Morning Shootaround — March 11

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: That much-ballyhooed Pacers-Heat matchup turned out to be quite a dud, but if you’re interested in hearing about it, our man Sekou Smith has perspective on the game from both the Miami camp and the Indiana camp. Since that one was such a letdown, we’re forced to pick another game and the Blazers-Hornets matchup from New Orleans turned out to be a surprisingly well-played one. Rookies Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis put forth solid nights, Wesley Matthews continued to showcase his mostly unnoticed clutch shooting game this season and the even more overlooked Ryan Anderson came through with a clutch bucket of his own.  It’ll be a season or two before the Hornets or Blazers will be fighting it out for a spot in the West elite pecking order, but for now, enjoy the solid effort put forth by these young squads.

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News of the morning

Dwight apologizes to Orlando | Davis making late ROY charge? | Griffin praises Jordan’s jam | Perkins savors matchup with Celtics

Howard apologizes for messy Orlando exitWith 18 wins this season, the Magic are not far removed from their 21-61 season of 2003-04, which was their last season of play before Dwight Howard came first aboard. Although Howard provided many great memories in Orlando, his messy departure this summer — preceded by a will-he-stay-or-go act last season in Orlando — left many Magic fans with a sizable disdain for the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year. All that said, Howard isn’t so unaware of his actions that he’s beyond apologizing to the folks in his old town — especially as the Lakers ready to visit the Magic on Tuesday. Sam Amick of USA Today chatted with Howard at his palatial, nine-bedroom, 14-bathroom, 11,000-square foot home in Los Angeles about his ‘Dwightmare’ season in Orlando, his first season with the Lakers, playing with Kobe Bryant and more in a must-read interview:

The famous view on the road to Dwight Howard’s house in Bel Air is nothing short of spectacular, the Hollywood Hills below unfolding into the valley where stars have come and gone.

On a clear day, it has been said of this classic route on Mulholland Drive, you can see all the way to Canoga Park, some 14 miles away. And on this day, Howard — the Los Angeles Lakers center and aspiring actor whose dreams of becoming an icon had so much to do with him coming here — can see all the way to Orlando.

The big man who was so beloved there returns Tuesday for the first time since he was traded seven months ago, this time as the villain. In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY Sports, Howard acknowledged that this script — the one that included twists and turns and battered his once-sparkling image — should have been written differently.

“In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way,” he said, sitting at his kitchen table. “If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media.

“I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me.”

“There are a lot of things about me that have changed,” said Howard, a 27-year-old Atlanta native who was drafted first overall out of high school in 2004. “I’m becoming a better man because of the stuff that has happened to me this last year and a half. Everybody goes through stuff like this. Even though I’m going through it where everybody in the world can see it, I’m happy that it’s happening.

“If it didn’t happen, I’d be stuck in my ways. I would never change, and then it would be a lot worse. For all this stuff to happen, for me to sit back and see and evaluate myself and what I could’ve done better and realize that I needed to make a change, I’m getting better. I’m growing up. I’m maturing.”

Howard, who had taken the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2010, said he should have spent more time separating fact from fiction to those who mattered most.

“Whenever something happened, I should’ve let my teammates know. I should’ve said, ‘OK, this is what’s going on. I know what’s being said, but this is how I really feel,’ ” Howard says. “Or, ‘Hey, Coach, this is what’s being said, but this is how I feel,’ instead of just letting everything pile on and me not saying anything.

“I just felt at the time like, ‘I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to sit back and let it unfold.’ By doing that, everybody was getting mixed signals. They’re hearing this on TV, or I might make a quote about this and they twist it and turn it into something else. Now you’ve got everybody like, ‘What is he doing?’… It was story after story after story start coming out saying it was me saying this and me saying that, and I’m like, ‘I never said none of this stuff.’ I could tell some of that stuff started to bother my teammates, but I didn’t say nothing because I’m like, ‘They know that I’m not saying this.’ And it just kept piling on and piling on.”

Hornets’ Davis spices up ROY raceSince practically the first week of the season, Portland guard Damian Lillard has been the presumptive favorite to win the Kia Rookie of the Year Award, and he’s got the resume to back it up. Lillard has been West’s rookie of the month every month this season, is second on the Blazers in scoring while leading them in assists and has had the poise of a veteran player throughout most of the season. Before the season began, the ROY race was thought to be one between Lillard and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets, but injuries kept Davis from truly making an impact until the last few months. After last night’s Portland-New Orleans showdown in Louisiana (which the Hornets won), the race might be closer than expected, writes John Reid of NOLA.com:

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard still appears to be the frontrunner to the win this season’s NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. But New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis got another opportunity to close the gap in Sunday’s matchup against Lillard and the Trail Blazers.

Coming off a sensational 20-point, 18-rebound performance against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, Davis put forth another solid effort in the Hornets’ 98-96 victory against the Trail Blazers.

Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. Lillard, who leads all rookies with a 18.8 scoring average,  scored 20 points and had eight assists.

“We’re just getting better as a unit,” Davis said. “We haven’t done a great job of closing out games in the fourth quarter, but we’re doing a better job and we have to continue doing so.”

On the final play of the game, Davis forced Trail Blazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews to miss a desperation 3-pointer as time expired.Since returning from a sprained left shoulder, Davis had averaged 16.7 points, 13 rebounds in the past three games He grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds and scored 20 points Saturday night against the playoff contending Memphis Grizzlies.

Lillard, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, is the rookie leader in assists (6.4) and 3-pointers with 134. But he couldn’t lead his team like he did in December, when he  made a game-clinching 3-pointer as  time expired to lift the Trail Blazers to a 95-94 victory against the Hornets at the Rose Garden.

“Tonight, it was just one of those games where they made some shots,” Lillard said. “They got going on a run. It was kind of a game of runs and we just came up short.”

Griffin awed by Jordan’s jamThe Clippers live up to their “Lob City” nickname just about every night, with Chris Paul-to-Blake Griffin alley-oops serving as the main source of highlights for L.A. But as exciting as Griffin’s jams are, you can’t overlook what DeAndre Jordan can do each night off a lob or a clear lane to the basket. In case anyone forgot, though, Jordan showed his talents off last night with a posterizing, monster flush over the Pistons’ Brandon Knight that drew respect from L.A.’s resident dunk expert, writes Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

Blake Griffin has Timofey Mozgov, Kendrick Perkins and Pau Gasol. And after Sunday night, DeAndre Jordan has Brandon Knight.

“That was the best dunk of the year,” Griffin said. “It’s the best dunk I’ve seen in person.”

Jordan caught a lob from Chris Paul, cocked back and turned Knight into a trending topic on Twitter with a vicious slam during the Clippers’ 129-97 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday at Staples Center.

“It was a great pass by Chris, and honestly, I didn’t see Brandon until I caught the ball,” Jordan said. “After that, was just, yeah….”

Paul described what followed the dunk as “the aftermath.” The crowd went nuts as the scoreboard replayed the highlight over and over. The bench nearly rushed the floor, and Paul, usually pretty calm, howled as he slapped Jordan on the chest.

“It was pretty impressive,” Paul said. “I usually try not to react after all those different types of dunks, but that one was pretty good.”

Perkins still loves facing CelticsHard to believe, but it has been 25 months since the Thunder swung what was a then-surprising deal with the Celtics, picking up defensive big man Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. Perkins was at his stopping best on Sunday afternoon against the Celtics (and particularly Kevin Garnett) as OKC picked up a 91-79 victory. But for Perkins, who was a key part of Boston’s 2008 championship team, playing his old team will always get the juices going, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman:

As the Celtics inbounded the ball at midcourt during the first half Sunday, referee Scott Wall had to caution Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett. They were getting a little too physical jostling for position.

Were they being serious? Were these avowed blood brothers getting riled?

“It was serious at the time,” Perk said with a smile. “But there wasn’t nothing behind it all. We damn near could have gave each other a hug.”

No one would have been surprised. But rest assured they were serious. Gran Torino and Garnett are nothing if not serious. And Garnett paid for that seriousness he helped instill in Perkins.

The Thunder beat the Celtics 91-79, and here’s the No. 1 reason. Garnett made just five of 19 shots. That’s Garnett’s most misses in a game since Jan. 16, 2012, when he also went 5-of-19 against Perkins and the Thunder.

No coincidence there.

“Perk took the challenge,” said Kevin Durant. “That’s his mentor, the guy he looked up to, the guy he learned a lot from, and he took the challenge by making him shoot tough shots.”

Garnett was 3-of-11 with Perkins on the bench, with all three makes at the basket and only two of the misses outside the paint.

Perkins kept Garnett away from the basket. That’s how games are won.

“Perk didn’t do anything new tonight,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “He was typical Perk.”

It’s been 25 months since the Celtics traded Perkins, their 2008 NBA championship center, for Jeff Green. It’s not getting any easier for Perkins and his old team to share the court.

“He’s moved on to his new family here, which is great,” said Celtic star Paul Pierce. “But Perk knows he’ll always be family, he’ll always be remembered, especially by me and the Boston organization.”

Perkins was particularly close to Garnett and point guard Rajon Rondo. Those two and Pierce are the only remaining players from the title team.

“I think it’ll be easier when a lot of the guys that I played with be off the team,” Gran Torino said. “Still pretty hard going against guys I went to war with.

“We had great times over there. Not easy at all, especially going against a coach who pretty much raised me. Who started me who I was as a player. It’s always difficult, but know I’m always trying to get the win.”

ICYMI of the night: Watch this dunk … that’s all we’ve got to say:

14 Comments

  1. rudysarena says:

    first it was Kyrie, now it’s D.Jordan, poor Brandon Knight who could be next?

  2. rudysarena says:

    first it was Kyrie now it’s D.Jordan. poor Brandon Knight :(

  3. Bad Buy says:

    Seriously people! Stop interviewing Dwight! Hes the dumbest most sell centered player in the NBA. Nobody needs to hear anything that comes out of his mouth. No more press for that fool. The NBA needs to separate itself as far as possible from people like Dwight. Please for the kids sake, we cant have our children growing up with the piss poor example of how to be a human being and team mate that Dwight is setting.

  4. raja hunjan says:

    best one ever was vince carter in the olympics

  5. goheat says:

    GORDON? lol its brandon knight. what game did u watched btw? rofl

  6. jess says:

    Dwight made the lakers worse

  7. boon says:

    yeah, dwight, your former teammates know you weren’t saying it because you couldn’t say it to their faces. i guess it your way of pleasing everyone because you love them. that’s got to be it

  8. W/E says:

    Man that dunk has to be best posterizer ever….Jordan literally destroyed Gordon.