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: The return of Dwight Howard to his old stomping grounds in Orlando had plenty of vitrol, but the Lakers-Magic game itself was lacking in any real on-court spice thanks mostly to Howard’s dominating play. The Heat kept on rolling with an easy victory over the Hawks, sending Miami’s win streak to 19 games. Out West, the Grizz and Mavs are working on their respective playoff pushes (Memphis is now No. 3 in the West; Dallas is only three games behind the No. 8-seeded Lakers). Our pick of the day, though, was the Spurs-Wolves game from Target Center. Yes, this one was a bit of a blowout, but there was a lot worth seeing in the game … particularly the play of Ricky Rubio. The point guard nabbed his first NBA triple-double and gave Wolves fans — who have seen injuries ruin a once-promising season — plenty of the trademark dimes and dribbles we all love Rubio for.
News of the morning
Howard embraces tough environment | So, who won the ‘Melo trade? | D-Will hitting his stride again | Budinger mending; Love next?
Howard thrives in first return to Orlando — The game much of Orlando had circled on their calendar all season turned out to be a blast from the past. Dwight Howard’s return to Florida as a member of the Lakers was one chock full of boos and ill will from Magic fans still seething over Howard’s trade to L.A. after a season-long “Dwightmare” during the 2011-12 campaign. But by the end of the game last night, despite all the heckling Howard took, it was the Magic’s former star who had the last laugh. He finished with 39 points and 16 rebounds as the Lakers won easily, getting a victory that may spur them on to greater things, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
The Magic tried to prey on all his insecurities, all his fears, and yet, finally, there was no stopping the self-proclaimed Superman. Over and over, the Magic grabbed Howard, slapped him, wrapped arms around those massive shoulders and dared him to immerse himself in the moment, concentrate and make free throws. The Magic played a Hack-a-Dwight, dared him to stand alone in downtown Orlando and make free throw upon free throw.
Thirty-nine times Howard shot them, 25 times they dropped into the net and ultimately 39 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks punctuated the Lakers’ 106-97 victory over the Magic.
“I needed that to learn how to block a lot of things out, despite the boos and all that stuff,” Howard said.
That’s always the issue with Howard: Where’s his mind? Where’s his focus? What’s his mood? Since the All-Star break, those within the Lakers have declared him transformed. After such a reluctance to embrace the burden that comes with this franchise, Howard has “come with an intensity, a ferocity,” Kobe Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “He understands that with the Lakers, it’s a championship or nothing.”
From the coaching staff to the players, they think Howard has become a better teammate, more willing to do things big and small necessary to propel the Lakers into contention. Within the Lakers, they believe that Howard is progressing physically because he’s pushing himself harder.
Slowly, surely, his back has provided him with more mobility, explosion. Most mornings, Howard goes for acupuncture on his back, diligently trying to bring it all the way back. Howard has streamlined his personal life, too. He’s leaned on a nutritionist, reshuffled his inner circle with the elimination of a long-time business manager. His circle is tighter, and some think that’s productively narrowed his world.
Before the game, Bryant’s message to Howard was unmistakable: “Kill them,” Kobe told him. What Bryant didn’t want was a conciliatory Howard, the nice guy trying to undo the ill will manufactured upon forcing his departure after eight seasons.
And make no mistake: Bryant tells Howard this, too. That innate desire Howard has to win the popularity contest never works, because ultimately victory will give him all the adulation and affirmation that he wants. These Lakers are a half-game out of the seventh seed in the Western Conference – two games out of sixth – and they’re coming hard now. The Lakers are still imperfect, but they’re coming together because Howard has pulled himself together.
“He wasn’t distracted or down about coming back,” Bryant said. “I think the [free-throw successes] will do wonders for him. For him to be able to make those here, he can make those anywhere.”
Who was the winner in the ‘Melo deal? — It has been more than two years since Carmelo Anthony was sent to the New York Knicks as part of a mega-deal that brought Danilo Gallinari (among others) to Denver. Since then, neither the Knicks nor the Nuggets have gotten out of the first round of the playoffs and neither has even gone as far as to win a division title. The Knicks have star power with Anthony in the fold and the Nuggets boast an exciting, up-and-down style out West. All great points, but the folks at ESPN’s Stats and Information dig deeper to see how each team has fared since the deal:
Including the playoffs, the Nuggets have won 14 more games than the Knicks since Anthony’s departure. However, neither team has advanced past the first round in their conference.
Both teams have improved overall since making the trade. Each have been playoff teams and are playing their best basketball this season since the trade.
Diving deeper into the advanced stats, on a per possession basis, both teams have played similarly efficient defense since the trade, each ranking in the middle third of the league.
Despite having one his best scoring seasons in years, Anthony has essentially been the same player in New York as he was in Denver in terms of efficiency and usage percentage overall.
The glaring difference between the two franchises is age. The Knicks are the oldest team in the NBA with an average age of 32.4 while the Nuggets are the fourth youngest team in the NBA at 25.3 years.
The two teams have been going in opposite directions since the New Year. The Nuggets have the second best record in the NBA at 26-7 while the Knicks have gone 17-14. The Nuggets are 19-2 at home and the Knicks are 7-6 on the road.
Williams finding his groove again — When he hit an NBA-record nine 3-pointers in the first half against the Wizards last week, something seemed to be brewing in Deron Williams’ game. The Nets point guard, who has hardly looked like the game-changing player he was in Utah many seasons ago, seemed to be slowly getting back on track. The stats prove the case as Williams, in his last five games, is averaging 25.4 ppg, 9.0 apg and 3.6 rpg, well above his season marks of 18.0 ppg, 7.6 apg and 3.2 rpg. Stefan Bondy of the New York Post dives into how a mended ankle and some solid performances of late have Williams looking like an All-Star again:
Deron Williams has reached that comfort zone, the same one he enjoyed during the height of his days in Utah.
It’s not just his rejuvenated body and rediscovered explosiveness. It’s also his approach. It’s his awareness. He has become the unquestioned leader of the Nets since the All-Star break, the point man calling out plays and taking control of a flowing offense.
“I think he’s got pretty close to free reign,” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said.
The prevailing notion is the Nets will go as far as their point guard will take them. And this version of Williams is going places.
For all of the 40 minutes he played Tuesday night at Barclays Center, he was the best player on the court in a 108-98 victory. He had 21 points and 13 assists, picking up the slack while Joe Johnson was inactive because of his sore left heel.
It has been a similar story since the break for Williams, who has regained his All-Star form since dropping weight and undergoing another round of cortisone injections into his inflamed ankles. His leadership had been called into question the last two years, mostly because he sulked his way through losing seasons and was blamed for two coaches getting canned.
But the last three weeks have undoubtedly represented Williams’ best stretch as a Net.
Williams called his own plays in Utah under Jerry Sloan, and he has developed into that same steady, calming force lately in Brooklyn. The benefits showed all over Tuesday’s box score.
Five players, including Williams, scored at least 13 points. The Nets, winners of four of their last five, moved within two games of the first-place Knicks in the Atlantic Division.
Williams was the maestro on offense as his team shot 51%.
“I try to tell P.J., at times he starts calling a lot of plays and we have to all turn and look, and it slows down the game, it slows down our rhythm and we don’t flow as well,” Williams said. “Guys get out of rhythm. I have no problems when (Carlesimo’s) calling plays. But at times, when we get it, just let us push it. And then I know how to spread the floor and get everyone involved.”
Budinger cleared for contract drills — Injuries have effectively derailed what was supposed to be a breakthrough season for the Timberwolves as Minnesota has played significant chunks of the season without Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Chase Budinger — all three of whom are starters. While Rubio is back (and had a triple-double last night in an upset of the Spurs), the Wolves have been waiting to get Budinger and Love on the court again, and it appears Budinger may be close to that feat. Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press reports that Budinger has been cleared for contract drills and that the team is also awaiting word on what’s next for Love, too:
The Timberwolves are hoping for a favorable medical report when forward Kevin Love meets Wednesday, March 13, in New York with Dr. Michelle Carson, the physician who performed surgery on Love’s right hand on Jan. 15.
Carson will examine Love’s hand to determine if he’s ready to resume full-contact workouts. Love has been out since refracturing the third and fourth metacarpals in his hand Jan. 3 at Denver. He originally broke the same bones in October while doing knuckle push-ups.
After consulting with Carson, Love is expected to join the Wolves for Friday’s game in Houston.
The Wolves learned Tuesday morning that forward Chase Budinger has been cleared for full-contact work.
Budinger, out since Nov. 10 with a knee injury, received clearance from Dr. James Andrews, who operated on Budinger’s left knee Nov. 13 to repair a torn lateral meniscus ligament.
“I told the doctor what I’ve been doing,” Budinger said. “The knee is progressing well, and I’ve had no swelling or anything like that. He was pleased with that.”
Budinger remained uncertain when he might able to play. He was projected to be out until late March.
ICYMI of the night: You know Brook and Robin Lopez probably did this to each other more than a few times on the NERF hoop as kids …: