Dwight Howard rumor storm begins: here is where we stand

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All-Star Weekend is in the rear view mirror, the NBA trade deadline is just more than two weeks away (March 15), so now the focus of the NBA world becomes this:

Where will Dwight Howard be playing March 16?

There are 8 million rumors out there in the naked city right now, here is where things stand as of today:

• The ball is in Magic’s court right now — until they decide they are going to trade (or not trade) Howard everything else is paused. Here is what the Orlando Sentinel reports on that front.

The Magic have said all along that they will speak to Howard at some point before or on March 1 to see what he plans to do when he can become a free agent this summer. The Magic then would assess their situation from there.

What the Magic will hear in that meeting is what they have heard all along from Howard and his representatives — he will not sign an extension in Orlando — reports Sam Amick at Sports Illustrated.

Sources with knowledge of Howard’s thinking say nothing has changed about his outlook. And while his wish-list of teams still includes the Nets, Lakers and Mavs, New Jersey is far and away the leader.

That said, the Magic are clearly undecided. It would not at all be surprising if they look at the trade options that start to flow in and decide to keep Howard anyway and take their chances this summer. This is not a team that wants to rebuild, and that’s an order from ownership.

• Why New Jersey? Because they are going to be Brooklyn soon and they have an elite point guard in Deron Williams, reports Amick.

Though it may pain the purists, it’s not just about basketball for Howard. He wants to take his brand global, to leverage the international influence of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov while building his brand as Brooklyn’s first star. His wandering eye is enticed not only by the Barclays Center that is set to open next season, but the businesses in the booming area around it that could afford many off-court opportunities.

• What about the Lakers? One of the big rumors All-Star Weekend in Orlando was Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson to Los Angeles for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That is not happening. First, the Lakers have said multiple times they would not trade both Bynum and Gasol in a deal for Howard (or anyone else). Second, there is this from the Orlando Sentinel.

Magic CEO Alex Martins told the Sentinel the rumor is wrong.

Howard has had conversations with Kobe Bryant but does not have Los Angeles at the top of his list. From Amick at Sports Illustrated:

He wants, as one source said, to “be Kobe Bryant, not be with Kobe Bryant.”

Part of that also stems out of the conversations Howard had with Kobe, one where Kobe reportedly said the Lakers would still be his team and at times Howard could be the third offensive option behind Bryant and Pau Gasol (Kobe has denied that is how the talk went). Whatever happened in that conversation, the Lakers are not Howard’s top choice and Lakers ownership is not happy, Amick reports.

The Buss family that owns the Lakers, in turn, is said to be irked by Bryant’s alleged role in the matter and hopeful that Howard — who they see as the business and basketball draw for the next decade — can still be convinced otherwise. But Howard’s focus, one source close to him insists, was on the Nets regardless of Bryant’s perceived influence.

• What about Dallas? Howard wants to play with Deron Williams, and Williams has made noises he would like to return to his hometown of Dallas and play when he becomes a free agent this summer. From the New York Daily News.

“I always like playing (Dallas),” Williams said. “It’s my favorite arena – one of my favorite arenas to play in – probably my favorite to play in. I just enjoy playing here – enjoy playing in front of my friends, family. It’s always good to get the chance to come and see me play.”

If Howard is coming to New Jersey, Williams likely stays. He has said multiple times he really enjoys living in New York.

But as Adrian Wojnarowski said on NBC’s SportsTalk, watch the Shawn Marion situation — if Dallas can find a taker for his $8 million deal next season, they would have the money to offer max deals to both Howard and Williams to play with Dirk Nowtizki. Don’t put it past Mark Cuban to pull that off.

But that is the summer. Right now, the fate of Dwight Howard really rests with what the Magic decide to do in the next couple of weeks.

Kings’ rookie Marvin Bagley III out 10-14 days with left knee bone bruise

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The No. 2 pick in last June’s draft, Marvin Bagley III is having a solid season. He’s averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a game coming off the bench. He’s got a good 59.2 true shooting percentage and the 6’11” big man gets most of his buckets at the rim or at least in the paint although he can hit threes when he steps out there (taking one a game but hitting 35.7 percent). He’s lost on defense, as most rookies are, but there is some potential there.

The Kings are going to have to get by without him for the next 10 to 14 days due to a bone bruise in his left knee, the team announced Friday night.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Friday night’s Sacramento loss to Golden State, when Bagley was battling for a rebound and landed awkwardly. He got a bucket out of it because he was “cherry-picking” after not being able to run back down the court, but he waved to the coaches and asked out after scoring. Bagley left the game, had to be helped to the locker room and did not return.

With Bagley out expect to see a lot more Justin Jackson. Harry Giles III has been out of the rotation of late but he could potentially get a little run, too.

Kings troll Stephen Curry with moon landing video during player introductions

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Well played Sacramento.

Golden State came to town Friday night and during player introductions the Kings ran a video on their jumbotron of the moon landing to troll Stephen Curry.

Curry this past week said on a podcast that he didn’t think we landed on the moon, later saying it was obviously a joke but he would take NASA up on their offer of a tour of their lunar labs.

Curry can laugh at himself and gave the Kings and “A for effort” with the video.

Reports: New deal, Suns trade Trevor Ariza to Wizards for Austin Rivers, Kelly Oubre (no third team)

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Brooks who? Turns out Phoenix and Washington didn’t need a third team involved to get a trade done.

Phoenix gets a point guard, and the Wizards get a veteran presence in a trade that is straight up between the two: Trevor Ariza heads to Washington while Austin Rivers, Kelly Oubre are going to Phoenix, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The struggling Wizards get a veteran presence in their locker room — something the team where players don’t like each other and it shows on the court could use. Not that one move solves all those problems. Plus, Ariza brings a solid wing defensive and three-point shooting presence (36 percent) to the team (although he has struggled this season inside the arc). That said, there was a lot of trade value in Oubre and to get one player and no picks back in this trade — they would have gotten second rounders in the blown up Friday night deal — feels like the Wizards sold short. Washington also saves about $1.5 million in salary and luxury tax, but they need to add a 14th player to the roster in the next two weeks and even at the minimum that will eat into some of those savings.

Phoenix has desperately needed a point guard and now they got a rotation level one in Rivers, which is an upgrade for this team (whatever you think of Rivers). Plus the young Kelly Oubre fits better on the Suns’ timeline — with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and the rest — than the veteran Ariza, but the Suns are already deep on the wing.

Giannis Antetokounmpo matches career high with 44 against Cavaliers (VIDEO)

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo played as if he had a point to prove.

The Milwaukee star rebounded from his worst game of the season to match his career high with 44 points and the Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-102 on Friday night despite missing two starters.

Two nights after being held to a season-low 12 points in a loss to Indiana, he was 14 of 19 from the field, made 16 of 21 foul shots, and had 14 rebounds and eight assists.

“You’ve got to put that game in the past,” Antetokounmpo said. “You put it in the past and move forward.”

Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ second leading scorer, was out with a sprained right finger. Malcolm Brogdon, fourth on the team in scoring, didn’t play because of a sore left hamstring.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer wasn’t surprised Antetokounmpo took over with his team short-handed.

“Obviously, a monster game for Giannis,” he said. “We kind of rode him pretty hard tonight. He was ultra-aggressive. He’s a competitor. He wants to be great.”

Asked what a team can do to slow down Antetokounmpo, Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said, “There’s not an answer to that. He’s a terrific player. He’s elevated his game over the years. He can hurt you in so many different ways.”

Not only was Antetokounmpo coming off a subpar game, Wednesday’s 113-97 loss was Milwaukee’s largest margin of the season.

Antetokounmpo made an instant impression after Milwaukee won the opening tip when he dunked on Osman on a set play in the halfcourt offense. He ended the half by finding Pat Connaughton for a 3-pointer.

Antetokounmpo, who had his 20th double-double of the season, admitted he was aware of his numbers.

“At some point in the game, you realize you’re scored a lot, so you look up at the scoreboard, but usually I don’t even look at it,” he said.

The Bucks never trailed and held off a late Cleveland spurt. The Cavaliers cut the lead to five midway through the fourth quarter on Cedi Osman‘s 3-pointer, but Antetokounmpo had a three-point play and an assist on Brook Lopez‘s basket that beat the shot clock, pushing the lead to 111-99.

Lopez scored 19 points and Eric Bledsoe had 16 for the Bucks, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points, and Larry Nance Jr. had 14 for Cleveland. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton had five points after scoring in double figures in 18 straight games.

Cleveland played its second game without Tristan Thompson, who could be out for a month with a sprained left foot.