Dwight Howard, Jason Collins

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.

Russell Westbrook wears all black to potential Warriors elimination game (video)

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder speaks to the media after their 118 to 94 win over the Golden State Warriors in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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.  (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook arrived at the arena in Golden State dressed for a (very weird) funeral.

The Thunder, up 3-1 in the Western Conference finals, can end the Warriors’ season tonight. So, Westbrook dressed ready to give his condolences.

Lest you think this is coincidence, he also wore black for Game 5 against the Mavericks and Game 6 against the Spurs. Jason Potter:

This is something players sometimes do – and I love it. What a great way to who your confidence, and I’m not sure any NBA player has more than Westbrook.

57 players withdraw from 2016 NBA draft

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Oklahoma Sooners during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The withdrawal deadline for the 2016 NBA draft is June 13.

But the NCAA, in an effort to treat players better, allowed players to declare for the draft and withdraw by May 25 while maintaining college eligibility. (Yes, this qualifies as better treatment. Giving the players the full extra couple weeks to assess their futures? Not in this cartel.)

So, any college player who wanted to play collegiately next year faced an effective deadline of yesterday.

Of the 117 players who declared early through the American system, 57 are headed back to their college teams.

This list has no big surprises. By this point, most highly touted prospects have already declared their intention.

Here are all 57:

  • Abdul-Malik Abu, North Carolina State
  • BeeJay Anya, North Carolina State
  • Ian Baker, New Mexico State
  • V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
  • Antonio Blakeney, LSU
  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Amida Brimah, Connecticut
  • Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon
  • Elijah Brown, New Mexico
  • Deonte Burton, Iowa State
  • Antonio Campbell, Ohio
  • Conor Clifford, Washington State
  • Charles Cooke III, Dayton
  • Bakari Copeland, Maryland-Eastern Shore
  • Moustapha Diagne, Northwest Florida State
  • Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
  • D’Andre Downey, Stillman College (AL)
  • Vince Edwards, Purdue
  • Jimmy Hall, Kent State
  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Josh Hawkinson, Washington State
  • Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
  • Ike Iroegbu, Washington State
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina
  • Kris Jenkins, Villanova
  • Que Johnson, Washington State
  • Peter Jok, Iowa
  • Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
  • Travion Kirkendoll, Centenary College (LA)
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis
  • Marcus Lee, Kentucky
  • Makai Mason, Yale
  • Jahmal McMurray, South Florida
  • Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
  • Dallas Moore, North Florida
  • Jalen Moore, Utah State
  • Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb
  • Malik Newman, Mississippi State
  • Marc-Eddy Norelia, Florida Gulf Coast
  • Cameron Oliver, Nevada
  • Alec Peters, Valparaiso
  • QJ Peterson, VMI
  • Malik Pope, San Diego State
  • Rodney Purvis, Connecticut
  • Corey Sanders Jr., Rutgers
  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
  • Rakish Taylor, Anderson University (SC)
  • Ethan Telfair, Idaho State
  • Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland
  • Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton
  • Andrew White III, Nebraska
  • Alec Wintering, Portland
  • Zeek Woodley, Northwestern State

NBA policy change kept Draymond Green off All-NBA first team, Paul Millsap off third team

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 01:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks tries to steal the ball from Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 1, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Draymond Green received 431 points in All-NBA voting.

DeAndre Jordan received 317.

Yet, Jordan made the first team while Green made the second team.

Why?

The NBA explained in its official release:

Players who received votes at multiple positions were slotted at the position where they received the most votes.

Green got 85 votes at forward and 39 at center, so he was eligible only at forward. Jordan got all 89 of his votes at center.

That’s perfectly reasonable, but it wasn’t always this way.

The NBA changed its rules last offseason after 2015 voting concluded, according to league spokesman Tim Frank. Instead of sliding players to a position they rarely played if they got any votes there, players are now eligible at only the position where they received the most votes (though voters can still mostly slot players where they deem appropriate on individual ballots). An increase in multi-position players sparked the new policy.

And, fundamentally, it’s good switch. The league should have a clear policy and stick with it rather than trying to interpret the line on a case-by-case basis.

Sure, there’s room for quibbling. Is 50% the right threshold rather than, say, 30% Would basing it on points rather than votes work better? Will all forward/centers get tilted toward forward because there are twice as many All-NBA slots at forward than at center? There’s no perfect solution.

But, more than anything, a clear and fair policy – and this is both – is better than no set policy.

This is also a noteworthy policy, because it had a clear effect this year.

If Green were the first-team center, Paul George would’ve made the second team at forward and Paul Millsap would’ve been a third-team forward. (Thankfully, Millsap finished ahead of Anthony Davis – who played both power forward and center, got more votes at forward and could’ve made about $25 million more over the next five years due to the Derrick Rose rule – or else this would’ve been a much bigger can of worms). Jordan would’ve been the second-team center, DeMarcus Cousins third-team and Andre Drummond bumped.

On the flip side, adopting the current rule sooner would’ve changed some results from the last couple years.

Cousins was an All-NBA second-team forward last year despite getting more votes at center, and Pau Gasol was the All-NBA second-team center despite getting more votes at forward – which obviously means the net effect is nil.

A more significant position bend came with the 2014 All-Defensive team. Andre Iguodala was a first-team guard despite getting more votes at forward. Holding him at forward would’ve sent him to the second team and bumped Kawhi Leonard. Patrick Beverley would’ve gone to the first team and Tony Allen to the second team at guard.

Report: Rockets hiring Mike D’Antoni

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29:  Head Coach Mike D'Antoni of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a score against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center on April 29, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. The spurs would win the game 92-87 and the series 4-1.   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.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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James Harden reportedly had a role in picking the Rockets’ head coach.

So, of course they hired someone who’s not particularly interested in defense.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

D’Antoni can be an excellent coach if he has a roster that fits his up-tempo spread style, and a defensive coordinator would also help (Sorry, James). If Houston is committed to surrounding D’Antoni with the requisite resources, this could be a strong hire. On the bright side, this roster is ripe for turnover – notably Dwight Howard, who clashed with D’Antoni on the Lakers.

Most of all, the Rockets just needed a fresh start after last season’s stinker. They were bound to get that no matter whom they hired.

It’ll be on D’Antoni to prove he can provide more of a bump than any viable coach would’ve.

At minimum, though, Houston should be more exciting.