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Three Stars of the Night: Front court players in spotlight

Jan 14, 2013, 2:02 AM EST

Oklahoma City Thunder's Durant drives past Los Angeles Lakers' Clark during their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles Reuters

There’s a simple old coach’s axiom in basketball: Tall and good beats small and good. So tonight we look at the tall guys and give them their due with the three stars.

There were other candidates big and small who were worthy but just missed the cut: Carmelo Anthony (27 points 7 rebounds), Brandon Jennings (19 points, 19 assists), Amir Johnson (22 points, 14 rebounds), Stephen Curry (29 points, 7 assists) and Deron Williams (22 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds).

Third Star: LaMarcus Aldtridge (33 points, 11 rebounds)

This was the kind of performance that made you say, “maybe this guy should be an All-Star again this year.” On a night when Oklahoma City showed they can play great defense and smothered most Blazers players (Damian Lillard was 3-of-14 with Russell Westbrook hounding him) but Aldridge kept Portland in the contest. When he got the ball on the left side mid-post (or out farther but backed his man down) the Thunder had no answer. His 33 points came on 15-of-26 shooting.

Second Star: Dwight Howard (22 points, 14 rebounds)

Dwight Howard’s back has clearly been an issue this season, he has not been the same explosive player that dominated for Orlando. It felt like he may have come back too early following off-season back surgery.

That idea may have gotten a boost Sunday — after missing three games because of a torn labrum (shoulder), he returned with an extra bounce in his step. He had 10 points in the first quarter and set the tone for the game. Defensively he patrolled the paint and had the Cavs players adjusting shots or settling for jumpers. On offense he drew double teams (even when just rolling to the rim) that opened up the rest of the offense. That is the Howard the Lakers need.

First Star: Kevin Durant (33 points, 6 assists)

This was a “Kevin Durant is the MVP” kind of game. Oklahoma City does not beat Portland Sunday night without Durant. He pretty much carried them. You can kind of say a lot of nights, but Sunday it was ridiculously evident. On the night he scored 38 percent of his teams total points, and in the second half that jumped to 49 percent (he had 22 of his points after halftime). He has improved as a playmaker, as a ball handler and as a defender this season. It all showed Sunday.

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