Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: Dwight Howard who? All Houston needs is Harden.

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while applying for maybe the best job in journalism (except for having to live in Dallas)….

You don’t need Dwight Howard when you have James Harden. Well, at least in the regular season. The Rockets are 6-2 so far since Howard went down with this latest knee injury, and the reason is Harden is playing like an MVP. Tuesday night was a perfect example: Harden scored 20 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-10 shooting to lift Houston to a win over Phoenix. Then when the Rockets needed a couple daggers to kill off the Suns, it was Harden delivering them. Harden finished with 40 points on 23 shots plus grabbed 12 boards and had nine assists as Houston got another crucial win. In the eight games since Howard went down, Harden is averaging 29.9 points and 6.9 assists a game, plus is shooting 41 percent from three and has a .627 true shooting percentage. The Beard is on fire.

The sun seems to be setting on Phoenix’s playoff chances. The Suns are now just one game ahead of both New Orleans and hard-charging Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the West. The Suns lost five of their last six games before the All-Star break. In those six games, the issue has been the offense, which has averaged 97 points per 100 possessions (27th in the league in that stretch). They’ve been even worse on the road of late. Maybe a couple practices and more than a week off can shake them out of this funk. If not, they once again are going to win 46 or more games and miss the playoffs. They are the poster children for changing the playoff system.

The most interesting thing happening with the Lakers: Nick Young telling dolphin attack stories. On the court, the only interesting thing left in the Lakers’ season is watching Jordan Clarkson to see if he can develop into a point guard. Off the court…. Nick Young is a constant source of entertainment.

Mike Dunleavy’s back and the Bulls look good again. After missing 19 games due to an ankle injury, their glue guy is back. The Bulls are now 24-10 with him, he is key to their offensive spacing. He only had five points on five shots and looked understandably rusty, but he did play 24 minutes. Dunleavy could be off for a night because Tony Snell spaced the floor on the way to his 24 points. The good news: the Bulls are finally healthy… er wait. Jimmy Butler had to leave the game with shoulder injury and didn’t play the second half. At least the week off for the All-Star break is coming up.

Pistons keep taking steps toward playoffs. In a game they really needed, Greg Monroe continued to thrive — 23 points and 12 boards — and the Pistons easily handled the Hornets 106-78. That moves Detroit just 1.5 games back of Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the East. Anthony Tolliver has been a sneaky good pick up by the Pistons, and he had 16 points in the win. Charlotte made the trade to get Mo Williams to fortify their backcourt while Kemba Walker is down, it will not be easy for Detroit to catch them (or seven seed Miami, who is two games ahead of Detroit), but this is the kind of win the Pistons had to have to give themselves a real chance.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.