The Magic's third-quarter run against the Celtics

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On Sunday, the Magic were able to beat the Celtics on the Celtics’ home floor thanks to an absolutely dominant 36-11 third quarter. On NBAplaybook.com, Sebastian Pruiti has a video breakdown of three key sequences in the quarter.

The Magic’s offensive formula isn’t a state secret. They put Dwight Howard on the block, surround him with three-point shooters, and dare opposing defenses to pick their poison. The Celtics are one of the teams best-equipped to defend this strategy. Kendrick Perkins is one of the few defenders in the league who can keep Howard from getting the shots he wants in the paint, allowing the rest of the Celtics to stay at home on the Magic’s shooters.

In the three sequences highlighted by Sebastian, we can see three of the ways the Magic overcame the Celtics’ defense, in particular the matchup of Kendrick Perkins on Dwight Howard.

1. Dwight Howard Continues To Evolve His Game

Howard is an absolute monster around the rim. He has a combination of strength, speed, and hops not seen since Shaq was shattering backboards, and he loves to throw the ball down with authority. However, Howard has had some issues with expanding his offensive arsenal. Against Perkins, Howard is forced to get baskets with finesse instead of power, and he was able to do that in the third quarter. In the first possession shown, Howard faces up Perkins from the left block and makes a sweeping hook going across the lane. It’s an unblockable shot, and one Howard rarely found the net with when Boston and Orlando met in the playoffs last season. Later in the quarter, Howard showed some touch from the outside, again facing up Perkins on the left side of the floor and knocking down a 13-foot bank shot. Howard will always be at his best in the immediate basket area, but if he can make shots like those consistently, he’ll be much harder to take out of a game.

2. The Magic Push The Ball and Spread The Floor

In the second possession shown, we see the Magic pushing the ball in transition and finding Rashard Lewis in the corner for an open three-point look. The Magic aren’t known for their ability to run the break; they’re only 23rd in the league in fast-break points per game, and scored just five fast-break points during Sunday’s game. What the Magic use their transition game for is spreading the floor, confusing the defense, and getting their shooters quality three-point looks early in the clock. It isn’t a traditional fast-break, but it works for the Magic. Against a Celtic team that came into Sunday’s game giving up the second-fewest points in the league from beyond the three-point arc, the Magic were able to drain 11 of their 22 shots from deep.

The Magic Benefit From Rasheed Wallace

In the third sequence, the Magic get an easy look at a three-pointer thanks to Rasheed Wallace coming over to help out Garnett against Howard, then getting caught in no-mans land as Rashard Lewis moves without the ball and drains a three. It’s not a good double, and put very little additional pressure on Howard while freeing up a very good three-point shooter for an outside shot. Wallace came into Boston with a very good defensive reputation, and has drawn more ire for his shot selection than his defense during his disappointing time with the Celtics.

However, the numbers suggest that Wallace has hurt the Celtics on defense more than their offense. According to 82games.com, The Celtics are 0.8 points per 100 possessions worse offensively when Wallace is on the floor, and 5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively. When Rasheed is in the game, the Celtics go from being an elite defensive team to a below-average one.

So that’s part of the reason the Magic were able to steamroll the Celtics in the third quarter. Advanced post moves by Dwight Howard, three-point looks early in the shot clock, and playing against Rasheed Wallace. Not a bad formula.

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.