Dwight Howard

The Extra Pass: Five quick ways to improve the league; plus Monday’s Recaps

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Five ideas that could help make the NBA even greater:

Offensive Goaltending: Let’s get rid of it. The “in the cylinder” call is routinely one of the toughest for refs to get right on the floor, and we know how the subsequent huddle and review process can suck the life out of a game. If it bounces off the rim, it’s fair game.

The D-League, FIBA and Olympic competition all play that way, and no one says, “oh man, I’m tried of seeing all these putback dunks!” or thinks it has ruined the sanctity of the game. Let’s allow the world’s best athletes to play the game in a different dimension and remove all the pattycake played by rebounders in the air.

Hack-A-Tactic: Probably the best solution to ending the intentional fouling that forces us to watch very large men miss free throws over and over again came from Tom Ziller at SBNation:

“(…) the league could end the practice in one fell swoop by giving teams in the bonus the option of free throws or an inbounds play on non-shooting fouls. In other words, make the bonus optional.”

Brilliant. If Dwight Howard gets intentionally fouled without the ball while in the bonus and there’s more than two minutes left, Kevin McHale can simply opt to take the ball out. The offending player is still charged with a foul, the shot clock resets, and the game moves on.

Coaches decline penalties in football. Why not give them the same option in basketball? Keep the game moving and kill off this strategy in the simplest of ways.

Divisions: Let’s get rid of them, too. The best eight teams in each conference should go to the playoffs every year, no questions asked. If we removed divisions today, it wouldn’t change rivalries or anything else — it just makes playoff seeding simpler and easier to understand. Change that simplifies a needlessly complicated thing? That should be embraced. Here’s hoping the Atlantic Division teams keep this up to spur the switch.

Tanking: There have been many great solutions suggested over the years, particularly by the guys at TrueHoop with their HoopIdea series. Here’s mine: create a minimum win requirement.

No team can fall below the line of 50 combined wins in back-to-back seasons. If a team wins 30 games one year, they must win at least 20 in the next season.

The punishment for teams that fail to win a combined 50 games in any back-to-back seasons? They automatically get assigned the worst odds in the lottery of that year’s draft. If multiple teams fail to meet the 50-win two-year minimum, the team with the worse two-year record will receive the lowest odds.

At the least, this would provide some incentive for general managers not to completely tank over multiple years and for coaches to try and play their best players towards the end of the season. It would make fans of bad teams stop rooting so much for incompetence, at least over multiple seasons. The lottery system would stay intact as is with just a little tweak.

This would make tanking punitive over multiple years, much in the way the luxury tax punishes repeat offenders. This wouldn’t stop tanking like some suggestions, but it would at least put some limitations on it and give teams the incentive to at least be reasonably respectable over a two-year period.

Make the D-League a true minor league: 30 teams, 30 D-League affiliates. It would require a big investment by the league and by owners, but creating a real minor league system that feeds directly to the big club would create an interest in the D-League that hasn’t previously been there.

Exclusive affiliates could make events like the D-League draft and trades actually mean something, and following the happenings of your team’s D-League club would be worth doing. One of the best parts of being a baseball fan is knowing your team’s prospects and getting to say “I remember him when…” once he reaches the majors. That level of familiarity should happen more in basketball.

-D.J. Foster

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Clippers 94, 76ers 83: This was a professional win by the Clippers — they are the better, more talented team and they just used that to make it an easy night for themselves. Of course Chris Paul is playing so well this season that he can make a 25-point, 13-assist night look professional and routine. The Clippers defended well (Blake Griffin on Spencer Hawes in particular, but the Sixers as a team shot just 35.9 percent) however as part of that the Sixers just missed some good looks. It’s not like the Clippers were perfect, they were just better and never let up.

Nuggets 75, Wizards 74: Much lower scoring game than anyone expected —but we did get drama. The Nuggets hung around in a gritty fashion then just made plays with the game on the line. Washington will regret this because had their chances at the end. First Wall had one driving layup blocked by Kenneth Faried. It was then Faried that provided Denver with the margin of victory with :32 seconds left in the game when he threw down a powerful dunk after his man slid over to stop a Nate Robinson drive and Robinson slipped a pass to Faried. Still the Wizards had chances. For example with 22 seconds left the Nuggets had bad inbounds pass stolen by Glen Rice Jr., who in turn passed to a slashing Wall who just missed a driving layup. Next possession Trevor Ariza had a good look at a three and missed it. Still after Faried missed some key free throws Washington had one last chance, they got the ball to Wall out top who made a nice move to create space at the elbow… then just fumbled the ball away as he went up for the shot. Wall finished with 20 points and 8 assists but will just have regrets over how this one ended.

Bobcats 115, Warriors 111: Charlotte is no pushover this season — they can be beaten but you’re going to have to work for it. These Bobcats will not roll over and Golden State learned that the hard way when they once again came out flat (it has been a trend for a couple weeks now). Charlotte led by 12 at the half but Golden State’s offense woke up behind Stephen Curry, who had 32 of his 43 points after halftime. Golden State fought back to tie the game 88-88 in the fourth quarter, then promptly turned the ball over on three straight possessions and never got the lead back. Credit Kemba Walker for that — he scored the Bobcats final 15 points (he finished with 31) and Charlotte held on for a quality win.

Grizzlies 94, Magic 85: Memphis took control of this game thanks to a 14-0 run by their bench in the second quarter and they never surrendered the lead again. Orlando struggled against the Grizzlies defense shooting just 40 percent, but they did make a little run in the fourth quarter and made it interesting enough Dave Joeger had to put his starters back in to preserve the win. Zach Randolph had 19 points but the real key was the Grizzlies shot 10-of-17 from three in this game.

Trail Blazers 105, Jazz 94: This game was close for a quarter and a half until a 15-6 Portland run late in the second quarter gave them a little lead and they never looked back. Much like the Clippers this was a professional win where Portland didn’t have to bring it’s best and didn’t, but it brought enough to win this. LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points, Damian Lillard 18. Alec Burks led Utah with 20 points on 11 shots off the bench.

Kings 112, Mavericks 97: The Kings were shorthanded — Rudy Gay will make his debut in purple Wednesday against Utah — but the Sacramento front court was on fire. DeMarcus Cousins had 32 points and 19 rebounds, Derrick Williams had a career high 31 points while Dallas seemed to coast. Sacramento took the lead with a 13-0 run in the second quarter then pulled away in the third not to look back. Isaiah Thomas looked good as the starter with 24 points and 12 assists. Monta Ellis (21 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (18) played well but the rest of the Mavs shot 33.9 percent. That didn’t get it done.

The time Kobe Bryant tried to recruit Dirk Nowitzki to the Lakers

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 05:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks greets Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers after a game at American Airlines Center on November 5, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.   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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — Kobe Bryant has been loyal to the Lakers for 20 seasons (if you ignore some “trade me” tantrums along the way). He’s also been über competitive.

Those same qualities are what he most appreciates about Dirk Nowitzki.

Kobe talked a little Dirk during his All-Star media availability Friday.

“Dirk and I have always had a great relationship because we’re both extremely competitive. Also both extremely loyal to our teams,” Bryant said.

“I’ll tell you a story about Dirk. He was up for free agency, and I knew what his response was going to be. But out of respect, everybody’s looking around at all these free agents, I felt I’d shoot you a text, if you want to come to L.A. He goes, ‘I would love to play with you, but Dallas is my home. This is my team. I’m not leaving here.’ So he and I think a lot alike in that regard.”

Nowitzki’s last couple free agencies have been mere formalities, nobody around the league thought he would leave Mark Cuban or Dallas. The only questions were money and years — in 2014 the Lakers reportedly offered the max to Nowitzki, who took three-years, $25 million from Dallas so the Mavs could rebuild their roster. It’s all part of that loyalty — and it’s worked out, Nowitzki and Cuban have a ring.

Kobe’s respect for Nowitzki was clear when Dirk nailed a game winner against the Lakers this season, Kobe just nodded his approval from the bench.

One of the best things the past couple seasons about Kobe, and especially this season with just about to retire Kobe, is that he is giving honest answers. He doesn’t care what people think. That leads to honest moments and great stories.

Watch Kristaps Porzingis drop 30 at Rising Stars Challenge (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Knicks’ fans were in full throat at the Air Canada Centre Friday night. Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the Rising Stars Challenge (behind Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins).

Porzingis didn’t disappoint, dropping 30 and sparking a World Team comeback against the USA that just fell just short, with the USA winning 157-154.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Kobe Bryant basks in All-Star spotlight one final time

Kobe Bryant All-Star
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TORONTO — Kobe Bryant is the center of attention one last time.

To get to his final All-Star Game in his final season in the NBA, Kobe received more fan votes than Stephen Curry or LeBron James or any other player. Now that he’s at the 2016 All-Star Game, more people want a piece of his time. More media were crowded around him on Friday than any other player at the NBA’s equivalent of media day. Even the other All-Stars could count on getting peppered with Kobe questions (to their annoyance at times).

Kobe is at peace with his decision to walk away from the game. This weekend he wants to savor being in the All-Star spotlight one final time.

“I’m happy,” Kobe said. “This is pretty cool. I’m looking around the room and seeing guys that I’m playing with that are tearing the league up that were like four during my first All-Star Game. It’s true. I mean, how many players can say they’ve played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It’s not sad at all. I mean, I’m really happy and honored to be here and see this.”

Does that mean Kobe has plans to chase the All-Star MVP one last time?

“Zero…” Kobe said. “But, no, I’m really just enjoying this whole thing, being around these players and talking to them one more time, going out and practicing and enjoying that moment in the game and enjoying that moment. So competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something or prove something, that’s gone.”

What is Kobe’s best All-Star memory?

“My first one in Cleveland was pretty special because you had all the top 50 players,” Bryant said. “I think in ’98 (it was), it was pretty special too, being in my first All-Star Game and being in the locker room with greats, like [John] Stockton and [Clyde] Drexler and all those guys, that was pretty cool too.”

Kobe has a hectic schedule for his final weekend, but much as he has since he announced his retirement he is trying to soak in and fully enjoy this last go around in the NBA. He understands that the life he has known for two decades is about to change. He hasn’t given much thought to his first day of retirement.

“I’ll probably wake up and have some coffee and go back to sleep,” Bryant said.

I don’t think he understands why you drink coffee, but he’s got all of his retirement to figure that out. For now, he just wants to bask in the spotlight one last time.

Zach LaVine wins MVP, Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Rising Stars Challenge

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TORONTO — Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins was the rock star of the night. “An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few dunks) leading a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

“An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few huge dunks), sparking a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

His Minnesota teammate Karl-Anthony Towns was going to have none of that.

“I gotta see Andrew Wiggins for a long time and I want to rub this in,” Towns said.

He got his wish, the USA beat the World Team 157-154.

It was a glorified pickup game for three quarters, and the level of defensive intensity will make Sunday’s All-Star game look like Tom Thibodeau teams are playing. That led to a lot of high scorers.

Zach LaVine — the other teammate of Wiggins and Towns — led the USA with 30 points and was named the game’s MVP, and said he wanted to steal Wiggins’ thunder at home.

“That’s what I was going for,” LaVine said.

Also from the USA, Jordan Clarkson (Lakers) had 25, Devon Booker (Suns) had 23 and was 5-of-8 from three, D'Angelo Russell (Lakers) had 22, and Towns chipped in 18 points and 7 boards.

Knicks sensation Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the building, and he had 30 for the World team.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess,” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Also for the World Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets) had 30 points, Wiggins had 29, and Mario Hezonja (Magic) had 19.

The intensity and defense did pick up in the end, although one wouldn’t call it a thing of beauty. What matters is the crowd in the Air Canada Centre enjoyed it, even if their team didn’t win. It’s an exhibition, and they got a show.