Today's big winner: Dwight Howard.
He went back to Orlando for the first time since he left town. The fans were all over him. The Magic were hacking him.
And Howard put on arguably the best regular-season performance of his career: 39 points (including 39 foul shots!) and 16 rebounds, leading the Lakers to yet another must-win as they surge into playoff position.
This is the Howard that the Lakers wanted (needed!), that Kobe obsesses about and that shuts up all of the folks who had been taking pot-shots at him throughout LA's mediocre season.
And yet! Howard is nothing if not mercurial. It would be something to see if he has indeed turned a corner -- maybe last night's game will psychologically free him from everything and put him in video-game mode for the rest of the season (a prerequisite if the Lakers want to do anything interesting).
It is hard not to think "We'll see...." But then you watch what he did last night, and it's like: Oh wow.
If you think the NBA is better for having a competitive and fiesty Lakers team, last night was one of the biggest and best wins of the season.
That is thanks to Howard taking all that the fans and the opposing players could throw at him and proving himself the bigger (way bigger) person for it.
More of today's winners:
*Long Island-Brooklyn, Valpo, South Dakota State: All won their way into the NCAA Tournament. For LIU, it's their third straight trip... for Valpo, it will always inspire memories of Bryce Drew beating Ole Miss (one of my Top 3 favorite NCAA Tournament moments ever)... with South Dakota State, it's about how far their star Nate Wolters (27 pts last night) can carry them.
*NFL Free Agency Mania:
-Mike Wallace to Miami: It was a must-have for the Fins.
-Paul Kruger to Cleveland: Bold move new management needed.
-Martellus Bennett to Chicago: A Bears TE who won't drop the ball.
*Reggie Bush: Who wants him? The Lions clearly do -- and everyone seems to think he would be a great fit with Stafford and Megatron. He will shop himself around (it's Reggie Bush, after all), but here's betting that he ends up circling back with Detroit, a huge change of pace from Miami.
*Chip Kelly: No player captured the Eagles' sad "dream team" aspirations from two years ago like Nnamdi Asomugha. It's not his fault -- he was just intended to be the centerpiece. It didn't work out, and the team cut him yesterday, the most symbolic move they could make to signal the end of the Reid Era and the fresh start with Kelly. (More than symbolic, it saves them some cash.)
*Ryan Nassib: Could the former Syracuse QB become this year's Ryan Tannehill in the NFL Draft? His old college coach Doug Marrone, who now runs the Bills, just cut Buffalo's incumbent starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, leaving the Bills without a QB. Sure, they could be eyeing Geno Smith in the draft, but there is no guarantee Smith drops to the back of the Top 10, when Buffalo is picking. And the trade market (Nick Foles) and free agent market (who knows?) are seemingly thin.
*Notre Dame women's hoops: A week after gutting out a win over UConn to take the Big East regular-season title, they pull it off again in the Big East tournament title game. The East's top dog ain't the Huskies anymore. (Well, at least for now.)
*Miami Heat: 19 straight wins. Let's review the major themes of the streak: They are toying with the league... a repeat NBA championship is an inevitability (the only question is how many losses they take en route to 16 postseason wins)... it's OK that the NBA playoffs have no drama, because this team seems to be THAT good.
*Barcelona: Remember yesterday's previews of the Barca-Milan game, in which all the experts were trying to make sense of how fall Barca had fallen en route to being bounced from the Champions League? That was cute.
Down 0-2 in aggregate to AC Milan in the Champions League round of 16, Barca overwhelmed in the second game 4-0, including 2 goals by the brilliant Lionel Messi. And, once again, we are left wondering what would happen if other sports counted playoff series in terms of aggregate score.
*Today's must-see/must-follow college hoops: Lafayette and Bucknell play for the Patriot League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament... the (sort of last) Big East Tournament heats up, with "Last Four In"-ish Villanova in a must-win versus St. John's... Your sneaky-good game of the day is Boise State versus San Diego State in the Mountain West quarterfinals; both teams have the potential to go on a run and win the conference tournament (or even make it to the tournament finals and put themselves squarely in the "Last Four In" conversation).