NBA Playoffs, Magic v. Celtics Game 2: Orlando can't just be different, they have to be better

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Screen shot 2010-05-18 at 12.57.11 PM.pngThe Magic made a ridiculous comeback to make the finale of Game of the Eastern Conference Finals more competitive than the bulk of the game, but Orlando still dropped home court advantage and played anything but an impressive game. A Magic team that had been completely untouchable in the playoffs prior to this series now seems very beatable, provided the Celtics continue to defend.

One of the most discussed culprits for Orlando’s Game 1 demise was Dwight Howard’s post play. Howard, even at his most efficient, never quite seems at home in the post, and that’s fine. The responsibility in this case is not Dwight’s; it’s not prudent for him to do something completely unnatural or something as misguided as trying to bully Kendrick Perkins deep into the post.

Instead, Howard’s offense needs to be part of an adjusted system. The Celtics were ready for the Magic going into Game 1, and by eliminating the threat of Orlando’s three-point shooters, the C’s were able to win the day. The foundation of that plan eroded when Jameer Nelson started breaking down the defense, which is clearly an offensive development of the greatest import for the Magic.

Oddly enough, Nelson’s — and Orlando’s — success didn’t lean too heavily on the pick-and-roll. The 2009 series between the Magic and Celtics was greatly influenced by Stan Van Gundy’s ability to get Howard on the move, where he could use his athleticism to its greatest advantage. The same has been heralded as a potential Orlando adjustment for Game 2, but as usual, that won’t quite be enough.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Orlando was only able to execute three pick-and-roll plays that ended with the roll man (only one of those plays involved Dwight Howard). In contrast, 21 pick-and-roll plays ended with the ball handler. That tells you that the Magic’s problem wasn’t necessarily the lack of frequency in running pick-and-roll plays, but that they struggled in executing them.  

Howard can score down low, even if Game 1 wasn’t his finest performance. However, the Celtics are not going to double team him regardless of his effectiveness, meaning the endgame of Dwight’s dominance will only be his solo production. With Jameer penetrating though, all of a sudden Boston’s bigs have to rotate. Dwight’s open for the lob, or Rashard gets some room in the corner. The Celtics will continue to work and contest, but the shots will continue to get easier for the Magic if they’re willing to work with them.

There’s nothing wrong with a player like Jameer Nelson or Vince Carter creating for themselves off of a screen, but Orlando’s two-man game will have to be more balanced if their offense is going to make a true comeback tonight. Unpredictability can only be a good thing in this case, as the well-defended Magic pick-and-roll in Game 1 only generated 0.67 points per possession. Dwight’s horribly unrefined post-ups, for comparison’s sake, scored 0.79 points per possession.

Running more pick-and-rolls isn’t the answer, just like running more post-ups or more isolation plays isn’t the answer. Orlando needs to make the necessary adjustments, but just has to play better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1.

They’ve certainly given themselves room for improvement. Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook broke down the video for some of the Magic’s early three-point attempts, which were shockingly good but just didn’t go down. Dwight caught plenty of rim on a number of and-one attempts, but the rolls didn’t go his way. Rashard Lewis was invisible, Vince Carter started off as a one-man show, and Matt Barnes really didn’t do anything constructive in his 15 minutes on the floor.

The rotation and approach will be tweaked, but this Magic team is good enough to expect other kinds of improvement. There’s enough talent there that you can expect more shots to fall for them even if Boston is on a roll defensively. The Celtics deserve credit for the defense in Game 1, but it wasn’t the only factor influencing the Magic’s subpar offensive production. Orlando did plenty to work against themselves, and only so much of that will be solved with schemes and lineups. 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.

Adam Silver: NBA could eventually reseed in conference finals

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has three major talking points on 1-16 playoff seeding (rather than the current system of 1-8 seeding by conference):

1. He likes the idea of it.

2. He doesn’t feel bound by the tradition of an East vs. West format.

3. Travel is a big impediment. Not only would there be more playoff series between teams farther away, the regular-season schedule would have to be balanced and therefore include more games between teams currently in opposite conferences.

(An important point I think Silver doesn’t raise nearly enough publicly in regard to a balanced schedule: That’d mean more away games that start at 10 p.m. for Eastern Conference fans and more away games that start at 4 p.m. for Western Conference fans. That can’t be good for TV ratings.)

The NBA commissioner added another consideration in the debate.

Silver on ESPN:

The other thing you could potentially do is reseed at the conference finals. And that deals with if your two best teams are in the same conference. So, there are some other approaches to deal with. You want the two best teams to meet in the Finals.

A balanced schedule wouldn’t be necessary with this setup. The semifinals would either be fairer and produce a better NBA Finals or have the same matchup we’d get in the current system.

Even more importantly, this could pass.

As fun as it is to debate the optimal postseason format, there’s no way enough Eastern Conference owners (at least five, necessary to create a two-thirds majority) approve. They want to protect their eight playoff spots and guaranteed Finals spot.

But what if Eastern Conference teams were still guaranteed eight playoff spots and two semifinals spots? That be enough. The Rockets and Warriors – two Western Conference teams – are the NBA’s best this season. In coming years, it could be the 76ers and Celtics – two Eastern Conference teams. That’s far more variable than which conference is stronger throughout.

If teams in championship contention feel the very top of their conference will be weaker than the other conference, they could resist. But that still leaves contenders that don’t feel that way and non-contenders that want the additional shared revenue a better NBA Finals would generate.

That’s a plausible path to 20 yes votes and something we should take seriously.

Knicks owner James Dolan: Jeff Hornacek ‘way behind’ in dealing with modern players

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The Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek as soon as they returned to New York following their season-ending win in Cleveland.

Then, they really unloaded on the coach.

Knicks owner James Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“I think Hornacek had the same kind of issue that Phil did in that he didn’t grasp how different the players are now in the way they think and deal with management and the coaches,” Dolan said. “I think he was way behind on that.

“But I think Jeff is a good coach and he’ll do well when he’s hired by another team.”

“The old-style coaching doesn’t work,” Dolan said. “A coach who tries to do everything himself isn’t going to be successful.

Knicks president Steve Mills, via Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“I think just as we observed the team, there were a lot of things that we just thought would be better at, from attention to detail to player accountability, and Jeff did a good job in some areas. In some areas he could have done a bit of a better job.

Knicks general manager Scott Perry, via Berman:

“The evaluation of Jeff for 82 games, we evaluated everything — practices to games to ability to connect with guys. I think we need to be better in that area and with adjustments. It’s something we could be better at with the expectations we have for our next coach.”

“We could have been a little bit better in situational basketball,” Perry said. “We understand the roster as much as anybody. In terms of consistency, we fell a little bit short in that area.”

This is atypical candor about a fired coach. Most teams just thank him and move on.

But I appreciate it. Don’t we all want to know more of what NBA teams are thinking internally? This is revelatory.

That said, I don’t blindly trust the Dolan/Mills/Perry triumvirate. The Knicks have misevaluated too many people for too long. This more about knowing how they viewed things than knowing this is how things are.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

According to a source, Dolan last season sent an email to Hornacek saying he was disappointed in him for not buying fully into the triangle offense. This took place sometime around the All Star break. So we know that as recently as last season Dolan, who loves to tell you he’s not involved, was actually pushing Phil Jackson’s offense down Hornacek’s throat in a not-so-subtle way.

Dolan had Phil’s back. And then on Wednesday, Dolan trashed Jackson for being out of touch. Man, life comes at you fast.

To be fair, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough also cited Hornacek’s lack of connection with his players when firing him. This will be something Hornacek must answer for if he pursues future head-coaching jobs. Hornacek feuded with Marcus Morris in Phoenix and Joakim Noah, Kyle O'Quinn and reportedly Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Not that the Knicks set up Hornacek to succeed. They didn’t.

Now, they must find a coach who will perform better in all the areas they just criticized Hornacek for. That’ll be more difficult than criticizing him on the way out the door.