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."

Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

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Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

ATLANTA (AP) — Dustin Johnson had a reasonable lie in the rough and only a few pine tree branches blocking his path to the 17th green. Neither seemed like a problem until he played the wrong shot, clipped the tree and wound up with a double bogey Saturday in the Tour Championship.

It was an example of how one hole can change everything at East Lake.

And it's why the final round of the PGA Tour season suddenly has more scenarios than Johnson cares to consider.

Johnson recovered with a birdie from the bunker on the par-5 18th for a 1-under 69, giving him a share of the lead with Kevin Chappell (68) going into the last round that will determine who wins the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

For the first time since 2009, there's a chance it might not be the same player.

"There's a lot of scenarios that could happen," Johnson said. "But yeah, I'm still going to go out and try to shoot as low a score as possible."

Johnson only has to win or finish second alone to claim the $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion.

Rory McIlroy, who has gone 28 holes without a bogey at East Lake, had three birdies over his last six holes for a 66 and was two shots behind. If he were to win the Tour Championship and Johnson finished in a two-way tie for second or worse, McIlroy would claim the FedEx Cup.

"It would just be great to try to win the Tour Championship, and if the chips fall my way, then so be it," McIlroy said.

The winner of the Tour Championship has won the FedEx Cup every year since 2009, when Phil Mickelson won the tournament and Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup.

Johnson led by as many as four shots when he ran off three straight birdies on the front nine, and he really didn't do much wrong to give up the size of that lead. He had a three-putt from 70 feet on No. 13, and missed the fairway by a few feet on the next hole, enough that his ball was buried so deep that even Johnson and his power couldn't advance more than about 135 yards.

It was the 17th hole that reshaped the tournament.

Johnson tried to played a fade from a flyer lie in the rough, and the ball came out high and hit a branch, leaving him in more rough about 60 yards short of the green. He put that in the bunker, blasted out to 6 feet and missed the putt to make double bogey.

Chappell rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt for a three-shot swing on the hole and suddenly had the lead, only for Johnson to catch him with the final birdie.

They were at 8-under 202.

Chappell, a runner-up three times this season who has never won on the PGA Tour, has made only one bogey in 54 holes this week, a show of consistency, discipline and a few good breaks when he does miss the fairway.

His next chance at a breakthrough victory is to face golf's best player at the moment (Johnson), with McIlroy and Ryan Moore (66) two shots behind.

"I've always kind of been the underdog, so it's a role I'm comfortable in," Chappell said.

Moore went out in 31 until he was slowed by a pair of bogeys, though very much in the mix just two shots out of the lead. The mystery is whether anything he does on Sunday - even if that means a victory - is enough for Davis Love III to use his last captain's pick on Moore for the Ryder Cup.

"I came here this week to win a golf tournament, and I'm 100 percent focused on that," Moore said, adding that the Ryder Cup is "completely out of my control."

And that's how the last day is shaping up for everyone - post a score and see where it leads.

Johnson, for a moment, looked as though he might take all the drama out of the season-ender when he made a 15-foot par putt early in his round and then ran off three straight birdies on the front nine to go four shots clear.

The putter cooled off, however, and Chappell stayed in range.

Chappell chipped in on No. 12 to match birdies and stay three shots behind, and then he quickly closed the gap when Johnson made back-to-back bogeys, only to respond with a 4-iron over the water to a peninsula green on the par-3 15th to 15 feet for birdie.

The 17th hole changed everything.

"I thought about just trying to hit it in the front bunker, which I probably should have done - probably would have made 4 if I'd have done that," Johnson said. "But it is what it is. I came back and birdied the last hole, tied for the lead going into tomorrow. I like my position."

And he doesn't need a degree in math to figure out the easiest scenario - just win.

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