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Three questions the Orlando Magic must answer this season


The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 29-53, missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season

I know what you did last summer: Orlando fired general manager Rob Hennigan, hired Jeff Weltman and… did little else. The Magic are still jammed with Hennigan’s mistakes. At least they drafted Jonathan Isaac No. 5 and signed Jonathon Simmons, Shelvin Mack, Marreese Speights and Arron Afflalo.


1) Are Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac complementary long-term pieces? Gordon and Isaac are Orlando’s most valuable player. But they also might overlap too much on the court.

Gordon is best at power forward, as last year’s experiment at small forward painfully showed. His ball skills are an asset at power forward, a liability at small forward. He also had a surprisingly tough time defensively at small forward, where he looked uncomfortable chasing smaller players around the perimeter. Get him closer to the paint more often, and Gordon should excel.

Isaac is more of a combo forward, mostly because we haven’t seen him in the NBA yet. He’ll likely play small forward for now, not just because of Gordon, but because Isaac isn’t yet strong enough to handle the physicality of NBA bigs. But long-term, his lack of an advanced handle could push him to power forward.

Maybe Gordon and/or Isaac develop enough perimeter skills to complement each other. Or perhaps Orlando finds guards who can handle the ball enough to relieve the forwards.

Obviously, positional designations can be draconian. But, in broad strokes, the differences between small forward and power forward in the modern NBA speak to a potentially incohesive pairing between Gordon and Isaac.

Though Isaac is just a rookie, Gordon is extension-eligible or headed toward restricted free agency. It’d be nice if the Magic knew whether their two most valuable players can optimize their value together.

2) Is Elfrid Payton worth keeping as starting point guard? Payton is also already extension-eligible, which could delay Weltman from ever putting his imprint on this team. On the other hand, Weltman doesn’t want to lose a good point guard before he breaks out.

A lightning rod for the previous regime, Payton played well enough late last season to instill confidence he might be a long-term starter. He must extend that all-around play over a larger sample to prove it.

If he does, the Magic will have a big decision about how much to pay him (unless they’ve already extended him). If he doesn’t, they’ll have to find a new starting point guard, maybe drafting someone and starting this process over (unless they’ve already extended Payton, which would be a major problem).

3) Will Frank Vogel oversee a top-end defense? The Magic are too far along a win-now plan to punt the season before it even begins. Their path to the playoffs starts with tapping a defensive potential not realized last season.

Vogel’s Pacers defenses ranked ninth, first, first, seventh and third in his five full seasons in Indiana. Despite Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Gordon being expected to comprise an elite defensive front line, Orlando’s defense ranked just 22nd last season.

Ibaka is gone, and this team shouldn’t have as many problems with being oversized. The athletic Simmons is built to defend the wing. Starting center Nikola Vucevic has improved defensively under Vogel. The 6-foot-4 Elfrid Payton is big enough to disrupt opposing point guards. The lengthy Isaac should terrorize passing lanes in due time.

It all looks solid on paper, but the same was said at this time last year. The burden ultimately falls on Vogel, who was touted as a defensive mastermind when hired – and, not for nothing, is working for an executive who didn’t hire him.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell with shot of night to force OT with Spurs


One of the factors to consider in the Rookie of the Year race: clutch plays.

Down three with less than 10 seconds to go Friday night, the Utah Jazz put the ball in the hands of their rookie playmaker Donovan Mitchell — and he made the play, draining a three to force overtime. It’s an impressive play.

In the clutch this season (last five minutes of a game, within five points), Mitchell has averaged 3.2 shots per contest (by far the most of any rookie) and has a true shooting percentage of 51 percent. Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, the other front-runner in the ROY race, averages less than a shot per game in those clutch situations (0.8) and has a true shooting percentage of 66.7 percent.

Mitchell made the big shot, but the Spurs made plenty too, had 45 points on the night from LaMarcus Aldridge, and got the win.


PBT Extra: Who is coming out of the Eastern Conference?

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The Toronto Raptors will finish with the No. 1 seed and all the best metrics in the East, but they have a history of playoff flameouts. The Boston Celtics’ have been hit hard by injuries. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James but also a dreadful defense, this is the most vulnerable a LeBron led team has been since he bolted Cleveland seven years ago.

So what team is coming out of the East?

We get into that in this latest PBT Extra. A poll on Twitter found most of you think the Cavaliers, but personally, I think the Raptors — who have been better defensively all season than the Cavs — may finally have their year.

LaMarcus Aldridge drops career-high 45 points, Spurs beat Jazz in OT

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell‘s 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs’ 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah’s 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Aldridge averaged 32.2 points and 9.0 rebounds during the winning streak, including two double-doubles.

Aldridge scored 28 points in the first half on 12-for-16 shooting, including a 3-pointer.

Utah missed its first six shots and was 4 for 14 as San Antonio grabbed a 19-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Mitchell settled the Jazz, scoring six points to cut the Spurs lead to 29-21 heading into the second quarter.

Mitchell was 14-for-35 shooting while falling six points shy of his season-high.

Derrick Favors added 22 points for Utah and Ricky Rubio had 20.

Ginobili finished with 18 points for the Spurs.


Stephen Curry leaves game with knee injury


In his first night back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games, Stephen Curry limped off the court not to return after in third quarter Friday night after JaVale McGee fell into his knee.

He limped to the bench then eventually to the locker room after the injury.

The severity of the injury is not yet known and should become clear on Saturday after an MRI.

Curry scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being forced to leave the game, and the Warriors held on to win the game.

Obviously, if Curry is out heading into the playoffs, that changes the dynamic in the West, where the Houston Rockets were already right on the heels of the Warriors.