Could Jason Richardson be a long-term fixture in Orlando?

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No one should blame the Phoenix Suns for their reluctance to make a commitment to Jason Richardson. The now-Magic shooting guard is 30 years old after all, and with franchise centerpiece Steve Nash in the later stages of his career, it makes little sense to lock up veteran pieces for the long haul.

You should blame the Suns, however, for their reluctance to make a commitment to Jason Richardson after signing Channing Frye for five years and $30 million, Hakim Warrick for four years and $18 million, and then agreeing to ship out Leandro Barbosa’s relatively cap-friendly deal for Hedo Turkoglu’s far more imposing one. It’s as if Lon Babby and Robert Sarver couldn’t quite decide on whether to start disassembling the roster or adding new pieces to keep the team competitive, so they shot for somewhere in the middle. It didn’t make much sense then, and makes little more now, even after Richardson, Turkoglu, and Earl Clark have been jettisoned for Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, and Marcin Gortat.

Somehow, Suns’ management drew the line at Richardson, despite the fact that he led Phoenix in points per minute, and was second on the team in PER. Richardson is far from a perfect player, yet in most evaluations he’s still a far more useful contributor than Turkoglu, Frye, or Warrick. Something just never clicked for J-Rich and the Suns off the court, a fact which Richardson insists is due to no fault of his own. From Tim Povtak of NBA FanHouse:

“The trade didn’t catch me off guard at all. I knew when they wouldn’t talk about an extension that I wasn’t going to be there the whole season,” Richardson said before the Magic played the San Antonio Spurs. “They wouldn’t even sit down and talk to us. I kind of figured when they were dodging calls from my agent, something was going to happen.”

Richardson, who is making $14 million this season, was pushing hard for the extension in Phoenix, preferring to avoid free agency this summer. He was riding a strong playoff performance last spring and a fast start this season, knowing his stock would never be higher. In Orlando, he is resigned to the fact that no extension will come during the season, needing to prove he can fit on a team with a dominating center and a handful of guys who all need the ball in their hands.

Orlando could be a fairly ideal situation for Richardson, but as Povtak mentioned, it will be difficult for J-Rich to produce at a level worthy of an in-season extension. Still, it should surprise no one if the Magic choose to retain Richardson, an efficient scorer and prolific three-point shooter, at season’s end. He may not put pen to paper until all the details are hammered out on a new collective bargaining agreement, but Orlando is as logical an off-season landing spot for Richardson as any.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor).

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more focus than they brought against the Timberwolves, because unlike Minnesota those teams will make Houston pay a steep price.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top. Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.