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


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.

DeMarcus Cousins on new Kings coach: “I like him and he likes me”

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts to a foul called against him during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Dave Joerger was hired in Sacramento to do nearly the impossible: Turn around the Kings into a playoff team with potential, and develop a relationship with DeMarcus Cousins that makes the game’s best center want to stay in Sacramento (his contract is up in the summer of 2018).

The Kings won their opening game and return home Thursday to open their new building against the Spurs (a stiffer test than the Suns, to put it kindly).

As for the relationship part, Joerger is at least doing better than George Karl, as Cousins told our old friend Brett Pollakoff working for SLAM.

Jason Jones at The Sacramento Bee had a longer quote.

“Joerger’s been great,” Cousins said. “I think what he brought to the team is what this team needed. It fits our identity more than how we played in the past. Not to knock any of the previous situations but I think this situation fits this team the best.”

Cousins said last week he likes that’s there’s no gray area with Joerger. He makes everything plain and clear and that’s a plus.

It’s a good start for Joerger, but will it be enough? The feeling from most people around the league outside Sacramento is that it’s too late, the well has been poisoned and Cousins will leave the Kings as a free agent in two summers if they don’t trade him before then.

The Kings are not giving up that easily, especially in the first season in a new building — it is a franchise that wants to show Cousins it has turned the corner. Don’t expect any move with Cousins this season — landing elite players is hard and the Kings don’t want to give up on the one they have. The Kings may eventually have to face a decision on making a trade, but they are not there yet.

Meanwhile, other teams are just circling and waiting.

Derrick Rose with a frank assessment of Knicks opener vs. Cavaliers

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks controls the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 25, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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The Knicks are primed for a slow start. New coach teaching a new, modified system. New starting point guard who missed most of training camp. New defensive anchor at center, who missed most of training camp. New players throughout the roster, plus the need to develop and highlight Kristaps Porzingis. It’s going to take time to find how it all fits together.

Then their opening game is against the defending champion Cavaliers? Welcome to the NBA.

The Cavaliers won going away, with LeBron James looking every bit the best player on the planet. Derrick Rose, how would you assess the Knicks’ play? Via Barbara Barker of Newsday.

You have to love that Rose is honest. And he’s right.

Rose was part of the problem with the ball movement — 41.2 percent of his shots in that game came after seven or more dribbles and after he held the ball for at least six seconds. Carmelo Anthony was better, but not great. The Knicks stagnation on offense in the second half was a sharp contrast from the way the Cavaliers shared the rock all night.

The Knicks ball movement should get better as Jeff Hornacek pushes this team and they get more comfortable with the balance of pace (which we saw in the first half) and running the triangle (which they did much more after the game was a blowout, almost like a practice). It is going to take time to find that balance. At the same time, the team’s defense needs a lot of work, and the bench needs to improve.

All of that can happen, but in a tight Eastern Conference a slow start could be a tough hole for the Knicks to climb out of.

Bulls’ ‘Late Night Snack with Henry’ is a ton of fun (video)

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The Bulls might be hard on the eyes this season due to their lack of spacing, but darn it if they’re not trying their best to be likable.

Beef? Bradley Beal says he wouldn’t have re-signed with Wizards and John Wall says he wouldn’t have begged Beal back if true

Bradley Beal, John Wall
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

John Wall and Bradley Beal defined their relationship this summer.

Wall: “I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.”

Beal: “It’s tough because we’re both alphas. … Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other.”

It’s hard to spin those direct quotes. These aren’t anonymous sources or players venting after a tough loss. In the calm of the offseason, Wall and Beal spoke bluntly about their partnership in the Wizards backcourt.

But no matter how difficult now, Beal and Wall are trying to cast their relationship in a different light.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“This is my brother at the end of the day,” Beal told The Vertical. “Nothing is going to change. If I didn’t want to be here, if we did beef, I wouldn’t have signed my contract. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”

“And I wouldn’t have begged him to come back,” Wall interjected. “I would’ve been, ‘Don’t come back because in two years, I ain’t coming back.’ We would’ve figured something out. … I think everybody blew it out of proportion for no reason. I mean, if you look at any two great teammates, and two young, great guys, that’s talented and want to be great, you’re going to have ups and downs. Everything is not going to be perfect.”

The flaws in that logic:

Beal was a restricted free agent. The Wizards weren’t letting him go.

Wall is locked up for three more years. It’s in his best interest to have the best teammates possible in that time, whether or not he stays in Washington past 2019. The Wizards had no way to replace Beal with a similar-caliber player.

So, maybe Wall and Beal are completely cohesive. But even if they aren’t, circumstances dictated they continue their basketball partnership.

I believe last summer’s interviews exposed a rift that was forming somewhat beneath the surface. Their honest assessments in the open, Wall and Beal can now go about repairing any cracks in the foundation.

There’s an mostly unavoidable tension between a team’s two leading scorers. That they’re both guards who want to handle the ball makes it only more difficult.

But if Wall and Beal acknowledge their problems, they can try to work past them and win together.