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Rockets face Lakers but Dwight Howard wants to move on from that conversation

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“It’s another game.”

That was how Dwight Howard described facing the Lakers this Thursday. Just three words. Howard says he’s over all the drama of last season and the summer, the Lakers say they are over it, the fan bases say they are over it. Everyone says they have moved on and don’t want to talk or read about it.

Yet, like running into your ex-girlfriend at a bar just a month after you broke up, it’s still a meeting that is awkward and emotional. It stirs up feelings. For Howard and the Lakers that first meeting is Thursday night on Howard’s home turf in Houston (TNT, 10:30 ET).

Howard just doesn’t want to talk about it or hypotheticals.

“Listen, it’s over with man. I’m already out of there,” Howard said Monday night in Los Angeles where his Rockets lost their lone game this young season to the Clippers. “There’s no need to talk about what the Lakers could have did, I made my decision and I’m living with it. I’m happy where I’m at, I’m in a great place… I think everybody should move forward. It’s over with. This is my life. You don’t like it? So what.”

In Houston Howard is loved as the star who turned his back on the starlets for something real — James Harden and a well-constructed roster that can compete for a title the next few years (especially with a couple roster tweaks). Houston has the best offense in the NBA through five games and is outscoring opponents by 9.1 points per 100 possessions, third best in the NBA (Golden State and Indiana are ahead of them). The Rockets are 4-1 to start the season and while there’s a long way to go they look very good.

Howard made the right basketball decision. The Lakers’ roster and direction is in much more flux — they have cap space next summer but we’ll see what that can bring.

Still on Monday night the Los Angeles media that crowded around Howard postgame in the halls of Staples Center included a host of Lakers beat writers there because he left. In Los Angeles, him choosing to leave the storied Lakers franchise is still viewed as treasonous. Like he chose to dump Kate Upton.

Howard said he learned in Los Angeles last season how to tune that out.

“Not to allow what is being said to affect who I am as a person, to continue to lead this team despite whatever is going on on the outside,” Howard said of the lessons learned. “To be the guy for the team. We’ve got a lot of young players that look up to me, it’s my job not to let whatever happens off the floor, outside the locker room effect who I am as a person.”

As for the Thursday night game, the Kobe-less Lakers have been an up-and-down team — it was very down in Dallas Tuesday — but they can score points. The Lakers get out and run, and they move the ball well. They just can’t stop anyone. Through five games (small sample size theater) the Lakers have the third worst defense in the NBA, allowing 106.9 points per 100 possessions.

Put that up against the strong Rockets offense and it’s a recipe for real trouble for the Lakers.

But what will stun Lakers fans most is the quickness and energy with which Howard is playing — he is healthy again. Or close to it, he said he’s not 100 percent yet. But by his own admission Howard came back too early last season and between the back and shoulder injuries he was never right, never himself. Rockets coach Kevin McHale said when they signed Howard this summer and he came in for a physical team doctors were surprised the rough shape he was in. Howard spent another summer just on rehab and it shows.

He looks good. Which is going to be rough for Lakers fans, because the last thing you want to see when you run into your ex in the bar is for her to look smokin’ hot.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.