NBA Playoffs: Atlanta takes Game 4, Orlando is still searching

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We’re well past a mere first round scare or claims of an “upset alert.” With an 88-85 win in Game 4, the Atlanta Hawks have pushed the fourth-seeded Orlando Magic to the very edge of their playoff lives, a considerable achievement considering the regular season profiles of both teams. The Magic were the league’s fourth best team this season according to efficiency differential (per, while the Hawks were merely the 18th best. Atlanta flashed all of the flaws that their ranking would suggest on Sunday night, but it didn’t matter — the Hawks’ Game 4 performance was enough to secure a crucial victory.

The Hawks honestly tried their damnedest to lose this game. They turned the ball over on 15.4 percent of their possessions. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford tried to lock out the rest of their teammates on offense. Josh Smith pulled himself up by the net to chase a blocked shot, which resulted in an automatic goaltending violation — just one of his many head-scratching plays. With 28 seconds remaining in the game and holding just a three-point advantage, Crawford hijacked control of the ball and forced his team into a shot clock violation. One could go on and on with Atlanta’s blunders, but none of it would mean a damn thing; the Hawks made all of those mistakes and then some, and still pulled within a single victory of the second round.

In Game 4, the shot creation issues that have plagued the Magic throughout the entire series were exacerbated by a complete inability among Orlando’s players (save Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas) to connect on even their uncontested shot attempts. Jason Richardson’s absence hurt, if only because it’s hard to imagine that he would have played worse than Hedo Turkoglu (six points, 2-12 FG) or J.J. Redick (two points, 0-6 FG). Gilbert Arenas came back from the dead to contribute 20 points (on 18 shots) to complement Dwight Howard’s 29 points and 17 rebounds, but the rest of the Magic shot an atrocious 27.7 percent from the field, and a frankly amazing 1-of-20 from three-point range. Orlando isn’t an elite offensive team by any means, but they’re sinking lower and lower into the doldrums with every game. It’s widely known that Howard is the only standout defensive player on the roster, but he may be the only standout offensive player, too.

The Magic aren’t quite hopeless, but they haven’t yet demonstrated the ability to win this series. The defense has been up to par, but scoring at a rate of 93.4 points per 100 possessions (Orlando’s woeful offensive efficiency in Game 4) isn’t going to cut it. Unfortunately, Orlando doesn’t have many readily accessible avenues to efficient scoring. Jason Richardson is a genuine help, but he hasn’t established a game-changing precedent in this year’s playoffs; Richardson has largely been interchangeable with his ineffective perimeter-oriented teammates.

So where, really can Orlando turn for more offensive production? Arenas’ Game 4 outburst was nice for the Magic, but depending on Gil is a mistake given his disappointing play this season. Nelson and Turkoglu have proven completely inadequate as Howard sidekicks. Redick and Ryan Anderson can’t capitalize on their opportunities. Brandon Bass has been decent (relatively speaking), but can’t generate the scoring output that Orlando needs. Stan Van Gundy is undoubtedly kept up late at night pondering the best ways to maximize this roster’s offensive potential, but there’s no easy cure for his insomnia. The Magic defense has been there (and held the Hawks to 96.7 points per 100 possessions in Game 4), but no Magic player except for Dwight Howard could — or can — score with any consistency. Orlando’s collective fate isn’t yet sealed, but it may as well be; the skill sets of Orlando’s players aren’t likely to change between now and Game 5, which leaves precious few possibilities for the Magic’s revival.

The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

AP Photo/Winslow Townson
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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.

Rumor: Magic expected to fire Frank Vogel

AP Photo/John Raoux
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Magic president Jeff Weltman inherited an expensive and bad roster, limiting his options to shape it.

He also inherited coach Frank Vogel, and maybe there’s something Weltman will do about that.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

Orlando’s ongoing malaise, especially after the promise of an unexpected 8-4 start, make it a widely held assumption in coaching circles that Vogel will be dismissed after the franchise’s sixth successive season out of the playoffs.

Perhaps, these people in coaching circles are doing nothing more than connecting dots. Many coaches with poor records – only the Suns and Nets have been worse during Vogel’s two-year tenure – inherited by a new front office get fired.

Or it could be something more concrete, like Orlando putting out feelers for potential replacements. That possibility gives juice to this report.

Vogel has one more guaranteed year left on his contract, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Will ownership pay to oust Vogel? That seems likely. The alternative is paying Weltman to sit on his hands.

This would be a tough break for Vogel, who coached well with the Pacers. The Magic’s roster is just so lacking. Vogel hasn’t impressed in Orlando, but his opportunity to do so has been narrow.

At least it’d be more understandable if he got fired by a losing team. Last time, he got fired by a winning team.

Rumor: Bucks, Jabari Parker could part after season

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Jabari Parker is a confounding fit on the Bucks now and in the future.

Could he and Milwaukee part ways this summer, when he’ll be a restricted free agent?

Gery Woelfel on 105.7 The Fan:

At this very moment, I’d say the odds are slim to none it’s going to happen … that he’ll be on this team next year.

I just don’t see a good fit there. I didn’t bring this up, and I’ve been meaning to do so, but I haven’t. He came very, very close to being traded at the deadline. And I think that spoke volumes of they think of Jabari Parker and whether he’s a part of their future plans.

Bucks executive Alex Lasry denied it:

So did general manager Jon Horst. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Horst made it clear both on the radio and in a separate interview with the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday that the Bucks never had any intention of trading Parker

Teams often discuss trading players then deny it to avoid offending the player. Whether or not they nearly traded Parker, the Bucks would probably respond now similarly.

As far as Parker’s future in Milwaukee, it’s unclear where the well-connected Woelfel’s reporting ends and his analysis begins. There’s a huge difference between trading Parker for value and letting him walk for nothing. Just because the Bucks came close to trading Parker wouldn’t mean they won’t re-sign him.

Shedding Parker would not open cap space without additional moves. It would probably allow Milwaukee to use the full mid-level exception and stay beneath the luxury-tax line. But that’s unlikely to land a player who combines Parker’s age and talent.

Because Parker will be a restricted free agent, the Bucks hold the cards. If he’s upset about trade talks or anything else, he can’t unilaterally leave.

Milwaukee must determine how much to pay Parker and how to utilize him with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are hard questions. But the Bucks throwing up their hands and letting Parker walk in free agency isn’t the answer.

Tony Parker: My quad injury 100 times worse than Kawhi Leonard’s

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Tony Parker reportedly led a players-only meeting in which Spurs implored Kawhi Leonard to return.

Leonard injured his quad last season, has played just nine games this season and remains sidelined. The Spurs have reportedly cleared him, but he got second opinions and is waiting for his medical team to clear him.

Parker injured his quad last May then returned in November – and said at the time Leonard would return in 2-3 weeks.

Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News:

It’s not hard to read between these lines.

Though some Spurs reportedly told Leonard to return only once he feels ready, Parker is clearly applying pressure. It’s not working, but he’s apparently not stopping.

These comments don’t befit a healthy organization, which is just so stunning for the Spurs, whose excellent culture has been exalted for year.

Maybe Parker will get his wish, and a shamed-into-playing Leonard will lead San Antonio deep into the playoffs. But it seems more likely these quotes will just increase tension.