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.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.