Orlando is a young team in the middle of its rebuilding process, and finished with a record of 23-59 last season, which left them 15 games out of the playoff picture when all was said and done in the Eastern Conference.
But at least one of the team’s players believes this is the year the Magic can make the leap into the postseason.
Maurice Harkless is one of the young pieces in place on the roster, and started half of his team’s games a season ago while averaging 7.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per contest. He feels like the experiences his club went through last season have prepared the team to be much better in the upcoming season.
From Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:
“If you look at us last year we competed with pretty much all the best teams in the league, we even beat a few of them,” Harkless said. “I feel like this year, with that much more experience and guys being that much better after another summer of work, we’ll have a chance to make the playoffs.”
Harkless expects the team to be better on the road this season.
“I think that comes with experience,” Harkless said. “You know, just being able to learn how to close those games out. You look at our road games, we’d be in it for the first forty minutes, and it’s those last eight, last six, even those last four minutes. We just let it get away from us. I think a part of that is being young and learning how to win on the road. It’s a lot different than being at home.”
The Magic were 4-37 on the road last year, the worst in the league. But even if they are able to show a marked improvement in that category, Orlando didn’t appear to add enough talent to be considered favorites to reach the postseason just yet.
Arron Afflalo was traded to Denver for Evan Fournier and Jameer Nelson was waived, and while the acquisitions of Channing Frye and Luke Ridnour may help (as will incoming rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton), it may take some time for all the pieces to fit — even if guys like Harkless and Victor Oladipo mature more quickly than expected.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Cory Joseph made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Toronto Raptors an 84-82 victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.
Kyle Lowry scored 27 points for the Raptors, who before Joseph’s 3 had not led since early in the first quarter.
Joseph took DeMar DeRozan‘s pass in the corner and nailed the winning shot. He finished with 12 points as Toronto won its fourth straight despite tying a season high with 22 turnovers
Bradley Beal scored 20 points for Washington, which lost its fourth straight despite allowing its fewest points of the season.
John Wall added eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, but missed a pair of late free throws that opened the door for Toronto to win in regulation.
With 3.0 seconds left following those misses and a timeout, DeRozan got the ball, drove toward the baseline and kicked the ball out to Joseph in the left corner. Joseph rose and sank his 3-pointer as time expired.
Washington failed to hit a field goal over the final 4:24 to fall to 1-8 in its last nine regular-season games against Toronto. The Wizards did sweep the Raptors in the first round of last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs.
Toronto trailed by as many as 10 before Lowry’s 3-pointer from the left wing tied it at 70-all early in the fourth.
Washington answered with a 10-2 run before Toronto scored the next seven points, with Lowry’s 3-pointer off DeRozan’s kickout making it 80-79.
After DeRozan and Lowry each missed shots with a chance to take the lead, Wall and DeRozan traded free throws. But Wall missed a pair next, setting up the final sequence.
CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James made a running hook shot with a second left and scored 26 points, giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a 90-88 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night.
After Joe Johnson‘s three foul shots tied the game with 15.2 seconds left, the Cavaliers called timeout and took the ball at midcourt.
James took the inbounds pass, dribbled to the top of the key before cutting to the right of the lane and hitting a hook shot over Brook Lopez, the Nets’ 7-foot center.
James scored 10 points and added a key steal late in the game to help Cleveland (13-4) remain unbeaten at home in nine games.
Kevin Love also scored 26 points for Cleveland, which played a sluggish first half and didn’t take its first lead until midway through the third quarter.
Lopez led Brooklyn (4-12) with 22 points. Johnson added 17 for the Nets, who fell to 1-10 on the road.
Tristan Thompson‘s basket with 1:13 remaining gave Cleveland an 86-85 lead and James made two free throws with 16 seconds left, but Johnson was fouled by J.R. Smith attempting a 3-pointer.
Johnson hit all three foul shots, but James made sure the Nets’ strong effort fell short.
James helped Cleveland rally from an 83-76 deficit in the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and a three-point play before the Cavaliers took the lead on Thompson’s basket with 2:44 remaining.
Brooklyn built the lead to double figures in the second quarter and led 50-44 at halftime. Cleveland took its first lead at 61-60 on Love’s 3-pointer midway through the third. Matthew Dellavedova‘s 3-pointer gave the Cavaliers a 69-68 lead going into the final period.
Mo Williams scored 14 points for the Cavaliers while Thompson had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Thaddeus Young had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets.
Back at the start of the season in 2012 and into early 2013, Tobias Harris was buried on the bench in Milwaukee — glued there by coach Scott Skiles. At the trade deadline that February, the Bucks sent Harris to Orlando — where he blossomed into a quality forward that is part of the Magic’s future.
The Magic now coached by Scott Skiles.
Did Skiles want Harris moved at the time? No, he told Journal Sentinel (hat tip Eye on Basketball).
“He was pretty mature as a person even then,” Skiles said of Harris, who left Tennessee after his freshman year to enter the NBA draft. “In camp he got sick; he fell behind.
“At that time, we just felt (Luc) Mbah a Moute was a better defender and (Mike) Dunleavy was a better offensive player, and Tobias didn’t get as many minutes. But we were high on him.
“Not that anybody would have listened to me, but if I would have still been the coach, I would not have been for moving Tobias. That’s for sure, if somebody would ask my opinion.”
Skiles was under pressure to win back then in Milwaukee (he was let go at the end of the season) so you can’t be surprised he was playing the veterans he trusted over the young player who would be making mistakes.
Skiles trusts Harris now; he’s giving him more than 30 minutes a night. While he’s played some small four to start the season, Skiles has switched the lineups and now has Harris starting at the three (Channing Frye is at the four). In that role he has averaged 18 points through two games, Harris has looked more comfortable. We’ll see if that sustains, but you know Skiles is giving him a chance.
As if Golden State was not already a prohibitive favorite Saturday night.
DeMarcus Cousins, who has missed the last two games for Sacramento with a strained back and that will continue Saturday. Our old friend Bill Herenda tweeted it first.
Not only are the Kings 1-6 without Cousins, but they were also on their way to beating Charlotte Monday until Cousins had to leave the game.
Golden State will likely be without Harrison Barnes in this game after spraining his ankle in the last game. Expect Andre Iguodala to get the start, or if interim coach Luke Walton doesn’t want to mess with the bench rotation he could go with Brandon Rush.