NBA Playoffs, Magic Hawks Game 2: Magic overpower Hawks in second half to take 2-0 lead

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Carter_Game.jpgSurprisingly enough, the Atlanta Hawks were competitive for much of game two. They were able to move the ball while limiting mistakes, actually managed to get to the rim and the line with some consistency, and scored almost 100 points against the Magic’s defense. They made six of their 11 three-point attempts. They shot 97% on their 31 free-throw attempts. They had twice as many offensive rebounds as Orlando did. Jamal Crawford and Al Horford both had bounce-back games. 

In spite of all of that, the Hawks are going back to Atlanta with a 2-0 deficit. Why? First of all, some of Atlanta’s bad habits reared their ugly heads in the second half. More importantly, it’s almost impossible to beat Orlando when they play like they did on Thursday night. 
In the first quarter, the Magic went to Dwight Howard early and often. The Hawks had absolutely no way to stop him. Howard got position, made a quick move, and got a basket, alley-oop pass, or a foul. Nothing the Hawks did made any difference. In the first quarter alone, Howard scored 18 points on 6-6 shooting from the field and 6-8 shooting from the line while drawing nine fouls on seven different Atlanta defenders. Against the Hawks’ undersized frontline, Dwight Howard suddenly looks less clumsy and frustrated and more like an unstoppable engine of doom who dislikes referees and loves sleeves. 
With Howard looking unstoppable and Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis making everything they threw up from the perimeter, it looked like the Magic were on their way to another easy victory. The Hawks had other plans. They played well enough offensively to weather the storm in the first quarter, going inside themselves and making open threes when the Magic rotated. Howard went to the bench after picking up his second foul early in the second quarter, and Atlanta went on a quick 10-2 run while he sat to take the lead. When Howard came back into the game, Atlanta hit enough open mid-range shots to keep the lead, and went into the break leading by eight. 
The turning point in the game came early in the third quarter. While converting an and-1, Howard got a bloody nose that sent him to the locker room because of the “blood rule.” With a six-point lead and Howard off the floor, Atlanta had a golden opportunity to push the lead to double-digits. They didn’t. The Hawks inexplicably took their foot off the gas pedal, committing lazy turnovers on the offensive end and failing to play tough defense when the Magic had the ball. When Howard checked back in two minutes after leaving the floor, the Magic had cut the lead to one, and Atlanta no longer had control of the game. 
Orlando took the ball to the ball to the basket aggressively in the third quarter, scoring 35 points in the period. Atlanta hit enough shots to keep themselves in the game, but a buzzer-beating three by Jameer Nelson gave Orlando a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
After executing on offense all game long, Atlanta finally went cold in the fourth quarter. Joe Johnson started holding the ball at the top of the key for way too long, and the Hawks only scored four points in the first 4:59 of the final quarter. 
That’s what opened the door for Orlando. Their outside shooting is what allowed them to barge through it. With 8:48 remaining in the game, Vince Carter hit a three to put the Magic up by six. That’s what started the barrage. Over the next four minutes, the Magic hit five more jumpers, with three of them coming from beyond the arc. When the dust had settled, the Magic were up 16 with just under five minutes left to play. Game over. You know the Magic are going to have a run of outside shooting like once or twice every game — on Thursday night, the run came at the worst possible time for Atlanta. 
A few other notes:
-Dwight Howard had a monster game. 29 points, 17 rebounds, and only one missed shot from the floor. If he can stay on the floor (39 minutes on Thursday) and make his free throws (13-18 from the line), he’s all but unstoppable. Unanimous All-NBA selections don’t happen by accident.
-Vince Carter looked great in the second half. Not only was he making some very tough shots, but he was aggressive when running the pick-and-roll and unleashed a few dunks I didn’t know he had in him anymore. Every now and then, he gives you glimpses of why he’s considered one of the most talented players to pick up a basketball. As Malcolm Gladwell observed in 2006, it’s easy to see why Vince remains so respected and feared in certain circles — he bases his game around things that almost nobody else can do.
-Give Al Horford a lot of credit. He looked to attack when Gortat was in the game, and had a lot of success with that little 15-footer from the right side when Howard was patrolling the paint. 24/10 for Horford, on 9-13 shooting from the field.
-The Hawks outscored the Magic by four points during the 34 minutes Jamal Crawford was in the game. They were outscored by 18 points during the 14 minutes Mike Bibby was in the game. 
-Joe Johnson is not making a great case for himself as a max free agent right now. Someone will end up giving him the money, though. 
-Josh Smith did a good job of being aggressive, but finished with a 6-15 shooting night and five turnovers. He needs to play much more disciplined basketball if the Hawks want to have a chance — some of those turnovers were pure carelessness, and Hubie Brown caught Smith walking back on defense more than once.
The Hawks should give themselves a pat on the back for showing that they can compete with this Magic team, even on the road. If the Magic didn’t play a nearly perfect offensive game, Atlanta could easily have stolen this one. The Hawks are much better at home than they are on the road; we’ll see if they can make this a series by taking both games in Atlanta. 

DeMarcus Cousins on new Kings coach: “I like him and he likes me”

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts to a foul called against him during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Associated Press
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Dave Joerger was hired in Sacramento to do nearly the impossible: Turn around the Kings into a playoff team with potential, and develop a relationship with DeMarcus Cousins that makes the game’s best center want to stay in Sacramento (his contract is up in the summer of 2018).

The Kings won their opening game and return home Thursday to open their new building against the Spurs (a stiffer test than the Suns, to put it kindly).

As for the relationship part, Joerger is at least doing better than George Karl, as Cousins told our old friend Brett Pollakoff working for SLAM.

Jason Jones at The Sacramento Bee had a longer quote.

“Joerger’s been great,” Cousins said. “I think what he brought to the team is what this team needed. It fits our identity more than how we played in the past. Not to knock any of the previous situations but I think this situation fits this team the best.”

Cousins said last week he likes that’s there’s no gray area with Joerger. He makes everything plain and clear and that’s a plus.

It’s a good start for Joerger, but will it be enough? The feeling from most people around the league outside Sacramento is that it’s too late, the well has been poisoned and Cousins will leave the Kings as a free agent in two summers if they don’t trade him before then.

The Kings are not giving up that easily, especially in the first season in a new building — it is a franchise that wants to show Cousins it has turned the corner. Don’t expect any move with Cousins this season — landing elite players is hard and the Kings don’t want to give up on the one they have. The Kings may eventually have to face a decision on making a trade, but they are not there yet.

Meanwhile, other teams are just circling and waiting.

Derrick Rose with a frank assessment of Knicks opener vs. Cavaliers

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks controls the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 25, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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The Knicks are primed for a slow start. New coach teaching a new, modified system. New starting point guard who missed most of training camp. New defensive anchor at center, who missed most of training camp. New players throughout the roster, plus the need to develop and highlight Kristaps Porzingis. It’s going to take time to find how it all fits together.

Then their opening game is against the defending champion Cavaliers? Welcome to the NBA.

The Cavaliers won going away, with LeBron James looking every bit the best player on the planet. Derrick Rose, how would you assess the Knicks’ play? Via Barbara Barker of Newsday.

You have to love that Rose is honest. And he’s right.

Rose was part of the problem with the ball movement — 41.2 percent of his shots in that game came after seven or more dribbles and after he held the ball for at least six seconds. Carmelo Anthony was better, but not great. The Knicks stagnation on offense in the second half was a sharp contrast from the way the Cavaliers shared the rock all night.

The Knicks ball movement should get better as Jeff Hornacek pushes this team and they get more comfortable with the balance of pace (which we saw in the first half) and running the triangle (which they did much more after the game was a blowout, almost like a practice). It is going to take time to find that balance. At the same time, the team’s defense needs a lot of work, and the bench needs to improve.

All of that can happen, but in a tight Eastern Conference a slow start could be a tough hole for the Knicks to climb out of.

Bulls’ ‘Late Night Snack with Henry’ is a ton of fun (video)

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The Bulls might be hard on the eyes this season due to their lack of spacing, but darn it if they’re not trying their best to be likable.

Beef? Bradley Beal says he wouldn’t have re-signed with Wizards and John Wall says he wouldn’t have begged Beal back if true

Bradley Beal, John Wall
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

John Wall and Bradley Beal defined their relationship this summer.

Wall: “I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.”

Beal: “It’s tough because we’re both alphas. … Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other.”

It’s hard to spin those direct quotes. These aren’t anonymous sources or players venting after a tough loss. In the calm of the offseason, Wall and Beal spoke bluntly about their partnership in the Wizards backcourt.

But no matter how difficult now, Beal and Wall are trying to cast their relationship in a different light.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“This is my brother at the end of the day,” Beal told The Vertical. “Nothing is going to change. If I didn’t want to be here, if we did beef, I wouldn’t have signed my contract. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”

“And I wouldn’t have begged him to come back,” Wall interjected. “I would’ve been, ‘Don’t come back because in two years, I ain’t coming back.’ We would’ve figured something out. … I think everybody blew it out of proportion for no reason. I mean, if you look at any two great teammates, and two young, great guys, that’s talented and want to be great, you’re going to have ups and downs. Everything is not going to be perfect.”

The flaws in that logic:

Beal was a restricted free agent. The Wizards weren’t letting him go.

Wall is locked up for three more years. It’s in his best interest to have the best teammates possible in that time, whether or not he stays in Washington past 2019. The Wizards had no way to replace Beal with a similar-caliber player.

So, maybe Wall and Beal are completely cohesive. But even if they aren’t, circumstances dictated they continue their basketball partnership.

I believe last summer’s interviews exposed a rift that was forming somewhat beneath the surface. Their honest assessments in the open, Wall and Beal can now go about repairing any cracks in the foundation.

There’s an mostly unavoidable tension between a team’s two leading scorers. That they’re both guards who want to handle the ball makes it only more difficult.

But if Wall and Beal acknowledge their problems, they can try to work past them and win together.