Trade deadline: Will Howard stay or go?

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Trade deadline: Will Howard stay or go?

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- The Orlando Magic entered their third meeting with the Miami Heat shrouded in uncertainty because of the unknown status of their biggest star. Dwight Howard made a preseason request to be traded from the only team the former No. 1 pick has ever known, leaving fans wondering if every game could be his final one with in a Magic jersey But with the NBA's 3 p.m. EDT Thursday trade deadline fast approaching, Howard used the aftermath of a 24-point, 25-rebound performance in the Magic's 104-98 overtime victory over the Miami Heat Tuesday night to quell some of that uneasiness. Howard took back his preseason request and said that he wanted to remain with the team for the remainder of the season. "Well, I told those guys, I've been telling them for the past two or three weeks now that I want to stay and finish the season," Howard said. "I told them I feel we have a great opportunity to win and I told them that I want to be here and I want to bring a championship here. I told them they've got to give me that chance. They didn't trade me at the beginning of the season and I told them I'd go out and play as hard as I could every night to put our team in a position to win." Jameer Nelson scored 25 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was the eighth 20-20 game of the season for Howard and 40th of his career. It helped the Magic overcome a 14-point, first-half deficit to win their third straight and fifth in six games. Dwyane Wade scored 28 points and Chris Bosh 23 for the Heat, who had a three-game winning streak snapped. LeBron James added 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. The Heat visit Chicago on Wednesday in a matchup of the East's top teams. Orlando goes to San Antonio for its final game before the trade deadline. But the story was what happened after the final buzzer. Howard said in the preseason that he wanted to be traded, potentially ending a seven-year relationship for the only franchise the 26-year-old, three-time Defensive Player of the Year has known. He has the option of terminating his current contract and becoming a free agent in July. It will be still be an interesting time for the Magic with the trade deadline looming, but barring the Magic deciding to trade him anyway because of fear he could walk this summer, the team has a calm it hasn't had in months. Howard said he expects to be with the Magic on Friday. "I expect it," he said. "...I talked to (Magic chairman) Dan DeVos. I talked to (CEO) Alex (Martins) and (general manager) Otis (Smith), and I want to finish the season out, and I think we're going to hit our peak at the right time. We're going to make a good run." Never-bashful Magic coach Stan Van Gundy acknowledged before the game that all the Howard drama had to be on his players' minds. He shrugged off an ESPN.com report from earlier in the day that Howard had been told by team officials he could decide the fate of Van Gundy and Smith if he signed a contract extension. "If anybody thinks I care about that, I really don't give a damn about being fired," Van Gundy said. "That doesn't concern me in the least. ... If they want to fire me to please somebody, fire me." He went as far as to say the most disappointing thing about the season-long speculation about Howard is that his team's actual game performances have been secondary. After Tuesday's narrow win, Van Gundy wasn't in the mood to discuss anything more about what could happen the next two days. "For tonight we're actually going to give a (expletive) about the game," he said. Howard has been inundated with questions about his future all season and it made for an uncomfortable time during the All-Star break with Orlando's Amway Center serving as host. "We're third in the East and playing great basketball," Howard said. "I don't want to see that slip away. We have to take a chance and I think we have a great chance to surprise a lot of people by winning." Though it seemed abrupt, Howard said this change in philosophy has been discussed with the Magic for some time. "We've been talking for a while," he said. "I told them that I want to finish this season out and give our team and our fans some hope for the future. I feel they have to roll their dice. It might be tough, but I feel like we have a great opportunity. They've got to roll it." Now it would seem the onus would shift now to the Magic to bring in players to ensure he won't leave anyway in a few months. Smith, the Magic GM, has said that team officials won't consent to every one of Howard's demands, but has said they have taken Howard's input in the past and that includes bringing in big man Glen Davis in the preseason. What else the team is willing to do to convince Howard to stay long-term remains to be seen. As for Tuesday's game, Howard made sure it was a memorable night for the fan base that seemed ready to say goodbye to him. Howard scored the first basket of the extra frame and Orlando took a 100-96 lead on Nelson's running layup. Following an offensive foul on Mario Chalmers, Nelson scored again on a twisting layup in the lane to increase it to six with under a minute left. Wade trimmed it back to four and Howard missed a pair of free throws on the Magic's next possession to give the Heat hope with 26 seconds to play. Wade missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Howard was fouled again. He missed two more free throws, but James also came up empty on a 3-point try. "They executed and made more plays in the overtime," James said. "We're not going to hang our heads over this one. We played hard." Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had the same assessment. "Some second chances, some big, big plays there in the second half," he said. "In the third quarter we didn't play our best basketball (and) gave them life, gave them an opportunity to get back in the game, get some confidence and they took full advantage of that." Though the questions or speculation won't end with Howard's latest declaration, he said his mind is at ease with his status in Orlando. "This moment is what matters," Howard said. "We have a great opportunity. The guys on the team are working hard every day to get better, and we got a good start. And everybody trusts our captains me and Jameer. If we hit our peak at the right time, nobody's going to be able to beat us."

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.