Kurt Helin

Dwight Howard
Associated Press

Report: Rockets not trading Dwight Howard, will chase Kevin Durant

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Dwight Howard trade rumors are flying as the NBA trade deadline nears — Boston reportedly kicked the tires on a deal, and other teams are interested as well. With Howard to be a free agent this summer, there is a “get something now before you lose him for nothing” logic to the scuttlebutt.

But as has been mentioned before, the Rockets have no interest in moving him.

What they do have interest in doing is keeping him and chasing Kevin Durant this summer. Marc Stein and Calvin Watkins of ESPN have the details.

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Rockets, despite recent speculation to the contrary, are not looking to trade Howard before the Feb. 18 deadline, even though he has to right to become a free agent July 1 and could thus leave the team this summer without compensation.

The Rockets’ grand plan, sources said this week, remains making an all-out pursuit in free agency this summer for Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. Rockets officials have long believed privately that they will have as good a chance as any team to steal Durant away from the Thunder in the offseason because of his strong relationship with his former teammate, Harden, and the room Houston has to pay Durant max-contract money while also re-signing Howard.

If you were going to trade Howard, you would deny it. Even if they weren’t inclined to move him, the Rockets would be foolish not to listen to people calling just to see what the market might be for Howard — and Daryl Morey is not foolish. But if the market is tepid, as it seems to be, then this is how you respond.

While the Rockets remain an up-and-down team this season (10-10 in their last 20), they show flashes of playing decent defense, and with that being closer to the team that preseason many thought would be a borderline contender. It makes sense they would want to keep the core of this unit together (that does not include Ty Lawson) and make another surprising playoff run.

Do the Rockets want to chase Durant if he leaves Oklahoma City? Of course — 29 teams will get in line if he decides to test the waters. He is a franchise changing player. Golden State will be near the front of the line, but every team from there to Manhattan will want to get their shot. Houston is no different, and the James Harden connection does, at least, give them a foot in the door. But we are a long way from KD even testing those waters (I still expect him to sign a 1+1 deal in OKC to stay for another year, then really consider his options in 2017).

Meanwhile, don’t be shocked if the Rockets are active at the trade deadline — Morey is still their GM.

Hornets’ Kemba Walker out vs. Cavaliers with sore knee

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 25:  Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets looks on against the Sacramento Kings during an NBA basketball game at Sleep Train Arena on January 25, 2016 in Sacramento, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Kemba Walker has played at a near All-Star level this season 20.2 points a game shooting 36 percent from three, plus dishing out five assists a night. He is having the best season of his career and is the catalyst for their offense.

They are going to miss him against the Cavaliers Wednesday.

He is out with a sore right knee, the team confirmed. This is the first game Walker has missed all season, but it’s one where the Hornets will certainly miss his playmaking.

Expect a lot more Jeremy Lin, plus Brian Roberts and Troy Daniels likely get a little extra run as well.

Nicolas Batum, Charlotte’s best defender and a guy having a breakout year, is questionable for this game as well due to a toe injury.

Past vs. future: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Wiggins put on show Tuesday (VIDEO)

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For one night, Kobe Bryant flashed back to his vintage self, scoring 38 points on 21 shots, knocking down seven threes, taking over the end of the game and getting the Lakers the win.

On the other end, Andrew Wiggins showed what could be in the Timberwolves future — he scored 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting.

Combine those two dynamic wings with terrible defense by both teams and you get a high-scoring shootout. Enjoy the highlights.

Three Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Vintage Kobe returns for one night

Fans cheer after Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant sank a shot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 119-115. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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I know you were busy Tuesday teaching eagles to take out drones, so you didn’t get to follow the slate of NBA games for the night. We’ve got you covered, here’s what you need to know from around the Association:

1) Kobe Bryant gets sick of losing, turns back the clock and drops an efficient 38 points in Lakers’ win.
For a night, it felt like old times (when the regular season games for the Lakers were entertaining time killers while everyone waited for the playoffs). Kobe was draining threes (seven of them) and attacking. The other Lakers were giving him options and making plays when called upon. Jack Nicholson was sitting courtside. Everything seemed right. The Lakers needed all of it to hold off a charge by Andrew Wiggins and Minnesota, 119-115. Bryant had 14 of the Lakers final 18 points, including the dagger, and finished the game with 38 points — on just 21 shots.

The win snapped the Lakers’ 10-game losing streak — a loss Tuesday would have set another dubious franchise record. It was fun for a night with the Lakers, a chance to forget about all their troubles.

2) Earl Watson loses debut as Suns’ coach, which shouldn’t be a shock. There’s a new coach in Phoenix, but that was never going to change the myriad of roster issues with this team, or suddenly get guys healthy (in fact, the Suns lost T.J. Warren for the season Tuesday). The Suns are going to be a bad basketball team no matter who coaches them; the front office can thank themselves for that. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Earl Watson — who got bumped into the big chair after Jeff Hornacek was fired — lost his first game as coach, 104-97 at home to a good Toronto team. On the bright side,  Markieff Morris played like a man unchained — the forward had easily his best game of the season, scoring 30 points and adding 10 rebounds and six assists (that should help his trade value). But the Suns are not a good team right now, and the best Watson can do is hope to make them less bad as the season wears on. The chef can only cook with the ingredients in front of him, and the Suns are like a Chopped basket (and Watson can’t go to the pantry to round it out).

3) James Harden‘s 26 points, 14 assists get shorthanded Rockets win. No Dwight Howard, suspended for a game for contacting a referee. His backup Clint Capella was out with a thigh bruise. That meant Josh Smith was getting the start at center for Houston, which would have made normal people run out and bet on Miami in this one. But in the battle of erratic teams, James Harden stepped up with the big night — 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, he dished out 14 assists, the ball was moving, and the Rockets pulled away in the second half for a 115-102 win at home. Smith had 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting and was efficient for the night. Miami looked like they wore down physically, their shots would not fall after the first quarter, and the Rockets will take the needed victory.

Kyle Lowry, Raptors hold off Suns, spoil Watson’s coaching debut

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) shoots over Phoenix Suns'  Archie Goodwin (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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PHOENIX (AP) — The Toronto Raptors expected a spirited effort from the Phoenix Suns. That happens when a team changes coaches.

However, the Raptors had enough to hold on for a 104-97 victory Tuesday night, spoiling the debut of Suns interim coach Earl Watson.

Kyle Lowry scored 26 points, including five 3-pointers, and DeMar DeRozan added 22 for the Raptors, whose franchise-record 11-game winning streak ended Monday in Denver,

“We knew they would come out and play extremely hard and try to do their thing” Lowry said. “We kind of weathered the storm, paced ourselves though the whole game and found a way to win the game.”

The Raptors led the entire second half but had to hold on at the finish.

“The energy was there,” Watson said. “It’s not really physical with our team, it’s more mental and mental toughness is a fragile, unique path that you have to take.”

Markieff Morris had 30 points and 11 rebounds, both season highs, for the Suns, who fired coach Jeff Hornacek on Monday and promoted the 36-year-old Watson to the interim job.

Morris has had a difficult season, his playing time diminished after he said in the offseason he wanted traded after the Suns dealt his twin brother Marcus to Detroit.

But Watson considers Morris a major part of the team.

“I had a feeling if I gave him positive encouragement and let him know that no matter what, we love him no matter what happened beyond basketball,” Watson said, “and give him an opportunity to play and let him know he is going to play, he is going to get big minutes.”

MORRIS PRAISES HORNACEK

“Jeff was my guy,” Morris said. “Me and him were was here for three years together and he was a great coach. I really liked him a whole lot. It is just how the league goes. we are definitely going to miss him but coach told me before the game I was going to get my shots and I just got hot.”

Phoenix rookie Devin Booker added 27 points, matching his career best with six 3s. Archie Goodwin had 18 points and a career-best 12 assists for the Suns, who have lost five in a row and 20 of their last 22.

Terrence Ross scored 16 and Jonas Valanciunas 14 for Toronto in the Raptors’ second stop on a six-game road trip.

Morris scored 14 in the first quarter and Goodwin banked in a 35-footer at the buzzer to give Phoenix a 32-28 lead after one. It didn’t last long.

Ross scored five and Bismack Biyombo four in a 15-1 run that put the Raptors up 46-35 with 4:23 left in the half, and they never trailed again. The Suns scored the next eight to cut the lead to 46-43 but two late baskets by DeRozan gave Toronto a 52-45 lead at the break.

Phoenix almost caught the Raptors with an 8-0 spurt in the third quarter, Mirza Teletovic‘s 3-pointer cutting Toronto’s lead to 71-70 with 2:50 left in the period. But the Raptors outscored the Suns 7-1 the rest of the quarter.

Phoenix made it interesting late when Booker’s driving layup cut Toronto’s lead to 99-94 with 1:59 to play but DeRozan sank his only 3-pointer of the night with 51.9 seconds to play and the Raptors held on from there.

“They came out with a lot of enthusiasm, juice, energy, which we felt usually happens and comes after a coaching change,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “They played as well as they played for a while but we kept at it. We grinded it. (There were) some of the mental mistakes down the stretch we have to clean up. `’

TIP-INS

Raptors: Toronto improved to 7-8 in the second of back-to-back games. … James Johnson sat out the game after spraining his left ankle Monday night in Denver. … On Tuesday, Lowry and DeRozan were named Eastern Conference co-players of the month for January. … Lowry made four of his first five 3-point tries.

Suns: Goodwin’s previous career best in assists was six. … Newly hired assistant coach Bob Hill was on the bench. … T.J. Warren is out for the season with a broken right foot. … Phoenix opened a seven-game home stand. … At 36, Watson is the youngest coach in the NBA, three months younger than Houston interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff.