The Magic's third-quarter run against the Celtics

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On Sunday, the Magic were able to beat the Celtics on the Celtics’ home floor thanks to an absolutely dominant 36-11 third quarter. On NBAplaybook.com, Sebastian Pruiti has a video breakdown of three key sequences in the quarter.

The Magic’s offensive formula isn’t a state secret. They put Dwight Howard on the block, surround him with three-point shooters, and dare opposing defenses to pick their poison. The Celtics are one of the teams best-equipped to defend this strategy. Kendrick Perkins is one of the few defenders in the league who can keep Howard from getting the shots he wants in the paint, allowing the rest of the Celtics to stay at home on the Magic’s shooters.

In the three sequences highlighted by Sebastian, we can see three of the ways the Magic overcame the Celtics’ defense, in particular the matchup of Kendrick Perkins on Dwight Howard.

1. Dwight Howard Continues To Evolve His Game

Howard is an absolute monster around the rim. He has a combination of strength, speed, and hops not seen since Shaq was shattering backboards, and he loves to throw the ball down with authority. However, Howard has had some issues with expanding his offensive arsenal. Against Perkins, Howard is forced to get baskets with finesse instead of power, and he was able to do that in the third quarter. In the first possession shown, Howard faces up Perkins from the left block and makes a sweeping hook going across the lane. It’s an unblockable shot, and one Howard rarely found the net with when Boston and Orlando met in the playoffs last season. Later in the quarter, Howard showed some touch from the outside, again facing up Perkins on the left side of the floor and knocking down a 13-foot bank shot. Howard will always be at his best in the immediate basket area, but if he can make shots like those consistently, he’ll be much harder to take out of a game.

2. The Magic Push The Ball and Spread The Floor

In the second possession shown, we see the Magic pushing the ball in transition and finding Rashard Lewis in the corner for an open three-point look. The Magic aren’t known for their ability to run the break; they’re only 23rd in the league in fast-break points per game, and scored just five fast-break points during Sunday’s game. What the Magic use their transition game for is spreading the floor, confusing the defense, and getting their shooters quality three-point looks early in the clock. It isn’t a traditional fast-break, but it works for the Magic. Against a Celtic team that came into Sunday’s game giving up the second-fewest points in the league from beyond the three-point arc, the Magic were able to drain 11 of their 22 shots from deep.

The Magic Benefit From Rasheed Wallace

In the third sequence, the Magic get an easy look at a three-pointer thanks to Rasheed Wallace coming over to help out Garnett against Howard, then getting caught in no-mans land as Rashard Lewis moves without the ball and drains a three. It’s not a good double, and put very little additional pressure on Howard while freeing up a very good three-point shooter for an outside shot. Wallace came into Boston with a very good defensive reputation, and has drawn more ire for his shot selection than his defense during his disappointing time with the Celtics.

However, the numbers suggest that Wallace has hurt the Celtics on defense more than their offense. According to 82games.com, The Celtics are 0.8 points per 100 possessions worse offensively when Wallace is on the floor, and 5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively. When Rasheed is in the game, the Celtics go from being an elite defensive team to a below-average one.

So that’s part of the reason the Magic were able to steamroll the Celtics in the third quarter. Advanced post moves by Dwight Howard, three-point looks early in the shot clock, and playing against Rasheed Wallace. Not a bad formula.

Watch Stephen Curry drain shots from center-court logo during warmups like it’s nothing

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In case you need any kind of reminder that Stephen Curry is a flat-out ridiculous shooter — particularly during warm-ups, well, you’re in luck.

Check out this pregame video of Curry knocking down shots from the center-court logo at Oracle like it’s nothing.

The man changes the game. Even in warmups.

James Harden being out clouds latest Rockets-Warriors clash

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Houston Rockets have had the Golden State Warriors’ number this season. However, when the teams meet on Saturday, the Rockets will have to play without the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player.

Houston guard James Harden is out due a cervical neck strain. Harden was bothered by soreness Thursday during the Rockets’ 111-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He was seen receiving treatment to the neck and right shoulder during the contest.

The Rockets have used different means to beat the two-time defending champs in their first two head-to-heads since Golden State prevailed in a seven-game conference finals last May.

Houston held a Stephen Curry-less Warriors team to 86 points — Golden State’s lowest output of the season — and just 42 percent shooting in a 107-86 home win in November.

The Rockets then turned Harden loose in the January rematch at Golden State, watching him pour in 44 points — including a game-winning 3-pointer — in a 135-134 overtime thriller.

More than a month later, that game still weighs heavily on the mind of Curry, who countered Harden with 35 points of his own that night.

“They just made one more shot,” he noted to reporters after the Warriors Thursday win over the Sacramento Kings. “We understand how talented they are, how well James has been playing. It’s going to be a dogfight … a defensive test for us.”

At the time of Curry’s statement, the extent of Harden’s injury had not been made public. The NBA’s leading scorer at 36.5 points per game, Harden was bothered by a left shoulder strain prior to the All-Star break but didn’t miss any contests. He has played in 55 of Houston’s 58 games as he missed three games early in the season due to a hamstring injury.

In the overtime win at Oakland, Harden complemented his 44 points with 10 rebounds and 15 assists for a triple-double.

While there was no triple-double against the Lakers, Harden did extend his streak of games with 30 or more points to 32.

The Rockets lost their second in a row and fell to 33-25, a full 12 games below where they stood at this point last season. It’s gotten some analysts grumbling about the club’s style of play and reliance on Harden.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni labeled such talk “absurd” before the Thursday game.

“I don’t know if they watched last year,” he said of the naysayers. “Nobody else can do what he does. … If you’re a ball-stopper, usually you’re inefficient. He’s very efficient. So when the ball stops, it’s a good thing.”

The Rockets earned the home-court advantage over Golden State in last year’s playoffs by finishing seven games ahead of the Warriors during the regular season.

That almost surely won’t be the case should they meet again this postseason. The Warriors (42-16), with the best record in the West, have a nine-game advantage over Houston, currently in the No. 5 seed.

Golden State won for the 17th time in its past 19 games by surviving a late rally from the Kings on Thursday in a 125-123 home decision. Curry finished with 36 points, making 10 of his 16 3-point attempts.

Harden (276) and Curry (246) enter the game ranked first and second, respectively, in the NBA in 3-pointers made.

Harden also led the league last season with what was then a career-best 265.

Curry got the better of his rival in 3-pointers in last year’s playoff showdown, however, making 27 of 75 (36 percent) while Harden was harassed into 19 of 78 (24.4 percent).

Curry saved his best for last in the series, going 7 of 15 on 3-point tries in a 27-point effort in Golden State’s 101-92 win at Houston in Game 7. Harden went just 2-for-13 from long range on his 32-point night.

 

James Harden fined $25,000 for calling referee Scott Foster ‘rude and arrogant’

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“Scott Foster, man. I never really talk about officiating or anything like that, but just rude and arrogant. I mean, you aren’t able to talk to him throughout the course of the game, and it’s like, how do you build that relationship with officials? And it’s not even that call [Harden’s sixth foul, ending his night]. It’s just who he is on that floor.”

Houston’s James Harden knew the fine was coming before he even uttered those words following the Rockets loss to the Lakers Thursday night, in which Foster called two offensive fouls on Harden, one that limited his minutes early and another that set him up to eventually foul him out of the game.

Harden got what was expected on Saturday, the NBA fined him $25,000 for “public criticism of the officiating.”

Harden wasn’t alone in his frustration. Chris Paul fouled out and picked up a technical, and coach Mike D’Antoni picked up a technical as well.

For the game, Foster called 12 fouls on the Rockets and six on the Lakers. This season in games Foster has officiated, the Rockets are 1-1.

The Rockets are not the only team to have frustrations with Foster, he has a reputation around the league for a short fuse that doesn’t let you question calls. LeBron James‘ Heat teams and others have felt how Harden does.

Lakers’ Lonzo Ball could be out longer due to bone bruise in ankle

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Lonzo Ball has missed the last 11 Laker games. In that time the team is 4-7 with a bottom 10 offense and defense, and they have been outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. Granted, LeBron James was out for a number of those games as well, but even LeBron is talking about how much Ball is missed in the rotation.

The Lakers could be missing him a while longer.

While we are starting to approach the ballpark return date projected for Ball’s Grade 3 ankle sprain, he could miss more time due to a bone bruise in the ankle, reports Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.

Ball moved quickly through the early stages of his rehab. He used crutches for about a week and wore a protective boot on his left ankle for less time than that.

Ball began running on an underwater treadmill two weeks ago and last week he began work on an antigravity treadmill, but was limited because of the bone bruise.

Ball injured his ankle back on January 19 and it looked bad when it happened.

The Lakers could use him as they make a push down the stretch to get into the playoffs — the Laker defense is 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Ball is on the court this season. The Lakers, 29-29, enter Saturday as the 10th seed in the West, three games back of the Clippers in the eighth seed and final playoff spot. The Sacramento Kings are also between the Lakers and the postseason — to get in the Lakers are going to need to go on a LeBron-led run. Ball would help with that, but it may be a little while longer before we see him on the court.