Wednesday night NBA grades: Dwight Howard looks like guy Rockets thought they signed

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering why anyone would live in a dumpster for a year, voluntarily

source:   Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets. The NBA game is in large part about exploiting mismatches. With all due respect to the solid season Miles Plumlee is having, him trying to cover Dwight Howard is a mismatch. One the Rockets went to again and again. Howard finished the night with 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting (plus he was 12-of-18 from the free throw line) and he had 14 rebounds. The Rockets struggled with the Suns this season in previous meetings, but they just pounded the Suns with the big guy Wednesday and he delivered.

source:   Jeff Green, Boston Celtics. Aggressive, attacking Jeff Green poked his head up Wednesday, which I think means six more weeks of winter. But when you get a sighting of Green when he is on you see one of the better scorers in the game. Sure, a night like this likely means he goes into hibernation for another week, but the Celtics don’t get the win over the Sixers without him. Green had 36 points on 11-of-18 shooting, plus he had eight rebounds. Nice of him to put on a little showcase game like this before the trade deadline.

source:   The Cleveland Cavaliers. What. A Tire. Fire. If you lose to a team that has dropped seven games in a row, is on the second night of a back-to-back and by the end of the game had only four eligible players left on the court, you have SERIOUS issues. It isn’t just one thing, it’s everything — management, coach, star players, role players, locker room attitudes, offense, defense, pretty much everyone and everything.

source:  Steve Blake, Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, if you get a triple double on the Cavaliers “defense” it still counts. In his second game back from injury Blake had 11 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Plus, he had a key three late when the game was still in doubt. He may be the best point guard the Lakers have on the roster now.

source:   Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs. Tony Parker didn’t play after halftime for San Antonio due to a sore back. With the game close in the fourth quarter and first overtime, the Spurs were looking someone to step up with big plays, and Mills was that guy — he had 17 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and overtimes of the Spurs win. He was the guy knocking down the big snots like it was no big deal. He had a quiet first half but was there when needed.

source:  Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. When you talk about the best power forwards in the game — LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki (not a traditional four but still) — Griffin wants to be mentioned in that group. And nights like this with a gaudy stat line — 43 points 17 rebounds and 6 assists against the Miami Heat help that cause. He has played fantastic ball with Chris Paul out. But he gets a “B” here because even with all the highlights dunks and good plays he was still just 16-of-34 shooting overall and 14-of-25 inside eight feet. Good, but not quite great.

Pacers’ Myles Turner fined $15,000 for flipping bird at Sixers fans

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Myles Turner had to know this was coming.

Frustrated after fouling Joel Embiid under the basket and being taken out of the game, the Pacers’ big man flipped off some Sixers fans as he walked to the bench.

Saturday the league announced Turner was fined $15,000 for “making an inappropriate gesture toward the spectator stands.” The league, understandably, is not a fan of its players flipping off fans.

That fine is pretty much the going rate for these kinds of incidences.

Embiid went on to score 40 Friday night in a dominant performance, but the Pacers won the game 113-101.

Why are Lakers saving their young core? Reportedly to chase Anthony Davis.

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Anthony Davis is the target at the top of the Lakers’ wish list.

He’s also at the top of the wish list for the Boston Celtics and about 27 other teams, too. But if Davis is put on the trade block — something that is not likely until this summer, New Orleans is working to keep him — the Lakers and Celtics will be at the front of the line.

Which is why, when reports that the Lakers would not include any of their young core in a trade for Trevor Ariza came out, it fit with the Lakers’ long-term thinking. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed this on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“Here’s the line [the Lakers] have to walk: they’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they have to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer either pre or post free agency…

“The absolute dream scenario, people talk about (how) they can trade for Anthony Davis or sign a free agent. The dream scenario is they do both.”

The dream is to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and get Davis, and while that dream may be a long shot the only chance they have is if they still have their core players to throw in a package.

The larger point also is valid — the Lakers are not going to beat the Warriors come the playoffs this season (assuming the Warriors are healthy) and L.A. should keep its powder dry for bigger battles. And Davis will be the biggest of battles.

New Orleans wants to keep Davis, they are actively trying to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. Sources have told me the Pelicans’ plan is to win as much as possible this season and show Davis they are serious, then come July 1 offer Davis a designated veteran contract extension worth $230 million (or a little more, depending upon the cap). It’s roughly $40 million more than any other team can offer guaranteed. If Davis and his agent Rich Paul — the same agent as LeBron James — turn down that contract then the Pelicans will be forced to consider a trade.

If we get to that point, then all bets are off and the Lakers are all in. Until then, the Lakers are wise just to be patient.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.