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Report: Dwight Howard interested in signing with Magic

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Dwight Howard, who will surely opt out and become a free agent this summer, is sending an transparent message to NBA teams:

If you pay me, I will come.

Howard is also apparently making targeted pitches – first to the Knicks and now the Magic.

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report:

League sources tell me that the Magic have heard through back channels that Howard would entertain a return to the Magic Kingdom. Make no mistake, his first choice is to return to the Houston Rockets. But if Houston is not on board with that, Howard is exploring his options, and Orlando is on the list.

On one hand, the Magic could use a rim protector like Howard. On the other hand, his exit from Orlando got messy.

Howard, 30, is too old to fit with the rest of the Magic’s young roster. But they’ve been trying to fast-track their rebuilding for a couple years. They’re also reportedly interested in similarly aged Al Horford. Either big could help the team reach the playoffs.

The key question? Would Orlando pay Howard what he wants? He’s clearly seeking one last high-paying long-term contract. He’d take one from the Rockets, Knicks, Magic or just about anyone offering.

Howard’s age, health issues and style of play will give teams pause about paying him for the next four to five years. But he’s still productive, and if recent years are a guide, will ramp it up in the postseason (if Houston makes it).

Right now, it seems Howard is trying to drum up interest. Maybe these rumors help.

But there’s nothing more productive he can do than helping the Rockets reach the playoffs and producing well in them.

Ten future NBA players to watch in NCAA Tournament Thursday (including Zion)

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Zion Williamson is something special.

However, there is talent is this upcoming NBA Draft class beyond him. Not “franchise cornerstone” talent, maybe not even the kind of talent usually seen in slots two through six in most drafts, but there are quality future NBA players who will spend this weekend — and they hope the next couple of weekends — playing in the NCAA Tournament. Players NBA fans may want to get a glimpse of now.

Here are 10 future NBA players to watch on Thursday, starting with the big three from Duke (because you’re going to watch them anyway).

• Zion Williamson, 6’7” forward, Duke. Multiple NBA front office people have told me he is their highest rated prospect since Anthony Davis (some put Karl-Anthony Towns in there, too).

Williamson is an insane athlete, strong (lots of Larry Johnson build comparisons), can leap out of the building, but also shows a point guard’s feel for the game and he defends very well. His shot is improved but needs to get to an NBA level, however, with his work ethic it should come along. What some scouts like best: He plays hard, he doesn’t just coast on all that natural talent.

Cam Reddish, 6’8” wing, Duke. His stock has slipped a little lately, but he’s still a top-five selection. When Williamson was out a lot of watchers expected Reddish to thrive, instead he was inconsistent. He shows flashes that has coaching thinking “if he just…” because he’s an explosive but fluid athlete, he can space the floor as a shooter, he’s long and can defend, and he can create a little off the dribble (although his handle needs work). There are backers that think he’ll be better in an NBA system where there is better floor spacing, and once he gets stronger.

R.J. Barrett, 6’7” wing, Duke. With all the talent on this roster, Barrett is the guy Coach K runs the offense through, which should tell you a lot. He was incredibly efficient this season: He averaged better than 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a game, and as Sam Vecenie of the Athletic said, the last guy with those numbers in college was Penny Hardaway. How his game fits in the NBA, where he will play more of a role, will be the test. Barrett likely goes No. 2 or 3 in this draft, but as NBC’s own Rob Dauster said if he was in last year’s draft he might be 7 or 8. How will he handle those raised expectations?

• De’Andre Hunter, 6’8” wing, Virginia. He has been shooting up draft boards all season long because he is one of the best defensive players in this draft, he’s got good athleticism, he’s physical and long at 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan. He’s not going to be a future superstar, but what he can be is a quality starter/rotation player who is a defensive stopper and can knock down threes (better than 45 percent from deep this season) and score some as needed on the offensive end. He is a willing role player, and likely a top 5 pick.

Jarrett Culver, 6’6” wing, Texas Tech. He passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (that has improved), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he plays a high IQ game. You’re not going to find a guy with a better feel for the game in this draft, and he likely shows that off in the tournament. The primary concern is he’s not an explosive, elite athlete and on the wing in the NBA that’s what he’s going to be up against nightly.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 6’5” guard, Virginia Tech. He’s a guard who over a couple of years has learned to let the game come to him a little, something he needs to do because he’s not an explosive athlete. However, he can shoot the rock (nearly 40 percent from three), is an improved playmaker off the pick-and-roll, gets boards, and is just a steady player. Scouts will be watching his defense during the tournament, it’s been an issue although he has improved. There is an NBA rotation swingman in his game if he keeps working.

Cameron Johnson 6’9” forward, North Carolina. In every draft, one of the best shooters falls farther than they should because teams fall in love with the potential of other players and overlook the guys who can just put the ball in the hole. Johnson also is a senior, often a strike against guys in the draft. But watch him this weekend — he’s a forward who is one of the best pure shooters in the draft (46.5 percent from three) who knows how to get in position and hit shots in big games (23 against Duke in the ACC Tournament). There are questions about his defense, something scouts will be watching as the Tar Heels move through the tournament.

Coby White, 6’5” guard, North Carolina. The more scouts and GMs have watched UNC play this season, the more Nassir Little has fallen down draft boards and White has climbed up them. White is lightning quick and used that and a good jumper to get a lot of points, but as the season has moved along he’s become an improved playmaker (his decision making still needs to improve, but he’s on the right track). He’s impressive in transition and loves to push the ball, but in any setting when he gets playing downhill he’s hard to stop. Can play the one or the two. There’s a lot to like here.

Grant Williams, 6’7” power forward, Tennessee. He’s a physical, nasty player, something that certain NBA franchises are drawn to in prospect. He can hit the three well enough that defenders have to respect it (he hits about a third of his threes, although that percentage needs to go up) but his game is really playing some bully ball around the rim. He is strong and plays smart angles down on the block. How he fits in the NBA game is a question worth asking, but he plays hard and those kinds of guys tend to find a way.

• Matisse Thybulle, 6’5” wing, Washington. He’s a potential defensive stopper, the guy you throw on the best perimeter player of the other team and know the job will get done. The kind of player coaches love. Thybulle gets steals, he blocks shots well for a guard, and he’s not just good on ball he’s a smart help defender. That we know. On offense, he can shoot fairly well but doesn’t really seek out his own shot. It’s the offensive end scouts will be watching, because if he can be good enough you just have to be careful helping off him then Thybulle is an NBA rotation player.

Kevin Durant helps lead Warriors past Pacers after death of Cliff Dixon

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Kevin Durant established Golden State’s defensive energy by swatting away shots early. Eventually, the Warriors got going on the other end as they almost always do.

Durant had 15 points, six assists and three blocks after losing a close friend earlier in the day, and the Warriors ran away from the Indiana Pacers 112-89 on Thursday night.

Durant led a balanced Warriors attack, playing the same day childhood friend Cliff Dixon was shot to death in Atlanta. Warriors guard Quinn Cook also was close with Dixon as they’re all from the Washington D.C./Maryland area.

Stephen Curry scored 12 of his 15 points with four 3-pointers during the Warriors’ 35-point third quarter in which they limited Indiana to 19.

“Tonight I thought our spirit and our energy were fantastic,” coach Steve Kerr said, crediting his group for being “engaged.”

Tyreke Evans scored 20 points off the bench and Thaddeus Young added 18 for the Pacers, who were without coach Nate McMillan for family reasons.

Indiana ended its four-game swing out West by losing an eighth straight road game and missing another chance to clinch a playoff berth following a 115-109 defeat at the Clippers on Tuesday night.

The Warriors, whose defense has become a greater focus with the playoffs approaching, have allowed their fewest points in two of the past four games. Oklahoma City scored 88 points Saturday before the two-time defending champions held down Indiana.

Klay Thompson began 0 for 7, missing his first five 3-pointers, and wound up with 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting. He scored his first field goal of the night, which he followed with another basket the next possession, at the 7:46 mark of the second quarter and his first 3 came in the final minute of the first half as Golden State built a 53-43 lead at the break.

“Well I finally decided to make a shot, so that felt good,” Thompson cracked.

Golden State returned from an impressive 3-1 road trip – with wins at Houston, Oklahoma City and Minnesota and a loss at San Antonio – to play its first game at Oracle Arena since a 115-111 flop against lowly Phoenix on March 10.

DeMarcus Cousins returned after missing two games with a sore right ankle and had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Andrew Bogut received a warm welcome for his home debut after re-joining the Warriors on the road. The 7-foot big man played on Golden State’s 2015 championship team and the 73-win team the following season that lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cavaliers, and he got hurt in Game 5 of the finals and missed the rest of the series.

“In my old age you get a bit sentimental,” Bogut said. “It’s funny how life works, right?”

Both teams had slow starts: The game was tied at 19 after the first quarter, when the Warriors were 1 of 10 on 3s.

“I thought our defensive intensity was good in the first half, and what happens in this league is when you’re not scoring points the flood gates can open,” Pacers assistant Dan Burke said.

BOGUT’S RETURN

Kerr still expects Bogut to make an impact even with Cousins healthy again and despite “an insurance-policy role.”

Bogut had seven rebounds and four points – shooting 1 for 8 – in nine minutes.

And Bogut was greeted exactly how Kerr figured – with “a raucous reception.”

The big man waved and smiled as fans cheered when video highlights were shown on the big screen with “Welcome back Andrew Bogut.”

“I think our fans recognize that, in many ways, Andrew represented the shift in the Warriors organization and its emphasis on defense,” Kerr said. “I think that trade was really kind of the first domino to fall in terms of – well Steph’s drafting was the first one, let’s not forget that one – but shortly thereafter Andrew came over in the trade and there was an organizational shift toward a defensive mindset which I think Mark Jackson implemented and the players started to reflect that philosophy.”

TIP-INS

Pacers: G Darren Collison sat out a second straight game with a bruised right quadriceps muscle. When he missed Tuesday it snapped his streak of 71 straight starts this season. … Indiana is 4-9 on the road vs. the Western Conference, having lost the last five.

Warriors: All five Warriors starters scored in double figures for the fourth time, with Golden State winning each of those. … The Warriors won 132-100 at Indiana on Jan. 28, getting 39 assists and shooting 54.1 percent and going 13 of 31 on 3s. … Golden State is 27-4 when notching 30 or more assists (32 on Thursday). … Bogut is three regular-season games shy of 700 in 14 seasons.

UP NEXT

Pacers: Host Nuggets on Sunday.

Warriors: Host Mavericks on Saturday night having won 12 straight at home in the series.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Hawks stop Jazz win streak at five thanks to Trae Young

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ATLANTA (AP) Trae Young scored 23 points, including a go-ahead three-point play, and the Hawks beat Utah 117-114 on Thursday night to end the Jazz’s five-game winning streak.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 34 points.

It was a costly loss. The Jazz entered the game fifth in the Western Conference but only a half-game ahead of a pack of three teams tied for sixth.

Utah led 110-109 before Young’s basket and free throw with 1:47 gave the Hawks the lead.

The Hawks stretched the lead to four points when an officials’ review confirmed a goaltending call against Rudy Gobert on Dewayne Dedmon‘s shot.

A slam by Gobert, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds, cut Atlanta’s lead to 114-112. Dedmon made two free throws. Following a layup by Mitchell, Dedmon made only one of two free throws with 6.2 seconds remaining to give Utah, trailing 117-114, a chance.

Vince Carter fouled Kyle Korver on what was initially ruled a three-shot foul. A review determined Korver would only shoot two free throws. Korver missed both free throws, the second one intentionally, and Mitchell missed a last-second 3-pointer from the corner.

Hawks rookie Kevin Huerter, who had 14 points, sank a 3-pointer to cut Utah’s lead to 99-98 midway through the final period. Ricky Rubio answered with two straight jumpers, including a 3-pointer, and set up a layup by Derrick Favors that pushed the lead to 106-98.

After going 12 of 21 on 3-pointers, Atlanta led 65-54 at halftime.

Mitchell opened the second half with a steal and jam to start a 9-0 run. Gobert had a tip-in and made a free throw in the run. A three-point play by Rubio tied the game at 71-all. Utah took the lead on Royce O'Neale‘s 3-pointer and stretched the lead to 82-73 – capping a 28-8 run to open the half.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Derrick Favors had 15 points and 15 rebounds. Rubio had 17 points and seven assists. … Each of Utah’s five straight wins had been by margins of at least 15 points. … Korver, who played for Atlanta from 2012-17, was honored with a video tribute and received an ovation during a first-period timeout.

Hawks: Kent Bazemore sank three 3-pointers in the final four minutes of the third period to cut Utah’s lead to 91-86 entering the fourth. … Dedmon had 18 points. … Huerter has been overshadowed by fellow rookie Young but also has become a starter with a role in the team’s long-term future. “I think the beauty is he’s a modern day perimeter player,” coach Lloyd Pierce said. Huerter has five games with at least five 3s. Only Young, with six such games, has more among the league’s rookies this season.

UP NEXT

Jazz: Visit Chicago on Saturday night.

Hawks: Host Philadelphia on Saturday night.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chris Paul seriously made this Rockets fan’s day (VIDEO)

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We all remember what it was like to be a young NBA fan. Hell, the 20-year anniversary of my first NBA game was literally today and I wrote an entire piece about it. The impact of seeing and meeting players in person has on kids cannot be understated.

That’s why it was so heartening to see one young Houston Rockets fan meet Chris Paul and get some serious swag signed by the future Hall of Famer.

A lot of these videos are great, but see if you can tell why this one is so good to watch.

Via Twitter:

I really liked this video because the kid goes from not being able to control his emotions, and crying, to smiling for the camera in a span of about six seconds.

Between Paul making this kid’s day and Kevin Durant delivering pizzas to hotel rooms, I’d say NBA players are doing pretty good with the proletariat these days.