Kobe says of Dwight Howard Lakers need to “keep him and lock him in”

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I’m not sure how good the Lakers will be with Dwight Howard next season — Lakers fans and players point to the 28-12 stretch and say they can sustain that, I’m not sold — but I know this:

Without Howard the Lakers will be a mess next season.

Kobe Bryant realizes that too and said in a radio interview on Wednesday the Lakers need to re-sign Howard, and that he would help the process. The interview was on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, as transcribed by Eric Pincus at the Los Angeles Times.

“Those guys are hard to find, they don’t grow on trees,” Bryant said on 710 ESPN Los Angeles. “When you have someone like that with his talent level, you have to be able to keep him and lock him in with this franchise….

“I’ve spoken to him maybe a couple of weeks ago, just to check in with him,” said Bryant. “I haven’t spoken to him since. I know he’s got a big decision to make and I’m sure he’ll take the visits and talk to the players on the teams he’s considering. We’ll touch base a lot more.”

Howard is a free agent come July 1 and a number of teams — Houston, Dallas, Atlanta — are expected to make their cases to Howard.

Kobe has said before he wants to step in more as a closer after Howard has heard everyone’s pitch. That is what late owner Jerry Buss did when Kobe was a free agent, let him talk to other teams then come in and remind him all the advantages of being a Laker and how the franchise planned to build around him. It worked when Buss did it, we’ll see if Kobe can have that same success.

Kobe was also asked about his recovery from his torn Achilles. He said his goal is still to play at the start of season but said that it could be December before he is back. It’s a process.

“I’ve been rehabbing now for about a month, almost a month and a half,” Bryant said. “At the beginning stages, it’s really boring stuff. It’s really just trying to get out the inflammation, break up the scar tissue [and] make sure your toes are working.”

LeBron James blows wide-open dunk (video)

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J.R. Smith (slightly out of context): “We don’t start paying attention until after All-Star break.”

Report: Raptors’ Delon Wright out a month

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Raptors guard Delon Wright dislocated his shoulder, but at least he won’t need surgery.

Raptors media relations:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Raptors (11-5), off to a surprisingly strong start, are second in the Eastern Conference. They’ve bought themselves margin for error. All in all, a month-long absence for Wright isn’t so bad.

Wright had been a key part of an excellent all-bench unit that included Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, C.J. Miles and Jakob Poeltl. Two-way player Lorenzo Brown has assumed Wright’s role, and Norman Powell – returning from his own injury – will provide a boost. Toronto can also stagger Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan more.

The chemistry of the bench mob was something to behold, but the Raptors should withstand this.

Report: Clippers PG Patrick Beverley out rest of season

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Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley underwent knee surgery – never a great sign.

The prognosis is about as bad as could be expected.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This injury isn’t just a setback for this season. It could derail the Clippers’ long-term plan.

They’ve already lost nine straight, and Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic are injured. If they fall further out of playoff position, they could become sellers before the trade deadline, especially with DeAndre Jordan ($24,119,025 player option for next season) and Lou Williams ($7 million salary on expiring contract).

Health was always the major question with this team, and it won’t soften as Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari age through lucrative contracts.

The final year of Beverley’s contract is guaranteed for just $5,027,028 next season, and the 29-year-old will spend most of the summer recovering from this injury. That salary is probably low enough that the Clippers will keep him without hesitation.

Until then, down a couple point guards, the Clippers have no choice but to continue leaning more on Austin Rivers. That also means greater roles for second-round rookies Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell. That’s just too many players facing outsized responsibility.

The Pelicans, Grizzlies, Jazz and any other team competing for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference ought to feel better about their chances. They’re still competing with each other, and it’s doubtful all three make it. But Beverley’s injury helps clear the way.

The Clippers, who didn’t want to take a major step back after Chris Paul‘s departure, must confront an even more uneasy reality.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Suns Eric Bledsoe revenge game

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Giannis Antetokounmpoone of the NBA’s best players – won’t help new Bucks teammate Eric Bledsoe in a revenge game against the Suns tonight.

Not only is Milwaukee missing Mirza Teletovic and John Henson (and Matthew Dellavedova and Jabari Parker), Antetokounmpo is out.

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Antetokounmpo will miss Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to right knee soreness.

Antetokounmpo says his knee soreness is the same injury he dealt with in the off-season, which caused him to withdraw from the Greek national team.

“It feels good,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting out shootaround. “I’m just trying to be careful with it and not make any damage. That’s it, because it’s a long season and I’m trying to be careful.”

The Bucks have been outscored by 18.6 points per 100 possessions without Antetokounmpo this season (and are +2.3 without him). Phoenix isn’t good, but neither is Milwaukee without Antetokounmpo.

I don’t think Bledsoe will mind a chance to get more aggressive tonight, though.