Magic play some defense, Lakers miss some shots, Magic cruise

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If you came into this game thinking the Lakers win in Boston was a mirage and they still can’t beat elite teams consistently, you watched this game and felt vindicated. You shouldn’t.

If you believe that the Orlando Magic are elite despite recent losses to the Bulls, Heat and Celtics (and even Hornets), that they were going to start coming together soon, you watched this game and felt vindicated. You’re jumping the gun.

What you should really leave this game thinking: The more desperate team usually will win an NBA regular season game.

The Lakers were feeling pretty good about themselves after a 4-0 start to their Grammy road trip — including a win in Boston — and they came out looking complacent. The Magic were desperate for a big win because of the aforementioned losses — their big man came out inspired. And nobody stops an inspired Howard.

The result was a 89-75 Magic win. A win where, for one game at least, the Magic can point to their defense as good. A game that can give them hope that the spotty defense they have played since the trade is starting to change. The Lakers never scored more than 21 points in a quarter (the first) and had 15 in the fourth. On the other end of the floor, Howard had 31 points on 16 shots and grabbed 13 boards.

The Lakers shot a sad 39.3 percent overall and 12.5 percent from three. That adds up to a 40.5 eFG% on the night, eight percent below their season average.

Was that the Magic’s defense finding itself again? Not necessarily. It was better, their defense looked more energized — more desperate — than it did in recent losses. Even Hedo Turkoglu was playing good help defense, and you don’t see that every day. Or many days.

But the Lakers also just missed shots they knocked down in Boston a few nights before. Shots they normally hit. It was just one of those games for them, and the complacency did little to push them past it.

When the Lakers are flat is when Kobe Bryant tries to take over — and that happened right on schedule late in the first half. For a stretch he put on a show. He was hitting the fade away and the elbow jumper that he can seem to get and hit in his sleep. But he was not getting to the line and shot just 8-of-18 overall.

Those spurts by Kobe often inspire the other Lakers to pick it up, but not this time. The Laker bench shot 30.7 percent. Pau Gasol was 5-of-12. Andrew Bynum had 17 points but needed 15 shots to get it. The Lakers as a team didn’t make the Magic work all that hard for this win. Not like the Magic will have to work come the playoffs.

Meanwhile Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson outplayed the Lakers forwards. Anderson was 3-of-5 from three, Bass 3-of-6 overall, and they both fit into their roles perfectly.

It was a quality win for the Magic, but one game does not a change make. If they cannot carry the momentum of this game forward into other games against good teams (Oklahoma City a week from Friday, for example) it was a one-off.

For the Lakers, they are 4-1 on their seven game, Grammy road trip. They play Charlotte Monday and Cleveland next. Two wins makes it a 6-1 trip and that’s not bad, not bad at all. How the Lakers respond in Charlotte will tell you as much or more about this team than this loss. Do they care enough to bounce back, or are they just that bored with the regular season?

Rumor: Paul George told former Pacers teammates he wanted to join the Lakers

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Paul George to the Lakers is a capital-T thing.

George is from Southern California, and he keeps indicating his dissatisfaction with the Pacers. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Even Lakers president Magic Johnson is talking about George.

Where do rumors like this originate?

Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News:

A SoCal native, he’s been talking about playing for his hometown team, the Lakers, for a long time. He’s never made his long-term intentions a secret within the Pacers’ locker room, according to former teammates. He wants to wear the purple and gold.

Did George say he dreamed of playing for the Lakers growing up? Did he say it’d be cool to join his boyhood favorite team if the situation presented itself? Or did he say he wanted to get the heck out of Indiana to join the Lakers as soon as possible?

There are so many ways his comments to teammates could get misconstrued as they get passed down in the game of telephone.

But the Lakers threat – to whatever degree it’s real – looms, and it’ll impact how the Pacers handle their offseason.

Jazz call deactivating Jeff Withey, who was accused of domestic violence, ‘strategic basketball-related decision’

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Jazz Center Jeff Withey was accused of domestic violence in a police report filed by his ex-fiancée.

Withey played a small role in Utah’s first two playoff games, but once the accusation over an alleged 2016 incident became public, he hasn’t seen the court. Withey received a DNP-CD in Game 3 against the Clippers, and the Jazz deactivated the center for Game 4 last night.

Ryan McDonald of the Deseret News:

The team called it a “strategic basketball-related decision.”

Withey was always going to see a reduced role with Rudy Gobert returning from injury.

Though Gobert didn’t play in Game 3, the Jazz had two injured players – Gobert and Alec Burks on the inactive list – so Withey was active but never played. But Withey was active for Game 1, which Gobert started healthy before injuring his knee 11 seconds in.

Therefore, deactivating Withey in Game 4 for Joel Bolomboy, a little-used second-round rookie who has yet to play in the postseason, is a curious choice for basketball reasons. It’s almost as if that wasn’t the reason.

Russell Westbrook on Rockets laughing at Andre Roberson missing free throws: ‘Probably the guys that don’t play’

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The Rockets bench made a big production when an intentionally fouled Andre Roberson kept missing free throws in the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Rockets yesterday.

Russell Westbrook stuck up for his teammate.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Westbrook:

I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it at all. Probably the guys that don’t play, probably over there the ones laughing, if I had to guess.

Good guess. It appears Montrezl Harrell and Bobby Brown – whose only playing time this series came late in Houston’s blowout Game 1 win – led the jeers.

But the most important thing for the Thunder is Roberson making his free throws. They need him on the court to defend James Harden, which exposes him to hacking. If Westbrook deflecting attention onto the Rockets’ benchwarmers helps Roberson at the line, great. But if not, the Rockets will keep having reasons to laugh.

Magic Johnson winks at bringing Paul George to Lakers

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Paul George-to-the-Lakers rumors have swirled for a while.

New Lakers president Magic Johnson will only fuel them.

Asked how he’d interact with the Pacers star to avoid tampering if they ran into each other, Johnson said on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

In explaining how he’d avoid tampering, Johnson probably tampered. Accidental tampering appears to be his specialty.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says team employees can’t permissibly “induce, persuade, or attempt to entice, induce or persuade, any Player who is under contract to, or whose exclusive negotiating rights are held by, any other Member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services or negotiate or contract for such services.” But the league arbitrarily enforces tampering, so who knows whether he’ll be punished?

Johnson almost certainly could have gotten away with the hypothetical conversation he laid out. But going on television and describing it — even as fantasy, even not directly to George — could constitute tampering in itself,

If Johnson helps attract George to Los Angeles, it’d well be worth it. At least he’s trying something.