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.
Devin Booker was the story of the NBA Friday night.
The 20-year-old Suns’ guard — who never scored more than 19 points in a game at Kentucky in college — dropped 70 on the Boston Celtics in a losing effort. He becomes only the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 70 in a game. At the end the Suns were fouling and calling time outs to stop the clock and get the ball back to Booker, but as Phoenix coach Earl Watson said to those who complained, “You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”
NBA Twitter exploded at what Booker did.
Booker himself responded this way.
There was no hesitation. None was expected.
After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.
Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.
Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.
The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.
And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.
Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”
Jerry West said he loved him like a son.
Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”
The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.
Check out the highlights above.
Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.
Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.
During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.
Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.
Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.
The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.
According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.
Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).