While world watches Dwight Howard Lakers bench earns win over Rockets

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The narrative was all about Dwight Howard taking on the Laker team he bolted last summer after a tumultuous season — and if Lakers fans were looking for some schadenfreude they got it.

Howard wasn’t impressive. He finished with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting but just 5-of-16 from the free throw line. He missed key free throws down the stretch (although he was 5-of-10 during the Hack-a-Howard part of the night, which is all Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni ever asked last season). To be fair, Howard completely outplayed Pau Gasol who was just 1-of-10 on the night thanks to Howard’s defense.

However that’s not what decided a generally choppy, sloppy game.

Instead the Lakers won thanks to their guards and their bench. No, not Steve Nash, he was pedestrian. Rather it was the little-regarded guards that mattered. Jodie Meeks came off the bench to score 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Jordan Farmar had 11.

Then there was Steve Blake who knocked down the game winner over Howard with 3.4 seconds left.

With that Los Angeles closed the game on an 8-1 run and won 99-98 to pull to .500 on the season (the Rockets are 4-2).

Like they have several times this season, the Lakers raced out to an early lead, this time it got up to 19 points. Los Angeles shot 54.2 percent overall and 6-of-9 in the first quarter on their way to 36 points. Their wings were hitting shots. Steve Blake 3-4 from three (4-of-6 for the game). Meanwhile the Rockets were 1-7 from three. The Rockets were cold in general shooting 33.3 percent in the first quarter with Harden hitting 2-of-7 from deep.

The Lakers were the more aggressive team, trying to trap on defense and pushing the tempo when they could.

However, like in other games the Lakers gave up that lead. The Lakers got sloppy with eight turnovers in the second half and that fueled Houston’s comeback. James Harden had 35 points but on 9-of-24 shooting.

Going for that schadenfreude the Lakers went to hack-a-Howard in the fourth, but he hit 5-of-10 free throws in that stretch. Last season Mike D’Antoni said if he could get that 50 percent from the line the hacking would stop. That said, he seemed to enjoy doing this from the other side.

The Lakers bench is becoming key for this team — the nights they show up the Lakers get unexpected wins. Like opening night over the Clippers. Or in this game, when the bench had 54 of the Lakers 99 points.

You can’t draw much from this game other than it’s another sign that the Rockets have a ways to go to get to the contender status they envision. As for the Lakers, it’s up and down. Who knows what we get next game from them.

But for a night they made their fan base happy.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.

Kawhi Leonard is smiling, and that confuses Manu Ginobili (PHOTO)

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Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.

In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.

When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.

Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.

Via Twitter:

You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.

Kobe is the Lakers’ all-time leader in steals (and other trivia rookies don’t know)

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“He played 20 years … I mean, yeah I guess.”

That’s what Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball had to say in this video after learning that Kobe Bryant was the all-time leader in steals for his franchise. You have to hand it to him, it is a little surprising. Even more surprising is that Bryant has 220 more than Magic Johnson at No. 2.

In a video posted to YouTube by Complex on Saturday, rookies tried to answer questions similar to the one Ball pondered over, like what team drafted their head coach, who the NBA all-time leading scorer is, and what day the first game of the season starts on.

A lot of the responses were pretty funny, including the guys getting wrong what year Adam Silver became NBA commissioner. Poor David Stern has already been forgotten about!

Meanwhile, Ball looked the sharpest. He’s going to come in handy when the Lakers play pub trivia.