Orlando had already lost four in a row and looked a mess before its “Dwightmare” began on Thursday — when coach Stan Van Gundy threw Dwight Howard under the bus because Howard had spent the year trying to throw Van Gundy under the bus. It was a struggling team now distracted by a soap opera with its star and coach.
Those to factors — combined with a surging Knicks team growing in confidence — led to a perfect storm and Orlando getting routed 96-80 at the hands of New York. The loss dropped the Magic back into a tie with Atlanta for the fifth/sixth seed in the East. Meaning no homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. The Magic are just 2.5 games up on the seventh-seed Sixers — and the Magic do not want to slide back to the seven or eight seed and get the Heat or Bulls in the first round.
Which means they need to figure things out quickly.
They thought getting Howard and Jameer Nelson back from injury would spark the offense again, but it didn’t — the Magic shot just 41.7 percent. They did okay from three but they scored at an efficiency of just 94.9 (points per 100 possessions). Howard had 2 points through three quarters. Which is better than Nelson did inside the arc (0-8).
The Magic offense has been pretty pedestrian this season, they are 16th in the league in efficiency. But this was a new low.
Credit the Knicks for some of that — they have the personnel to match up with Orlando. They can single cover Howard with Tyson Chandler so guys can stay home on the Magic’s shooter — Mike Woodson changed things up and the Knicks doubled Howard much more in this game and gave up more threes. But it still worked. Orlando was unimpressive.
It’s hard to see how this team rights the ship and gains momentum now — the locker room is divided and there will be a cloud of questions following their every move. A couple months ago they seemed a solid three seed in the East — they were not contenders but they were better than the rest. As their defense has slipped so have they.
Meanwhile, the Knicks just keep racking up wins. New York got 19 points from Carmelo Anthony (but it took 16 shots to do it), plus they got 15 each off the bench from J.R. Smith and Toney Douglas. The Knicks are 1.5 games up on the Bucks who are the nine seed, they also are 1.5 games back of the slumping 7 seed Sixers.
Things are far from perfect in New York, but it had to be nice to go into a game where they had the more stable coaching situation and were less of a soap opera.
This not only changes the Kings dreams of making the playoffs in the West, it also alters the trade deadline and free agency.
Rudy Gay, the Kings wing and second-leading scorer, has been diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, according to the team. During the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers, Gay drove out of the right corner and, untouched, fell to the floor hard. He had to be helped off the court by teammates.
Team doctors made the initial torn Achilles diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed by an MRI scheduled for Thursday. He would be out not only for this season but likely the start of the next one as well.
Without Gay, a lot more will fall on Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings, and with that team’s playoff chances have taken a hit (they are 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers). Don’t be surprised if the Kings look to add a scorer at the trade deadline.
Gay was not happy in Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone potentially traded before the deadline (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted that). Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Kings, and while his game was a little old school — more isolation and midrange shots than teams prefer — he put up points. Enough that he was drawing trade interest heading toward the deadline from Oklahoma City and other squads.
That is all off the table now. At age 30, if Gay does still opt out of his contract for next season this will impact what he would make on the free market.
Kevin Durant playing the Thunder invites extra emotions.
Russell Westbrook felt them – in the form of a flagrant foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who stood over Westbrook for emphasis.
Pachulia is really embracing his role doing the dirty work for star-studded Golden State.
That rumor No. 1 pick Ben Simmons won’t play this season?
It just won’t die.
Even after Simmons tried to quash it, even after the 76ers’ CEO outright denied it, even after Simmons returned to practice, even in an otherwise optimistic report.
Chris Haynes of ESPN:
76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.
Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.
76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.
It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.
The Hornets did so much right in their 107-85 win over the Trail Blazers, even a bad pass went through the hoop.
Roy Hibbert reacted fantastically to blunder/basket (blasket?).