Orlando Magic v Phoenix Suns

Dwight Howard made his choice for basketball reasons


Dwight Howard can be a goofball. He savors having fun, joking around in the locker room, being a bit of a clown prince.

That can play poorly if you’re not winning and not always giving maximum effort on the court. That image has haunted Dwight Howard for a while now, especially after the awkwardly-handled exit from Orlando then a down year in Los Angeles.

One thing in sports quickly fixes reputations — winning.

If that was the priority, if this was purely a basketball decision, then Dwight Howard made the right call in choosing the Houston Rockets.

The Lakers, even with everyone back, were not contenders with an older Steve Nash and a hobbled Kobe Bryant. Yes, the Lakers have cap space going forward — the same pitch the Mavericks made — but the Rockets had the pieces to win in place now with Howard added. There was no risk about the future.

This Rockets team was good last season, winning 45 games, but was held back by a pedestrian defense. Dwight Howard patrolling the paint, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds can change everything on that end (if he is healthy and back to his old form). With him the Rockets become the top-10 defense they need to be contenders.

On offense, the Rockets could have the best pick-and-roll in basketball.

Despite all the talk about Howard’s post play — which is improved but still about athleticism and power not polished moves — what really sets him apart as a big man is his mobility.

Howard needs to do a lot of pick-and-roll with James Harden and Jeremy Lin, both who attack aggressively on that play.

Look at it this way: Howard shot 44 percent in the post last season, 49 percent the season before and 50.6 percent the season before that. When healthy he gets points on the block (and working with Kevin McHale, the Rockets coach and Celtics legend who had some of the best footwork of any big man ever should help that).

But as the roll man getting the ball back he shot 78 percent last season, 74 percent two seasons ago and 81.7 percent the season before that. Howard sets a huge pick and is so quick it is hard for the defense to react, when he gets the ball back he has room to attack and finish. Combine that with the aggressive play of Harden and Lin and you have a crazy weapon.

Let’s see how the Rockets round out their roster before we predict they can knock off the Thunder next year in the playoffs. (I, for one, don’t love the pairing of Howard and Josh Smith, I think it gives Smith the excuse to take too many ill-advised jump shots.)

A whole lot of Lakers fans seemed happy to let Howard go, but the Howard they see next season — healthy and happy — will look like a totally different player. Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, he uses that mobility to shut down pick-and-rolls (he can show out and recover better than any big in the league) and he comes from the weak side with authority to block shots.

For several years Rockets fans were wondering what GM Daryl Morey was doing, stockpiling assets and trying to find short-term contracts. This is what he was trying to do — have the pieces to make a Harden trade and the cap space to attract Howard to go with him.

He was putting together what should be one of the best one-two punches in the NBA. He was putting together a contender.

Which is why Howard chose them. For basketball reasons. To win.

Cory Joseph drains game-winning three at buzzer for Raptors (VIDEO)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Cory Joseph made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Toronto Raptors an 84-82 victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.

Kyle Lowry scored 27 points for the Raptors, who before Joseph’s 3 had not led since early in the first quarter.

Joseph took DeMar DeRozan‘s pass in the corner and nailed the winning shot. He finished with 12 points as Toronto won its fourth straight despite tying a season high with 22 turnovers

Bradley Beal scored 20 points for Washington, which lost its fourth straight despite allowing its fewest points of the season.

John Wall added eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, but missed a pair of late free throws that opened the door for Toronto to win in regulation.

With 3.0 seconds left following those misses and a timeout, DeRozan got the ball, drove toward the baseline and kicked the ball out to Joseph in the left corner. Joseph rose and sank his 3-pointer as time expired.

Washington failed to hit a field goal over the final 4:24 to fall to 1-8 in its last nine regular-season games against Toronto. The Wizards did sweep the Raptors in the first round of last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs.

Toronto trailed by as many as 10 before Lowry’s 3-pointer from the left wing tied it at 70-all early in the fourth.

Washington answered with a 10-2 run before Toronto scored the next seven points, with Lowry’s 3-pointer off DeRozan’s kickout making it 80-79.

After DeRozan and Lowry each missed shots with a chance to take the lead, Wall and DeRozan traded free throws. But Wall missed a pair next, setting up the final sequence.


James hits game-winner, Cavs edge Nets (VIDEO)


CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James made a running hook shot with a second left and scored 26 points, giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a 90-88 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night.

After Joe Johnson‘s three foul shots tied the game with 15.2 seconds left, the Cavaliers called timeout and took the ball at midcourt.

James took the inbounds pass, dribbled to the top of the key before cutting to the right of the lane and hitting a hook shot over Brook Lopez, the Nets’ 7-foot center.

James scored 10 points and added a key steal late in the game to help Cleveland (13-4) remain unbeaten at home in nine games.

Kevin Love also scored 26 points for Cleveland, which played a sluggish first half and didn’t take its first lead until midway through the third quarter.

Lopez led Brooklyn (4-12) with 22 points. Johnson added 17 for the Nets, who fell to 1-10 on the road.

Tristan Thompson‘s basket with 1:13 remaining gave Cleveland an 86-85 lead and James made two free throws with 16 seconds left, but Johnson was fouled by J.R. Smith attempting a 3-pointer.

Johnson hit all three foul shots, but James made sure the Nets’ strong effort fell short.

James helped Cleveland rally from an 83-76 deficit in the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and a three-point play before the Cavaliers took the lead on Thompson’s basket with 2:44 remaining.

Brooklyn built the lead to double figures in the second quarter and led 50-44 at halftime. Cleveland took its first lead at 61-60 on Love’s 3-pointer midway through the third. Matthew Dellavedova‘s 3-pointer gave the Cavaliers a 69-68 lead going into the final period.

Mo Williams scored 14 points for the Cavaliers while Thompson had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Thaddeus Young had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets.


Scott Skiles says he would not have traded Tobias Harris to Magic

Tobias Harris, O.J. Mayo
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Back at the start of the season in 2012 and into early 2013, Tobias Harris was buried on the bench in Milwaukee — glued there by coach Scott Skiles. At the trade deadline that February, the Bucks sent Harris to Orlando  — where he blossomed into a quality forward that is part of the Magic’s future.

The Magic now coached by Scott Skiles.

Did Skiles want Harris moved at the time? No, he told Journal Sentinel (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“He was pretty mature as a person even then,” Skiles said of Harris, who left Tennessee after his freshman year to enter the NBA draft. “In camp he got sick; he fell behind.

“At that time, we just felt (Luc) Mbah a Moute was a better defender and (Mike) Dunleavy was a better offensive player, and Tobias didn’t get as many minutes. But we were high on him.

“Not that anybody would have listened to me, but if I would have still been the coach, I would not have been for moving Tobias. That’s for sure, if somebody would ask my opinion.”

Skiles was under pressure to win back then in Milwaukee (he was let go at the end of the season) so you can’t be surprised he was playing the veterans he trusted over the young player who would be making mistakes.

Skiles trusts Harris now; he’s giving him more than 30 minutes a night. While he’s played some small four to start the season, Skiles has switched the lineups and now has Harris starting at the three (Channing Frye is at the four). In that role he has averaged 18 points through two games, Harris has looked more comfortable. We’ll see if that sustains, but you know Skiles is giving him a chance.


DeMarcus Cousins out for Kings vs. Warriors Saturday

DeMarcus Cousins, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams
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As if Golden State was not already a prohibitive favorite Saturday night.

DeMarcus Cousins, who has missed the last two games for Sacramento with a strained back and that will continue Saturday. Our old friend Bill Herenda tweeted it first.

Not only are the Kings 1-6 without Cousins, but they were also on their way to beating Charlotte Monday until Cousins had to leave the game.

Golden State will likely be without Harrison Barnes in this game after spraining his ankle in the last game. Expect Andre Iguodala to get the start, or if interim coach Luke Walton doesn’t want to mess with the bench rotation he could go with Brandon Rush.