NBA Playoffs: Howard, Magic hold off Charlotte's comeback attempt


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I had the Bobcats pegged as a potential first-round spoiler because of the way they play defense and how good they are on their home floor, but the Magic represent some fairly significant matchup problems for them on both offense and defense.
When the Bobcats have the ball, they don’t have any way to consistently score on the league’s best defensive player. They don’t have anyone fast or powerful enough with his dribble-drives to beat Howard to the hoop or challenge him and get free throws. They don’t have a post threat consistent enough to initiate the offense from the block and limit Howard’s ability to roam. They don’t have enough outside shooting to put points on the board without having to go the paint at all. Other than that, though, they’re fine. 
What the Bobcats do have is as good a defense as exists in the league. Unfortunately for them, the Magic are so unorthodox offensively that they defend themselves as much as their opponent does. That can get the Magic into trouble at times, but against a team as offensively challenged as the Bobcats, it shouldn’t kill them. Here are my notes from Sunday night’s contest between the Bobcats and the Magic, in chronological order:
-Early in the game, Theo Ratliff tries to take it strong at Howard and gets rejected for his efforts. On the ensuing semi-transition possession, Jameer Nelson pulls up for a three and nails it. As Kevin McHale noted, that’s Magic basketball.
-Jameer Nelson is a dynamo early. When he decides to drive, he’s going all the way to the cup and making the Charlotte bigs pay for staying at home on Howard. When the Bobcats give Nelson space, he’s pulling up and hitting everything he looks at. Nelson was absolutely unstoppable in the first half. He scored 24 points, only missed two shots from the field, and hit a pull-up 35 footer as time expired in the half. A jaw-dropping performance.
-Brown goes to Diaw in the post twice early, and it works both times. Posting up Lewis is generally a good idea if you have the personnel to do so, because it prevents Howard from coming over to get the block. Diaw’s two hooks accounted for the Bobcats’ only points in the paint up to that time.
-The Magic get their third basket in the paint by feeding Ratliff in the post against Howard. Still no layups, dunks or free throws from a drive to the basket or cut up to this point for the Bobcats.
-The Bobcats are getting their points by using screens and lateral passing to free up their bigs for mid-range jumpers, and are doing a pretty good job of it. The Magic are getting the ball, making 0-2 passes, and going for the drive or the first good look they can find from the perimeter. The Bobcats’ offense may look more under control, but layups and threes will almost invariably be better than mid-range jumpers over the course of a game.
-The Bobcats finally complete their first successful drive to the basket when Stephen Jackson gets a layup with 44 seconds to play in the quarter. Before they were able to do that, Dwight Howard had recorded five blocks. It’s hard to overstate the degree to which Howard dominated the paint when he was in the game. 
-With Howard resting in the second quarter, the Bobcats quickly cut the lead to four. Then the Magic summon Mickael Pietrus, who hits three straight threes in the span of a minute and a half. In between two of the threes he made, Pietrus bricked a pair of free throws. I have given up trying to figure out Mickael Pietrus. Nelson and Redick drain threes of their own, and it’s back up to a 14-point Magic lead. When the Magic get hot, watch out. 
-With 1:50 left to play in the half, Larry Hughes tries to drive on Howard. In the most predictable outcome ever, Howard swats his shot away, giving him eight blocks. That put him one away from his playoff career high and two away from an NBA playoff record. (Remember, no recorded blocks when Russell and Chamberlain played.)
-Thanks in part to two ticky-tack fouls, Howard picks up his fourth infraction with eight minutes to play in the third quarter. At this point, the Magic were up 19. When he re-enters the game in the fourth, the Magic are up by 10 points. The Magic go completely cold with Howard on the bench; without him in the lane, Charlotte is free to rotate against the drive and contest shots on the perimeter instead of sagging back into the lane. Orlando can’t get anything going, and is settling for deep jumper after deep jumper. 
-Howard picks up his fifth foul just over a minute into the quarter. The Magic hold the fort this time, and don’t lose a point off their lead in the five minutes Howard sits. The Bobcats begin to creep back into the game by hitting threes and getting to the line, and cut the lead to five with 1:39 remaining. 
-That was when Pietrus came to the rescue again. Pietrus caught a pass in the corner and got his man in the air with an up-fake. Pietrus jumped to try and draw the foul, but didn’t get the contact. While falling over his defender, Pietrus threw up the three…and it went in. There were some free throws after that, but that was the shot that effectively ended Charlotte’s comeback hopes. 
General Notes:
-Howard was on the floor for 28 minutes of Sunday’s game. He was on the bench for the other 20 minutes of it. When Howard was off the floor, the Bobcats played the Magic dead even. When he played, the Magic were +9 over the Bobcats. Howard completely dominated the game while scoring five points. One of the most amazing defensive performances I’ve ever -seen.
-One more illustration that Orlando is tough to guard: they put up 98 points against one of the best defensive teams in the league with Howard and Carter combining to go 6-23 from the field. Scary.
-Rashard Lewis made just about everything he looked at, whether it was a catch-and-shoot three or a pull-up from midrange. Huge games for Lewis, Redick, Pietrus, and of course Nelson. 
-Stephen Jackson was one of the only Bobcats who wasn’t afraid to take it at Howard. This is strange, as he hyper-extended his knee in the first half. Jackson says he will play in game 2, but will reportedly undergo an MRI on his injured knee. 
-Great game for Gerald Wallace, who had a line 25/17 and had just about every aspect of his game going. If Charlotte got some shooters to give Wallace space to operate, he could be scary. 
That’s about the story for game one. Like they generally do when they’re on their game, the Magic survived their cold stretches and absolutely rained sulfur when their shots were falling. If they can keep Howard on the court, the Magic could have a relatively easy time putting Larry Brown’s squad away. 

Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan tied NBA record with 22 missed free throws Monday

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DeAndre Jordan tied his personal best with 12 made free throws Monday night against the Trail Blazers.

But that’s not what anybody is talking about with Jordan’s trips to the free throw line Tuesday.

So you don’t have to do the math yourself, Jordan hit just 35.3 percent of his free throws. When the Clippers pulled away with a mini-run in the fourth quarter, Blazers coach Terry Stotts responded with hack-a-Jordan, and Doc Rivers refused to take him out. The result was nine intentional fouls and trips to the free throw line in less than two minutes.

It was ugly to watch.

The purist’s answer here is “if he hits his free throws this never happens, so learn to shoot them.” That’s the camp Adam Silver is in, and it’s his voice (and that of the other owners) that matters. There is no appetite around the league to change the rule, even though more and more players are being subjected to it.

I would argue that fouling intentionally off the ball in the first place is outside the spirit of the game — it’s not playing basketball — and unsportsmanlike. I think it’s bad for the sport, much worse than missed free throws and a dragged out game. I would like to see any time there is an off-the-ball foul the aggrieved team having a choice of free throws or the ball out-of-bounds.

But I’m in the minority. The rule isn’t changing soon. Which means Jordan — or Dwight Howard or Rajon Rondo or someone — is going to get the chance to set a new free throw futility mark soon. That will be fun to watch.

Rumor: Houston seeing if there is trade market for Ty Lawson

Ty Lawson

While it does happen — and the ones that do happen tend to be bigger names — December is not a time the NBA does a lot of trades. Team GMs are always willing to talk, listen, and get a feel for the market, but it’s not until after the first of the year — and closer to the February trade deadline — before the market picks up momentum.

But there are always trade rumors, and the well-connected Steve Kyler over at had an interesting one — the Houston Rockets might be open to moving Ty Lawson.

The Rockets have been sniffing around the league for deals and there is a belief among other teams that Lawson could be had in trade, and had cheaply. Lawson is owed $12.4 million this season with the final $13.21 million of his deal being fully non-guaranteed.

As the Rockets search for ways to change, there is a belief that Lawson could be the first Rocket player moved. But given how poorly Lawson has played in Houston and his troublesome off-the-court history, it’s hard to imagine that Lawson alone is going to yield much in return. But as teams start to get desperate, Lawson does have a career assist average of more than 6.5 assists per game and averaged 9.6 per game last season for the Nuggets.

The Rockets are 10.4 points per 100 possessions better this season when Lawson is on the bench rather than starting. Lawson and James Harden — both of whom need the ball in their hands to be most effective — get outscored by 9.3 points per 100 possession when they are paired.  Pair Lawson with Dwight Howard and the Rockets are -11.4 per 100.

The Rockets clearly need to shake things up, and firing coach Kevin McHale and bringing in J.B. Bickerstaff has not been the answer. They have serious effort issues, which leads to real locker room chemistry questions. If they move Lawson, with that salary they should get a player of some value in return. If a good team loses a point guard to injury, Lawson could be a viable alternative.

Moving Lawson would be no magic bullet for Houston right now, but don’t be shocked if you hear a lot Lawson rumors as the trade deadline nears.

LeBron James on not facing Kobe Bryant in Finals: “I didn’t hold up my end”

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It was the matchup everyone wanted to see — LeBron James and the Cavaliers against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the NBA Finals. You can be sure the suits at ESPN/ABC wanted to see it.

Never happened. It felt like it would in 2009, but LeBron and the Cavs ran into a Magic team they could not defend and fell short. Kobe vs. LeBron never happened on the NBA’s biggest stage.

LeBron blames himself he said Tuesday, as reported by the Akron Beacon Journal.

“I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain,” James said of 2009, when the Cavs were upset by the Orlando Magic in the conference finals. “I know the world wanted to see it. I wanted it, he wanted it. He held up his end, I didn’t hold up my end and I hate that. I hate that it didn’t happen.”

LeBron was phenomenal in that series, but this was a team he could not carry all the way. In Game 1 he had 49 points on 20-of-30 shooting, plus dished out eight assists, and pulled down six rebounds — and the Cavaliers still lost. LeBron had a 59.1 true shooting percentage for the series despite a ridiculous 38 usage rate. The problem was his teammates had no answers for Stan Van Gundy’s offense with Dwight Howard in the paint and four shooters around him, plus Hedo Turkoglu playing the best ball of his career off the pick-and-roll.

Bottom line, LeBron you shouldn’t blame yourself. I’d say blame Cavaliers management, but clearly you did a summer later when you took your talent to South Beach. At least you ultimately learned to forgive.


Report: Phil Jackson would have taken Okafor over Porzingis. Duh.

New York Knicks Draft Picks Press Conference

Of course he would have — 29 other GMs would have as well.

Jackson also seriously would have considered trading the No. 4 pick if the right package of picks — including Brooklyn’s unprotected pick from this season — were part of the package. Again, that’s not a surprise or even a poor decision.

But in New York, which has fallen in love with the guy they used that No. 4 pick on in Kristaps Porzingis, that idea has become news, especially in the wake of No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor‘s recent run of off-the-court issues. Here is the report, via the New York Post.

According to an NBA source, as much as Jackson’s top adviser, Clarence Gaines Jr., wanted Jackson to take Porzingis even if the Knicks had the No. 1 pick, that wasn’t the way the Zen Master would have gone if it was a choice between the two big men.

Okafor was Jackson’s man.

“He had to draft Okafor — too much a sure thing,’’ the source said.

Again, 29 other GMs would have done the same thing at that time. Now, maybe it changes, but at the time anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

It’s not that some of those GMs (and certainly some of their scouts) didn’t think Porzingis could develop into an excellent NBA player, but he was considered a higher risk pick than Okafor, who is averaging 17.5 points a game for the Sixers and looks like a franchise cornerstone player. Maybe Porzingis had a higher ceiling, but Okafor had a way higher floor. If your job is on the line with a draft pick, you think about the floor.

Has Okafor had some incidents off the court? Obviously. He’s a 19-year-old making decisions that put in situations where bad things happen. That’s correctable. We all made stupid decisions when we were 19, just most of us grew out of them. (Well, if you ask my wife whether I did or not…) He likely will to, his handlers are already making significant steps.

Zach Lowe at Grantland said that the Knicks did consider trading the pick, but the deal never came close to fruition.

The Celtics were hell-bent on moving up to draft Justise Winslow, and offered the Hornets four first-round picks — including one of Brooklyn’s unprotected picks — for Charlotte’s No. 9 pick. But that was Boston’s fall-back plan, sources say. Boston initially chased Charlotte’s pick with the idea of sending it to the Knicks, along with Boston’s No. 15 pick, to vault all the way into New York’s draft slot — where they would take Winslow. Charlotte refused Boston’s pitches, and the scenario died. The Knicks downplay their interest in Boston’s offer, though it’s fascinating to consider how the draft might have played out — and which fan base would be chanting “POR-ZIN-GIS!” today — had the Celtics swooped in for Winslow at No. 4

“We listened,” Mills says. “But we were never close.”

Now, looking back at it, Knicks fans wouldn’t trade any of it.