Lakers retire Shaq’s number then retire Mavs playoff hopes with win

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LOS ANGELES — Lakers fans celebrated Shaquille O’Neal getting his number retired Tuesday night.

They did so by dancing about on the fresh grave of the Mavericks playoff chances. And while they did that, they could celebrate that the Lakers still have playoff life.

From the opening tip the Lakers pounded the Mavericks on the glass — 19 offensive rebounds — and got a triple-double from an active and energetic Kobe Bryant to beat Dallas 101-81. The win ties the Lakers with the Jazz at 39-36 on the season for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West (Utah has the tie breaker winning the season series). That race is on.

Dallas is now 2.5 games back of them with 7 games to play and both Utah and the Lakers have the tiebreaker on Dallas. While it’s not mathematically impossible that is going to be too big a mountain to climb and the Mavs know it. The Mavericks playoff streak ends at 12. You could sense it in a Dallas locker room that felt like a morgue after the game.

“It’s disappointing,” Elton Brand said. “This is one we really thought we were supposed to get, we had a chance. So losing this one really dampens the spirits (in the locker room).”

“We have some inexperienced guys that haven’t been (in an important playoff-like game) so this is a valuable learning experience for them, but it has a price,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.

Carlisle tried to counter the Lakers size by starting Chris Kaman, who played solidly, but the Lakers length still controlled the game. Los Angeles grabbed 39.6 percent of their own missed shots with the offensive board.

But the bigger issue was the Lakers length really bothered Mavericks shooters — particularly Dirk Nowitzki, who had to deal with Pau Gasol much of the night. In his previous three games Nowitzki had shot 63 percent but the Lakers held him to 4-of-15 shooting and often took the ball out of his hands.

“They had long bodies on him, they were physical with him,” Carlisle said. “When we got him touches a lot of times he was forced to pass. Unfortunately, we were unable to hit a lot of the shot where he kicked out.”

Meanwhile Kobe Bryant was dishing and the Lakers were hitting, particularly late in the second quarter when they started to pull away. Kobe had a triple double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

When the Mavs doubled Kobe or Dwight Howard, the other guys made them pay (usually). Earl Clark was back from his slump and had 17 points (and played some good defense on Nowitzki as well). Steve Blake, starting for the injured Steve Nash (who will return Friday) had 11 points.

Kobe played heavy minutes — more than 47 — but never showed it, throwing down some big dunks — the kind he used to have when he played with Shaq — and being more active on defense than we have seen in recent games. It mattered.

“I feel sore right now,” Bryant said after the game, his feet and ankles soaking in ice. “My back is a little sore and my hamstrings are a little sore. I just have to get ready for next week.

“I just have to push through a little bit right now. Hopefully we can get a game and a little breathing room.”

Don’t bet on it. The Jazz have won five in a row and have and easier schedule the rest of the way than the Lakers. Every game is still must win for Los Angeles.

Starting with a tough one Friday night against Memphis. A team that can match that Lakers length that overwhelmed Dallas in the paint.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.