Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Dwight Howard confronted Lakers fan who called him a “b****”

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Laker fans are not completely past the disastrous season of 2012-13 — Dwight Howard came to town Sunday night at Staples and every time he touched the ball he was booed.

After the game, Howard was asked about that and said he didn’t hear it, that he “closed his ears.” Which is what my daughter tried to tell me when she was four, and it didn’t work then. It’s certainly not working for Howard, as evidence we have a video from TMZ (it’s sensational and NSFW so, of course, it’s from TMZ).

A Laker fan called Howard a female dog, to be literal, and Howard turned and challenged the guy to a fight. Which wasn’t smart, but I don’t blame him. Howard takes an unusually large amount of abuse from fans, particularly in LA, so if he wants to snap back on occasion when a fan crosses the line — and I see that as crossing the line — then it is what it is. So long as things don’t get physical.

The best move here was by the team security guard who pretty much shoved Howard back toward the locker room.

Howard and the Hawks have lost five of six after a fast start, and despite Howard scoring 19 points and adding nine rebound plus a couple of blocks, he and his teammates fell to a Lakers team getting great play from its bench (and Lou Williams in the fourth). He was frustrated, and he responded as such. The league should just let it go.

As should Lakers fans. Howard was part of the problem with the Lakers that season, he wanted to be part of what most thought would be a serious contender so badly he came back months too early from back surgery, and when he did he wasn’t effective. But scapegoating Howard for that season is a mistake, there were so, so many other problems. The biggest was Jim Buss firing Mike Brown five games into the season then eventually hiring Mike D’Antoni to coach a roster that nowhere near fit his style (I know Jerry Buss signed off from his deathbed, but this was Jim’s play). There was Steve Nash missing 32 games as his body started to break down. Pau Gasol only played in 49 and was misused by D’Antoni. Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant were getting heavy rotation minutes despite their bodies and games starting to show some age. We could go on, but you get the idea. Howard was simply part of a perfect storm of things going wrong, not the cause.

Laker fans, you have a fun, potentially special young team to watch. Time to look forward, not back.

NBA Power Rankings Week 6: So it turns out the Warriors are very, very good

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The Warriors are off to a 15-2 start that has them on pace for 72 wins… I thought we weren’t going to go through this again. But their point differential suggests we will. While the top of the board remained fairly stable, Brooklyn earned its new ranking at the bottom.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (15-2, Last Week No. 1). That terrible Warriors’ defense? Seems to be a thing of the past, they are up to eighth in the NBA in defensive rating. Dean Oliver (an NBA stats pioneer now working for ESPN) noted online that the Warriors defense was good for a while, except in garbage time, and that’s what dragged down the overall rating. Not that it matters much when Stephen Curry can’t miss in the third and the team is moving the ball and scoring like it is — the Warriors have had 30 or more assists as a team in 10 straight games until Saturday.

 
Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (13-2, LW 3). Cleveland has the second best offense in the NBA this season, which makes sense considering they start a fair amount of possessions with a 1-3 pick-and-roll involving LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Their starters are +16.5 per 100 possessions when on the floor (better than Golden State buy a point). Good test this week when the Cavs host the Clippers on Thursday, followed by traveling to take on the Bulls on Friday.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (14-3, LW 4). Winners of nine in a row, which has more do to their offense than defense so far this season. The Spurs make more catch-and-shoot two-point jumpers (13.1) and shoot a higher percentage on those (45.6 percent), than any team in the league, plus they hit a league best 43.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, for an eFG% of 58.4% on catch-and-shoots (second only to the Warriors). Winnable games this week with Orlando, Dallas, and Washington on the schedule, but San Antonio has played down to its competition at times this season.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (14-4, LW 2). They were winning their road games by an average of 12.1 per contest, until they dropped sloppy games in Detroit and Indiana by a combined 32 points. Their defense has slipped in the last couple games, and they turned the ball over on 19.6 percent of their possessions vs. Indiana. The Clippers have three more games on the road this week, maybe they can get right against Brooklyn Tuesday because then they are at Cleveland Thursday, followed by a brutal back-to-back in New Orleans Friday.

 
Bulls small icon 5. Bulls (10-6, LW 6). One statistical sign of a contender is a top 10 offense and defense (per possession). Only three teams have that right now, and the Bulls are one of them (Warriors, Clippers are the others). The Bulls just went 4-2 on their final Circus road trip, with the two losses being by a total of 10 points. Good tests against the surprising Lakers and the as-expected Cavaliers this week, the schedule will get tougher as the Bulls have played the third easiest one this season in the league.

 
Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (11-6, LW 10). Great note from Zach Lowe: The Grizzlies are +91 (total points) this season when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are on the court together, they are -79 when they are not. The Grizzlies have won seven of eight overall and six in a row on the road, however they are mostly home the next few weeks… although there is a tough trip to Toronto this week (better now than February).

 
Rockets small icon 7. Rockets (11-6, LW 9). The Rockets starting five are +16.8 points per 100 possessions together, which is a better number than the Cavaliers or Warriors starters. It all starts with James Harden, who is as good a D’Antoni system point guard as you can find. Houston won its first two games of a five-game road trip (Sacramento and Portland) but things are about to get much tougher with the rest of the trip being at Utah, Golden State, then to a back-to-back at altitude in Denver.

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (10-6, LW 8). They continue to play well, but in large part thanks to their bench as the usual starting five are actually outscored by almost a point per possession when on the court this season. DeMar DeRozan saves them some, and Kyle Lowry still thrives with the bench unit. The Raptors are home for six in a row now, and they have played the second toughest schedule in the league so things will get easier.

 
Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (9-7, LW 12). Here’s the stats that stands out to me: Boston is 5-2 when Al Horford plays, and they are 17.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court rather than off. By the end of the season, if healthy, I still think Boston could be better than Chicago or Toronto as the second best team in the East. Soft schedule this week gives the Celtics a chance to fatten up.

 
Hawks small icon 10. Hawks (10-7 LW 5). The loss to the Lakers Sunday has them dropping five of six, mostly due to struggles with the starters and the offense (the Hawks remains a good defensive team). There has been a players-only meeting, Kris Humphries shattered a backboard, and still the slump has continued. They face the Warriors and Raptors on the road this week, but the better tests are how they do on a back-to-back Monday in Phoenix, then back home against the Pistons.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (9-8, LW 15). In its last 10 games, Utah has the third best net rating of any team in the NBA, including being better than the Spurs. They are fifth overall this season, all of which suggests their record is going to improve dramatically, especially now that George Hill has returned. Injuries continue to mess with this team (Derrick Favors has missed a couple of games), but things will get sorted out. A fun test of offense vs. defense against Houston this week (the Rockets won this matchup on their home court recently).

 
Hornets small icon 12. Hornets (9-7, LW 7). They split a home-and-home with New York, which has them at 3-6 after a hot start to the season. The biggest problems have been on the defensive end, which has to drive Steve Clifford crazy, and it’s not likely to get better with Marvin Williams missing time with a knee injury so Frank Kaminsky will get more run. They are home this week against Detroit, Dallas, and Minnesota, we’ll see if they can turn the ship around.

 
Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (10-8, LW 11). Russell Westbrook is one rebound short of averaging a triple-double for the season, if he can get 11 against the Knicks Monday he reaches the Oscar Robertson benchmark (albeit with 3/4 of the season to go). Westbrook has seven triple-doubles this season, but the team is “just” 5-2 in those games. By the way, at his current pace Westbrook ends up with 32 triple-doubles this season, and that number suddenly seems low (he is hunting them).

 
Lakers small icon 14. Lakers (9-9, LW 14). Lou Williams has become the Lakers’ go-to guy in the fourth, he had 13 in the win against Atlanta Sunday and the only players with more fourth-quarter points are Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. He and Nick Young helped hit key shots (even if Young was stealing them from Williams) to get the wins. The Lakers are about to head out on the road for a brutal four games in five nights stretch in New Orleans, Toronto, Chicago, and Memphis. It gets easier; the Lakers already have the third toughest schedule in the league so far.

 
Knicks small icon 15. Knicks (8-8 LW 17). The Knicks won both games Joakim Noah recently sat out ill, then beat the Hornets in the game where he barely played in the second half. It’s not a coincidence. The other place the Knicks are tough to beat is Madison Square Garden, where they have won six in a row — which is good as they are home for three of four this week (there is a home-and-home with the Timberwolves).

 
Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (9-9, LW 16). Paul George has been out with a sore ankle (and will be to start this week as well) yet the Pacers have won three of their last four. They are doing it with strong defense and offense from unexpected sources (Glen Robinson III). The Pacers are 1-5 on the road this season and are heading out on a five-game West Coast road trip.

 
Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (9-10, LW 13). Portland has scored 100 points or more in 17 of their 19 games, yet they are below .500 thanks to a terrible defense. They are getting destroyed on the pick-and-roll, with small guards and non-mobile bigs. It’s the reason they have dropped seven of their last nine. The schedule softens up for a while, which might help them pick up some wins.

 
Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (8-10, LW 18). They handed the Clippers their first road loss of the season, which is something to build on. The challenge for Stan Van Gundy’s crew is obvious: Take that same energy on the road. The Pistons are 1-8 away from The Palace and will spend most of the next three weeks on planes and in hotels.

 
Bucks small icon 19. Bucks (7-8, LW 22). Here’s what would worry me most if I were a Bucks’ fan: They have played the third easiest schedule in the NBA so far. And the home-and-home with Brooklyn this week off doesn’t make it much tougher. Have the Bucks banked enough wins for the tough months ahead? They are getting surprising strong play out of Michael Beasley.

 
timberwolves small icon 20. Timberwolves (5-11, LW 19). I tend not to buy the rumor that a frustrated Tom Thibodeau is going to trade a piece of his young core for a veteran because the Timberwolves are not on a playoff track — it’s far, far too early to make a panic move like that. But Thibs has a right to be frustrated with his team’s bottom-10 defense, and the way it just falls apart in the second half game after game. Home-and-home with the Knicks this week, sandwiched by games against the Jazz and Hornets.

 
Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (6-12, LW 25). They enter a brutal stretch of the schedule the next few weeks, and they will have to go through it without Dante Cunningham, who fractured his fibula last week. Anthony Davis continues to lead the NBA in scoring (31.6 per game) and is blocking three shots a night, getting Jrue Holiday back sparked a four-game winning streak, but the depth questions continue.

 
Heat small icon 22. Heat (5-11, LW 21). Monday night Justise Winslow will miss his eighth consecutive game, and Goran Dragic’s elbow has sidelined him for a bit, which has Eric Spoelstra scrambling for rotations and players (help Rodney McGruder). Credit their defense from keeping this from being worse, but as they fade from playoff contention will Pat Riley be a seller at the trade deadline?

 
Nuggets small icon 23. Nuggets (7-10, LW 23). Jamal Murray is the real deal, and he’s starting to get comfortable in the NBA — just ask the Bulls, he dropped 24 on them last week, one of three games with 20 or more last week. Wilson Chandler had 25+ in two games, yet through that the Nuggets still lost to the Jazz and Thunder. Starting Saturday the Nuggets head out on a six-game road trip.

 
Kings small icon 24. Kings (6-10, LW 24). Forget all the talk of offensive fit, the real problem on the court in Sacramento is on the other end — they have the forth worst defense in the NBA. As for the DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors, until owner Vivek Ranadive changes his mind all the talk is moot. However, Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay could well get moved. Kings opened a six-game road trip with a win in Brooklyn Sunday.

 
Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (5-10, LW 27). The Wizards are +3.2 points per 100 possessions when John Wall and Bradley Beal share the court, and the pair have had some strong games of late (Beal had 42 in Phoenix), but it’s not enough to make up for what happens when they both sit. Westbrook vs. Wall on Wednesday night should be entertaining.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic (6-11 LW 20). Winnable games last week (Suns, Wizards, Bucks) and the Magic did not pick up one “W.” Sunday Frank Vogel tried to shake things up by moving Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton out of the starting lineup (the new starters were +1 for the game), but didn’t help because the bench was still outplayed. Now things get hard as they head out on the road this week with stops in San Antonio and Memphis.

 
Sixers small icon 27. 76ers (4-13, LW 30). While it didn’t come in a win, you have to love the fight the Sixers showed Sunday vs. the Cavaliers. So far this season, the Sixers defense is 9.9 points per 100 possessions better when Joel Embiid is on the court (the offense basically remains the same). The defense is 3.1 per 100 worse when Jahlil Okafor is on the court (and the offense drops, although that is in part the players around him).

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (5-12, LW 27). Phoenix’s biggest problem in a nutshell: They got 35 points from Eric Bledsoe and 30 from Devin Booker on Sunday, yet still lost to Denver. The problem on offense is a lack of ball movement, they have the lowest percentage of assists on buckets in the NBA. This week they face two teams that do whip the ball around the floor in Atlanta (although it has struggled lately) and Golden State.

 
Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (3-13, LW 23). They had lost eight in a row until a come-from-behind win over the Pelicans on Sunday, thanks to big fourth quarters from Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes. That’s the good news. The bad news is Dallas has played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far and that’s not changing this week with San Antonio, Charlotte, and Chicago on the rocket.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (4-12, LW 26). Losers of seven in a row, and it’s not just the losses but how bad they are — by an average of more than 19 points a game. The combination of an absolutely terrible defense and no Jeremy Lin to create some unlikely offense has this team both losing and being almost unwatchable.

Stephen Curry lost bet, had to wear Raiders’ jersey to Carolina game

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Stephen Curry is a huge Carolina Panthers fan. So it’s not the least bit surprising he was at the game when the Panthers came to Oakland to take on the Raiders Sunday.

Except, was that Curry wearing a Raiders’ jersey?

Yes, it was. Has Curry finally gone native and become a total Bay Area homer? Not exactly.

Curry probably didn’t like how that game ended, with a gloved Derek Carr leading a Raiders’ comeback win.

Three things we learned Sunday: Portland’s defense perfect setup for James Harden

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We know you spent most of Sunday in traffic getting back from seeing family over Thanksgiving, after trying to convince them not to deep fry a frozen turkey. Here’re three things you missed and would have learned watching the NBA instead.

1) Portland’s defense could have team home for playoffs. The Portland Trail Blazers have scored 100 or more points in 17 of 19 games this season. Yet their record is 9-10, and if the playoffs started today Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner and the rest of them could charter a fishing boat out of the Florida Keys because they would have plenty of free time.

The reason is the worst defense in the NBA. That came to a head Sunday when the Rockets went into Portland and won 130-114 behind 38 and 10 from James Harden.

If you’re about to say “but the Blazers’ defense was bad last year and they made the playoffs” you don’t understand how bad things have gotten. Last season Portland allowed 105.6 points per 100 possessions, 20th in the NBA (tied for worst to make the playoffs with Houston). But this season the Trail Blazers are allowing 110.5 per 100, nearly five more, which is dead last in the league (and it would have been last a season, too). With undersized guards — Lillard and McCollum — at both spots, and not a lot of mobility along the front line (especially with Al-Farouq Aminu missing time and Festus Ezeli not yet healthy), the Blazers are getting torched by the pick-and-roll. They system hasn’t changed from last season, they still have the big stay back and protect the paint, but opposing guards are attacking and getting a lot of clean 5-10 foot jumpers, or creating looks for others. Also, move off the ball — or spring a guy off a screen off the ball — and as a team Portland struggles to track it. A lot of poor defenders are getting heavy minutes rotation.

Sunday 41.5 percent of the Rockets plays were pick-and-rolls (via Synergy Sports), and in the fourth quarter it accounted for 11-of-26 (with another seven being in transition). Harden is as good a pick-and-roll operator as there is in the league, but against Portland it was open season. He took advantage, and the Rockets got the kind of win between two potential playoff teams in the West they needed.

2) DeMarcus Cousins reminds you why your GM wants to trade for him. Some teams wouldn’t trade for DeMarcus Cousins if they could get him for a couple of second-round picks — those GMs fear what he would do to team chemistry. They are also the minority. Most GMs think a change of scenery, with the right coach/locker room, and the off-the-court issues would go away and what would be left is the beast on the court.

Cousins reminded everyone what that beast looks like Sunday, dropping 37 on the Brooklyn Nets, to go with 11 rebounds, leading the Kings to a win in Brooklyn.

He was 13-of-24 shooting and did most of his damage around the rim, but you can’t just give him the straight-on three. With this performance, Cousins moved past Chris Webber on the all-time Sacramento scoring list.

shotchart

For the record, teams are still being rebuffed if they call about a DeMarcus Cousins trade (Rudy Gay or Omri Casspi, on the other hand…). Until owner Vivek Ranadive changes his mind — he remains Cousins’ biggest supporter — nothing will change. Still, other teams remain convinced the Kings have to do something with Cousins (who is a 2018 free agent), and maybe by the February deadline (I’d be surprised, my bet is draft night). Other GMs continue to circle the Kings like vultures, just waiting.

3) Matt Barnes proves a bad pass can be a good shot. Let’s end this on a light note, sticking with the Kings. Matt Barnes tried to throw up an alley-oop lob to Rudy Gay, who had spun off his man and gone to the rim. Except, Barnes’ pass was more old school two-hand set shot. The best part is Barnes reaction.

James Harden has 38 in Rockets’ 130-114 win over the Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — James Harden easily exposed Portland’s struggles on defense.

Harden had 38 points and 10 assists for his seventh consecutive double-double, and the Houston Rockets beat the Trail Blazers 130-114 on Sunday night. It was his 14th double-double this season.

His mentality?

“Make the right play, that’s all,” he said.

“As a point guard I’m going to see a lot of defenses, so I’ve just got to figure out what they’re doing and how to attack it and just go from there.”

Eric Gordon added 26 points including six 3-pointers for the Rockets, who have made at least 10 3-pointers in 16 straight games to match the NBA record set by the Warriors and Cavaliers last season. They finished the night with 17.

Gordon’s 3-pointer gave the Rockets a 104-95 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Damian Lillard‘s 3-pointer and Mason Plumlee‘s reverse layup closed the gap to 104-100, but the Blazers couldn’t get closer and Trevor Ariza hit a 3 from the corner to put the Rockets up 111-100.

CJ McCollum scored 28 points and Lillard had 27 for the Blazers, who have lost six of their last eight games. Portland gave up 30 or more points to the Rockets in each quarter.

“They’re a difficult team to guard,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I think James does a great job of playing the game and figuring out what needs to be done.”

The Rockets attempted an NBA-record 50 3-pointers and made 21 in a 117-104 victory at Sacramento on Friday night to open a five-game road trip. Harden had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

First-year Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said he feels like the Rockets are finding a groove in his system.

“I think they’re getting more comfortable with how we’re doing things. They’re moving the ball a little better,” D’Antoni said. “We can still do better.”

The Blazers beat New Orleans 119-104 at home on Friday night after struggling on a 1-4 road trip. Portland is missing starting forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a calf injury. Ed Davis started in his place against the Rockets.

Lillard and McCollum combined for 20 points as the teams finished the first quarter knotted at 35. The Rockets went on a 9-0 run late in the second and led 65-62 at the half, paced by Harden’s 21 points.

Ryan Anderson hit a 3-pointer that made it 83-75 for the Rockets, who led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter. The Blazers pressured, coming within 94-93 late after Lillard made a pair of free throws.

Harden finished with five 3-pointers.

“Right now we’re not getting it done on the defensive end,” Lillard said. “I think that’s what it comes down to. You look at the Cleveland game, we scored 120-something points and we lose. That’s a lot of points to score and not win the game. Tonight we had 114 and we lose. Obviously we’re capable of scoring, we’re going to put points on the board, but we’ve got to find a way to come up with more stops and be more consistent.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: Rookie Kyle Wiltjer has been traveling with the Rockets, although he hasn’t played. Wiltjer, who went undrafted out of Gonzaga, is a Portland native and played for Jesuit High School, helping the team to three straight Oregon state championships.

Trail Blazers: Through its first 19 games, Portland has made more than 200 3-pointers, more than any Blazers team in franchise history. The Blazers have 209 total.

SCORING IS NOT THE ISSUE

Portland has scored at least 100 points in 17 of 19 games this season.

GORDON’S GAME

Gordon was just one off his season high for points.

“I just got off to a great start,” he said. “I know when I get off to a great start everything comes easier and more comfortable We just played well as a team, we moved the ball and did everything we needed to do to win.”