Magic say Dwight Howard either signs extension or “decisions will be made”

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Maybe the Orlando Magic learned a lesson from the disaster that was last season.

Heading into this summer the Magic’s top priority is to get Dwight Howard to sign a long-term extension with the team, but CEO Alex Martins — the guy who worked hard to buddy up to Howard last season — sounded more definitive than he has in the past.

Here is what he said after the Magic were eliminated from the playoffs by the Indiana Pacers Tuesday, via tweets from David Baumann of BHSN & News 13 in Orlando:

I asked #Magic CEO Martins if he’ll trade #dwighthoward: “We’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it…#1 goal is to get him to sign ext.”

Magic CEO Martins told me on camera #dwighthoward needs to sign long term extension or “necessary decisions will be made.”

Magic CEO Martins wants long term extension from #dwighthoward” so we don’t go thru a season like we went thru this year,” he told me.

Last season was a disaster. That despite stretches on the court when Orlando played well and looked like the third best team in the East.

But that calm surface belied what was really going on below — Howard had asked for a trade and listed the teams he would go to (Lakers, Mavericks, Nets). But the Magic (and CEO Martins) worked hard to change his mind, to sell Howard on how much he was part of the Magic family. Eventually Howard did change and say he wanted to stay. Then he reversed and asked for a trade again. Then he reversed again and eventually decided to sign a paper waiving his right to opt out this summer and he stayed with the Magic. In all that, Howard asked the Magic to fire coach Stan Van Gundy, which Van Gundy got word of and made public.

It was a train wreck that would have derailed the Magic season even if Howard had not ended up needing back surgery for a herniated disc and missing the end of the season and the playoffs.

For Howard, it sounded like he wanted to find a way to make it work out in Orlando but those around him were pushing him to opt out this summer and test the market. Howard was not in control of his own people.

For Orlando, they bent over so far backward to try and keep Howard happy and in house that they allowed the situation to spiral out of control.

Maybe Martins means what he says now. As the summer arrives time has come for Howard to make a decision. The money isn’t the issue here — Howard is a max player and will get the Magic’s max offer or someone else’s (Orlando can offer one more year and larger raises, totaling about $30 million more than anyone else).

The Magic may make some concessions to Howard — Stan Van Gundy says he wants to return as coach but nobody outside the organization and around the league expects him to. But a new coach will not solve the roster issues that have the Magic behind the Bulls and Heat, and maybe even the improving Pacers and others in the East. If winning is really Howard’s priority then he has some tough decisions to make.

So does Jameer Nelson — the Magic’s point guard and second best player can opt out of his deal this summer ($7.8 million next year) as well and is interested in some long-term security. Here is what Nelson told the Magic’s official reporter.

“I’d love to stay here in Orlando and I want to be in Orlando. I have to sit down with my agent and my family and decide what’s best for myself,’’ Nelson said. “We just have to sit down and talk to the organization about what’s going on and make a decision.’’

What is going on with the organization? That’s the question.

Martins sounds in those quotes like a guy who wants some more definitive answers this summer — Howard needs to sign an extension or they are shopping him around. Which is what they need to do. They have shown Howard how much they want him, but in the end this is a business and Howard either needs to be in or out.

We’ll see. This summer in Orlando could be almost as interesting as the past season. But the Magic hope not.

Bucks’ Khris Middleton, dealing with illness, misses practice

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Bucks wing Khris Middleton missed practice with an illness that has been bothering the Bucks’ second-leading scorer (14.7 points) all week.

Middleton was 3 of 8 for eight points in 35 minutes in the 118-93 Game 5 loss in Toronto that gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead. Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said he didn’t think the illness was a factor, and that Middleton had good looks and played well defensively. He expected Middleton to start on Thursday and said he wasn’t pondering any lineup changes for Game 6.

The Bucks got a day off from practice then returned to practice Wednesday after a brief break from what has been an increasingly rugged series.

After getting blown out in Game 3 by the Bucks, the Raptors won the next two games in part by being more physical and slowing down Milwaukee.

Sometimes, a young team needs to learn from failure to get better.

Kidd hopes his players build on the lessons learned from a stinker of a Game 5 in their opening-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. They need to regroup quickly to avoid elimination when the Raptors and Bucks meet Thursday night at the Bradley Center.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Kidd said when asked about whether his players learned from the blowout loss. “Today, I thought guys were focused, understanding what we have to do. It’s not hard, but for us the process of being able to be consistent is the one thing that we struggle with.”

Workaholic forward Giannis Antetokounmpo might have been the only player who didn’t want a breather.

“I don’t know, for me, I didn’t need an off-day. But for sure some guys played a lot of minutes, their bodies are sore,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think for some guys it’s good to get some rest so we can bring more energy tomorrow.”

For all of his athleticism, the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo lacks playoff experience when compared to the postseason-tested Raptors.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton are playing in their second career playoff series after the Bucks lost in six games to top-seeded Chicago in 2015. Antetokounmpo’s role has changed now that he’s the focal point of the offense, so he faces more defensive scrutiny.

The team surrounding Antetokounmpo and Middleton has been almost completely made over since then, with injured forward Jabari Parker and center John Henson the only other holdovers. Henson has only played three minutes against Toronto.

Two other starters, guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Thon Maker, are rookies. Even center Greg Monroe, a seven-year veteran who provides scoring punch off the bench, is making his playoff debut. Fourth-year players Tony Snell (Bulls) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers) joined the Bucks this season, brought to Milwaukee in part because of their postseason experience.

In contrast, the Raptors have been through about every conceivable playoff situation after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season. Led by one of the best backcourts in the game in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto is no stranger to adversity.

“You definitely see that experience come into play and we just understand the moment probably a little bit more than them. That’s not to take away (anything) from them,” DeRozan said. “They are a great team, a young team and this is definitely going to be an experience they will learn from and carry over but for now it’s something we have to keep in mind and understand the moment of going into every single game … to try and close this thing out.”

Milwaukee’s transition game is off track with 31 turnovers over the last two contests.

“That’s the physicality part, because it’s the playoffs, because it’s more intense. You get away with slaps, holds, grabs and that’s a trick of the trade,” said Jason Terry, a 17-year veteran who is averaging about 10 minutes a game off the bench for the Bucks this series.

“If you haven’t (been) through that, you don’t know it until you face it,” Terry said. “I think for us being a young team, now that we’ve seen it four or five games consecutively, hopefully now we can adjust.”

NOTES:

 

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

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It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty: