Vince Carter's big night

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531.jpgFor the first half of the season, Vince Carter was one of the most disappointing players in the league. In the latest chapter of a career that’s sadly become synonymous with disappointment, Carter has underperformed badly in Orlando.

On paper, replacing Hedo Turkoglu with Carter didn’t look like a bad idea. On the court, however, VC has been a disaster. Vince is shooting under 40% from the field, and he’s only averaging 2.8 assists per game. Vince’s PER is currently at 15.79, which is significantly worse than his previous career low of 18.93. 
Vince has struggled from everywhere on the floor this season, but most of his problems have come from his inability to get baskets at the rim. Even though Vince was once one of the most electrifying high-flyers in the history of the league, he’s had serious trouble when he’d tried to attack the basket this season. 
Vince is only averaging 1.8 dunks or layups per game this season, down from 2.3 conversions at the rim per game a year ago. The really bad news for the Magic is that this appears to be the continuation of a trend. Since the 2006-07 season, Vince’s makes at the rim per game have steadily decreased from 3.8 to 3.1 to 2.3 to 1.8. Worst of all, Vince’s percentage at the rim has been terrible, as he’s now making less than half of his attempts at the basket. For a long time, Vince’s head was perceived to be the only thing holding him back from greatness; now his body seems to be letting him down. 
Carter’s 48-point explosion against the Hornets on Monday night has given Magic fans hope that Vince will be able to turn it around after all. For Magic fans, the most heartening thing about Vince’s performance shouldn’t be how many points Carter scored, but how he got them. During the Magic’s fourth-quarter comeback, Carter was on fire from the outside. Carter hit two tough mid-range jumpers and three three-pointers in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game, scoring 13 points on eight shots from outside the paint. Many of those jumpers were contested shots off the dribble with a very high degree of difficulty, classic superstar shots. The highlights show just how dialed in Vince was in that fourth quarter, and how he’s still capable of taking over a game when he’s firing on all cylinders. 
What the highlights won’t preserve is that before his amazing fourth quarter, Carter got himself going by taking the ball to the rim time and time again. According to HoopData, Carter went 9-11 on shots at the rim, with 8 of those makes coming in the first three quarters. Vince only took 5 shots from midrange the entire game, preferring to to his damage from inside the paint and beyond the arc. Vince won the game by making tough shots, but he put the Magic in position to win by creating easy ones. Not only was Carter’s big night what the Magic needed to win the game, but it may serve as a blueprint for how he can be effective over the rest of the season. 

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.