevin Garnett and he brought Flip Saunders into the organization, he brought in Sam Cassell and Latrell Spreewell and that got the Timberwolves to the conference finals in 2004, to use a few examples.

He had his share of mistakes, too. Like drafting Ray Allen then trading him for Stephon Marbury, or drafting Brandon Roy and trading him for Randy Foye.

The Orlando roster has talent on it — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — and a quality coach in place with Frank Vogel. That said the talent on the roster does not fit and Orlando desperately needed someone willing to shake things up, who wasn’t too invested in “their guys” to realize the roster’s serious shortcomings.

McHale could do that. It looks like we are a month or more from finding out, however, as Griffin isn’t going anywhere until after the Cavaliers season — which likely extends into June. If the Magic are serious about him, this process is going to drag out.

Joel Embiid was hanging out with Philly fans at the NFL Draft

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Joel Embiid is a man of the people.

And last night the people in Philadelphia were all Eagles fans, watching the NFL Draft unfold.

Embiid was out there with them. Literally.

Ben Simmons was there as well with Embiid, according to CSNPhilly.com.

Philadelphia fans can only hope the Eagles draft as well — and have WAY better injury luck — than the Sixers.