The Magic's third-quarter run against the Celtics

1 Comment

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.

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo has fluid drained from hand slowing his recovery from surgery

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Rajon Rondo has been out more than three weeks following surgery to repair the third metacarpal bone in his shooting hand (his right hand), and while there has been no official timeline he was expected back in the next week or two. He’s been out on the court before recent Lakers’ games getting in some work.

But he has now hit a bit of a setback, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on Wednesday. Here is what Walton said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“There’s a little bit of swelling,” Walton said at Lakers shootaround on Monday in advance of his team’s game against the Miami Heat. “We’re going to shut him down for a few days then get back out after it again.”

It’s not clear when Rondo will return. He was averaging 8.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game before the injury.

The Lakers have gone 8-4 since Rondo went to the bench with his fractured hand. Without the veteran point guard, LeBron James has had the ball in his hands more as a playmaker (to Magic Johnson’s frustration at times), paired with Lonzo Ball (who has started to show some real chemistry with LeBron). The Lakers offense hasn’t been particularly good in these past dozen games, bottom 10 in the league, but they have balanced that with a top 7 defense. The Lakers are getting wins thanks to that defense and enough LeBron shot creation to get it done.

The Lakers are going to have to keep getting it done and now without Brandon Ingram, too, who is expected to miss a few more games with a sprained ankle.

Report: Bulls execs John Paxson and Gar Forman backing Jim Boylen

1 Comment

Bulls players have made clear their thoughts on new coach Jim Boylen’s abnormally frequent and lengthy practices, his harsh public critiques, his five-man substitutions:

They don’t like it.

Not every player feels the exact same way, but enough were fed up to refuse to practice yesterday – the day after a back-to-back, a time teams almost never practice. Everyone compromised on a team meeting, though players reportedly also complained to their union.

But Boylen says he isn’t backing down – and it sounds as if his superiors support him.

Boylen, via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My job…is to try to push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” he said. “That’s pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what my job is. That’s what the Reinsdorfs are paying me for.

“I explained that to them – ‘Hey guys, everybody wants it comfortable, everybody wants it safe. Well, I don’t think you become great in that.’ So it’s going to be a little raw for a while, it’s going to be a little rough for a while. And maybe there’s a point where it gets not as rough but all of a sudden it’s got to be rough again.”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The fact Boylen cited ownership is telling. Phil Jackson praised Boylen to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after Boylen met with the Hall of Fame coach last summer. And according to team and league sources, executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman raved to ownership about Boylen’s message during Sunday’s meeting, which Paxson and Forman attended.

I wonder whether Paxson and Forman actually believe in Boylen or just feel as if they have no choice but to support him. Their last coaching hire, Fred Hoiberg, flopped to the point questions emerged about Forman’s job security. Paxson already declared a plan to keep Boylen for next season. Maybe Paxson and Forman can’t dump Boylen without bringing too much scrutiny upon themselves.

But the status quo isn’t sustainable. Boylen can’t keep belittling his players and running them into the ground without inciting a rebellion. He must ease up at least a little.

A theory that gives the Bulls the benefit of the doubt (that they don’t necessarily deserve): They already know this is a lost season, and playing for a higher draft pick is their best strategy. Boylen’s harsh practices will both help them lose and instill good long-term habits. Plus, his presence ensures players will welcome Chicago’s next coach. Even someone more demanding than Hoiberg would now suddenly be a reprieve.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen: ‘It’s going to be rough for a while’

Getty Images
2 Comments

For the past few years, as the lead assistant to Fred Hoiberg with the Bulls, Jim Boylen got to be the “bad cop” to Hoiberg’s more mild personality. When Hoiberg was fired and Boylen moved into the big chair, he ramped up that old-school style — he called out the team’s conditioning and had them running suicides and doing pushups in practice (things rarely seen at the NBA level). Boylen was running long, grueling practices — including one the day after the team got back from a four-game road trip. He had film sessions right after games when guys were still emotional. Boylen did hockey substitutions a couple of times, taking out all five starters at once.

When he called for a practice the day after a back-to-back that ended with a 56-point loss to the Celtics, players pushed back. There were team meetings called by the players (and coaches, there’s a lot of people trying to spin this). Boylen said this is how he coached and he learned from Greg Popovich, the players had to trust him, and the players said you’re no Gregg Popovich and that trust is not there yet. It’s earned, not given.

The day after a series of meetings, the tone was a little softer, although Boylen was not about to back down. He said that it was only a couple of players who pushed back against the practice, not all of them, and he is clearly frustrated in this NBC Sports Chicago video.

Boylen also admitted things would not be easy, but he wants the players to trust him, as several Bulls writers Tweeted.

Boylen feels he’s in the right place. Will the players learn to trust him? One day after the meetings, things appeared better.

That’s easy to say at practice, we’ll see what it’s like when adversity hits.

Warriors named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of Year

Sports Illustrated
1 Comment

The three-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors are the fourth team to be honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year .

The Warriors join the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer squad and the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the other team honorees.

Sports Illustrated announced the winner Monday, and editor-in-chief Chris Stone said they have been thinking of some way to honor the Warriors during their run of three titles in four years. He also acknowledged that there were a couple years where Steph Curry has been in the conversation.

“There is something transcendent about the team where the sum of their parts was apparent from the beginning,” Stone said. “What they have built into a dynasty is a function of empirical success. They’re really a generational team. I don’t know if, in my lifetime, there has been a team where the pieces have blended so beautifully together.”

Stone also said that the Warriors’ honor is more about the celebration of the organization doing something unique over an extended period while the other teams were honored for what they did in a certain year.

Alexander Ovechkin, who led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title, Tiger Woods and LeBron James also received consideration, but Stone said the Warriors felt like the favorite when they repeated as NBA champions.

“In the same way they play, they seem to speak in a single voice,” Stone said. “The unity of message with the Warriors is the same way we refer to LeBron and his answering some of the hard questions. They did it forcefully, but also civilly, in a way that helps advance conversations.”

The Warriors will receive the award during a ceremony in Los Angeles on Tuesday that will air on NBCSN on Thursday.

“This is an incredible honor and one that certainly signifies our Strength in Numbers philosophy as a team and organization,” Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers said. “Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special.”