Dwight Howard says he has been different player since All-Star Break

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Despite all the talk about his rough season — whether you attribute that to his back and shoulder injuries or his mental attitude (or, a combo of the two) — Dwight Howard has put up good numbers: 16.2 points a game on 57.7 percent shooting plus 12.1 rebounds a game.

In his last 10 games those offensive numbers are off slightly (15.7 points on 56.5 percent) but his overall game has looked better as he has decided to own the defensive end of the floor. He is grabbing 21.4 percent of the available rebounds when on the floor and 11.7 percent of the Lakers missed shots. He has been a defensive force in the paint and that has been key to things like the Lakers 25-point comeback against the Hornets.

Howard said he has had a new mental attitude since the All-Star break, something he emphasized speaking to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“I’m a big thinker,” Howard said during a wide-ranging, candid interview after the Los Angeles Lakers practiced Saturday afternoon. “So I just stayed in the hotel and thought about the first half of the season and how I could do better for our team.

“And I just told myself, ‘I’m going to commit myself to being better for the second half of the season.’ “

The changes included improving his conditioning (partially through a better diet). And he said he needed to get back to being the player he had been in terms of style the past few years and try to take on more of Kobe Bryant’s mental attitude about the game.

But part of it was adjusting to the expectations of being the star center of the Los Angeles Lakers. In Los Angeles, the Lakers are THE sports story — they dominate the newspapers and sports talk radio. The Clippers have been the better team and you’re lucky to hear people discuss them on the radio; they are always the second story in newscasts.

Being a star for the Lakers is like being the quarterback for the Cowboys or the No. 3 hitter for the New York Yankees — there is pressure and scrutiny that is above and beyond other roles in the same sport. Howard thought he had seen pressure as the anchor of the Magic franchise taking them to the finals, but it’s just not the same thing.

Howard wasn’t ready for it, and combine that with him struggling to be himself through injury and you have a pressure Howard admits he wasn’t used to.

“Besides just the expectations,” he said. “In games, I mess up and there’s somebody in the crowd saying something and I’m ready to snap at ’em. That’s not what we’re supposed to do.

“But you look at a guy like Kobe and he doesn’t care about nothing but going out there and playing hard. That’s a lesson a lot of us have to learn — especially young guys.”

Kobe doesn’t fear the expectations. Look at the numbers and you see he misses a lot of shots at the end of close games — more than he makes — but he is never afraid to take the next one, and that is part of what makes him dangerous in the clutch.

Howard needs that attitude, and we’re starting to see it from him.

The Lakers are winning if not overwhelming — those were impressive late-game wins recently but it was against the Hornets and Raptors — and for them to start to reach their expectations it’s going to take the Howard of old.

Kings select Marvin Bagley III with No. 2 overall pick in 2018 NBA Draft

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The Sacramento Kings have made a sensible pick in the 2018 NBA draft. After the Phoenix Suns selected DeAndre Ayton No. 1 overall, it was up to the Kings to do something that wouldn’t set their franchise back.

Despite rumors that Sacramento had began to favor Michael Porter Jr., on Thursday night. the Kings took Duke University standout Marvin Bagley III.

Adding Bagley to their rotation of young, switchable wing players was a solid move for Sacramento. Bagley measures in at 6-foot-11 and 234 pounds, making him a power forward for the Kings.. He will likely need to learn for a year behind veteran Zach Randolph, and should be an interesting addition to the frontcourt of Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles, and Skal Labissiere.

The Phoenix, Arizona native was a scorer for the Blue Devils during his one year in college, nabbing ACC Player of the Year honors as a freshman while scoring 21 points per game.

The Kings have a slate of young guard prospects as well, including Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Sacramento hasn’t won more than 35 games since the 2007-2008 season, and no doubt they are expecting that Bagley will add a scoring punch to their young core. More than anything, Sacramento needs this pick to go somewhat right as they continue to try to rebuild after the Isaiah Thomas / DeMarcus Cousins era.

Suns select Deandre Ayton with No. 1 overall pick in 2018 draft

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First in alphabetical introductions, DeAndre Ayton took center stage at a new pre-NBA draft ceremony with his parents. As he walked right down the middle of two rows of adoring children, Ayton extended his 7-foot-5 wingspan to high-five them on both sides. Then, he took his mother’s hand and helped her down the stairs.

Length and touch.

That – plus strength, shooting touch and hops – is why the Suns made him their first No. 1 overall pick in their 51-year history a few minutes later.

Ayton is the right pick, but hardly a surefire star. With his physical package and shooting ability, it’d be hard for him to fail completely in the NBA. But he is terrifyingly unprepared as a rim protector – a nearly essential skill for centers.

He’ll join a Phoenix team trying to end a franchise-high eight-year playoff drought, though Ayton won’t be starting from scratch. Devin Booker, implicitly and explicitly, screamed out for help. Ayton delivers it in a big way.

The Suns also have Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. It’d be nice if any of them pan out. But Phoenix also has all its own future first-round picks plus two extra first-rounders from the Heat.

This is a team on the rise, and the Suns will have other chances to add to their young talent base.

But they’ll probably never have a better opportunity than this.

2018 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

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It’s been a long time since there was this much uncertainty at the top of an NBA Draft. While the top pick is a lock, and even No. 2 may have fallen into place, things are wide open after that with plenty of talk about trades up and down — and teams looking to move into the lottery. The NBA rumor mill has been in high gear.

Now the floodgates of wild are about to be thrown open.

Right here is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the evening — every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings. We’ll be on top of news, rumors, and anything else happening around the NBA tonight. Enough with the preamble…

It’s time to put the Phoenix Suns on the clock.

 
Suns small icon 1. The Phoenix Suns: Deandre Aytnon, 7’0” center (Arizona). Physically, he has the potential to be one of the game’s dominant centers — he’s big and long (7’5” wingspan), he moves incredibly well, he can knock down threes, and he can run the court. Offensively he’s going to be put up numbers and be an impact player from Day 1. If he puts in the work when challenged on his defense he could be a force on both ends. He could be the franchise cornerstone the Suns need, the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside.

 
Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). One of the best athletes in the draft and a natural scorer, he’s going to be able to get buckets in the NBA. He’s got a great bounce (an amazing second jump), attacks the glass, can finish at the rim and shot 40 percent from three for the Blue Devils. The question is can he defend — he showed poor defensive instincts and Mike Krzyzewski had to play zone at Duke last season because Bagley (and Carter) could not handle pick-and-roll coverages. He’s got to get better on that end to reach his NBA potential.

WE HAVE A TRADE: As had been rumored for a while, the Dallas Mavericks are trading with the Atlanta Hawks — the Mavericks have wanted Doncic and the Hawks will take him at No. 3, then the Mavericks will take Trae Young at No. 5 and that will complete the trade. (The Hawks had pushed to get more picks or dump salary in this deal, but ultimately took what they could get.

 
Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks: Luka Doncic, 6’8” point/forward (Slovenia). He will not play for the Hawks, he will be traded to the Dallas Mavericks (selecting No. 5). Doncic is the most decorated European player ever to enter the NBA Draft (EuroLeague champion and MVP, ACB champion and MVP), he is a phenom off the pick-and-roll and a great playmaker in transition. He has shooting range from the NBA three and he can finish inside. He’s been putting up numbers against men in Europe, he should adapt to the NBA fairly quickly. The doubts are he’s not an elite athlete, not explosive by NBA standards. Can he defend well enough at this level, and how will he handle being guarded by those kinds of athletes?

 
Grizzlies small icon 4. Memphis Grizzlies:

Last pre-draft rumor: Michael Porter Jr. is falling, how far will that be

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Michael Porter Jr. has long been the biggest gamble in the 2018 NBA Draft.

A year ago he was considered a lock top three pick in this draft. Now? Concerns about his back injury — a microdiscectomy that forced him to miss almost all of the college season — have given teams pause.

Those medical reports out of last week’s evaluation for teams in Chicago has Porter falling in the draft, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (while on Sportscenter). How far? Maybe all the way to the end of the lottery — the Clippers with picks 12 and 13, or even the Nuggets at 14.

People who saw the original medical reports told NBC Sports they were “fine.”

It’s a far cry from Sacramento legitimately considering him at No. 2 a couple of weeks ago.

When things get tight, GMs can become risk-averse (they like to keep their jobs). Taking Porter in the upper reaches of the lottery and missing is the kind of thing that could have a GM on the hot seat.

Also factoring into this, rumors of an insular, “diva” attitude from Porter who has always had things focused on him. How will he handle not being the man?

That said, Porter’s physical tools and potential has teams drooling — he’s big and can score inside and out. He has the potential to be a very dangerous stretch four because he’s a fantastic shooter and a high-level athlete.

Some team is going to reach the point in the process where the risk is worth the reward. That may be Cleveland at No. 8, but if not it’s going to be interesting to see which team rolls the dice.