NBA Playoffs: Magic decimate Hawks again, get second straight sweep

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Well, that’s it for the Hawks. After yet another blowout, the Orlando Magic are advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals while the Hawks are going home. The Hawks were completely overwhelmed by the Magic, who never trailed in game four and maintained a double-digit lead for nearly the entire second half. After being considered the forgotten contender in the East all season, the Hawks played like it in the playoffs, going 4-7 in the postseason. They lost the series by a combined total of 101 points; according to Michael Cunningham, that’s an NBA record for a four-game sweep. This is the second year in a row the Hawks were swept in the second round. Meanwhile, the Magic improve to 8-0 in the postseason, and now have a nice long rest before the conference finals. 

Once again, it was the Magic’s defense and three-point shooting that overwhelmed the Hawks. Dwight Howard was relatively quiet in game four, scoring 13 points on 5-5 shooting from the field but committing seven turnovers in the process. The rest of the Magic players were more than willing to pick up the slack for him. The Magic put the Hawks away by shooting 16-37 from the arc, with Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, and Mickael Pietrus hitting four threes apiece. The Hawks shot 3-12 from beyond the arc — that’s a 39-point advantage on threes for the Magic. 
Nobody really stepped up for the Hawks. Jamal Crawford was again the bright spot. Even though he struggled with his shot, Crawford was able to get to the line consistently, leading the Hawks with 18 points off the bench. The Hawks were outscored by 11 points during the eight minutes Crawford sat. Mike Bibby was again horrendous; the Hawks were outscored by 16 points during his 11 minutes of play, and it’s clear he shouldn’t be playing against any team with a good point guard at this point of his career. Joe Johnson went 5-15 from the floor; he may have cost himself a lot of money in this series. Josh Smith was inconsistent, and Marvin Williams continued to be completely invisible. 
For the Magic, it was all good news. Vince Carter led the way with 22 points, and the Magic have to be encouraged by his play going into the conference finals. Rashard Lewis had 17 on only 10 shots and one free throw attempt, while Jameer Nelson set the pace with 16 points and a game-high nine assists. 
The Magic have to feel good after the first two series. To beat them, a team is going to have to penetrate their defense, shut down Howard inside, and keep their shooters from getting hot. In eight games, no team has been able to do all of those things successfully. 
The one caveat for them going forward is that Howard will be facing either Kendrick Perkins or Shaquille O’Neal down low in the conference finals, both of whom provide a much more formidable challenge than Al Horford or Zaza Pachulia did in this series. If Howard plays like he did against Charlotte, The Celtics or Cavaliers could muster up enough offense to send the Magic home. If Howard can be effective in the post and stay out of foul trouble, the Magic have to be the overwhelming favorites to come out of the East again this season, and have a very good chance of winning the first championship in Magic history. The Magic are only halfway to their goal, but they sure do look like a juggernaut at the moment. 

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.

Kobe Bryant’s “Musecage” is like if Sesame Street had an NBA film room (VIDEO)

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Kobe Bryant’s video “Musecage” aired on ESPN on Sunday, and it’s one of the craziest things I’ve watched on an NBA broadcast. That includes watching Kobe’s own alley-oop to Shaquille O’Neal in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals.

Someone on Twitter called it a “drug-fueled Muppet nightmare” but that’s selling short how remarkable the video was. In it, Kobe delivered a message about finding motivation as a young basketball player alongside a talking “Lil’ Mamba” puppet.

But here’s where it gets good: this video was made true to Kobe’s own person. Despite the happy, glockenspiel-laden background music with puppet accompaniment, Kobe’s message in “Musecage” was to use the dark part of your psyche as motivation to conquer your enemies.

I’m dead serious.


It doesn’t get any more Kobe than that.

The first video ends with Kobe’s advice to Lil’ Mamba, who goes off to become strong by using the dark musings as his fuel. Meanwhile, the second video talks about — and I’m not kidding — tactics James Harden and Russell Westbrook use to defeat their opponents in the pick-and-roll.

It’s like if Sesame Street was also a film room session.

Needless to say, all 10 minutes of Musecage are incredible. I don’t mean that in any sarcastic way, either. Bryant has been working on his Canvas series for a while, and his message shines true to the person we’ve known for the last two decades.

Use your happy feelings to push yourself? No! Use self-doubt as a motivator to Jawface your way through to six championship rings.

He debuted the original episode on Christmas Day, and it too had a kid-friendly feel.

I literally cannot wait for the next edition in this series.

Mark Cuban on Blake Griffin’s fall vs. JJ Barea: “We sent flowers to his family, condolences”

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The Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers got into a bit of a scuffle the other night during their game. Clippers big man Blake Griffn and Mavericks PG JJ Barea tussled, with Barea earning a Flagrant 2 and an ejection for putting his hands on Griffin’s neck and pushing him to the ground.

It really was a sight to see, whether Griffin flopped or not.

Meanwhile, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was asked about the incident and responded with some heavy sarcasm that feels par for the course.

Via Twitter:

Griffin does have a bit of a reputation for acting and flopping, and Barea is hilariously undersized compared to him. Then again, the throat is a vulnerable area. Who knows if the fall was real or fake?

I’m just glad Cuban has a sense of humor about it.

Watch Derrick Rose leave Patty Mills standing still with eurostep, huge dunk

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New York Knicks point guard Derrick Rose still has some explosivity left in his legs. Against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night, the former MVP left Spurs guard Patty Mills standing still on a thunderous dunk.

The play came in the fourth quarter with Rose on the break and Mills the only Spurs player defending the basket. Rose had a full head of steam, and it appeared Mills was going to for the charge call.

Rose then craftily eurostepped his way around Mills, leading to the jam.

San Antonio beat New York, 106-98.