Orlando did not look very impressive in their first preseason game, a 118-85 drubbing at the hands of the Heat. To which the normal — and correct — response is: so what? It’s their first preseason game, it’s meaningless. Dwight Howard was off for a night and we should not care. Nobody expects playoff execution levels and focus here.
But over at ESPN, Brian Windhorst raised an interesting question — can Dwight Howard motivate and lead this team to overcome these kind of situations in the future?
The Magic starters got run over by the Heat’s bench (which is not a terribly impressive collection) with very little fight. Even in the preseason that should lead to a little fire from the Magic going forward.
Howard said he wanted to rally the troops.
“I told the guys we’re in this together … we’re going to stay on the path to win a championship,” Howard said. “Like I told the guys, at the present time we’re all on the same team and we’re all in this together. Until that changes, we should go out and play hard every night….
“[I’m] keeping the guys in line and not letting them lose focus of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Howard said. “I’m not really focused on [the trade] right now.”
But are his teammates listening? Howard has a trade request out there, do his teammates really feel like he wants to be there and be one of them playing hard every night? It’s easy to imagine a scenario where they do not.
One preseason game offers no real indication, but that doesn’t make the question any less valid. Every team faces adversity over the course of a season and one of the things that defines the best teams is how they respond to it.
Howard and Jameer Nelson are not going to combine to go 2-for-19 most nights like they did in this first game of the preseason. The Magic are better than that. But how this team deals with the swirling trade rumors that will go on all season — until Howard is traded or agrees to an extension — are going to be a challenge to play through. The team needs a leader.
Can that be Howard?
Apparently, all it takes is a little public discussion of LeBron James‘ “broken” jump shot to get him back on balance and knocking down the three ball — he was 4-of-6 from deep Wednesday.
Then again J.R. Smith was 7-of-13, Kyrie Irving 4-of-5, and as a team the Cavaliers knocked down a record 25 threes — while shooting 55.6 percent — as they wiped the floor with the Hawks in Game 2.
In case you’re curious where the Cavs were hitting from, here’s the team’s shot chart.
The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.
The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.
Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.
On Monday, the Hawks played the Cavaliers close and even led in the fourth quarter, leading plenty of optimism that Game 2 would be equally competitive, that the Hawks had something to build on.
The Cavs dominated from the start on Wednesday, with a 123-98 final score that was far closer than the game actually was — the Cavs led 74-36 at the half and led by as much as 38 at one point in the second half.
The Cavs also hit 25 three-pointers, which is the all-time record for a single game — regular season or playoffs. J.R. Smith hit seven of them, along with four each from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and three for Kevin Love.
18 of Cleveland’s threes came in the first half, also a playoff record, and this was all Atlanta could do:
That’s the kind of night it was for the Hawks, who now trail 2-0 in the series as it heads back to Atlanta.
LeBron James has always been an incredible passer. In the midst of the Cavs’ Game 2 beatdown of the Hawks, he zipped this one-handed beauty into the paint to Kyrie Irving, who kicked it out to Kevin Love for a corner three:
The three was just one of the 18 Cleveland hit in the first half, which set an NBA playoff record.