Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets

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.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs embraces Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors after Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 16, 2013 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. The Spurs won 94-82 to take the series 4-2. . 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by StephenDunn/Getty Images)  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 8: LeBron James #23 helps Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers to his feet after Love was fouled during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Trail Blazers 105-100. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.

Chris Bosh: “Just being smart and cautious” pulling out of All-Star Game

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat shoots during a game against the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — You could hear it in Chris Bosh‘s voice, he wanted to be part of this All-Star Weekend in the city where he first made a name for himself as an NBA player. He specifically wanted to be part of Saturday’s Three-Point Contest as a big man.

Instead, he is out of everything All-Star Weekend due to what team officials said is a strained calf. The announcement came late, Bosh had done the Friday morning media availability and talked like a man going to play, and then a couple of hours later it was announced he was out.

“Yesterday I was upbeat, but it just kind of lingered,” Bosh said. “I tried to treat it and all these things, but it’s just one of those funny things where if you feel like it’s not really turning a corner, you know calves can turn into really major, major problems. Any other circumstance, I’d try to push through it, but it just didn’t make any sense to do it.”

The concern is that this is more than just a calf muscle injury. Bosh missed much of last season with blood clots in his lungs, a life-threatening disease. Those lung clots can be caused by deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in the leg. The fact the NBA let him out of All-Star Weekend that late (and called Al Horford on vacation in warm Cancun and told him to get to frigid Toronto) is a sign of caution and a little concern by the league.

Bosh doesn’t think this is a repeat of that, although he expects to undergo an MRI soon just to be safe.

I’m pretty optimistic,” that it’s not, Bosh said. “I’m always making sure. When we get back to Miami we’ll do everything we need to do to treat this…. 

“Just being smart and cautious. I’m just taking it a day at a time. I’m trying to make sure that I go and get it checked out. We’re doing everything we need to do here; there’s not much we can do now. Of course, the trainers and doctors will take another look at it and re-evaluate it, and just make sure.”

This is the smart move, what Bosh dealt with last season is not something to ignore and hope it gets better.

That doesn’t mean Bosh likes it.

“I’ve been kinda down the last couple days,” Bosh said. “But I’m here, and I still get to take in everything and enjoy what I can. I was really looking forward to competing (in the Three-Point Contest) because that something unique for me, but there’s nothing I can do.”

The Heat are off until Feb. 19. Bosh said he hopes to be back on the court then, but he doesn’t know.

Life lessons from Latrell Sprewell in new Priceline.com ad (VIDEO)

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Good on Latrell Sprewell for doing this, poking fun at his image.

It would have been funnier with P.J. Carlesimo, but David Robinson is a quality contrast. Well done, Priceline.