Is Orlando a contender again? Maybe, maybe…

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Here was the conventional wisdom after the Orlando Magic made a series of trades to bring in Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson: Why? The Magic took on a lot of extra long-term salary and locked themselves in with a roster that is, at best, marginally better than what they had. The offense had more diversity short term, but the defense would be worse.

Um, maybe we were wrong.

The long-term contract issues remain. But short term the Magic are undefeated in their last five . In those five not only has offense has gotten better so has the defense. As the wise Mark Haubner noted at TrueHoop, in the last five games the Magic have been scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions, and giving up 96.0 points per 100 possessions. Over the course of the season, that would be the best offense and best defense in the league right now.

It’s just five games (welcome to the small sample size theater), but it’s enough to make us take a second look at the trades and think maybe we undervalued a few things.

One is that Orlando knows how to use Hedo Turkoglu. As Rob Mahoney points out at the New York Times, Turkoglu is not shooting any better than he did in Phoenix or Toronto. He’s basically the same player he always was. The differences are that he is getting minutes now, and that Orlando trusts him to be the ball handler on the pick-and-roll. Phoenix didn’t because then they were taking the ball out of Steve Nash’s hands and one should never do that. Toronto used him less as a ball handler and more as a spot up shooter, something he’s not great at. But put the ball in his hands as Orlando does and he becomes a solid NBA player.

Orlando also is running more with the new configuration, about 3.5 more possessions per game. Teams score at a high rate in transition so if this is a long-term trend it bodes well for their offense.

The other thing of note is that the Magic’s three-point shooting touch has returned — they are draining 45.7 percent of their threes in the last five games. That is not a sustainable number, but the fact it is better than they had shot all season is of note. When the Magic are hitting their threes, with their inside-out game centered around Dwight Howard, they become very hard to beat.

The question is can they keep all this up? Will the defense continue to be good (or as good as it was pre-trades)? Will they continue to drain the long ball at a high rate? Will they continue to run?

Are they title contenders again?

We don’t know. But it seems more like it than it did a couple weeks ago, that’s for sure. In that sense, the trades have been a success so far.

LaVar Ball calls out John Wall, Wizards; Marcin Gortat doesn’t think that was smart

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“I told him after the game, due to all the riffraff his dad brings he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. He’s got to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game… (I had to) welcome his little young a** to the NBA.”

That was the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley after he tormented Lonzo Ball on opening night, and he speaks for a number of other players I have heard from who said father LaVar wrote checks that Lonzo is going to have to cash, and guys were going to go at him. Not every night, but enough.

Since that rough opener the rookie has had a decent couple of games — averaging 18.5 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds a night, not efficient but playing better — going against Eric Bledsoe (a capable defender who had checked out mentally in Phoenix) and Jrue Holiday and the Pelicans. Wednesday night John Wall and the Wizards come to town, and that’s another level of competition.

My least favorite thing about this Lakers season is the way the L.A. media sticks a microphone in front of LaVar Ball after every game. I don’t care about LaVar, in the same way I don’t care about the Kardashians.

But what he said has become a thing. After the Lakers loss to the Pelicans LaVar said, “[The Wizards] better beware cause Lonzo ain’t losing again. Not in the same week!”

Wizards’ center Marcin Gortat thought that was funny.

First off, Lonzo is going to lose twice in a week a lot this season — the Lakers are not a good team.

Second, Wall is a top-five NBA point guard by any standard, an All-NBA player who is far more than just quick (although he is that, too). He can shoot, he’s an aggressive defender, and he knows how to set up teammates. He’s going to be more than a handful for Ball. To put it kindly.

Whatever happens Wednesday night (most likely Wall smokes Lonzo) we know one thing for sure: LaVar will say something outlandish. And it will become a thing. The game is secondary for that marketing effort.

Lakers to break out powder blue Minneapolis throwback uniforms this season

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The Lakers have gone a few different directions with alternate uniforms in recent years, such as the black version, but when you have a classic brand you shouldn’t mess with it. Same with the Celtics, Bulls, Sixers, and other classic uniforms — if you’re going to go alternate then go older.

The Lakers are doing just that — going back to Minneapolis.

They are breaking out the George Mikan era jerseys, starting on Wednesday vs. Wizards and in four other games later in the season.

I like it.

Now if the Lakers could get George Mikan in the paint it would help.

PBT Podcast: All things Sixers with Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia

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The Sixers have started the season 0-3, Joel Embiid is frustrated about his lack of post touches, and Markelle Fultz‘s shot has gone funky…

Relax. The Sixers are going to be fine, and they still very well could be a playoff team in the East this season. It’s just three games (against teams expected to finish above the Sixers in the standings anyway).

Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia joins Kurt Helin on the Podcast today to talk all things Sixers. They discuss the things that have gone wrong, but also the culture Brett Brown has built, why the Sixers still have to be thought of as a playoff team, and why the future is bright. Also, there is a little discussion of the mess with the Phoenix Suns, their lack of a process, and how Eric Bledsoe could tilt things in the East.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Stephen Curry fined $50,000 for throwing mouthpiece

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Stephen Curry knew a fine was coming, the only question was how much? The NBA had established this precedent before: When Curry (or any player) threw his mouthpiece he got fined. That he’s done it before and threw it in the direction of an official this time meant the price could go up.

It did — Curry was slapped with a $50,000 fine for throwing his mouthpiece during the ejection from Saturday night’s Warriors loss to the Grizzlies. Curry felt he was fouled on a drive and didn’t get the call, and he lost his cool.

Andre Iguodala was also fined $15,000 for “verbally abusing a game official” during the same incident.

Some fans wanted a suspension for Curry, mostly because it’s trendy to hate on Curry and the Warriors in some circles. Reality is there is a precedent here, and the league office stuck with that. Now, if the mouthpiece had struck the official, Curry would have gotten a suspension. If you want to argue the intent was the same, call up the league. They make the distinction.