Barnes among those looking to get paid this summer

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Matt Barnes played some terrific defense in Orlando’s 96-94 victory over the Lakers, he stood toe-to-toe with one of the game’s fiercest competitors, and he pump faked a ball in Kobe’s face. That’s more than enough to dub Monday, March 8th, something of a Matt Barnes appreciation day, particularly among the internet’s sometimes vicious anti-Kobe contingent. They minimal amount of bad blood between the Magic and Lakers had long since dissipated, but Barnes went out of his way to make things interesting for the reigning conference champs.

For that, we are indebted. But for Barnes’ toughness, utility, and fill-the-gaps production, Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel insists that the Magic are indebted:

Matt Barnes can opt out of his contract after the season ends, and if the Magic let him leave, they will go backward in their title quest. Pay the man. He makes the league veteran’s minimum of $1.8 million.  He’s the lowest-paid starter, and it’s criminal. “I want to stay here, of course….but I need to get paid, too,” Barnes says, matter of factly. They need to convince him t stay even if it means going deeper into the tax or trading away somebody else. Barnes was clearly the difference in the Magic’s win on Sunday against the defending champion Lakers. Clearly.

…Barnes signed a two-year deal with an option last summer as a free agent.  What he gives the Magic is hard to price. But he gives them something they  don’t have all the time — toughness, grit, rebounding and defense. He guards Kobe and all the other star scorers. Pay the man.

Barnes is certainly capable of performing well above his pay grade, but there is a reason the Magic were able to pick him up for $1.8 million. He clearly regressed during his second season with the Golden State Warriors which, coincidentally or not, came just after his first decent payday (a one-year deal worth $3 million). That was enough to put Golden State on notice and not re-sign him in 2008, despite the fact that Matt had been an indispensable part of the “WE BELIEVE” Dubs just a year earlier.

Plus, to say that Barnes’ being the Magic’s lowest-paid starter is somehow a crime is a bit misleading. Yes, he’s a quality rotation wing that a lot of playoff teams would love to have. But when he’s starting alongside the likes of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, and Vince Carter, what would you expect?

Barnes’ next paycheck will likely be determined by how much he can help the Magic in this year’s playoffs. But even then, let’s not confuse the fact that Barnes’ real contributions are difficult to valuate with the idea that he somehow exceeds in the value of Orlando’s other starters.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.