Dwight Howard answers Orlando boos with made free throws, Lakers win

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In the third quarter, some Magic fans were heckling Dwight Howard, tweeted Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“You can’t win without Kobe,” the Magic fans said.

“You’re right,” Howard responded.

It’s true for this season (and maybe another one or two), but for one night back in Orlando Howard was enough.

Howard had 39 points — and tied his own NBA record by being sent to the free throw line 39 times, but he hit 25 of them — leading the Lakers to a 106 -97 win.

What really matters for the Lakers is this win moves them half a game ahead of Utah again for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Lakers need wins right now and Wednesday night, on the second night of a back-to-back in Atlanta, is going to be a tougher game than this. Los Angeles needed this one and got it.

But leading up to the game the focus was on Howard’s return to Orlando. And he was greeted with lusty boos from the crowd from the moment he walked on the court. They continued throughout the game when he touched the ball, but they died off as he kept hitting free throws.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn went early and often to hack-a-Howard. It worked at first as Howard started 2-of-9 from the free throw line but then hit 23-of-30 the rest of the way — if a guy gets fouled enough he can get a rhythm at the line and Howard did. At the end he was just laughing about it as he hit 16-of-20 in the second half.

“I just wanted to come out there and have fun, that’s the biggest thing for me,” Howard said after the game in a televised interview. “Put a smile on my face, go out there… I missed a lot of free throws but then I made a lot of free throws.

“So I think all this was good for me as a person, as a man.”

Howard didn’t get a ton of help from Kobe Bryant on this night. Kobe opened the game with a straight away three pointer and didn’t hit another bucket the rest of the half. He finished the night just 4-of-14 shooting, but with eight assists and seven rebounds.

Five Lakers besides Howard were in double figures, led by Metta World Peace with 14.

The Magic made runs at the Lakers, particularly at the end of the first and second quarters to keep it close. In the Howard trade the Magic went young and some of their new young faces had solid games — Tobias Harris had 17 points, Maurice Harkless 12 and center Nikola Vucevic had 11 boards. You could see the potential.

Early in the third quarter the Magic took a small lead on a Harris block of Howard followed by a Harkless bucket in transition. The Orlando crowd roared.

But Howard and the Lakers put together another run, like the did all night. Los Angeles was simply the better team and the Magic couldn’t hold them off. They were going to need some help.

Like Howard missing free throws. But this was his night, and with a smile on his face he was knocking them down. He and the Lakers won and have moved on.

For Howard, in more ways than one.

Report: Suns to waive Austin Rivers, who becomes unrestricted free agent

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The Phoenix Suns need a ball handling guard to go next to Devin Booker, so when they picked up Austin Rivers as part of the Trevor Ariza trade with Washington it made some sense. Rivers is a below replacement level NBA player (who has been serviceable the past couple of seasons), but that’s an upgrade over what the Suns had.

Except Rivers didn’t want to be part of the rebuild in Phoenix. In an unusual and unexpected move, the Suns have agreed to waive him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It’s an odd move on a few levels. Why didn’t Rivers want to stay in a place the ball would be in his hands more, giving himself a chance to build up his value before free agency next summer? Why didn’t the Suns first try to shop him around and offer to take on another team’s bad/dead contract if they got a pick or other asset? (Rivers can’t be packaged with another player in a trade but he can be moved straight up.)

Finally, how much demand is there among good teams for Rivers, even on a minimum contract?

Rivers, the son of Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers, is in his seventh NBA season. Rivers is averaging 7.2 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting this season.

It’s an odd move. Without Rivers Suns will keep leaning on rookie De'Anthony Melton as a potential future backcourt mate with Booker and hope he develops into something.

Bulls’ Kris Dunn shoves Russell Westbrook, scuffle breaks out (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook has a way of getting under an opponent’s skin.

Monday night it was the Bulls’ Kris Dunn‘s turn.

While moving over in position on the strong side, Westbrook and Dunn made contact, and after the whistle blew for a foul (with the ball handler), Westbrook made a grand gesture of pushing Dunn off him. Dunn responded with an outsized shove. And then it was on.

There’s more stuff to break down here than the Zapruder film.

• Jeremi Grant of the Thunder came in and tried to go at Dunn a little, in front of Westbrook (protect the star).

Bobby Portis tried to slide Grant out of the way, but…

Robin Lopez came in and went at Grant getting in his face, so Grant basically throws Lopez into the first row.

• Which just made Lopez even madder, leading to a meme-worthy angry face.

• Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen gets Grant in a headlock and pulls him out of the situation.

Steven Adams calmly makes sure Portis is out of the picture, then walks back over to Lopez and then Adams and Lopez get separated.

• In the end, the officials handed out for technicals: Westbrook, Dunn, Grant, and Lopez.

A few minutes later, Lopez blocked a Grant shot, decided to taunt him, and that got Lopez a second technical and he was tossed (Lopez is a veteran, he has to know the officials are going to call everything tight at that point). Watch Adams pat Lopez on the back as the Bulls’ big man makes the walk to the locker room.

James Harden scores 47, including sinking dagger into Jazz (VIDEO)

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Utah and Houston met in a battle of the disappointing early season Western teams — predicted by most to finish 2/3 in the West, they came into the night 10th and 13th — and in the tight West these kinds of games matter.

So James Harden turned it up a notch.

The reigning MVP looked every bit that guys scoring 47 points and adding six rebounds, five assists, and five steals in what was a Houston win, 102-97. It was Harden that sank the dagger into Utah.

That’s four wins in a row for Houston as they try to climb out of the hole they dug themselves early this season.

Taj Gibson helps defend drive with one shoe on, one shoe in his hand (VIDEO)

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In the first quarter Monday night, Timberwolves veteran Taj Gibson was working in the post on the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica, Gibson got the bucket but lost his shoe.

He picked it up, ran to the other end with one shoe in hand, and then defended a Bjelica drive well enough that Karl-Anthony Towns would come over and get the block on the play.

Somehow, Tom Thibodeau is going to get credit for this new defensive style.