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. 

Carmelo Anthony trade causes huge leap in Thunder championship odds

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Carmelo Anthony recently wrote a goodbye letter to the city of New York, but the fact is now he is a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That apparently means increased championship odds now that he, Westbrook, and Paul George will occupy the same floor space in the Western Conference.

That comes as a bit of a surprise given the amount of talent that has moved out West over the course of the offseason. Anthony is the latest in a long list of big stars to switch conferences including Paul Millsap, Jimmy Butler, Brook Lopez, and others.

Could the Thunder win the championship? It seems like long odds even given Westbrook being reigning MVP. But the most recent odds released by Bovada had the Thunder taking a huge leap in that arena.

Before the Anthony trade the Thunder were at at 25 to 1 odds to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. After this weekend and the switching of states by Carmelo, the Thunder are now at 12 to 1 to win the championship.

Perhaps more curious than the new odds for the Thunder are what happened to the win totals of both the Thunder and the Knicks. Bovada’s win total for Oklahoma City didn’t change and remains at 50.5. Somehow, New York’s win projection also did not change despite Anthony switching teams.

Are the Thunder winning the championship the season? Absolutely not. But am I going to watch a bunch of OKC games this year? Absolutely.

Carmelo Anthony writes goodbye letter to New York

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The Carmelo Anthony trade rumors are finally over.

The New York Knicks sent the star forward to Oklahoma City in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a second round draft pick. He will play alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George during a wild season to come in the Western Conference.

Anthony never wanted to leave New York, but the ineptitude of the organization finally caused such a rift between the two sides that he finally decided he would find a way to waive his no trade clause and exit his home state (Anthony is from Red Hook in Brooklyn).

Anthony only gave the Knicks a few choices to work with, and Houston was always his desired landing spot. That trade approved too to materialize, and the scope was opened up to the Portland Trail Blazers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Thunder.

Carmelo arrived in Oklahoma City on Sunday, but he still isn’t leaving New York fans out to dry. In a letter released on his website on Monday, Anthony penned a goodbye letter to his beloved New York.

Via This Is Melo:

New York equipped me to make it in any other place in the world. It taught me how to Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable. Saying Goodbye is the hardest thing to do. I never thought I would, especially to you. No one will ever take your place. It’s hard to find someone like you, so know you will always be missed. You helped me laugh. You dried my tears. Because of you, I have no fears. You came into my life and I was blessed. It’s time to raise my hand and say goodbye. It’s not the end, because like I’ve always said, NYC ‘til the end.

Carmelo may miss New York but we are all excited to see him with Westbrook and George in OKC. The high usage stars should make for an interesting triumvirate on the basketball floor.

Three questions the New York Knicks must answer this season

Associated Press
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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 31-51, missed the playoffs. Again.

I know what you did last summer: Last weekend, the Carmelo Anthony era came to an end in New York as he was traded to Oklahoma City for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott (plus a high second-round pick). The Carmelo era came to an end because former team president Phil Jackson poisoned that well, but that and a stupid pissing match with Kristaps Porzingis cost Jackson his job this summer as well. A new front office of Steve Mills and Scott Perry then went out and overpaid for Tim Hardaway Jr., bringing him back to NYC (after the Hawks did the work of developing him). The Knicks also revamped the point guard spot letting Derrick Rose walk and adding Jarrett Jack (free agent) Frank Ntilikina (No. 8 draft pick), and Ramon Sessions (free agent).

THREE QUESTIONS THE KNICKS MUST ANSWER:

1) Kristaps Porzingis, are you ready to lead a team?
Anthony was traded for one primary reason… well two primary reasons: He wanted out (thank’s, Phil), and the Knicks wanted to turn the page and make this entirely Porzingis’ team, getting him out of ‘Melo’s shadow. Well, they got their wish, now it falls to Porzingis to prove he is ready to lead a team — and I don’t mean Latvia in EuroBasket (where he played well, but it’s not the same thing).

Redo the 2015 draft and Porzingis goes second (behind Karl-Anthony Towns), but that is based as much on potential for who he can be as what he has shown for far — and he has shown plenty. Porzingis has all the tools to be an All-NBA player — he can space the floor as a three-point shooter, he’s tougher than people think and can score inside, he’s athletic and can protect the rim — but now he has to put it all together in one improved package. He’s the man, the Knicks are his team, he has to make the plays — and handle some shot creation (because they will not get it from their point guards). More importantly, he has do it consistently. Anthony isn’t isn’t there to stop the ball and jack up shots, particularly in crunch time, now everything should run through KP. He can score, but he needs to lift his teammates up.

Also, Jeff Hornacek needs to get Porzingis time at center — that remains his future, not at the four. The Knicks have Joakim Noah and Enes Kanter who will get minutes there, Guillermo Hernangómez is probably the best of the group, but KP needs time at that slot.

Another part of this is the Knicks need Porzingis to evolve into an elite defender. (Phil Jackson had hoped Joakim Noah would fill that role, paid him $72 million despite injuries and a declining game, and Noah has not been healthy and is the shell of his old self when he was. That contract is now an anchor.) Porzingis has shown some rim-protecting skills, but they need more than a couple blocks from him now, he must quarterback the defense.

Asking Porzingis to be an All-NBA player this season may be a little much (although he should get close), but he should make the All-Star team in a depleted East. If not, the Knicks have bigger issues.

2) Is Tim Hardaway Jr. ready for his turn in the spotlight? The Knicks needed more perimeter scoring, and they turned to an old friend — Tim Hardaway Jr. The former Knick had gone to Atlanta and developed under Mike Budenholzer into a quality rotation player who can hit threes (35.7 percent last season), defend on the perimeter, and he had the promise of getting even better at age 25. The Knicks believed in that promise, but to get the restricted free agent they knew they had to come in big. They did, paying $71 million over four years to get him, far more than anyone else was bidding. Even the Hawks walked away. It was one of the more head-shaking contracts of the summer.

Hardaway will get the chance to prove those who questioned his contract wrong. He’s going to get opportunities, he’s going to get touches, and he should put up more than the 14.5 points a game he did last season. The challenge is he is now the best shot creator and biggest threat on the Knicks perimeter — he has to do more than just score, and he’ll have to do it with the other team’s best perimeter defender in his face every night.

The Knicks are paying him to be a No. 2, can he step into that role? Can he remain efficient when taking on a bigger load? Can he and Porzingis develop chemistry? Hardaway got paid, now he has to prove the Knicks didn’t overvalue him.

3) Freed from the triangle, can Jeff Hornacek get a young team to buy into his style? The answer to that question may start with another question: What is Jeff Hornacek’s style? He would be quick to say it is up-tempo, with plenty of ball movement and certainly more three-point shooting.

That, of course, begs another question: Can he run that system without a good point guard? The Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina, and he shows promise, but he is an 18-year-old raw rookie about to make a massive leap in the level of competition he faces. Don’t expect too much from him this season. Journeyman Ramon Sessions is probably the best playmaker on the roster. If needed, Ron Baker is there at the guard spot (another guy the Knicks dramatically overpaid this summer using the room exception).

The Knicks were middle of the pack team offensively last season (18th in points per possession), playing through the strange on-again off-again triangle hybrid offense they used. Freed from that, the Knicks need to be better on that end, with Hardaway providing the outside to Porzingis’ inside. That has to start with the players being unleashed to shoot the three ball, the Knicks were bottom 10 in the NBA last season in threes attempted and three-point shooting percentage, Hardaway has to lead a turnaround in that category.

The biggest question facing the Knicks (or at least 1A tied with do they get any point guard play?) is can they get enough stops? The Knicks were 26th in the NBA in defense last season, and swapping out ‘Melo for Enes Kanter isn’t going to improve things. Porzingis can be a rim protector, but he has to do more and quarterback the defense. Hardaway needs to lead an improvement the defense on the perimeter. Hornacek will talk about coaching offense, but getting this team to buy into a defensive plan may be the biggest key to him keeping his job.

It’s going to be a long season in New York, even in a down East, this is not a playoff team. But Knicks fans want to see steps forward, they want hope. And that starts with this becoming Porzingis’ team.

This is why Shaq says he knows Kobe respects him (VIDEO)

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Do Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant hang out these days? Probably not.

But do the to respect each other? The answer, apparently, is yes.

During an interview for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, O’Neal said he knows that Kobe respects him because of a certain play. That play?

Prepare yourself for this one Portland Trail Blazers fans: it’s the famous alley-oop with 41 seconds left from Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals that put the Lakers up by six points.

That play was the exclamation point on an impressive fourth quarter, one in which the Blazers went hilariously ice cold from the field while the Lakers made up a huge deficit.

Here’s how Shaq tells the story:

Game 7. We’re down. I’m telling Kobe ‘Hey man, I’m open’.

[And Kobe responded with] I got you.

He crosses up Scottie Pippen, and he catches eye contact with me like, ‘OK this is the one you wanted.’

He throws it up super, super, super high. I have to go up and get it and throw it down. Puts us up by five [it was six] and I know we’re going to win, we’re going to the Finals.

If you go back to the footage after we win [the game] who jumps in my arms? Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile, a 12-year-old Dane Carbaugh’s heart still aches from that game.