NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic: Does Orlando really have a reason to believe?

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Magic_team.jpgOne down, just three more to go.

That’s not how Stan Van Gundy is telling his team to look at things — he will talk about one game at a time only. Worry about and work toward winning Game 5 on Wednesday then see what the future holds. But fans don’t think that way. They are thinking about historic comebacks and the Finals,

They are thinking maybe, just maybe, in Orlando…

But man is that still a long shot.

Orlando played its best game of the series, the Celtics their worst (by far) and the game still went to overtime. The Celtics will play better on Wednesday and if the Magic do not match that, if they do not improve, then for the second year in a row the season will end for Orlando with another team celebrating on their home court. The Magic put up a photo of the Lakers celebrating on the Magic court in the weight room this season as motivation, the image should still be burned into their minds. They do not want to have a matching pair of these photos.

One key to watch next game is the Magic pick-and-roll and how Boston defends it. For the first time this series, the Magic ran it the way they had for the second half of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs — they shot 51.6 percent off that play in Game 4, according to ESPN. That is after shooting in the 30s for the first three games. Jameer Nelson played fantastic basketball in this one. The Celtics will bring a focus to stopping this play, the Magic still need to execute the play and get the shots they want out of it — including kick outs to three point shooters who need to knock it down.

If the Magic are going to send the series back to Boston for Game 6, then Vince Carter is going to have to step up. He has held the Magic back this series on both ends of the floor, with the key missed free throws in Game 2, and with a 1 for 9 shooting performance in Game 4. This time the Magic were able to overcome it, thanks in large part to JJ Redick coming off the bench. Carter is still getting inside — five of his nine shots came within five feet of the rim — but he has got to find a way to finish. He has to hit shots over the long arms of the Celtics inside, and he will have to get the jumpers to fall as well.

Also, the Magic bench besides Redick needs to perform better. Jason Williams, Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass combined to go 1 for 8 shooting and missed all five three pointers they took. That can’t happen again, the Magic need that boost.

The Celtics will come out in Game 5 playing their best defense of the series, you can bet on it. This is how they respond to things. Rajon Rondo will not go 2 for 8 on shots in the paint again. Kevin Garnett will shoot better than 5 for 12. Doc Rivers may call timeouts at key moments rather than going all Phil Jackson (and during the playoffs even Jackson calls that timeout). Boston will play better.

Can the Magic? We’ll see, because that is where their hope rests.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.

Clippers win likely playoff preview 108-95 over Jazz

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jamal Crawford scored 28 points off the bench, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 108-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight year.

The Clippers trail the Jazz by a half-game in their race for the No. 4 playoff seed in the West. The teams are likely to face in the first round of the postseason.

Blake Griffin added 15 points and DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert had 26 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, and reserve Joe Johnson added 17 points. The Jazz have dropped four of five.

Utah rallied in the third, putting together a 20-6 spurt to trim Los Angeles’ lead to 72-70 heading into the final period. Gobert had nine points and Johnson scored seven during the run that included 10 straight points for the Jazz over one stretch.

Chris Paul and Crawford both got technicals while the Clippers struggled to score and defend.

But Los Angeles turned things around in the fourth, scoring the first eight points for an 80-70 lead. Crawford had 17 points in the quarter, scoring six in a row to push the Clippers’ lead to 103-84. He was 9 of 9 at the free-throw line for the game.

The Clippers grabbed control early on, shooting 52 percent in the first quarter while building a 15-point lead.

The Jazz got within seven to start the second before the Clippers restored their 15-point margin and eventually led 49-41 at halftime.

Utah’s top two scorers, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, struggled. Hayward, who averages 22 points, had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Hill, who averages 17.1, had nine points while shooting 4 of 11.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Gobert was coming off a career-high 35-point, 15-rebound performance against the Knicks on Tuesday. … G Sheldon Mack missed his 11th straight game with a left ankle sprain. … F/C Derrick Favors remains out with a left knee bone contusion.

Clippers: Their six-year playoff run is the longest in franchise history. … They have won 18 of 20 against the Jazz dating to Feb. 1, 2012. … They won the season series 3-1.

 

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