Magic head coach Van Gundy reacts during Game 3 of their NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference basketball game against Hawks in Atlanta

Magic players divided on Van Gundy, so he made calculated play

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Dwight Howard may want what he sees as a little ball of negativity — namely Stan Van Gundy — out of the way, but that’s not what all the other Magic players want. They are a house divided, something that will mean a quick exit from the playoffs.

So, rather than have secret agendas, Van Gundy decided to go public in about the biggest way possible in hopes of getting the team to move past this.

The fact the Magic are a house divided is clear, the theory on why Van Gundy went public comes from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.

The Magic locker room has been divided for most of the season – most siding with Van Gundy, some with Howard, sources say – and it had reached a critical mass with Howard sitting out losses this week to Denver and Detroit.

“The organization has allowed Dwight to set up the coach,” a league source close to management and the coach said. “They have to have a reason to blame someone. If they win, and he gets fired, everyone will know it’s on the player. Losing gives everyone the out when the season’s over, especially Howard.”

A number of Magic players have had their best years under Van Gundy. Hedo Turkoglu was a mess everywhere else but Van Gundy used him as a playmaker and he led the Magic to the finals, Ryan Anderson is having a career season as a stretch four, J.J. Redick has flourished in his system.

So it’s no shock a number of players told Brian K. Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel they backed Howard. Here are Schmitz’s tweets:

Ryan Anderson on Stan Van Gundy: “I love Stan. I think he’s a great coach for us.”

Hedo Turkoglu on Stan Van Gundy: “I want Stan to be my coach forever.”

One player’s comments to me: “Our problem isn’t Stan (Van Gundy). We got one guy who wants to run the show.”

Magic player to me: “I know Dwight will be gone after next season.”

Frankly, Dwight Howard owes a lot of his success to Van Gundy. Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year because Van Gundy set up a defense that funnels penetration to Howard and has him shut it down (something Howard does well). Howard gets room to operate on offense because Van Gundy put in a system with a lot of shooters around him.

At this point, the only question is will Van Gundy be gone during the season or after the playoffs. Either way, Howard had tried to keep the blood off his hands, but now that is impossible. He will get castigated for this, no matter what happens.

Either way, Van Gundy made the smart play. Wojnarowski explains it well.

Van Gundy had a plan here. He understood that these Magic, losers of four straight, couldn’t go on this way. He wanted it out there: Yes, I’m gone. So stop tanking. Stop trying to get me fired. When the season is over, you’ll get your wish. For now, let’s play. Let’s try to win.

“It was that,” a source close to him said, “or they just fire him, and it’s over.”

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.