Orlando is hot, and will serve its revenge that way

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Thumbnail image for nelson_game.jpgRevenge is a dish best served in a loud arena in front of 18,000 angry, screaming fans.

At least that’s the plan in Orlando Sunday. The fans there want a piece of the Lakers. The team that beat them in the Finals last June. And the Magic that take the court Sunday with a roster they wish they had last June.

It is a Magic fan’s lament — if we just had Jameer Nelson last year…

Twice during the last regular season, Nelson torched the Lakers and led the Magic to win. He was the best player on the floor both games. But in the Finals, Nelson was rushed back off an injury and was a mere shadow of himself. And the Lakers rolled the Magic in five.

This time Orlando has a healthy Nelson — one that in the last 10 games has averaged 16 points and 7 assists per game. He is slashing and getting into the paint, something the Lakers have struggled to stop this season. He is both finishing at the rim and stepping out and hitting threes — 37% in his last 10 games. He is playing like an All-Star again.

This time the Lakers get the full force of Orlando — one that has an improved Dwight Howard, Vince Carter finally fitting in and letting the game come to him, and energy out of Matt Barnes.

These are not the Magic the Lakers beat last year.

These are not the Lakers that beat the Magic last year, either. And we’re not just talking about Ron Artest’s hair

And they are not playing well. (Well for them, they are 6-4 in their last 10, which the Nets would even consider staying at the IZOD Center for.) They have lost two in a row, and their last three on the road.

Lakers fans have largely thrown the blame at Pau Gasol. We as a species like simple answers, but we live in a world of complex problems. So it is with the Lakers offensive slump. And that offense being out of balance has hurt their defense (turnovers and slow rotations because guys don’t get back in good position.).

It starts because the Laker guards are doing a poor job of getting the ball into the post to start the triangle offense. Fisher is decent but has lost a step, Jordan Farmar overdribbles then tries to force the pass in, Shannon Brown barely even runs the offense. When the ball does go in to Gasol or Bynum, teams are throwing delayed double teams at them and those two — both good passers — have been slow to recognize the double and bad at making the pass out to their release point cleanly. Then, even if all that happens, the Lakers outside shooting is off. Teams can sag off the Lakers, crowd the bigs in the paint and block Kobe Bryant’s penetration, because they don’t pay a consistent price from the outside jumper.

The Lakers players on Saturday met but didn’t talk about that. They talked about how to better defend the pick-and-roll — which they should see a lot of Sunday. Kobe talked about the need for determination.

The Lakers have shown flashes of that determination, of the good offense and a very good defense this season. They did it for about 18 minutes last Sunday and that was good enough to beat Denver.

But 18 minutes will not cut it against the Magic. Orlando is playing better, has a weapon with Nelson that attacks right at a Laker weakness (defending point guards) and has the defense to shut down the Lakers offense.

The Magic are good enough to get their fans the revenge they want. But until they beat the Lakers in a convincing fashion, it’s hard to bet against the Lakers and Kobe when they are challenged.

And that dish of revenge might not taste as good as everyone thought.

No, the Heat are not going to tank, you can stop asking

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At the season’s end, if no trades or moves are made, the Miami Heat would pay nearly $6.3 million in tax. They have the sixth-highest payroll in the NBA.

The Miami Heat are 11-16 and right now out of the playoffs in the East. Even if they get it together, this is not a roster ready to compete with the top four in the East.

There is a lot of context is needed here: Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Dion Waiters all gave missed time this season (Waiters has yet to play), it’s not simply that this is a bad team asking too much of Josh Richardson. But it is an unimpressive team.

Which always leads to the “will the Heat sell off their good players and tank” question? A question the franchise is weary of hearing.

No. That’s not the way Pat Riley sees the world. That’s what everyone told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

“This is what pro sports is supposed to be about,” Spoelstra told The Crossover. “Competing every night. To try to win. Not the opposite. Obviously not every year you are going to have a realistic chance to compete for a title. Since I have been here, working for Pat, from day 1, that has always been the directive. For me, that brings great clarity. Keep the main thing the main thing. And everything else is just b*******….

“Do the history on it,” Spoelstra said. “What franchises have had the most enduring sustainable success over the last 24 years? We’re up there with the top three or four. The teams that constantly tank, I don’t know where they are. It would make for a pretty good discussion. But if you are hardwired to find a way to get it done without any excuses, you will find different pathways. There’s no one way to do it.”

Miami has advantages — the nightlife, the weather, no state taxes — that allows it to get free agents other franchises can only dream of. Miami is a destination. Build a core and try to attract free agents is a legitimate strategy for Miami in a way it is not for other franchises.

Building a core is just not that easy. Miami is a team is set to be over the tax this season and next, and their 2021 first-round pick is owed to Philadelphia unprotected (via Phoenix). Is the goal to stick around in the East and overachieve as Spoelstra teams tend to do the Heat are set up to go for it, but should they take a step back to try and take a step forward.

That’s not the way the Heat operate.

 

Report: Suns owner Robert Sarver overruled draft-night trade for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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On draft night, the Suns traded the No. 16 pick and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick to the 76ers for No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went to the Clippers with the No. 11 pick (via the Hornets).

Phoenix is now an NBA-worst 5-24 and lacks even a decent point guard.

Bob Young of The Athletic:

It’s worth noting that the Suns wouldn’t be in this fix if Robert Sarver, the club’s managing partner, had not reportedly overruled his then-general manager, Ryan McDonough, on draft night.

McDonough reportedly planned to package the club’s pick from Milwaukee and a player taken with the 16th pick to move up and draft Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a point guard from Kentucky.

When Philadelphia offered the rights to Mikal Bridges for the rights to Zhaire Smith and Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick, Sarver pushed for that deal. So the Suns moved up six spots to add their fourth young wing player.

I didn’t like the trade the Suns made. I ranked Bridges No. 6 on my draft board, and he’s having a fine rookie year. But part of Bridges’ appeal was his NBA-readiness. Phoenix isn’t good enough to take advantage of that. The Heat pick is also too valuable.

McDonough’s preferred trade would have been better. The Bucks pick – 1-3 and 17-30 protected, in 2019, 1-7 protected in 2020, unprotected in 2021 – is less valuable than the Miami pick. Gilgeous-Alexander has looked promising in L.A.

Importantly, Gilgeous-Alexander would have given the Suns a much-needed point guard.

As owner, Sarver can step in where he sees fit. It’s his team after all. But this makes it all the more ludicrous he fired McDonough shortly before the season due, in part, to not having a quality point guard.

That said, if Gilgeous-Alexander were struggling, I’m not sure we’d hear this story. Only the near-hits, never the near-misses, get leaked.

David West: “I would say Kevin Durant is back with the Warriors next season”

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Kevin Durant doesn’t know what Kevin Durant is going to do next summer.

It is entirely possible he chooses to remain a Golden State Warrior, on a team that has dominated the West since his arrival and remains the clear favorite to win it all again (despite some stumbles early in the season). Plus, they can offer more money than any other team.

That’s not what is expected around the league — most sources think he is bolting. Where is unknown — the Clippers and the Knicks are the most mentioned but the Lakers and other teams come up — but the consensus is he will be in a new jersey next season.

Former teammate David West is in the first camp, as he told Steinmetz and Guru on 95.7 the Game, the Warriors radio flagship.

Kevin Durant is not the most decisive person in the world — what he thinks about free agency today may not be what he’s going to think about it in a week, or a month. Or, more importantly, next July.

West doesn’t see what others do, but then again West left $11 million on the table to chase a ring. He’s not the norm that way. His biases may cloud what he expects from the superstar.

Durant is having another in-the-MVP-conversation season, averaging 28.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game, and he carried the team while Stephen Curry was out. Durant is the two-time Finals MVP and in the conversation for the best player on the planet. There are 29 teams that would bend over backward to get him on their roster.

What Durant wants in the mystery. Maybe West is right.

Report: Bulls talking Jabari Parker trade

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The Bulls are reportedly pulling Jabari Parker from their regular rotation.

That might spell the end of Parker in Chicago.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Parker is having a dismal season. His defense has been as advertised. He’s shooting a lot and inefficiently and turning the ball over too much.

He’s also earning $20 million this season, which will make matching salary in a trade difficult.

At least Parker is on a de facto expiring contract. (His $20 million team option for next season will surely be declined.) His contract could help facilitate a trade. Maybe the Bulls deal him for an unwanted player with a multi-year guarantee plus sweeteners. Chicago is far enough from winning that punting 2019 cap space for draft picks and young players makes sense.

Parker is just 23 and talented. While his expiring contract is likely to be the central appeal of any trade, his potential is higher than the typical player in such a deal. That only helps his value.

The Bulls won’t get much for Parker. He’s not even good enough to play on their lousy team. But both sides are probably ready to move on, and maybe they can make it happen.

Parker and his agent know how to work their way out of undesirable situations.