Magic get ultimate revenge on Dwight Howard, beating the Lakers and humiliating him in the process

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There really is nothing that could happen in one game for the Orlando Magic that could possibly make up for what Dwight Howard put them through a season ago, considering the way he forced his way out of town and left the franchise in a full-blown rebuilding situation.

But for a single night, the Magic and their fans got everything they could have asked for.

Orlando not only beat the Lakers in Los Angeles, but did so by humiliating Howard in the process. A 40-point fourth quarter and some timely missed free throws from Dwight powered the Magic to a 113-103 win at Staples Center, a result that dropped the Lakers to a record of just eight wins against nine losses on the season.

The loss part wasn’t so surprising if you’ve watched the Lakers at all this season. In games where they’ve failed to bring the intensity defensively from the very start, lesser talented teams have been able to hang around and gain confidence to the point where it becomes too late to stop them.

Howard’s performance on the night was a bit of a surprise, however, and the team seemed to take his lead a bit from an energy standpoint. It’s not as if Howard had any reason to ratchet up his game against his former team after the way he did them, as he clearly got what he wanted while Orlando was left trying to pick up the pieces. But still, an above average energy level would have been nice.

Instead, Howard managed 21 points and 15 rebounds on 6-of-13 shooting. That may seem like a good game, until you realize that seven of those rebounds came in the first quarter, and nine of those points were scored in the fourth quarter — and seven of those came at the free throw line.

Ah, yes. The free throws.

Howard finished the night 9-for-21 from the foul line, good for just 42.9 percent. He’s the first Laker to attempt more than 20 free throws while making less than 50 percent since Shaquille O’Neal back in 2004, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That was a non-championship year for the Lakers, and Shaq’s final one in Los Angeles, so it’s not exactly a statistic you want to see duplicated if you’re the Lakers.

More important than the sheer volume of Howard’s free throw misses was the way that they came, which was after the Magic went to the strategy of intentionally fouling him at various times throughout the night. Your math may vary depending on which side of the Hack-A-[blank] argument you come out on, but there’s no denying that if missed free throws by the target of the strategy on one end are followed by made threes by the team doing the fouling on the other, it’s unbeatable. And that’s pretty much how it went for Orlando in the fourth quarter of this one.

The Lakers did some curious things with their rotations, getting Devin Ebanks some random minutes for no apparent reason, while Jordan Hill — an energy player who actually might have helped on this night — received a DNP-CD. Jodie Meeks, he of the seven three-pointers in Friday night’s win over the Nuggets, similarly was used sparingly to the tune of just nine minutes off the bench.

The Magic got solid performances all around, led by a 30-point, five-rebound, five-assist night from Arron Afflalo, 23 points and 12 rebounds from Glen Davis, and 19 points and 13 assists from Jameer Nelson. But a reality check shows that this is a team that came into Sunday night at just 5-10 on the season; this wasn’t as much about the Magic’s strength as it was about the Lakers’ weakness.

As Dwight paraded to the line with his team trailing and continued to miss after the Magic continued to put him there on purpose, his former fans in Orlando must have been beside themselves with glee. They deserve it, too. While the damage Howard did to the franchise will quite literally take multiple seasons to repair, the very least the Magic can do is make the limited time they spend with him in the future as miserable as possible.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.