NBA Playoffs: Howard, Magic hold off Charlotte's comeback attempt

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I had the Bobcats pegged as a potential first-round spoiler because of the way they play defense and how good they are on their home floor, but the Magic represent some fairly significant matchup problems for them on both offense and defense.
When the Bobcats have the ball, they don’t have any way to consistently score on the league’s best defensive player. They don’t have anyone fast or powerful enough with his dribble-drives to beat Howard to the hoop or challenge him and get free throws. They don’t have a post threat consistent enough to initiate the offense from the block and limit Howard’s ability to roam. They don’t have enough outside shooting to put points on the board without having to go the paint at all. Other than that, though, they’re fine. 
What the Bobcats do have is as good a defense as exists in the league. Unfortunately for them, the Magic are so unorthodox offensively that they defend themselves as much as their opponent does. That can get the Magic into trouble at times, but against a team as offensively challenged as the Bobcats, it shouldn’t kill them. Here are my notes from Sunday night’s contest between the Bobcats and the Magic, in chronological order:
-Early in the game, Theo Ratliff tries to take it strong at Howard and gets rejected for his efforts. On the ensuing semi-transition possession, Jameer Nelson pulls up for a three and nails it. As Kevin McHale noted, that’s Magic basketball.
-Jameer Nelson is a dynamo early. When he decides to drive, he’s going all the way to the cup and making the Charlotte bigs pay for staying at home on Howard. When the Bobcats give Nelson space, he’s pulling up and hitting everything he looks at. Nelson was absolutely unstoppable in the first half. He scored 24 points, only missed two shots from the field, and hit a pull-up 35 footer as time expired in the half. A jaw-dropping performance.
-Brown goes to Diaw in the post twice early, and it works both times. Posting up Lewis is generally a good idea if you have the personnel to do so, because it prevents Howard from coming over to get the block. Diaw’s two hooks accounted for the Bobcats’ only points in the paint up to that time.
-The Magic get their third basket in the paint by feeding Ratliff in the post against Howard. Still no layups, dunks or free throws from a drive to the basket or cut up to this point for the Bobcats.
-The Bobcats are getting their points by using screens and lateral passing to free up their bigs for mid-range jumpers, and are doing a pretty good job of it. The Magic are getting the ball, making 0-2 passes, and going for the drive or the first good look they can find from the perimeter. The Bobcats’ offense may look more under control, but layups and threes will almost invariably be better than mid-range jumpers over the course of a game.
-The Bobcats finally complete their first successful drive to the basket when Stephen Jackson gets a layup with 44 seconds to play in the quarter. Before they were able to do that, Dwight Howard had recorded five blocks. It’s hard to overstate the degree to which Howard dominated the paint when he was in the game. 
-With Howard resting in the second quarter, the Bobcats quickly cut the lead to four. Then the Magic summon Mickael Pietrus, who hits three straight threes in the span of a minute and a half. In between two of the threes he made, Pietrus bricked a pair of free throws. I have given up trying to figure out Mickael Pietrus. Nelson and Redick drain threes of their own, and it’s back up to a 14-point Magic lead. When the Magic get hot, watch out. 
-With 1:50 left to play in the half, Larry Hughes tries to drive on Howard. In the most predictable outcome ever, Howard swats his shot away, giving him eight blocks. That put him one away from his playoff career high and two away from an NBA playoff record. (Remember, no recorded blocks when Russell and Chamberlain played.)
-Thanks in part to two ticky-tack fouls, Howard picks up his fourth infraction with eight minutes to play in the third quarter. At this point, the Magic were up 19. When he re-enters the game in the fourth, the Magic are up by 10 points. The Magic go completely cold with Howard on the bench; without him in the lane, Charlotte is free to rotate against the drive and contest shots on the perimeter instead of sagging back into the lane. Orlando can’t get anything going, and is settling for deep jumper after deep jumper. 
-Howard picks up his fifth foul just over a minute into the quarter. The Magic hold the fort this time, and don’t lose a point off their lead in the five minutes Howard sits. The Bobcats begin to creep back into the game by hitting threes and getting to the line, and cut the lead to five with 1:39 remaining. 
-That was when Pietrus came to the rescue again. Pietrus caught a pass in the corner and got his man in the air with an up-fake. Pietrus jumped to try and draw the foul, but didn’t get the contact. While falling over his defender, Pietrus threw up the three…and it went in. There were some free throws after that, but that was the shot that effectively ended Charlotte’s comeback hopes. 
General Notes:
-Howard was on the floor for 28 minutes of Sunday’s game. He was on the bench for the other 20 minutes of it. When Howard was off the floor, the Bobcats played the Magic dead even. When he played, the Magic were +9 over the Bobcats. Howard completely dominated the game while scoring five points. One of the most amazing defensive performances I’ve ever -seen.
-One more illustration that Orlando is tough to guard: they put up 98 points against one of the best defensive teams in the league with Howard and Carter combining to go 6-23 from the field. Scary.
-Rashard Lewis made just about everything he looked at, whether it was a catch-and-shoot three or a pull-up from midrange. Huge games for Lewis, Redick, Pietrus, and of course Nelson. 
-Stephen Jackson was one of the only Bobcats who wasn’t afraid to take it at Howard. This is strange, as he hyper-extended his knee in the first half. Jackson says he will play in game 2, but will reportedly undergo an MRI on his injured knee. 
-Great game for Gerald Wallace, who had a line 25/17 and had just about every aspect of his game going. If Charlotte got some shooters to give Wallace space to operate, he could be scary. 
That’s about the story for game one. Like they generally do when they’re on their game, the Magic survived their cold stretches and absolutely rained sulfur when their shots were falling. If they can keep Howard on the court, the Magic could have a relatively easy time putting Larry Brown’s squad away. 

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.

Former Knicks center Joakim Noah: ‘I’m too lit to play in New York City’

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When Joakim Noah signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks in 2016, his father – former tennis star Yannick Noah – boasted about how well his son would fit in New York:

“He knows the city,” Yannick Noah said. “He was born here. It’s not like he’s coming from the countryside and he’s coming to New York City. He lived here for a long time. Of course, it can be dangerous for an athlete. But he knows and he’s so motivated. It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s going to give all he has for the city.”

Oops.

Noah played terribly, got suspended for taking a banned substance and feuded with his coach. Before this season, the Knicks cut him, preferring to pay him out than have him continue to occupy a roster spot.

Noah, who previously played for the Bulls, signed with the Grizzlies. He’s now addressing what went wrong in New York.

Noah on the Chris Vernon Show:

I could look back on it and say I thought I was ready for New York City, but I wasn’t. And it’s something that I’ve got to live with.

Not just the pressure. I remember after the first game, I probably had, like, 60 people in my house. I’m too lit. I’m too lit to play in New York City. I’m too lit to play in New York City. Memphis is perfect for me.

We were lit in Chicago, but I was young. So, you recover faster, you know? You recover faster.

I respect the honesty. Not many players would have revealed so much about their partying.

But I’m also not convinced a smaller market will fix Noah.

The 33-year-old might just be too worn down to help an NBA team.