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.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.

Kristaps Porzingis officially day-to-day, questionable vs. OKC

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Knicks fans can exhale now.

There was understandable concern after face of the franchise Kritaps Porzingis had to leave the game in Brooklyn Thursday night following a non-contact injury.

Turns out there is nothing to worry about. After the game, Porzingis spoke to the media and was standing on the leg, a good sign. By Friday, after a day of treatment, he was doing well. Officially Porzingis is day-to-day and may sit out Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden Saturday, but the injury is nothing serious. Ian Begley of ESPN has the details.

Porzingis’ knee was “worked on” on Friday and the discomfort in his knee decreased, league sources told ESPN. It is unclear if Porzingis underwent an MRI or had X-rays to further determine the extent of the injury but sources say he did not undergo significant testing because it wasn’t warranted based on the state of the injury.

Good. We don’t need another star down with a major injury this season.

Especially Porzingis, who has led the Knicks to a 15-13 record (sixth in the East, in the playoffs) while putting up All-Star numbers: 25.5 points per game, shooting 39.5 percent from three, plus grabbing 6.6 rebounds a game. Maybe more impressive is how he has anchored a solid Knicks defense this season with his rim protection. Stay healthy and he should make his first All-Star team this season.

Report: Cavaliers not willing to put Nets pick in potential trade packages

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When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to Boston last summer — at Irving’s request — they got something Danny Ainge had held onto for years: The Brooklyn Nets 2018 unprotected first round pick.

From the first moment the Cavaliers got the pick there was speculation they might flip it to get LeBron James more help to chase a title this season (and then, ideally, get him to re-sign with the team next summer). Yet, every utterance from the Cavaliers front office on and off the record was that the pick was untouchable. Consider it LeBron insurance should he leave, and if he stays they can add some good young depth.

Now approaching a third of the way into the NBA season, with the Cavaliers looking good but a clear step behind Golden State or Houston (and with Brooklyn playing better than anyone expected), has their position on the pick changed? No, reports Sean Deveney at The Sporting News.

Nearly two months into the season, circumstances have changed for the Cavaliers, but according to league executives, one thing that has not changed has been Cleveland’s unwillingness to part with that Nets’ pick, even as Brooklyn has exceeded expectations, thus dinging the value of the pick.

“They would be open to a deal by all indications,” one general manager told Sporting News. “But they’re not talking about that pick. That’s the Plan B for the LeBron stuff and from what I know, they don’t want to budge on it.”

It’s an interesting team building philosophical debate for the Cavaliers: When you have a reasonable shot at a title is it better to go all in for the big prize, or do they need to think about what is next, especially with LeBron’s future unsure? (Cleveland is not a title favorite, however, they are still the favorite to come out of the East in the playoffs, and if the Cavs reach the Finals they have a puncher’s chance at least.)

The Cavaliers seem to be leaning toward keeping the pick and thinking a little about the future. The Cavaliers do have their own first round pick — which will land in the mid- to late 20s — to potentially thrown in a trade. It’s a first-round pick, if not a terribly valuable one.

On top of this, just how good the Nets have been must factor into the Cavaliers’ decision. If the season ended today, the Nets pick would be 10th heading into the lottery (which has a 1.1 percent chance of jumping up to the top pick, a 4 percent chance of jumping up to the top three picks, and an 87 percent chance of staying 10th). On our recent podcast looking ahead at the draft, NBC’s Rob Dauster said what a lot of scouts have said: After about player 8, there is a drop off. If the scrappy Nets keep playing this well as the trade deadline approaches, do the Cavaliers change their calculus?

The Cavaliers have reportedly reached out to teams about big men — the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (available), the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol (the team says not available) — but it’s hard to imagine the Cavs getting an impact player that can help them get closer to another title without throwing in the Brooklyn pick. The Clippers aren’t going to take Tristan Thompson and the Cavs pick for Jordan, they will need more.

This is going to be an interesting trade deadline, and Cavaliers are going to be in the middle of it all.

Adam Silver is honest: NFL more likely to expand to Europe than NBA

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Basketball is a much bigger sport in Europe than American football (not to be confused with the futball that rules European sports).

However, in reality, the NFL is far more likely to put a team in London than the NBA. Logistics is why, and why the NBA is much more strongly considering a team in Mexico City (there will be a D-League in the Mexican capital within a season or two).

Adam Silver addressed the NFL’s scheduling advantages for a London team, speaking to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

For the NBA teams closest to London — Northeast teams such as the Knicks or Celtics — the flight time from their cities to London or Mexico City are about the same (a little over six hours). However, for a team such as Miami it is just a little over 3:30 to Mexico City and nearly five hours more than that to London. And as you move West and get to teams from Los Angeles or Denver — not to mention the three teams in Texas — the trip to Mexico City is less than a cross-country flight to play those East Coast teams.

I could see the NBA putting an All-Star Game in London someday, but even that would require a longer break around the showcase game than exists now.

I’m not about to speculate how an NFL team would draw in London, if they could sell out the required luxury boxes and expensive seats, or if they could help broaden the league’s shrinking television audience. But it makes a lot more sense for that league to explore the idea than it does the NBA.