NBA Playoff Preview: Orlando vs. Atlanta

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SEASON RECORDS
Magic: 52-30 (No. 4 seed)
Hawks: 44-38(No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Hawks 3-1

KEY INJURIES
Magic: J.J. Redick, missed 16 straight games with an abdomen issue but is expected back for playoffs; Gilbert Arenas’ knees are, well, still Gilbert Arenas’ knees, but more days off in playoffs should help him; Daniel Orton is out for playoffs, but he wasn’t seeing big minutes anyway.
Hawks: Jason Collins missed several games with a sprained ankle, but played a few minutes in season finale and will be a go for this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Magic: Off. 105.7 (10th in NBA); Def. 99.4 (3rd in NBA)
Hawks: Off. 103.7 (20th in NBA); Def. 104.1 (15th in NBA)

THREE KEY MAGIC

Dwight Howard: He’s at the heart of what the Magic do at both ends of the floor — he anchors the defense, he is the post player/pick setter on offense. The Magic offensive plan is simple — let Howard get his, then when the other team doubles start passing out of it and hit threes. That doesn’t work if you can single-cover Howard. He struggled some this season against Jason Collins, but with time to prepare it may be different. Howard has the tools to blow Collins out of the map, the question in how long does it take him to figure it out and start doing it.

Ryan Anderson: Another guy who will be key at both ends — he is going to get a fair amount of time on Al Horford (Howard and Bass also will get time on him). Horford is the best Hawks player this season, he must be slowed. Also, Anderson’s ability to step out and hit threes (hitting 41.1 percent in last 10 games) will pull Atlanta bigs away from the basket, giving Howard and/or Bass more room to grab offensive boards.

Gilbert Arenas: Atlanta should get bench points out of Jamal Crawford. Should. But it will be up Arenas to match that with some points of his own and getting the second unit going. But the real key is for Arneas to do that in the flow of the offense — when he breaks out and starts jacking up shots in isolation the Magic offense will sputter and open the door to the Hawks.

THREE KEY HAWKS

Jason Collins: He is the X-factor in this series. During the regular season he was able to single cover Howard and that allowed the other Hawks defenders to stay home on the Magic’s many shooters. To do it for a total of 93 minutes in four regular season games is one thing, can he keep that up during a seven-game series? If so the Hawks have a chance.

Jamal Crawford: Put simply, Atlanta need scoring off the bench so they need Crawford. They really need last-season’s Crawford, who operated out of isolation sets and simple pin-downs to get him free. This season Larry Drew made the Hawks offense more complex and Crawford has been one of the guys struggling to adjust. They need him now.

Josh Smith: He is not a good jump shooter (39 percent on long twos, taking 4.3 per game), but he takes them anyway and it kills the Hawks offense. If he does that in this series Howard will grab the board and the Magic will be off and running. Also, there are reports he is the locker room malcontent and the Hawks will need everyone on the same page.

OUTLOOK

With Jason Collins, the Hawks think they have some who can single-handedly match up with Howard, and that is why they think they have a chance. But can you really see Dwight Howard getting stopped for long by a Collins twin? Look for the Magic to run some on the Hawks (a bad transition defensive team anyway) and in doing so get Howard some early deep position. And they will try to get fouls on Collins.

The Hawks are basically the same team that the Magic swept out of the playoffs last season. New coach, they have Collins and Hinrich, but things are not that different. The Magic have come back to the pack a little, but they are still a 50-win team with a dominant player.

PREDICTION

It’s not going to be a sweep like a year ago, but it will be pretty close.

Magic in 5.

Kobe Bryant sends inspirational recovery message to Gordon Hayward

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Kobe Bryant has been there. He tore his Achilles at an age most players would have said: “that’s it, I’m out.” Not Kobe. He fought through it, came back, and was able to leave the game on his terms — and with a 60-point night.

So when Kobe sends an Instagram recovery message to Gordon Hayward, he knows of what he speaks.

Be sad. Be mad. Be frustrated. Scream. Cry. Sulk. When you wake up you will think it was just a nightmare only to realize it’s all too real. You will be angry and wish for the day back, the game back THAT play back. But reality gives nothing back and nor should you. Time to move on and focus on doing everything in your power to prepare for surgery, ask all the questions to be sure you understand fully the procedure so that you may visualize it in your subconscious while being operated on and better the chance of it’s success. Then focus on the recovery process day by day by day. It’s a long journey but if you focus on the mini milestones along the way you will find beauty in the struggle of doing simple things that prior to this injury were taken for granted. This will also mean that when you return you will have a new perspective. You will be so appreciative of being able to stand, walk, run that you will train harder than you ever have. You see the belief within you grow with each mini milestone and you will come back a better player for it. Best of luck to you on this journey my brother #mambamentality always.

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The message was vintage Kobe, all about the drive and steps to recovery. Focus on the next thing, don’t let any obstacles stop you.

Let’s just hope Hayward can take this to heart and make a full recovery.

PBT Podcast: Gordon Hayward injury, Celtics’ future, opening night news

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The buzz of the NBA’s opening night was killed just a 5:15 into the first game when Gordon Hayward went down with what could be a season-ending ankle and leg injury.

What’s next for Boston now? Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports get into that with this latest PBT Podcast.

They also discuss the opening night game between the Celtics and Cavaliers and what we can take away from it, same with the Houston Rockets upset of the Golden State Warriors. The pair also gets into the Nikola Mirotic/Bobby Portis incident in Chicago (this was recorded just before the Portis suspension came down), the LaMarcus Aldridge extension with the Spurs, and if Joel Embiid should be ticked about being on a minutes limit to start the season.

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.

Michael Jordan scores again, this time with his Jumpman logo

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan is showing he still has the ability to score big – even though he hasn’t played in nearly 15 years.

The Hornets owner’s latest slam dunk off the court might come by way of the NBA’s new uniform contract with Nike.

Since the Jordan Brand is a Nike subsidiary and the namesake of the six-time NBA champion, the Hornets will be the only NBA team to wear the Jordan Brand “Jumpman” logo on their uniforms this season. That would appear to be a merchandising windfall.

After the switch from Adidas, the other 29 NBA teams will wear the Nike “swoosh” on their uniforms.

Charlotte’s All-Star point guard Kemba Walker loves the idea of the Hornets being unique – and knows it’s because of Jordan.

“I mean, he’s the GOAT (Greatest of All Time),” Walker said. “Everybody loves MJ. Everybody loves the way he competed and the way he carries himself.”

Especially off the court.

There isn’t a player in the league who doesn’t want to emulate the NBA’s greatest pitchman.

Though Jordan was not made available to be interviewed for this story, others praised his savvy and longevity.

Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbook is a representative for the Jordan Brand, which sponsors 21 active NBA players. Westbrook is soaking up as much knowledge as he can working with Jordan.

The reigning league MVP said he’s tried to use what Jordan has done with marketing skills as a model for his own success.

“He set himself up, not just on the basketball court, but in business,” Westbrook said. “…. He set himself up tremendously – his kids, his family – by doing the right things on and off the court.”

Jordan last soared through the air in the NBA in 2003. But even now, at 54, his marketability doesn’t seem to be tapering off.

Forbes Magazine estimated last December that Jordan has made $1.7 billion since leaving the University of North Carolina in 1984 – more than any athlete ever.

The vast majority of his wealth has come from marketing, since Jordan earned $93 million during his playing career.

It’s all led to Jordan being able to call his own shots – like exclusive use of the Jumpman logo.

“Well, he does own the team,” Westbook quipped. “He gets to pick that for sure.”

Hornets forward Marvin Williams, who like Jordan played college basketball at North Carolina, said he knows the uniforms will be popular with NBA fans simply because of the “international symbol” Jumpman has become. The logo features a silhouette of Jordan leaping through the air, his legs scissored and one outstretched hand holding a basketball.

“That symbol – I have seen people have it on their clothes, their cars, tattoos,” Williams said.

Larry Miller, president of Jordan Brand, said the logo represents greatness “so it’s a natural fit to have it on the uniforms of MJ’s team.”

“Aligning his team and his brand brings everyone in the Jordan family closer together,” Miller said in an email to The Associated Press, “and it’s a win for both organizations.”

The Hornets recently opened an expanded team store at their downtown arena and are still receiving new Jumpman merchandise, but it’s not staying on the shelves very long.

Hornets executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer Pete Guelli said the team is expecting a “substantial increase” in merchandise sales.

“Being the only Jordan Brand team has a number of inherent advantages,” Guelli said. “It is also our first formal connection to our owner and allows us to explore additional extensions around that unique alignment.”

History indicates it should be a profitable connection.

“Obviously people knew who he was when he played, but when you see a 5- or 6-year-old kid walking around with Jordans on, and know who Michael Jordan is, but have never seen him play,” Williams said. “I have teammates that have never seen him play but know about everything he has done. It speaks volumes not only to what he has done as a player in his career, but it speaks a ton to what he has done post-basketball as well.”

AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

 

Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic out 4-6 weeks with fractured face; Bobby Portis suspended 8 games for punch

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The price to be paid from the fight at Bulls practice Tuesday came into focus Wednesday.

Nikola Mirotic, who suffered a fractured upper jaw and concussion due to a punch from Bobby Portis, will be out at least a month from his injuries, the Bulls announced.

For his part, Portis has been suspended eight games by the Bulls without pay for his actions. He will be able to practice with the team, and can return to action on Nov. 7 against Toronto.

The incident happened during the Bulls practice Monday. This much everyone agrees on: What started as a physical battle for rebounding position around the basket turned into a shoving match between Mirotic and Portis. Also, so far this isn’t unusual, shoving matches happen every once in a while on every team (in every professional sport).

Then Portis punched Mirotic and dropped him, fracturing his face. While the first reports called it a “sucker punch” — likely spin from Mirotic’s agent/camp — Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said he didn’t see it as one. Apparently, neither did Robin Lopez, via Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago.

Whether it was a sucker punch or not is moot — you can’t punch and drop a teammate. It crosses the line.

Mirotic may be the Bulls best player, and certainly will be one of their leading scorers this season. Portis has struggled to live up to his early promise and reportedly is frustrated with his role, and by extension Mirotic. That does not mean you can punch the team’s best player in the face. Rather the opposite.

Can you imagine the reaction of any other organization if their best player got punched by a teammate?

The Bulls have to make a decision on what to do with Portis, who has a $2.5 million team option for next season, then would be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019.