The NBA: Who Needs Dwight Howard?

About 6 months ago, the Nets were still pining for Dwight Howard to go their way and team up with Deron Williams to form one of the most star-powered lineups in the NBA. That, of course, didn’t happen.

Instead, Howard rambled on about loyalty and staying put in Orlando before finally getting shipped to Los Angeles to team up with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. By doing this, Howard, indeed, became part of one of the moststar-powered lineups in the NBA – only it wasn’t Brooklyn.

Fast forward to the 2012-2013 season.

The Nets improved on their roster by adding Joe Johnson and CJ Watson. Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries stayed put. So did Deron Williams. Brooklyn is doing fine (better than fine, in fact), and probably the biggest reason is the improvement of the guy whom Howard was supposed to replace in the first place – Brook Lopez.

Brook Lopez has emerged as one of the most improved
players this season, and the Nets are reaping the benefits.
(image by Kathy Willens/AP)
Lopez is back healthy, and playing magnificently, too. The seven-footer, who probably cheered for the Lakers in his youth since he grew up in Hollywood, is leading the Nets with an 18.9 EFF rating. Again, HE’s leading the Nets, NOT D-Will. Lopes is norming 18.5ppg and nearly 7 rebounds, while shooting better than 53% from the floor. Yes, yes, balk at the 7 boards. That’s paltry for a guy his size playing about 30 minutes per game, but REMEMBER that Humphries and Reggie Evans are down there in the trenches, too. Combined, those two average nearly 17 rebounds per game. They take care of cleaning the glass, while Lopez focuses on being the last line of defense.

Defense and Brook Lopez? Yes, those two terms can finally coexist in the same sentence. Lopez is averaging a career-high 2.5 rejections per game. TWO AND A HALF BLOCKS – this from a guy who blocked only 1.6 shots per game in his first four seasons. He is tied with Tim Duncan for fourth in the league in rejections, right behind, you guessed it, Dwight Howard.

Howard is actually doing not-so-badly in LA. He’s norming just under 18 points, more than 10 boards and blocking nearly 3 shots per game while shooting close to 60% from the field. He’s still, by far, the most dominant big man out there (or should be), but look at how Brooklyn and the Lakers are doing in terms of wins and losses.

The Nets are tied for second in the East with a 9-win, 4-loss slate – with Lopez at the slot. The Lakers are tied for ninth in the West with 7 wins against 8 defeats – with Howard playing as well as he can.

Of course, we can go on forever about how there are so many other reasons the Nets are winning and the Lakers are playing for crap, BUT one thing we should all agree on is this – nobody in Brooklyn is pining for the Big D anymore.

So, you tell me, who needs Howard now?

*It might be worth noting that the Lakersbeat the Nets in their only meeting so far, 95-90, at the Staples Center last November 20, 2012 (USA time). That was Mike D’Antoni’s debut as head coach. Brooklyn controlled the tempo, but the Lakers rallied in the fourth to overhaul the deficit and eventually win. It is also worth noting, though, that the Lakers are 1-3 since that win. Yikes. Time to bring back Mike Brown?

Game Recaps (courtesy of the Associated Press):
Joe Johnson scored 18 points, Andray Blatche had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Boston Celtics 95-83 on Wednesday night after Rajon Rondo was ejected following a fight. The Celtics point guard was tossed after he shoved Kris Humphries to retaliate for the Nets forward's hard foul against Kevin Garnett. Humphries and Brooklyn forward Gerald Wallace were also ejected for their roles in the second-quarter skirmish. Garnett had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Paul Pierce added 14 points for Boston. Rondo had three assists before he was kicked out, ending his streak at 37 games with double-digits. That is tied for second-longest in NBA history. The Nets led by 21 in the second half and never less than nine in the fourth quarter.

Washington earned its first victory after starting the season with 12 straight losses, getting 19 points from Jordan Crawford to beat Portland. Washington survived a scoreless 6:47 in the fourth when Crawford hit on a 3-pointer with 2:06 to play, and the Wizards finally took the 84-82 lead on Emeka Okafor's two free throws with 39.1 seconds remaining. Damian Lillard was called for traveling with 28 seconds left. After Nene was called for an offensive foul, J.J. Hickson missed a jumper with 2.8 seconds to play. The Wizards lost the ball with 0.2 seconds to go, but held on to end the skid. Nine teams started the season 0-13, and the Wizards were tired of the ridicule they'd been subjected to — locally and nationally — as they crept toward the Nets' NBA record-worst start of 0-18.

Kevin Durant matched his season high with 37 points, and Oklahoma City beat Houston in James Harden's first game back at Chesapeake Energy Arena since being traded by the Thunder before the season. Harden scored 17 points, but was limited to 3-for-16 shooting. He had six shots blocked by the Thunder. Patrick Patterson scored 27 points and Omer Asik had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way for the Rockets, who began the day by attending the funeral of coach Kevin McHale's daughter in Minnesota. Harden missed his first nine shots, and by the time he made one, the Rockets were down by double digits in the second half. They never got closer than 10 after that.

James Harden received a rude welcome from
Kevin Durant and the Thunder.
(image by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Luol Deng had 22 points and six rebounds to lead Chicago over Dallas. Five players scored at least 11 points to help the Bulls (7-7) beat the Mavericks for the fourth straight time. Nate Robinson added 14 points and six assists for Chicago, and fellow reserve Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 13, including 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. Joakim Noah chipped in 13 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks as Chicago avoided its first three-game losing streak at the United Center since dropping five straight in March 2010. Shawn Marion scored 18 points for Dallas, which shot just 35 percent to lose for the eighth time in 11 games. The Mavericks (7-9), who had won 21 of 27 against Chicago, dropped to 2-6 on the road.

Marreese Speights had 18 points and 12 rebounds to help Memphis beat Toronto for its third straight win. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph finished with 17 points apiece, while Randolph added 13 rebounds and six assists. Mike Conley had 16 points, going 4 of 5 on 3-pointers, and Rudy Gay added 14 as the Grizzlies maintained the best record in the NBA (11-2). DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 16 points, while Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon scored 12 apiece. Linas Kleiza added 11 points, but was 5 of 15 from the field, as Toronto lost its sixth straight. The Raptors played without Andrea Bargnani, their second-leading scorer, who sat out after hurting his left ankle in Tuesday night's loss at Houston.

Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points to lead New York past Milwaukee. Anthony, who sat out the fourth quarter, was 9 of 18 from the floor and also grabbed eight rebounds in 30 minutes. The second-leading scorer in the NBA has scored at least 29 points in his last four games, including 35 points and 13 rebounds in a 96-89 overtime loss at Brooklyn on Monday. New York's Steve Novak added 19 points and Tyson Chandler chipped in with 17 points and eight rebounds for the Knicks, who snapped a three-game road losing streak. Jason Kidd missed his second game in a row for New York with lower back spasms. Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih each scored 18 points. The Bucks have lost four of their last five.

Chris Paul had 23 points and 11 assists, and Los Angeles welcomed Chauncey Billups back to the lineup for the first time this season. Billups had eight points and three assists in 20 minutes as the Clippers ended a four-game losing streak. The five-time All-Star, beginning his 16th NBA season, was sidelined for more than nine months after tearing his left Achilles' tendon on Feb. 6 in a 107-102 victory at Orlando. Blake Griffin, who had career lows in points (four) and field goals made (one) during Monday night's 105-98 home loss to New Orleans, had 18 points and six rebounds. Caron Butler, who scored 33 points in that game and set a franchise record with a career-high nine 3-point baskets, missed his first five shots and finished 1 for 8 with two points in 24 minutes. Kevin Love had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota and is averaging 23.0 points and 15.6 boards in five games since returning from a broken right hand he sustained in the preseason.

Brandon Knight and Charlie Villanueva scored 19 points apiece, and Detroit routed Phoenix to win back-to-back games for the first time this season. Detroit is 5-3 since opening 0-8. The Pistons led 55-44 at halftime and then broke the game open when the Suns came unglued in the third quarter. Phoenix picked up four technical fouls in the third and trailed by as many as 44 in the fourth. Rodney Stuckey added 18 points for Detroit. Kyle Singler and Tayshaun Prince contributed 12 each, and Greg Monroe had nine points and eight rebounds. Luis Scola scored 11 points for the Suns. The Pistons avenged a 92-89 loss at Phoenix in early November.

Al Horford scored 17 points and hit two clinching free throws to help Atlanta beat Charlotte for its sixth straight victory. Josh Smith and Lou Williams also had 17 points apiece for the Hawks. Ben Gordon finished with 26 points and Ramon Sessions had 18 to lead Charlotte, which has lost two straight and three of four. Gordon's straightaway 3-pointer with 29.1 seconds remaining cut Atlanta's lead to 92-91. The Bobcats got the ball back, but Sessions' inbounds pass from the left sideline was ruled a turnover after the officials watched replays and concluded neither Gordon nor Smith touched the ball, which bounced out of bounds on the other side of the court with 5.2 seconds to go.

Manu Ginobili had 20 points, Gary Neal scored 19 and San Antonio raced past Orlando for its fifth straight win. Tim Duncan added 15 points in 27 minutes and Tony Parker chipped in 14 points and eight assists. The Spurs also posted their eighth consecutive victory on the road and have now beaten the Magic in five of their last six meetings. Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 16 points, followed by Jameer Nelson with 14. The Magic struggled from the field, connecting on just two of their 15 3-point attempts. Orlando has lost two straight and concludes its season-high, five-game homestand Friday against Brooklyn.

Al Jefferson had 19 points, Marvin Williams scored 16 before leaving with concussion symptoms and Utah won its second straight game by defeating New Orleans. Paul Millsap scored nine of his 16 points during a dominant third quarter for Utah, and Gordon Hayward had 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Jazz overcome one last New Orleans surge. Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez each scored 18 points for New Orleans, which has lost eight of nine. Brian Roberts added 11 points. But the Hornets, who defeated Utah in an earlier meeting this season, struggled from 3-point range this time, going 5 of 21. Utah was a disciplined 6 of 11 from deep.

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