Orlando’s other problem: They are not good right now, get run by Knicks

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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.

Hawks sign two-way Tyler Cavanaugh to standard contract

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ATLANTA (AP) — Rookie forward Tyler Cavanaugh, who originally came to Atlanta on a two-way contract, has signed a multi-year deal with the Hawks.

Cavanaugh has averaged 5.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 19 games, including one start, since signing the two-way contract on Nov. 5.

Cavanaugh, from Syracuse, New York, played two seasons at Wake Forest before transferring to George Washington, where he averaged 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds last season. He was selected the National Invitation Tournament Most Outstanding Player in 2016 after leading the Colonials to the NIT title.

 

Carlos Boozer announces retirement

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Carlos Boozer went from being known as a gritty second-rounder to an overpaid defensive liability.

In some ways, that’s the ultimate success story.

Now, after playing last season in China, he’s walking away.

Boozer on ESPN:

I’m officially retired.

The Cavaliers drafted Boozer with the No. 35 pick in the 2002. After he spent a couple productive seasons in Cleveland, the Cavs declined his cheap team option to make him a restricted free agent – with an agreement he’d re-sign at a reasonable rate if you ask them, with no handshake deal if you ask him.

Boozer bolted for the Jazz, who gave him a six-year, $68 million contract. He made a couple All-Star teams and helped Utah reach the conference finals.

Then, he went to Chicago on a five-year, $75 million contract after the Bulls struck out on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010. The Derrick Rose-led Bulls never broke through, and Boozer was often the scapegoat.

Chicago amnestied him, and he spent his last NBA season with the Lakers three years ago.

Boozer was a pretty good player paid like a very good one, and that didn’t endear him. We mostly remember him for accidentally punching a referee below the belt:

Painting on hair:

And yelling “and one!” after nearly every shot.

For a while, it seemed the 36-year-old Boozer wanted to play another NBA season. But he finally could no longer find a front office eager to pay him.

It’s only fitting that he was denied that last “and one!”

Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis still not talking off court

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The Bulls are 5-0 since Nikola Mirotic returned from an injury suffered when Bobby Portis punched him in the face during a preseason practice. Mirotic and Portis are both excelling individually, and Chicago has outscored opponents by a whopping 34.3 points per 100 possessions when those two share the court.

Jack Maloney of CBSSports.com:

When asked if the two former combatants have spoken yet, Mirotic said, “We did on the floor. We’ve always spoken because we need to have good communication.” As for whether they’ve talked off the floor, however, Mirotic was succinct in his response: “No.”

I guess Mirotic hasn’t completely moved on, though he said he did. But that’s fine. How could someone get past a teammate punching him in the face?

Importantly, this is becoming just a regular NBA problem. The extent of that practice punch was practically unprecedented. But plenty of players have loathed teammates while making it work on the court. That happens more than people realize.

Mirotic and Portis can make this their status quo – at least the on-court cooperation. I’m not convinced Chicago will keep winning like this.

Watch Kobe Bryant’s ‘Dear Basketball’ short film (video)

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Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in a letter called “Dear Basketball,” which was made into a short film.

Now, on the day the Lakers retire his Nos. 8 and 24, you can watch it. It’s quite beautiful: