NBA Playoff preview: Indiana vs. Orlando

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SEASON RECORDS


Indiana 42-24 (3 seed)
Orlando: 37-29 (6 seed)

SEASON SERIES


Orlando won the season series 3-1, but all four games were played with Dwight Howard in the lineup (he had 30 points in the last meeting) and before the wheels came off the bus in Orlando. Also, all the games were before the Pacers found their end of season groove. Not sure you can take much from those games into this series.

KEY INJURIES

Orlando: Dwight Howard is out due to surgery on a herniated disc in his back. Without him the Magic are 5-9 and one of those wins came against Charlotte. Without him they lack any offensive or defensive identity.

Glen Davis: The primary backup at the five for Howard rolled his ankle Wednesday and it questionable for the start of the series. Even if he plays he will not be 100 percent.

Indiana: While Leandro Barbosa and Danny Granger rested at the end of the regular season due to minor injuries, both are expected to play in Game 1.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Indiana: offense 106.7 (7th); defense 103.1 (9th)
Orlando: offense 105.0 (15th); defense 104.1 (12th)

THREE KEY PACERS:

George Hill: Since he has taken over as the starting point guard the Pacers have gone on a run. His numbers are not mind-blowing — 9 points and 4.3 assists per game in his last 10 — but the offense flows better with him and he can defend. (Plus, with him starting the second unit gets an infusion of quickness with Darren Collison.) The Magic are going to run a lot of pick-and-roll and be bombs away from the perimeter, Hill and Collison need to be on their game defensively.

Roy Hibbert: It’s simple, with no Howard to defend him Hibbert should put up monster numbers in this series. He should have his way inside. He needs to not let the Magic get a lot of second chance points, he needs to defend the paint and he should be able to get deep position and do whatever he wishes on offense.

Danny Granger: He’s the best perimeter player on the Pacers and the team’s leading scorer. For Indiana this postseason is about gaining respect then he needs to be the leader at the forefront of that charge. Orlando’s defense without Howard in the middle is weak and Granger should be attack off the dribble and get to the rim.

THREE KEY MAGIC:

Hedo Turkoglu: He came back from a broken face (basically) on Thursday and if Orlando is to win in this series he is going to have to play 2009. He’s a solid player in the pick and roll and can knock down threes, and Orlando is going to have to knock down a whole lot of threes if they are to win this series.

Ryan Anderson: While he has had a strong season he is going to have to find his touch consistently from deep in this series (he is shooting just 27 percent on threes in his last 10 games). What’s more, he’s not a bad rebounder but he’s going to need to be a monster one in this series with Indiana rolling out David West at the four (and Hibbert at the five). Orlando needs to counter the Pacers advantage inside and Anderson will be at the forefront of that.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis. He is going to have to play through that sprained ankle and play well — Orlando’s offensive and defensive schemes are based around having a dominant presence in the paint and Davis needs to fill those shoes for Orlando to have a chance.

OUTLOOK

I think the Indiana Pacers are a whole lot better than people realize, I think they are on a mission for respect, and I don’t see how this Magic team is really going to stop them. Indiana is a team that can beat you any number of ways, usually with balance and depth (five or six guys in double figures every night), something the Magic just cannot counter now. Orlando is 5-5 in their last 10 games and they may win one in this series simply because Anderson or J.J. Redick get hot from three. But for the most part the Pacers are just too solid at both ends of the court — I’d likely pick them even if Howard were healthy.

If the Pacers want respect it will come when they push the Heat six or seven games in the second round. This round is just the appetizer.

PREDICTION

Indiana in a sweep, 4-0.

Kings’ rookie De’Aaron Fox commits California mortal sin, slams In-N-Out

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We Californians take a few things seriously. Surf reports, for one. Winemaking/tasting. Tech toys. Coming up with potential blockbuster movie franchise ideas, getting a star to buy in, then maybe or maybe not worrying about getting a decent script.

Also, In-N-Out Burger. If there is one thing all Californians can agree on, it’s that In-N-Out is the best burger chain in the world. It’s not up for debate.

Apparently Kings’ rookie De'Aaron Fox did not get that memo. He did a Q&A with Rolling Stone’s Seerat Sohi and crossed a sacred line.

“All I gotta say, you can tell everybody that lives in the state of California this: In-N-Out is not good.”

What’s your beef with In-N-Out Burger?
“Their burgers are overrated. They’re OK.”

Even Animal Style?
“Yes. People always say, you haven’t tried this. You haven’t tried that. I’m like, “Yeah, I looked up the secret menu. I’ve tried it all. It’s just not good.”

That’s controversial. What’s the best fast food spot then?
“Honestly, for me, I don’t count Chick-fil-A, because it’s way too good to be considered fast food. So I’m gonna say Wendy’s. Fat Burger in L.A. is better than In-N-Out.”

It’s this simple: Fox is flat-out wrong.

First off, Chick-fil-A is wildly overrated, so we know the taste of the 19-year-old point guard is off. Fat Burger is legit. But Wendy’s? Come on now, that’s just average.

If Fox had tried to argue Five Guys, I would have let it slide — I don’t think they’re as good, but I will admit a California bias. But Wendy’s? You lose the entire argument right there. It’s like saying Pixels was the best movie ever.

In-N-Out is the best. Fox needs to get on board with this.

Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic hospitalized after practice fight with Bobby Portis

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It was going to be a difficult season in Chicago if everything went right — and two days before the first game of the season things have gone horribly wrong.

Bulls’ starting forward Nikola Mirotic got into a shoving match with Bobby Portis, and Portis turned and sucker-punched him, according to multiple reports.

The Bulls have confirmed the fight and have announced Mirotic suffered a concussion and maxillary fractures in his face — the upper jaw and nasal cavity area — which likely will require surgery. He is going to miss weeks of time.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had more details.

Mirotic was taken to the hospital Tuesday after their shoving altercation during practice ended with an alleged cheap shot from Portis to Mirotic’s face, league sources told The Vertical. Mirotic is undergoing tests, but is expected to be out for the foreseeable future, league sources said.

Mirotic will miss weeks, according to a source, and you can be sure severe discipline from the team is coming down for Portis.

In the short term, this likely means more run for rookie Lauri Markkanen as well as just re-signed Cristiano Felicio.

LeBron James will play in opener against Celtics

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Did we really expect anything else?

LeBron James was a game-time decision for the season opener in Cleveland against Boston and Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle. We expected he would go, but ankles can be tricky and are easy to re-injure once sprained, so the Cavs wanted to be careful.

He’s going to play. Coach Tyronn Lue made it official.

LeBron is the best player on the planet, but he can coast through the regular season at times. What teams try to avoid is giving him extra motivation… say bringing in a guy who left the team last summer on opening night. Expect full force LeBron tonight.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.