Dwight Howard’s Gone; Everyone Playing Thursday Tries To Fight

So long, Superman. It was reported late that Dwight Howard will undergo season-ending back surgery on his herniated disc, news his agent and the team confirmed. After Stan Van Gundy said Dwight wanted him fired a couple weeks back, Howard missed a couple games with back spasms. Everyone read that to mean: I’ve given up. Turns out, the back injury is no joke. Just ask David Robinson, whose career had a painful end because of a similar injury. Now Howard’s out for the Olympics, too, which means Spain has one fewer U.S. big man to worry about. … Indiana came out on fire but its win over Milwaukee almost came to blows. In the first three minutes all five starters had scored. The fans must have been inspired, because they were hot on ex-Pacer Mike Dunleavy Jr.‘s case every time he touched the ball. George Hill, putting up 14 per game in his six starts, had 10 in the first quarter. … Dunleavy came back with a dozen of his own in the first half, but Granger (29 points) nearly undressed him with a behind-the-back move in transition. Then all of the sudden the game took a 90-degree turn from playoff intensity into, you guys just want to do this? Leandro Barbosa dropped Dunleavy on a transition layup into Tyler Hansbrough, and that almost started a scuffle (Dunleavy may have broken Psycho T’s nose in March but Ali vs. Frazier it ain’t). Then, Larry Sanders got ejected after pointing an accusing finger at David West, who didn’t take it lightly. Even coach Frank Vogel had to get in front of West there. Bottom line, the Pacers earned home-court advantage for the first round, while the Bucks are losing ground for a playoff spot. … Minnesota hadn’t won a game in April since 2009, or 27 games — until Thursday. Everyone cleared out for Minny’s Nikola Pekovic and Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince (18 points) early in the first, with each making their first three shots. While the Wolves tried to feed Pek every chance they got, Prince was spinning on dudes like he had two turntables and a microphone. Wesley Johnson and Martell Webster filed insurance claims for whiplash after Prince’s post spin moves. Well, Pekovic (23 points) and J.J. Barea never really slowed down, with Barea getting 13 points, 12 assists and six boards. You’d think it would be harder for Pekovic to produce without Kevin Love protecting him, but Greg Monroe (an invisible six points and five boards) had very little luck keeping Pek more than six feet out from the hoop on entry passes. … Only a handful of games left and Houston, we have a problem. The Rockets lost their sixth straight, and this one to New Orleans, and now they’re a game behind Utah in No. 9 position. Eric Gordon was the main reason why the Hornets were clicking with his 27 points. He brought them back after being down double digits in the second quarter. It’s not even a good night for the Rockets seeing Goran Dragic drop 23 to get them back into it in the fourth. Since he’s been starting he’s been improving his free agent stock to drive up the bidding. … Hit the jump to hear about the night’s most physical game.

If you thought Indiana-Milwaukee was going to be the standard for physical play, Chicago-Miami did it one, actually a few, better. Dwyane Wade (18 points) giving a forearm shiver to Rip Hamilton was one-upped by James Jones‘ ejection after giving two fists to Joakim Noah‘s neck on a blockout. Oh yeah, and LeBron (27 points and 11 boards) nearly took the head off of John Lucas on a blind screen at halfcourt. Wade got a flagrant 1, Jones got tossed and James looked like he set a good screen — but it’s just that Lucas is a foot shorter than him. … TNT caught what looked like the after effects of a bad fart on the Miami bench. Hilarious. … That Derrick Rose is valuable is unquestioned, of course, but the Bulls play damn well without him. So even without the reigning MVP, this is still a nice win for Miami. Well, at least one they’ll use as a confidence booster, internally. Plus, it seems like they have the weakest temperament of any team, so you get the feeling the combination of a win over a top-four team in either conference while playing the role of tough guy is a huge boost for their psyche. … The Celtics signed Sean Williams for the playoffs today. … In the desert nightcap Phoenix is back from the ashes and hanging onto playoff hope. Chris Paul (19 points, 10 dimes) was a stud again in the fourth with eight points but Steve Nash (13 points) and Marcin Gortat (14 points, 14 boards) held them off to win a 10th straight against the Clippers. Jared Dudley got things started by trying to take on Blake Griffin (16 points, 11 boards) after a rough jump ball. Said Chris Webber: “I played with a good flopper and I think Vlade would be proud of Blake Griffin there.” Didn’t look like acting later when Robin Lopez went around the neck to hit Griffin high on a break (he got tossed). Gortat also leveled Griffin earlier, too. Dear NBA: Is the compressed schedule just getting to everyone? Side note, we loved Phoenix putting five security officers around the refs as they reviewed the Lopez flagrant foul. Oh, of course: Suns fans were barely making noise all night, so they thought someone was going to freak out over an obvious flagrant? … We’re out like Dwight Howard.

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