Orlando tries to send message to Howard: Look, we can beat Bulls

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Everything Orlando does for the next 6 days is colored by Dwight Howard trade talk.

That includes their 99-94 win over Chicago Thursday night — the Magic are trying to convince Howard that they can be contenders with him in tow if they just make a couple tweaks. Beating the actual contenders from Chicago and snapping their eight-game win streak — even if the Bulls were without Richard Hamilton (shoulder injury) and playing their fourth game in five nights — can be taken as a sign if you want it. Like finding a burn mark on a pancake that vaguely looks like the Virgin Mary can be a sign if you really are desperate for it to be.

I doubt Howard sees it that way. The fact is this game will have little if any impact on Howard, but it may make the Magic lean even more to the idea that they are not going to move Howard before the deadline.

As for the game itself, these are the kinds of outings that will keep Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau up at night but are really just lockout induced — this was the fourth game in five nights for Chicago, who flew in after beating Milwaukee on Thursday. They looked like a team with tired legs.

Orlando started out hot, putting up 37 points on the Bulls in the first quarter and shooting 67 percent well into the second quarter. The Magic hit 7 of 13 in the first half — it is very difficult for any team to defend them when they are knocking down threes. Orlando finished 11-26 (42.3 percent) from three for the game.

Especially when Howard is playing well. And he was. He overpowered the Bulls inside and had 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting for the game.

But the Bulls chipped away at that lead. They got close to Orlando a few times but struggled to get over the hump — a couple turnovers and a couple threes by Jason Richardson sparked a 13-4 run by the Magic to end the third quarter and keep the Magic up by 8 (79-71).

But in the fourth the Bulls finally got there. A Carlos Boozer elbow jumper gave Chicago a 91-89 lead with 2:50 left. But they couldn’t hold it — The Bulls shot 2-for-10 as a team in the final five minutes with Kyle Korver going 0-5 and Derrick Rose going 0-3. (At one point in the fourth quarter they were 0-8 on shots to tie the game or take the lead.) Chalk that up to tired legs on a tough stretch.

The momentum seemed to turn in the fourth when Jameer Nelson threw an impressive ally-oop to Howard. Next trip down for the Magic Rose defended a Nelson drive well but in a scramble for the loose ball Nelson gets it and kicks to a wide-open Ryan Anderson for three. That was pretty much it.

Jason Richardson had 18 for the Magic, Hedo Turkoglu had 13. Carlos Boozer had 26 for Chicago (and shot 2-of-3 in the final five minutes, the one Bull to hit shots) and Rose had 17.

Orlando can try to convince themselves this means something big if they want. It doesn’t. But if they convince themselves it does it can be more fuel on their fire not to trade Howard. It’s hard to view this game through any other lens.

Report: Nets, Sixers to try and land J.J. Redick as free agent

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Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get all the headlines as the big Clippers’ big free agents, but there is another Clipper going to get paid this summer:

J.J. Redick.

One of the best snipers in the NBA, he shot 42.9 percent from three last year. However, he’s become much more than just a shooter. No player works harder off the ball to get open than Redick, he’s got enough game to put the ball on the floor and create if he gets closed out on, and he’s a solid team defender. He has remade his body and his game since his days at Duke, and now he’s going to get paid.

Maybe by Brooklyn or Philadephia, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Multiple league sources I’ve spoken to expect the Sixers and Nets to make a hard push at Redick. Were he to go to either of those teams, Redick could receive an opportunity unlike anything he’s had before. He is one of the greatest 3-point shooters in league history, and is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high six 3-point attempts per game. That’s a lot of triples, but it’s not enough. Even Sixers swingman Robert Covington averaged more last season, at 6.1 per game, and he shot only 33.3 percent. A gunslinger of Redick’s caliber should be averaging about 8.5 treys, in the same range as Klay Thompson or Eric Gordon. Had Redick taken 8.5 3s last season and posted the same 42.9 percent clip, he would’ve averaged 18.2 points per game. Redick could receive those chances with the Sixers or Nets, all while living within close proximity to his home in Brooklyn.

Redick will have options, the question is what does he want? Does he want to be close to home in Brooklyn? Does he want to both help on the court and mentor off it the up-and-coming Sixers? Would he take a little less money, and a couple fewer shots, to chase a ring? Does he want to stay a Clipper?

Redick has earned the right to have options, his skill set could help any team. He may be flying under fans’ radar, but not front office executives. They see Redick’s value. Which is why he will have options come July 1.

Report: Nuggets plan to make free agent run at Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap

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Denver likes its young core. As it should. Nikola Jokic looks like a franchise cornerstone piece at center. Young guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are clearly part of the future. Emmanuel Mudiay and Juan Hernangomez may be as well.

What Denver needs most is an upgrade at the four — someone who can defend, rebound, and space the floor. It’s a top off-season priority (and why they came up as a third team in the Kevin Love/Paul George trade talks, but that appears dead now).

Instead, expect the Nuggets to be aggressive on the free agent market. Via Marc Stein and Chris Haynes at ESPN.

Denver, according to sources, hopes to crash the list of suitors for Los Angeles Clippers unrestricted free agent Blake Griffin and Atlanta Hawks unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap.‎

Denver’s interest in Millsap is no secret and they will likely come in with a big offer, and it’s known he’s likely to leave Atlanta this summer. He’d be the perfect fit with his ability to defend other fours (he almost made the NBA All-Defensive Team), he is strong on the glass, and he shot 31.3 percent from three last season (you have to respect him out there). Griffin is more athletic and a better passer than Millsap, but he’s not the same level of defender, and he comes with more injury concerns. He also could stay with the Clippers.

Denver has positioned itself to be a player, a team going after one more big star to position itself not just in the playoffs in the West but as a team fast on the rise. Whether the Nuggets can out-recruit teams for elite players, remains to be seen. Millsap, Griffin and players of that level have options and a lot of teams chasing them.

However, Denver is one confident organization right now.

Twitter is confused: Isaiah Thomas, Damian Lillard got All-Defensive team votes

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Isaiah Thomas is deservedly an All-NBA player and likely finished fifth in MVP balloting after a monster season. Damian Lillard is an All-Star level player who averaged 27 points a game for Portland last season.

Neither of them are good defenders. At all.

Both got one NBA All-Defensive second team vote.

There are no great defensive metrics, but the best snapshot one out there is ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, which weighs a lot of factors into how a player and team defends. Thomas finished 86th out of 86 potential point guards, and second to last in the entire NBA (to answer your question, Doug McDermott was worse). Lillard finished 65th among point guards, in the range of Brandon Jennings and J.J. Barea. One stat certainly should not be a deciding factor for voters, but Twitter was rightfully confused how either of them got an All-Defense vote.

Isaiah Thomas chimed in, but he wasn’t defending himself.

On Tuesday the NBA will release a full breakdown of which media members voted and who they voted for on all the awards. (For the record, I had a vote, and I didn’t vote for either of them here). The NBA’s voting system can be a challenge because it’s pulldown menus with a lot of players, it could just be an error, but you can bet Twitter will be ready to ask.

Sixers young core already nicknamed “FEDS,” Durant thinks they should play a game first

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Hype is high in Philadelphia.

They have two NBA All-Rookie players on the roster already — Joel Embiid and Dario Saric — and next year they add to the roster the last two No. 1 picks, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. If I were a Sixers’ fan, I’d be Rocky climbing the stairs pumped — this team has real potential. So much so there’s already a nickname.

Kevin Durant and the Warriors were out taking batting practice at the A’s Stadium — that’s what you get to do when you’re NBA champs — and KD thought the Sixers may want to slow their roll and actually play a game together first.

Personally, I like the nickname. Now, will all four of them be on the Sixers in three years? Odds are at least one is gone, this is a cruel business. This was jumping the gun, but so what? Sixers fans deserve to be able to crow about something after the past couple of years.