Dwight Howard

Can Dwight Howard lead the Magic this season?

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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?

Report: Tyronn Lue urged Cavaliers GM not to fire David Blatt

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 17: Cleveland Cavaliers Associate Head Coach Tyronn Lue (L) talks with Head Coach David Blatt (R) against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of their game on December 17, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Thunder 104-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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At 30-11, the Cavaliers had the best record ever while firing a coach during a season. Cleveland was the first team in a decade to fire a coach that took it to the NBA Finals the year prior.

Maybe firing David Blatt was the right move, but on the surface, it seemed outrageous.

Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

I’m not sure I buy all this. It’d look bad if Lue undermined Blatt in any way.

But the Cavs asked for this situation when they hired the runner-up in their head-coaching search to assist the winner. Lue didn’t have to do anything for that call to happen. The situation opened the door for it.

And it worked out. Lue has done a masterful job guiding the Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals. We’ll never know how Blatt would’ve done if he remained on the job, but Lue has set an excellent bar. I’m not yet sold Lue is a great head coach, but for this team – and the difficult task of communicating with LeBron James and elevating Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, who’d be featured stars on many teams – Lue has been aces.

Seven questions that will shape Game 7 between Thunder, Warriors

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder defends against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the third quarter of game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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There are no more secrets. There are no major adjustments — at this point both teams know what they want to do and what the other team will try to do, it’s a simple matter of execution. Except it’s not going to be that simple. Here are seven questions that will shape the outcome of Game 7.

1) Are the Thunder moving the ball or relying on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook too much in isolation? Don’t take my word for it that the past couple of games the Thunder have fallen back into bad habits, listen to coach Billy Donovan from after Game 6: “That hasn’t been us the last month and a half. Thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.” The Warriors are a good a defensive team — with good man defenders like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — and if you’re predictable you’re defendable. The Thunder have become predictable and isolation heavy, especially when games get tight. That works during the regular season — they have Westbrook and Durant after all — but they need to do better in Game 7. The Thunder must move the ball, the best barometer of that is whether Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson are getting touches and points. If so, the Thunder are much harder to guard and much more likely to win.

2) Are the Warriors’ threes falling?
Look at the Warriors’ shot chart from Game 6.

Warriors Game 6 shotchart

Golden State shot just 48.1 percent at the rim and were 2-of-16 from three feet to the arc. The Thunder blocked 10 shots and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds — on a lot of levels did a lot of what they needed to do to win. The Warriors three-point shooting — particularly Klay Thompson and his record 11 threes — wiped that out. If Golden State is hitting from deep, they are next to impossible to beat. The Thunder need to chase Warriors’ shooters off the arc, then say a little prayer the Warriors don’t just keep hitting from deep anyway.

3) Which small ball lineup wins the battle? For most of this series, the Thunder had out Warriored the Warriors — Oklahoma City’s small lineups (where Durant plays the four) had outplayed Golden State’s small lineups. It seemed foolish to call the Warriors small ball lineups the “death” lineup, except that it was getting them killed. Golden State needs Andrew Bogut this series. That said, in Game 6 the death lineup — Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Green — was +12 in 11 minutes. It worked again. Both teams are going to go small for stretches, whichever team has more success doing so will have a huge leg up in this game.

4) Which team controls the glass? Oklahoma City is the naturally better rebounding team, arguably the best rebounding team in the NBA, with a big front line of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter (plus Westbrook is a great rebounder for his position, as is Roberson). However, in the Warriors three wins they are +4 total on the glass — they have either hung with or bested the Thunder on the boards. Golden State needs to have that rebounding focus again (while still finding a way to get out in transition) and limit the Thunder’s second chance points — if OKC can dominate the glass they will be flying to Cleveland for Game 1 Thursday.

5) What random role player steps up with a huge game? It’s a Game 7 tradition: Some player nobody expects ends up immune to the pressure and has a big game. Stars can get tight standing in this bright a spotlight, and role players can win the game for their team. Will it be Iguodala making it happen on both ends for the Warriors? Will it be Waiters knocking down threes? Will Shaun Livingston have the game of his life? Maybe it’s Kanter’s night. Somebody is going to step up.

6) Is Stephen Curry the MVP version of himself? Is Kevin Durant? In Game 6, Curry was just okay in the first half, and the Thunder were up by double digits and seemed in control of the game for much of the first 24 minutes. In the third quarter Curry scored 11 straight Warriors points in one stretch, then in the fourth he had a couple of key threes and had the ball in his hands making plays when the Warriors pulled ahead and won. That Curry needs to show up again, and not just for part of the game. Credit the Thunder defense for making Curry struggle — their smooth switching on defense with long and athletic players — has given him fits. But no defense can contain Curry when he’s on (and healthy, which I’m still not convinced he’s 100 percent).

Kevin Durant was 10-of-31 shooting in Game 6 — he was off, and like any shooter that did not stop him from firing away. That’s the mentality he needs to have, that also cannot happen in Game 7. The Thunder need the MVP Durant (and the good Westbrook) to fuel their offense — he has to be scoring, he has to be passing when the double comes, he has to play great defense. He has to be an MVP.

7) Can Oklahoma City get over the disappointment of not closing out the series at home? Game 6 was a punch to the gut of the Thunder. That was their chance to close out the Warriors at home, Oklahoma City controlled the game early but never could put Golden State away, then got beat in the fourth when Klay Thompson got hot and the Thunder became predictable. Durant said Sunday that if they enter the building Monday acting like it’s a funeral, they will lose. He’s right. But can they forget about Game 6 and get back to the things that got them a 3-1 series lead, or is their head still going to be in Sunday night, especially the first time something goes wrong?

Ticket prices for Thunder/Warriors Game 7 like Finals; someone paid $29,000 per courtside seat

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 18:  A fan waits in the stands prior to game two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 18, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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If you want to see Game 7 at Oracle Arena Monday night, hopefully you just sold your tech startup for a lot of cash. Or you run a hedge fund.

Just how hot a ticket is Game 7 between the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Golden State Warriors? These are hotter than recent NBA Finals tickets. The only game recently selling for more was Kobe Bryant‘s final game at Staples Center.

At secondary ticket seller StubHub, the cheapest tickets start $360 per seat — that’s for behind the basket at the top of the arena. Lower bowl behind the baskets is more like $850-$900 per seat, and if you want good seats near the floor the price is north of $5,000 per seat. Seatgeek.com

Over at Seatgeek.com the prices are in the same ballpark, if you want to be in the lower bowl on the side of the court the seats start at $2,300 and climb quickly.

The Warriors’ official ticket resale site is run by Ticketmaster — the idea is for the Warriors have more control over the secondary ticket market for their games, something StubHub sued over and is appealing a lower court decision to dismiss the case — had an even bigger sale, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.

The Warriors put the few remaining tickets on sale Sunday night, with prices ranging from $230 to $2,150. They sold out in less than five minutes.

Those prices did not include any floor seats, which were sold out. But someone did go to the Warriors’ resale site, run by Ticketmaster, and purchased two floor seats for $29,000 each.

TNT will broadcast the game for free (well, free if you have cable), and they will do monster numbers. Game 6 on Saturday night averaged 10.8 million viewers, the most of any playoff game this season, and this should crush that number.

 

Report: P.J. Carlesimo not joining Sixers staff despite mutual interest

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This week, the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach, opening up a spot for a lead assistant on Brett Brown’s bench in Philadelphia. Reports indicated that veteran coach P.J. Carlesimo was the frontrunner for the job, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that that isn’t happening.

So the Sixers’ search continues, and one would have to imagine that the Colangelos will be looking for a veteran, only fueling speculation that they aren’t quite sold on Brown long-term. It’s worth keeping an eye on the situation.