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. 

Joel Embiid wants the center position to return to the NBA All-Star ballot

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The NBA got rid of the center position on the All-Star ballot starting in 2013, thanks in part to some positional confusion around former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan. But just a handful of years later, Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid says it should make a comeback.

Embiid — who finished third in the Eastern Conference for forwards in All-Star fan voting — told CSN Philly that due to the plethora of talented big men in the NBA, the position should return.

Via CSN Philly:

“There’s a lot of talented big men in the league, especially at the center position,” Embiid said. “That’s something the NBA should think about, putting the center back on the All-Star ballot.”

There has been a resurgence of talented and burgeoning centers that have entered the league and are performing at a high level. Embiid is one of them, and so too is DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Hassan Whiteside, Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams, and Jahlil Okafor.

Adding the center position back might be a tough sell as having it doesn’t reduce eliminations from the roster. It’s much more free-flowing now, and there’s nothing keeping great centers off the All-Star team.

It would also be a little strange if center was added back but there wasn’t a point guard spot, too. ESPN’s Zach Lowe has suggested three categories for the roster in point guard, wing, and frontcourt. That idea is as good as adding the center position, perhaps moreso to many folks in the NBA.

I don’t think adding the center position will make a comeback any time soon. Meanwhile, we’re all just waiting to see if Embiid makes the All-Star reserves.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies for reverse alley-oop jam (VIDEO)

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Is Aaron Gordon a three or a four?

That’s a debate for another day. What we all know he can do is leap out of the building, and he showed off how that can be useful during a game Friday night — Jabari Parker actually defends this fairly well, Gordon can just go over the top of him and get it. With that, we get a highlight.

The Magic upset the Bucks 112-96, behind 20 from a resurgent Elfrid Payton. Parker had 25 for the Bucks.

 

Warriors embrace/struggle through yoga

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 05:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in the second quarter of Game 2 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at ORACLE Arena on June 5, 2016 in Oakland, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Anderson Varejao lowered his 6-foot-11 frame into a runner’s lunge and raised one arm high into the air to add a twist, demonstrating after a recent shootaround the new yoga pose he just learned.

Then, he took it up a notch and attempted an airplane balancing pose on one leg with his arms spread wide.

The Golden State Warriors have become yogis.

Coach Steve Kerr is committed to changing things up, and he gave Golden State a day off from the practice floor one day last week so the players could practice yoga instead. In the middle of a prolonged stretch at home with a more regular routine, the schedule allowed for some improvising.

“I really liked it,” Varejao said. “I’m going to do more.”

Doubt you’ll see Draymond Green or Klay Thompson doing downward-facing dog again soon – though Green might be talked into another try eventually.

“I’m bad,” Green said. “Yoga isn’t for everybody. I think it’s a great thing, I just don’t think my body is made for all of those different positions. I did well at a few of them. It’s hard, it’s tough. My body really isn’t cut out for yoga.”

The very next night after the group class, during warmups for a home game with the Pistons, player development coach Bruce Fraser pulled his foot to his opposite inner thigh for an impromptu tree pose. He laughed as an amused Shaun Livingston watched from the baseline.

Andre Iguodala is an experienced yogi who can really cat-cow and is considered top on the team, often taking classes. Center Zaza Pachulia also can forward fold with the best of them. They took prominent positions in the class led by Lisa Goodwin, Golden State’s director of corporate communications and also a yoga teacher, at a Berkeley studio – a first for Kerr taking the team away from team headquarters for a yoga session.

No surprise, two-time reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry can bring it on the mat, too.

“We’ve had some optional yoga sessions at our facility. This is the first time we took everybody and made it mandatory,” Kerr said. “It was good.”

The temperature was about 92 degrees for the hour-long power vinyasa class, so it was steamy.

Everybody was drenched in sweat by the end for final resting pose, or savasana.

“My muscles felt good,” forward James Michael McAdoo said, rubbing his stomach where his core got a workout. “It was fun. It was hot in there, like working in a sauna. I told our strength and conditioning coach, `You got to step up your game. Lisa embarrassed us.'”

“It’s awful, it’s pitiful,” Thompson said of his own yoga ability. “It’s something I worked on and it’s something I actually enjoy. More than just being physically challenging, it’s an incredible mental workout. It tests your pain tolerance and your ability to push yourself mentally. That’s why I like it. It was really good. I think it helped a lot of us – everybody, even the coaches.”

Along with the experienced yoga veterans, there were some first-timers.

A few found it extremely tough.

“I’m not the most flexible,” acknowledged player development coach Chris DeMarco.

Assistant coach Mike Brown described his debut as “terrible.”

“For me, it was really hard, but it was fun,” he said, later adding, “I nearly passed out.”

Ron Adams, another assistant who focuses on preparing Golden State’s defense, happened to work out in the hottest corner of the room for his first time practicing in that high temperature.

“It’s such a cleansing exercise,” he said.

The Warriors aren’t the only ones doing it.

Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy has scheduled yoga time for the Pistons, saying: “It’s got its value, no question about it. Would I consider doing it with them? Probably not.”

Kerr goes whenever he can fit it in, typically taking an hour-long class during the lunch hour on game days when the schedule – and his body – allows.

It’s a time he can focus on taking some deep breaths, literally, away from the pressure-packed NBA workload and just be just another yoga student for 60 minutes out of his day.

This weekend marks one year since Kerr formally returned to the bench last Jan. 22 against Indiana after a lengthy leave of absence to deal with complications from a pair of back surgeries. Current Lakers coach Luke Walton led the way during a record 24-0 start and went 39-4 before Kerr’s comeback on the way to winning Coach of the Year after an NBA record 73-9 finish.

While the 51-year-old Kerr still has some discouraging, physically challenging moments dealing with pain and headaches, he considers himself fortunate to be on the sideline doing what he loves.

“I guess normal is a good way to say it. He seems like his old self,” Curry said. “You know he’s been through a lot just physically trying to recover from the surgeries he’s had. I can’t imagine the frustration, how long it took and things he had to do and all the doctors he’s met with. His whole story is crazy. We’re obviously happy to have him back but not only that, you see him with energy and his presence like he wants. It’s been good to see.”

Whether Kerr will take his team back to yoga any time soon, time will tell. The Warriors are at the season’s midway point and the “dog days” of January as Kerr has put it. Golden State was home for all but a night from Dec. 26 until leaving for Houston on Thursday for Friday’s game against the Rockets, with just a quick bus ride to Sacramento as the lone road trip in a 10-game stretch during that span.

Because there was so much time to practice, the yoga day was a nice change of scenery.

“Just to get away and go do something else,” Green said. “We’re still together doing something productive. But, it’s not for me.”

Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell slips, mildly sprains knee ligament. MRI Saturday.

Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young, right, takes the ball away as Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, center, falls to the floor with an injury during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell mildly sprained a ligament in his right knee in the opening minutes of Los Angeles’ game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.

Russell was re-evaluated at halftime and did not return to the game.

Russell was hurt while going around a screen set by teammate Julius Randle on Los Angeles’ second possession. The point guard’s left leg alarmingly stretched backward when he lost his footing, and he stayed down on the court for several moments.

He eventually walked on his own to the locker room, where the sprain was diagnosed.

Russell is averaging 14.8 points, 4.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds during the second NBA season for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft.