NBA Playoffs: Why the Magic can win it all and frustrate Cavs fans at the same time

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Thumbnail image for Howard_game.jpgThe Orlando Magic finished with the second-best record of any team in the league. They are the reigning Eastern Conference Champions. Furthermore, the old cliches go that defense and dominant big men win championships. The Magic lead the league in defensive efficiency, and have easily the best big man in the league on their roster. For some reason, the Magic are still regarded as a “gimmicky” choice to take home the Maurice Podoloff trophy come finals time. Maybe it’s because the Magic have never won a title before. Maybe it’s because they take so many threes. Maybe it’s because their coach has a goofy mustache. I don’t know the reason why the Magic still don’t seem to be getting taken seriously as championship contenders, but I do know a bunch of good reasons the Magic can win it all this season. Without further ado:

1. Defense

Defense wins championships, and the Magic play defense as well as anybody. Stan Van Gundy has the league’s best defensive player, and he knows how to use him. Dwight Howard shuts down the paint (no team gives up fewer points in the paint than the Magic), and the rest of the players on the Magic are adept at showing hard on the perimeter and funneling opposing players towards Howard. With Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes functioning as perimeter stoppers and shutting down opposing wings, the Magic managed to lead the entire league in defensive efficiency this season. 
2. Dwight Howard

Yes, he’s not quite a dominant one-on-one scorer with his back to the basket. Yes, his free throw shooting is still a serious issue. In spite of all that, Dwight Howard is still easily the best big man in the league. He’s capable of overpowering almost any center that tries to guard him one-on-one with his combination of strength and speed, and he’s improved his low-post game this season. If Howard is making his hook shots on a given night, it’s game over. No low-post player commands more double-teams. Howard is completely unstoppable when he catches the ball around the basket in dunking range, forcing teams to sag on the pick-and-roll and free up the Magic’s perimeter players. Pundits will focus on what Howard isn’t, but opponents will focus on what Howard is — and be completely terrified. 
3. Three-Point Shooting

The Magic love the three-ball, and for good reason. Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Pietrus, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Jason Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Matt Barnes are all more than willing to pull the trigger from deep, and they’re all capable of making those threes when given the slightest bit of daylight. When the Magic are making their threes, they’re all but unstoppable. When they’re not, they still have the league’s best defense and Dwight Howard working inside. The Magic’s love of the three-ball makes them seem like a feast-or-famine team, but really they’re more like a feast-or-five dollar chicken plate from Ralph’s team. And five-dollar chicken from Ralph’s can be pretty darn tasty. 
4. Perimeter Scoring Options

Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson are both dangerous options as primary scorers. J.J. Redick has matured into a complete offensive player capable of handling the ball and draining open shots. Rashard Lewis is one of the most versatile power forwards in the league. Mickael Pietrus can get hot at any time, and certainly isn’t shy. When opposing teams double down on Howard, the Magic have plenty of guys more than willing to make teams pay for doing so. 
5. Stan Van Gundy

Van Gundy is perpetually hoarse, and does not look like a basketball course. He also has a knack for creating a system that allows his personnel to thrive, finding matchup problems, and isn’t afraid of making a risky choice if he thinks it will benefit his team. He might not look the part, but Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the league and definitely helps the Magic’s chances of winning it all. 
6. A Chip on Their Shoulder

Too many teams play the “no respect” card in the playoffs, but the Magic really seem to believe it. Van Gundy has been fueling their fires all season in this regard, and the Magic certainly seem eager to prove that they deserve to be taken seriously as championship contenders. This postseason, they’ll have their chance. I’m eager to see what they can do with it. No team blends old-school values with new-school effectiveness better than the Magic do. We’ll see if that can be a championship formula. 

Kyle Lowry plays through injury in All-Star game, out for Raptors now

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors in action during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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Kyle Lowry participated in the 3-point contest. He played nearly 18 minutes in the All-Star game.

But when the Raptors played the Celtics in their first game after the break, Lowry never saw the court.

He was sidelined with a right wrist injury suffered in Toronto’s final game before the break.

Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet:

He can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened and didn’t even feel it during the game, but when Lowry woke up the next morning he knew something was up.

“Honestly, I thought I’d slept on it wrong — I thought it would go away,” Lowry said. “It was a little sore, but I paid no attention to it.”

Unconcerned at the time, Lowry didn’t tell anyone but his wife about the wrist pain, and took off for New Orleans where he participated in both the NBA’s three-point contest and all-star game this past weekend. He received some treatment in between his all-star appearances and iced his wrist on and off, but he still saw little cause for alarm.

“I thought over the break it would rest up and heal up,” Lowry said. “But it constantly stayed bothering me.”

“That’s a blow — that’s a huge blow for us,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said Friday evening after announcing the injury. “I don’t know how long he’s going to be out. But, no, it’s not a one-day thing.”

This is bad — bad for the Raptors and bad for Lowry’s reputation.

Lowry might have wanted to show his toughness by not running to the doctor for every bump or bruise. But this will also raise questions about whether he prioritized the shine of All-Star Weekend over the grind of Toronto’s season. Lowry is not a trained medical professional, so it’s understandable he misdiagnosed his injury. But he makes his living using his body, and his employer provides trained medical professionals to handle these types of things. Lowry’s bet that his wrist would heal over the break clearly backfired.

And now the Raptors pay the price. They traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to make a push, but that’ll be much tougher without the the team’s best player. Toronto beat Boston without Lowry, but the Raptors are still fourth in the Eastern Conference. Passing the Wizards for third is paramount to avoiding a second-round matchup with the Cavaliers and getting a clearer path back to the conference finals.

Every game matters now for Toronto, and wherever blame falls, Casey nailed the outcome: Lowry’s injury is a huge blow.

Brandon Ingram posterizes Taj Gibson on alley-oop (video)

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The Lakers wouldn’t trade Brandon Ingram for DeMarcus Cousins, because they believe in Ingram (or because they couldn’t get on the same page about a deal, but let’s go with a belief in Ingram).

The Thunder traded for Taj Gibson because he provided, among other things, stellar rim protection.

One of those worked better than the other on this play.

Gordon Hayward dunks on Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker (videos)

Gordon Hayward (20), del Jazz de Utah, intenta un enceste ante Thon Maker (7) y Michael Beasley (9), de los Bucks de Milwaukee, en el duelo del viernes 24 de febrero de 2017, en Milwaukee. (AP Foto/Benny Sieu)
AP Foto/Benny Sieu
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Are we obligated to call Gordon Hayward “deceptively athletic”?

The Bucks have something special in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they think they have something special in Thon Maker.

But Hayward jammed all over those two in the Jazz’s 109-95 win last night.

First, he got Antetokounmpo:

Then, he got Maker:

Report: Lakers working toward buyout with Jose Calderon; Warriors, Rockets interested

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18:  Jose Calderon #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a called foul during the second half of a game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on November 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Lakers took on the salary of Jose Calderon this year so they could get a couple second-round picks from the Bulls (Chicago got him from New York in the Derrick Rose trade), but even with the previous regime in Los Angeles the aging point guard was never part of the future.

As was expected, the Lakers are now talking about buying out the Spanish national and letting him head to a playoff team for a stretch run, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN that it’s not yet a certainty Calderon will secure his release from the Lakers in the coming days, but the sides are indeed discussing the options as Wednesday’s playoff eligibility deadline nears….

Sources say that Calderon, if he winds up hitting the open market, would instantly become a target for both the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets.

Cleveland may also have interest if their plan to land Deron Williams when he is bought out by Dallas goes awry.

Calderon, 35, was not part of the Lakers’ regular rotation, playing in just 24 games. He can still knock down a shot if he has space and can set his feet, and he still has a high hoops IQ and can see the floor, but his athleticism has faded, and that can leave him exposed. Particularly on defense.

Players are being waived now so they clear in time for teams to sign them by March 1, after that said players are not eligible for playoff rosters.

There are better players to hit the waiver wire in the coming days — D-Will, Andrew Bogut, Matt Barnes — but Calderon is going to land somewhere. He’d be a solid third point guard and veteran presence for a playoff run.