Miami Heat v Orlando Magic

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Magic cool off Heat

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What you missed while watching a guy get bit in the face by a dog on live television

Magic 102, Heat 89: Maybe the Magic owner should tell the media he doesn’t want to trade Dwight Howard before every game.

Orlando played the game it wants to play — good defense (especially challenging in the midrange), have Howard dominate in the middle then play off that with open shooters from three. A lot of threes. Orlando took a franchise record 42 from beyond the arc and got half (51) of their points from there. (I’ll save you the math, they hit 17 of the 42 from three, 40 percent.)

The teams that will give Miami trouble are ones that have bigs who can score — Howard had 25 points and 24 boards as the Heat have nobody who can check him in the least. Ryan Anderson had 27. Dwyane Wade had 33 for the Heat but LeBron James had an off night. One of the other keys to this game was the Magic role players simply outplayed their Heat role players.

Cavaliers 99, Clippers 92: The concern with Chauncey Billups gone for the season was how that would impact the Clippers defense. Well, it’s just one game, but a Cleveland team that is bottom 10 in the league averaging 97.2 points per 100 possessions scored at a 111.2 pace against the Clippers. That’s 8 points per 100 higher than the Clippers average. It’s just one game, but it’s a trend to watch.

Ramon Sessions outplayed Chris Paul. You read that right. Sessions drove up his trade value getting the start for an injured Kyrie Irving (concussion) and had 24 points (on 16 shots) and 13 dimes. The other thing Cleveland has going for it is Anderson Varejao — a big man who can defend Blake Griffin straight up. Oh, Griffin got his (25 points, 14 boards) because he is impossible to stop, but Varejao made him work for it (and work at both ends).

Knicks 107, Wizards 93: Linsanity continues. Jeremy Lin was lined up opposite No. 1 overall pick John Wall and dropped 23 points and 10 boards. There’s no great secret to what Lin does — he attacks hard off the pick and roll. Those attacks are why New York shot 14 more free throws than Washington. The Wizards obliged by playing some of the worst pick-and-roll defense you will see, fighting over the top of picks and basically rolling out the red carpet for Lin to get into the lane. Help rotations were slow to non-existent, but when they came it opened up passes to Tyson Chandler who had 25 points.

Spurs 100, 76ers 90: Tony Parker was the best player on the court by far, 37 points and 8 assists, carving up the Sixers defense on the pick-and-roll. That was the top-ranked Sixers defense we are talking about. Parker was All-Star good (and the Sixers had a bad night, Jrue Holiday looked like a baseball player whose swing is off the game after facing a knuckleball pitcher… I guess Derek Fisher will do that to you). Tiago Splitter, NBA’s most improved player?

Bucks 105, Raptors 99: You can’t stop Carlos Delfino — he had 11 of his 25 in the fourth quarter, including hitting two threes, as the Bucks pulled away to get the win. The Bucks attacked more all game and shot 20 more free throws than the Raptors.

Hawks 97, Pacers 87: Atlanta was in control of this game the entire way. Josh Smith took 9 shots right at the rim and 8 from beyond 16 feet, not exactly the balance one would hope for. But he finished with 28 points and he knocked down both threes he took — it was just that kind of night for the Hawks where whatever they tried worked a lot better than whatever the Pacers were trying.

Pistons 99, Nets, 92: Well, someone had to win this game.

Grizzlies 85, Timberwolves 80: Minnesota looked a step slow — second night of a back-to-back, going without Kevin Love against a good front line, this is kind of what you expect. Memphis grabbed 21 offensive rebounds — 36 percent of the time they missed a shot, they got a second chance. That’s where Love was missed. Rudy Gay had 19 to lead Memphis.

Bulls 90, Hornets 67: The best part of the game was the player introductions. After that, the Bulls defense just smothered the Hornets, holding them to 37 percent shooting and a 74.4 points per 100 possessions pace. Carlos Boozer had 18 to lead the Bulls.

Mavericks 105, Nuggets 95: Really entertaining offensive basketball game — both teams are just hard to defend when they have it going. Dirk Nowitzki has found his mojo (or health or conditioning or whatever it was) and dropped a cool 25. Denver’s ball movement was good but Dallas was active on defense.

Rockets 103, Trail Blazers 96: Portland looked like it never fully got over the heartbreaking overtime loss to the Thunder the night before — they looked physically and mentally tired. By the way, that is back-to-back Trail Blazers losses at home, which just doesn’t happen. Chase Budinger had 22 points on 14 shots and Goran Dragic played well for Houston once Kyle Lowry went down with an arm injury.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.