TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13:  Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic celebrates after a dunk in the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest during NBA All-Star Weekend 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 13, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Aaron Gordon can defend the spot, but is he really a small forward?

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LOS ANGELES — There are nights where Aaron Gordon looks like a future All-Star at the small forward spot. Against Memphis a week ago, he dropped 30 points on 15 shots against one of the best defenses in the NBA. A few nights later coach Frank Vogel assigned Gordon to slow James Harden, and he helped hold an MVP candidate to 14 points. All season, Gordon has been impressive on defense.

However, there are far more nights such as Sunday against the Lakers, when he had the kind of game Magic fans have become entirely too familiar with this season. Gordon spent much of the game as a weak side decoy hanging out in the corner (occasionally rotating up above the break), but as a 32.6 percent three-point shooter this season the Lakers didn’t respect him in that role. Gordon is improving from deep, but he’s not a guy you fear to leave at the arc, and the Lakers did a good job of keeping an eye on him when he cut or in transition. The result was a 0-of-5 shooting night where Gordon was a non-factor in the game.

“Some games you have the opportunity to shoot 30 times, some games you have the opportunity to shoot 10. It’s the way basketball works, it finds you when it’s supposed to find you,” Gordon said postgame. “I need to do a better job seeking it out, cutting off the ball. But like I said, credit the Lakers, they had their head on a swivel and didn’t get caught too many times. It’s when you look to be more aggressive at times.”

It’s the biggest debate in Orlando this season: Is Gordon a three or a four? He had much more success last season at the power forward slot, but when Frank Vogel came to town and saw the roster he was handed — which L.A.-based ESPN personality Andy Kamenetzky accurately described as “the island of misfit toys” — he decided to move Gordon to the three, allowing him to have Serge Ibaka at the four with Nikola Vucevic/Bismack Biyombo at the five.

Gordon’s efficiency has plummeted. His greatest asset was his superior athleticism at the four — his performance at the Dunk Contest in Toronto showed that off — but the move to the three neutralizes some of that. Last season he shot 47.3 percent overall with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.1, this season those numbers have fallen to 43.2 and 50.7 percent. His PER dropped from 17 last season to a below average 13.2. Gordon has the athleticism to play the three, but not the shot.

“He has the ability to impact the game in an opportunistic way — running the floor, getting cuts, crashing the glass,” Vogel said. “The knock on him has always been his perimeter shooting, and he’s grown more and more confident every game as the season goes along, he’s been a knock-down three-point shooter. (Note, Gordon shot 36.5 percent from three in December, but that’s down to 27.6 percent in his last five games.)

“He’s doing some good things off the bounce, that’s probably the last area he needs to develop, and we’re trying to pull him along at the right pace. So we’re asking him not try and do too much there. But he as the ability to be one of those guys who just hurts you a variety of different ways.”

Does he? Gordon is certainly putting in the work — nobody is or should question his effort. After a Laker game where he admitted he came out flat and was not impactful, he was asked how he gets past it.

“It’s a little bit easier at home, you just go to the gym and shoot. On the road, I’ve got to find a gym,” which he proceeded to do.

What Gordon has the ability to do is defend on the perimeter — he’s arguably Orlando’s best perimeter defender now. NBA’s Sports VU tracking cameras show opponents shooting just 40.7 against Gordon this season. Against the Lakers he started on Nick Young and held the streaky shooter in check. After D’Angelo Russell got the Lakers off to a good offensive start with six points and a couple assists, Vogel moved Gordon on to the point guard for a stretch. Vogel tried that a couple of times during the game, but Russell was a little too quick and made good decisions with the space he got from Gordon.

“That’s the value in moving him to small forward — he’s bigger, stronger, and longer than most of the guys he’s guarding,” Vogel said. “He’s got good size to him, where if he’s guarding power forwards and doing a good job maybe he’s undersized against most of those guys. There is value with what we’re doing with him playing small forward….

“He’s got all the athleticism in the world to do it, and it’s not been about blitzing pick-and-rolls and banging in the post, but about chasing guys off screens and guarding the ball.”

That defense is why Vogel and the Magic push back against the idea of Gordon at the four — they need him at the three. They need his defense. So Vogel is just trying to be a teacher.

“Every game is an opportunity to correct, and to positive reinforce what he’s doing well…” Vogel said. “I don’t pretend to come in and give him some mind games or anything like that, in terms of the mental approach, you just try to teach, and through the teaching there are small confidences they gain, and you try to build on that. And show them they have the ability to be great in that way.”

Can Gordon be great at the three spot? No doubt he will put in the work. Maybe Gordon can develop into a three, but he would need the right guy at the four next to him — and that is not Serge Ibaka.

In the best of all possible worlds, Gordon provides Vogel versatility — play him at the three or the four depending on the matchups. But the Magic are not in that ideal world, with too many bodies at the four and five right now, Vogel is getting his best athlete run where he can.

Meaning the Gordon at small forward experiment will remain with us for a while.

John Wall breaks out Shammgod in highlight, Wizards beat Trail Blazers

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Determined not to give the Portland Trail Blazers’ elite guards any feel-good shots, the Washington Wizards knocked down a few of their own and got rolling.

Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Wizards took a page out of the Trail Blazers’ playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

Washington, which relies on the 3-point shot less than almost any other NBA team, made 9 of 13 3-pointers in a 75-point first half and was 13 of 23 in the game.

“When we play defense and get rebounds and get out in transition, teams (have) to collapse when I’m penetrating,” said Wall, who was 10 of 17 from the floor. “We moved the ball very well, and guys were knocking down shots and shooting with confidence.”

Confidence came from a 4 of 5 start and a 10-0 lead as Beal was hot early. He and Wall outplayed Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who Wizards coach Scott Brooks said combined to be as good as any backcourt in the league.

Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

“Just staying down on his pump fakes, making it tough for him, using my length to disturb him and just making sure I keep him in front of me because he’s one of the quickest guards in the league,” said Wizards guard Kelly Oubre, whose 18 points were one shy of his career high.

The Wizards led by as many as 30 on the way to their 12th consecutive home victory and their fourth win in five games. They limited the Blazers to 8 of 26 shooting from beyond the arc, part of which was self-inflicted.

“I thought our whole team struggled offensively,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We didn’t pass and move. We didn’t do things that make us a good offensive basketball team.”

Washington did plenty of things to look like a good offensive basketball team, and Brooks was particularly proud of his team’s ball movement that helped put the game out of reach.

“I think early in the game when guys get good looks and they see the ball go in, they get confident, they start believing,” Lillard said. “Later in the game when we started to contest shots and have more of a presence, it didn’t really impact them because they had already seen the ball go in three or four times on the perimeter.”

THE HOOK

When Marcin Gortat‘s layup with 4:24 left in the third quarter made it 95-65, Stotts had enough and pulled his starting five because he didn’t think the game was going anywhere.

“He’s the coach,” Lillard said. “He took us out of the game, and that was it.”

STREAK OVER

McCollum’s streak of consecutive games with 25-plus points ended at eight. Beal tried to take McCollum off his game early by being physical, and foul pressure mounted.

“We were getting our heads beat in, we didn’t execute our offense, I got some fouls early (and) the game got out of hand,” McCollum said.

MLK DAY

Wearing a shirt with the message: “His dream inspired the world. Never stop dreaming,” Beal took the microphone to address the crowd of 17,395 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Brooks said he always stops by the MLK Memorial during his walks around the National Mall, and Stotts said about half the team went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture after practice Monday.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: McCollum became the eighth player to score 1,000 points this season, joining Russell Westbrook, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant and Isaiah Thomas. … F Maurice Harkless, who was questionable with a left calf injury, was 0 of 5 with no points.

Wizards: Improved to 10-2 when F Otto Porter has at least three 3-pointers.. … Their last 12-game home winning streak came in 1989 as the Bullets. … F Markieff Morris had 17 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

 

Joel Embiid was dunking, blocking, leading Sixers past Bucks (VIDEOS)

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Joel Embiid is making his case to be in the All-Star Game in more places than Twitter.

He made it on the court Monday with a dominant second half — 18 points on six shots — to lead the Sixers to a 113-104 win over the Bucks. The Sixers are 5-2 in 2017, and this gives them a couple of quality wins.

Embiid was both throwing it down with authority — as you can see above — and he was racking up blocked shots as well. He was also showing Jabari Parker you need to go strong to the rim against him, or you get sent home without lunch.

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Carmelo Anthony says he hasn’t spoken to Jackson, wants to remain a Knick

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks during a stop in play against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on January 12, 2017 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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When Phil Jackson (sometimes through his surrogates) starts working his mind games, things are not often clear. However, out of the whole “trade Carmelo Anthony saga” circa 2017 (there have been 2014, 2015, and 2016 versions), two things should be clear:

1. Carmelo Anthony isn’t looking to leave the Knicks.

2. He would rather talk to management and end this rather than have a back-and-forth with the press as conduits.

Anthony reiterated as much Monday at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks had a heartbreaking loss to the Hawks (where New York got hosed on the last call, but Anthony missed a bunny or the game winner). Via Al Iannazzone of Newsday and Ian Begley of ESPN.

Carmelo Anthony was asked about how “much” he wants to remain a Knick and about his loyalty to the franchise: “I think I’ve proven that. I don’t have to speak on that. I think I’ve proven that over the years day in and day out.” Anthony says he’s shown that by being a professional every day in his approach and handling the duties of being the public face of the franchise every day. He’s handled that well, in my opinion.

Anthony chose New York (and a few more wheelbarrows full of cash) over his other free agency options, and he didn’t do that looking to bail. He wants to win in New York.

It’s fair to question if Anthony can win in New York with the direction the Knicks are headed. It’s fair to suggest Anthony should be moved and this team rebuilt around Kristaps Porzingis, but then that should have happened last summer. Instead, the Knicks brought in Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Also, because Anthony has a no-trade clause and doesn’t actually want to be traded, the Knicks would need to put together a nearly impossibly perfect deal — with a contender in a major market willing to pay ‘Melo’s massive salary — for a trade to get done.

Anthony and the Knicks are frustrated. Monday’s loss to the Hawks isn’t going to help that.

Jackson and Anthony should sit down and talk it out. I’d say that’s what happens in a well-run organization, but in a well-run organization it would have already happened. Will it happen in New York? This is the Knicks, they pretty much live in “the upside down” so who knows.

Report: Heat say Hassan Whiteside not available in trade

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside, right, and Los Angeles Clippers forward Wesley Johnson reach for a rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 98-86. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Hassan Whiteside is the Heat’s franchise player.

But Miami is also 11-30, and Heat president Pat Riley has acknowledged a need to rebuild.

Where does that leave Whiteside with a potential trade?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

This is likely based on the Heat’s understanding of the trade market. If another team offered a favorable return for Whiteside, I bet Miami would trade him in an instant. The Heat just haven’t gotten – and seemingly don’t expect – a suitable offer.

Whiteside gives Miami a starting point. It will be more difficult to build through free agency with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement giving greater incentive for stars to stay with their current teams, but what choice do the Heat have but to try? They can still offer a state without income tax, warm weather, nightlife, a winning history and – if they keep Whiteside – a star teammate.

Goran Dragic is the Miami player more likely to be traded.