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Dwight Howard and James Harden could form NBA’s best duo

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Dwight Howard is a center. James Harden is a guard.

Howard is one of the NBA’s best defenders. Harden is one of the league’s top offensive players.

Howard is an elite interior scorer. Harden’s range extends beyond the 3-point line.

Howard is excellent as the screener in pick-and-rolls. Harden is superb as the ball-handler on those plays.

Howard and Harden, in any system, would be two of the NBA’s best players. Together, they should be great.

They won’t step on each other’s toes the ways LeBron James and Dwyane Wade do at times. Obviously LeBron and Wade have overcome those issues, but the overlaps in their games have caused complications.

Howard and Harden won’t have to deal with that.

Could Howard and Harden even become the NBA’s best duo next season? First, let’s set a baseline using each team’s top duos last season, as judged by combined win shares.

I’ll also slot in Howard and Harden to compare. It’s difficult to know whether Howard’s peak win-share total, set in 2010-11, or his lower total while playing through injury last season is more telling, so I’ll show both.

1. Thunder, 30.5 (Kevin Durant, 18.9; Russell Westbrook, 11.6)

2. Heat, 28.9 (LeBron James, 19.3; Dwyane Wade, 9.6)

Howard (14.4) Harden (12.8) using peak numbers numbers, 27.2

3. Clippers, 24.5 (Chris Paul, 13.9; Blake Griffin, 10.6)

4. Grizzlies, 21.4 (Marc Gasol, 11.5; Mike Conley, 9.9)

Harden (12.8) and Howard (7.6) using last season’s numbers, 20.4

5. Warriors, 20.3 (Stephen Curry, 11.2; David Lee, 9.1)

6. Nets, 19.9 (Deron Williams, 10.9; Brook Lopez, 9)

7. Rockets, 19.8 (James Harden, 12.8; Chandler Parsons, 7)

8. Knicks, 18.8 (Carmelo Anthony, 9.5; Tyson Chandler, 9.3)

8. Pacers, 18.8 (George Hill, 9.7; David West, 9.1)

10. Lakers, 18.5 (Kobe Bryant, 10.9; Dwight Howard, 7.6)

11. Spurs, 17.6 (Tony Parker, 9.3; Tim Duncan, 8.3)

12. Jazz, 15.3 (Al Jefferson, 7.7; Paul Millsap, 7.6)

13. Hawks, 15.2 (Al Horford, 8.8; Kyle Korver, 6.4)

13. Nuggets, 15.2 (Kenneth Faried, 7.8; Ty Lawson, 7.4)

15. Bulls, 14.3 (Joakim Noah, 7.3; Jimmy Butler, 7)

16. Trail Blazers, 14.1 (LaMarcus Aldridge, 7.2; J.J. Hickson, 6.9)

17. Raptors, 12.9 (Amir Johnson, 7.3; Kyle Lowry, 5.6)

18. Celtics, 12.8 (Paul Pierce, 7.2; Kevin Garnett, 5.6)

19. Bucks, 12.7 (Ersan Ilyasova, 6.7; Larry Sanders, 6)

19. Timberwolves, 12.7 (Nikola Pekovic, 6.7; Andrei Kirilenko, 6)

21. Hornets, 12.6 (Ryan Anderson, 6.5; Anthony Davis, 6.1)

22. 76ers, 12.3 (Thaddeus Young, 7.4; Dorell Wright, 4.9)

23. Mavericks, 11.6 (Vince Carter, 6; Darren Collison, 5.6)

24. Wizards, 10.8 (Martell Webster, 6.3; tie John Wall and Emeka Okafor, 4.5)

25. Cavaliers, 10.5 (Kyrie Irving, 5.3; Tristan Thompson, 5.2)

25. Suns, 10.5 (Goran Dragic, 5.7; Jared Dudley, 4.8)

27. Pistons, 10.4 (Greg Monroe, 5.9; Andre Drummond, 4.5)

28. Kings, 9.4 (Isaiah Thomas, 5; tie: DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, 4.4)

29. Magic, 8.9 (Nikola Vucevic, 5.7; J.J. Redick, 3.2)

30. Bobcats, 8.1 (Kemba Walker, 4.8; Gerald Henderson, 3.3)

Wade is 31, and he has spent his career drawing fouls, a style that is difficult to maintain. He showed during the playoffs that he might already be beyond his days of regularly dominating. That doesn’t mean he’ll fall off a cliff or won’t sometimes look like the best shooting guard in the NBA, but it could mean he and LeBron lose their footing as one of the game’s best two duos.

There are also questions about how Westbrook returns from his injury. Lingering effects could keep him and Durant from retaining their place atop this list.

But if I had to guess today, I’d say Durant-Westbrook will be the NBA’s best duo next season with Howard-Harden coming in second.

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.