NBA Playoffs, Magic Hawks Game 3: Magic dominate Hawks, remain undefeated

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Howard_Bibby.jpgWell, so much for Atlanta turning into a completely different team on their home floor. The Hawks were 19-22 on the road this season and 34-7 at home, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to expect them to be more competitive on Saturday than they were in the first two games of the series. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they looked just as outmatched in Atlanta as they did in Orlando. 

The Magic pushed the lead to double-digits near the end of the first quarter. They took a 20-point lead at the beginning of the third quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, Orlando found themselves up by 30. The Hawks never had a chance in game three, and now they’re in a 3-0 series hole. 
Nothing went right for the Hawks. The team shot 35% from the field and 4-15 from beyond the arc. No Hawks player shot better than 50% from the field. Joe Johnson was absolutely abysmal, going 3-15 from the field. The Hawks recorded nine total assists all game. The Magic outrebounded the Hawks 51-34. Faced with the pressure of a 2-0 deficit and the task of scoring against the Magic’s dominant defense, Atlanta completely folded. A miserable performance, and one that could leave a sour taste in Hawks fans’ mouths all summer if they don’t manage to compete in game four.
Nobody on the Magic had a great offensive game; then again, nobody needed to. Howard wasn’t as dominant as he was in game two, but still finished with 21 and 16 on 6-8 shooting from the field and 9-18 shooting from the line. Rashard Lewis led the Magic with 22 points. Mickael Pietrus came off the bench and drained three three-pointers. Carter and Nelson both had quiet nights by their standards, but it didn’t matter. 
The question for the Hawks is what happens next. They’ve been competitive in the regular season, but they’re a game away from being swept out of the postseason two years in a row. After all these years, the team still does not have a true point guard, and the lack of ball movement is killing them. They don’t have the size or perimeter defenders to defend like the top three teams in the East do. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen, but the Hawks will almost certainly look like a different team next season. 
Joe Johnson is looking like the booby prize in the 2010 free agency bonanza right now, but someone will end up paying him. At this point, it may not be a great tragedy for the Hawks if he leaves — he wasn’t going to get the Hawks where they wanted to go as a #1 option, and the Hawks don’t have the ability to get a player good enough to let Johnson operate as a #2 option. 
(Quick addendum — Hawks reporter Michael Cunningham just tweeted that Joe Johnson had this to say about the Hawks fans booing the team: “It’s about us in this locker room. We could care less if they showed up or not.” I don’t think Mr. Johnson is long for Atlanta.)
For the Magic, everything looks good right now — all that’s left for them to do is close out the Hawks, go home, and prepare for the Eastern Conference Finals. They look like the best team in the NBA at the moment, but they still have nine wins to go before they reach their ultimate goal. The way they’re playing, it’ll be very tough for anyone to stop Orlando from getting those nine wins. 

Ben Simmons denies rumor he plans to sit out all season: ‘As soon as they tell me I can play is when I’ll be out there’

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles two basketballs during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Despite rumors agent Rich Paul won’t let Ben Simmons play this season, 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said the No. 1 pick would return from a broken foot during his rookie year. Yet, the last 76ers official who expressed optimism about Simmons’ timeline had to walk it back.

So, I’d prefer to hear straight from Simmons or Paul.

Simmons, via Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

“I’d love to play, definitely,” Simmons said of the 2016-17 season. “As soon as I can get out there, I’d love to play.”

“There’s no timetable on getting healthy,” he said. “I’m working every day to get back and as soon as they tell me I can play is when I’ll be out there.”

No two injuries are alike, so Simmons doesn’t perfectly compare to Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid of prior years. But the 76ers definitely seem to be less precautious with Bryan Colangelo rather than Sam Hinkie. Not that they’ll rush a player back, but if he’s ready, they’ll play him. There’s no more sitting talented players to tank. Philadelphia wants to market Simmons, and that requires getting him on the court.

So, the ball is in Simmons’ court – but he threw it back to the 76ers, saying he’ll follow their clearance call. That’s all they can ask for at this point.

Justin Anderson cuts under basket, reaches back for putback dunk (video)

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One player dunking on another is always fantastic.

But some of the best jams come when the dunker artfully dodges defenders in the first place.

Mavericks forward Justin Anderson did that with this putback slam against the Pacers last night.

Wednesday featured a ridiculous number of players getting dunked on (videos)

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 26:  Willie Cauley-Stein #00 of the Sacramento Kings slam dunks the ball over Marquese Chriss #0 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the preseason NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 26, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Twenty NBA teams started their seasons last night, providing a glorious onslaught of basketball unlike anything we’ve seen in months.

One of the best parts? It seems players forgot they were supposed to duck out of the way, rather than defend, dunks.

That led to some fantastic slams

Gerald Henderson on Domantas Sabonis:

Lance Stephenson on Kenneth Faried:

Jonas Valanciunas on Boban Marjanovic:

Willie-Cauley Stein on Marquese Chriss:

‘Our 49 Pulse angels’: Orlando Magic honor those killed in nightclub

A banner printed with the names of the Pulse nightclub shooting victims and 49, the number of people who died in the shooting, is unveiled in the Amway Center during a tribute prior to an NBA basketball game between the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — There’s nothing that can give Mayra Alvear back what she lost, or ease her pain, or calm her anger.

With one gesture, she at least felt some joy again.

Underneath a softly swaying banner displaying the number 49 – commemorating the number of lives lost – and as first responders unfurled and held a massive American flag for the national anthem, the Orlando Magic paid tribute Wednesday night to the victims and survivors of the Pulse gay nightclub massacre with an emotional ceremony immediately before the team’s season-opener against the Miami Heat.

“We felt the recognition needed to be significant,” Magic president Alex Martins said. “We think part of the healing process for our community is making sure we don’t forget. And we felt it was most appropriate that we do it on opening night, so it receives the proper recognition and exposure – but also gave the greatest number of our fans the opportunity to recognize and remember.”

Some survivors were present, as were some relatives of those who were killed on June 12 in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman, Omar Mateen, was killed after a three-hour standoff during an exchange of fire with SWAT team members.

“What the Orlando Magic are doing is amazing, is beautiful. I’m honored and grateful,” said Alvear, the mother of Pulse victim Amanda Alvear. “That they are lifting the number 49 out of respect, a symbol for our 49 Pulse angels, it has a deep meaning – demonstration of love and that they care, that all of them will be remembered.”

The nightclub remains fenced off, yet is still attracting a daily stream of mourners. Banners on the fence are dotted with thousands of handwritten messages from visitors, with some flowers and candles on the ground.

Martins was the chair of OneOrlando, a fund that collected $29.5 million in donations that’s being distributed to 299 claimants. At the time of the shooting, the Magic were just a few weeks removed from the hiring of Frank Vogel as their new coach, and less than three weeks away from a free-agent period where the roster would be greatly revamped.

But Martins quickly volunteered anyway, helping oversee the massive task.

“One of the ways that I felt I could help, that I could assist, was to help with the administration of the fund,” Martins said. “So I raised my hand immediately.”

The tribute coming before a Magic-Heat game was fitting, given how many of those affected by the events of that night were from South Florida.

It was particularly poignant to one survivor.

Heat employee Laura Vargas was shot twice that night. She can recall every detail – the strobe lights, the Heineken in her hand, how she was putting away her ID as she heard the first shots. She remembers watching Mateen reload a weapon, the blood pouring from her wounds, even the look on the police officer’s face when she was rescued.

Her best friend, Luis Vielma, who Vargas said was straight, was one of the victims.

“It’s not even just about me,” Vargas said. “It’s coping that he’s not there anymore. It’s a lot to carry around.”

Vargas isn’t able yet to resume work. She was at the arena the Heat call home last week for an event called “Loud And Proud” that celebrated the LGBTQ community, but couldn’t shake the feeling Mateen was there. Her flashbacks and nightmares are terrifying – she said she had “a total breakdown” recently at Disney when a fireworks show sounded like gunfire.

Nights like Wednesday, she said, make it all a bit easier.

“The love that’s come out of this is not fading,” Vargas said. “It brings me comfort to know that my best friend is one of the reasons why this world is a little bit less crappy, that his life isn’t just forgotten. No. He made a difference. And he would be happy to know that even with the chaos, the horror, he made a change.”

This was not a one-night commitment for the Magic, who have contributed both money and staff resources to the ongoing healing process and plan to continue. In addition to the banner, the team aired a video in tribute and invited singer Brandon Parsons – who composed a song called “Forty-Nine Times” – to perform pregame.

Parsons’ song included this phrase: “Takes more than just a gun, more than you to tear us down, so let your colors fly free.”

“It’s been so impactful since the day of that event,” said Otto Drozd, the Fire Chief for Orange County Fire Rescue. “This is part of the healing process. We continue to remember the 49 that lost their lives and those that were injured that night, and really, we do that because we don’t want to relive it.”