How they can win it all: The Orlando Magic

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I’m going to get a few jokes out of the way before we start this, okay? I want to give the Magic their due. I do. And I will. I just have to get a few of these out of the way. See, I’ll even use bullets to keep it short.

How the Magic can win it all:

  • Use the time-traveling technology from the “Terminator” series to send Chris Duhon back (he’s expendable) and warn Otis Smith about Vince Carter/Gilbert Arenas.
  • Create magical formula to boost 3-point shooting efficiency by 700%, bringing them to a top five team.
  • Put Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson in a blender for six to seven minutes and hope a legit well-rounded power-forward comes out of it.
  • LET THE BEARDS PLAY!

Okay, so realistically what has to happen?

Shots Gotta Fall

The “Live by the three, die by the three” thing is played out. It really is. Every great team needs to hit some perimeter shots, and the Magic don’t shoot ill-advised threes (most of the time). It’s a product of their system. But that only works for them when they actually, you know, hit. The Magic are a great defensive team, but their postseason success has been defined by hot shooting. Gilbert Arenas absolutely must get hot if the Magic are going to have a chance. Ryan Anderson will help, as will a healthy J.J. Redick. But if Arenas is getting as many minutes as he does and still taking terrible threes and missing even worse, Orlando doesn’t have the weaponry it used to.

Dwight has to prove it

A lot of people think Dwight Howard should be the MVP over Derrick Rose. If he wants to make an Olajuwon like statement about his inevitable snub, now would be a great time to. Howard has the ability to take over a game and just overwhelm teams with his physical abilities. He has to put that kind of effort in, consistently, if the Magic are going to win it all. It has to be one of the great offensive showcases by a center in NBA history. I wish I was exaggerating. It has to be legendary. If he just goes through his 20-12 motions, it won’t be enough for the Magic to advance past the second round.

SVG has to keep their heads

SVG will lose the team eventually. That’s not a knock on SVG. He’s one of the top three coaches in the league in any given year. He’s a brilliant tactician, patient, motivates his guys and gets consistent effort. But if this team, whose chemistry is still an unknown, starts to drift, things will come apart. 2009’s success for Orlando was determined by faith in themselves, faith in the system. SVG has to keep getting his guys to buy in night after night.

In reality, there’s not a lot Orlando can do to win it all. Chicago’s defense will stifle them on the perimeter, Boston would pound them on the interior, the Heat would overwhelm them with firepower, and the Lakers, well, we’ve seen that act before. The window closed on Orlando despite their best efforts. The window was firmly open, and then just like that, it closed. If the Magic were to make the Finals and win, it would be one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.  The fact that the Magic were in the Finals just two years ago shows you how fast these things can change.

But if they get hot from the perimeter…

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.