Los Angeles Lakers Howard drives around Orlando Magic Vucevic in NBA action in Orlando, Florida

Three Stars of the Night: Dwight’s Return to Orlando


It wasn’t a very competitive night of NBA games with blowouts littering scoreboards all across the league. But many of those games wouldn’t have seen the wide margins they did if it weren’t for some fantastic performances from guys who really went above and beyond what they’d normally provide on any given night. Without further ado, let’s get to the difference makers from tonight’s games…

Third Star: Gerald Henderson (35 points, 12-12 FT’s, 3 assists)

Henderson isn’t your typical high volume scorer, but he brought the points in bunches tonight in leading the Bobcasts to a 26 point win over the Celtics. Henderson used his typical hustle to move well off the ball and run the floor for easy baskets but was also able to create (and make) shots for himself in isolation. Henderson’s aggressiveness not only earned him shots at the rim, but also trips to the foul line where he was perfect on 12 attempts. Overall, he was simply too much for any of the Celtics’ wings to handle defensively and the key difference maker in this one.

Second Star: Ricky Rubio (21 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists)

We all know that Rubio can pass. His feel for the game is once in a generation level and every night he has at least one pass that makes you hit rewind on the DVR to watch again and again. And, against the Spurs, Rubio had several remarkable passes that will make the highlight reel. But Rubio was so much more than a passer tonight in racking up a triple double while taking advantage of a Spurs team missing Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Rubio was all over the floor in this one, grabbing rebounds and pushing the ball to get good looks for himself and teammates. Plus, his 21 points was his first 20+ point game of the season and included one finish that was as great as any pass he made all night:

First Star: Dwight Howard (39 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks)

Off the floor, Howard was the center off attention coming into the game as he was returning to Orlando for the first time since his trade to the Lakers last July. But his activity on both ends of the floor and Magic coach Jacque Vaughn’s hack-a-Dwight strategy ensured that he’d also be the center of attention on the floor. Howard flashed the athleticism that’s made him the league’s premier big man, finishing in the lane with dunks and nifty hook shots, hitting the glass hard on both ends, and defending the rim with vigor. But what made his night special was his ability to knock down his free throws and turn Vaughn’s strategy into an epic fail. Dwight hit 25 of the 39 FT’s he took (64% compared to his season average of 49%), including 16 of 20 in the 2nd half. As Vaughn continued to call for his team to foul, Howard calmly stepped up to the line and knocked down his shots, only drawing out the loss he’d lay on his former team. Quite the homecoming for Mr. Howard.

Breaking news: Leandro Barbosa dunked

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The Warriors became the first team in NBA history to start 16-0.

In the process of getting that record-breaking win over the Lakers, something nearly as historic happened.

Leandro Barbosa dunked.

The 32-year-old Golden State guard last jammed in January 2011.

For a little more perspective, look how Barbosa handled a breakaway layup earlier in the fourth quarter:

You think that man can still slam?

Yes. Yes, he can.

Magic benching Victor Oladipo, starting Channing Frye

Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye
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Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.

But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.

The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.

Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.

“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”

Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the

  • Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
  • New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8

The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.

I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.

If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.

At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.

This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.

Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs

Dwight Howard
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The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.

The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.

Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.

Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth


The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.