NBA Playoffs, Magic Hawks Game 3: Magic dominate Hawks, remain undefeated

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Howard_Bibby.jpgWell, so much for Atlanta turning into a completely different team on their home floor. The Hawks were 19-22 on the road this season and 34-7 at home, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to expect them to be more competitive on Saturday than they were in the first two games of the series. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they looked just as outmatched in Atlanta as they did in Orlando. 

The Magic pushed the lead to double-digits near the end of the first quarter. They took a 20-point lead at the beginning of the third quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, Orlando found themselves up by 30. The Hawks never had a chance in game three, and now they’re in a 3-0 series hole. 
Nothing went right for the Hawks. The team shot 35% from the field and 4-15 from beyond the arc. No Hawks player shot better than 50% from the field. Joe Johnson was absolutely abysmal, going 3-15 from the field. The Hawks recorded nine total assists all game. The Magic outrebounded the Hawks 51-34. Faced with the pressure of a 2-0 deficit and the task of scoring against the Magic’s dominant defense, Atlanta completely folded. A miserable performance, and one that could leave a sour taste in Hawks fans’ mouths all summer if they don’t manage to compete in game four.
Nobody on the Magic had a great offensive game; then again, nobody needed to. Howard wasn’t as dominant as he was in game two, but still finished with 21 and 16 on 6-8 shooting from the field and 9-18 shooting from the line. Rashard Lewis led the Magic with 22 points. Mickael Pietrus came off the bench and drained three three-pointers. Carter and Nelson both had quiet nights by their standards, but it didn’t matter. 
The question for the Hawks is what happens next. They’ve been competitive in the regular season, but they’re a game away from being swept out of the postseason two years in a row. After all these years, the team still does not have a true point guard, and the lack of ball movement is killing them. They don’t have the size or perimeter defenders to defend like the top three teams in the East do. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen, but the Hawks will almost certainly look like a different team next season. 
Joe Johnson is looking like the booby prize in the 2010 free agency bonanza right now, but someone will end up paying him. At this point, it may not be a great tragedy for the Hawks if he leaves — he wasn’t going to get the Hawks where they wanted to go as a #1 option, and the Hawks don’t have the ability to get a player good enough to let Johnson operate as a #2 option. 
(Quick addendum — Hawks reporter Michael Cunningham just tweeted that Joe Johnson had this to say about the Hawks fans booing the team: “It’s about us in this locker room. We could care less if they showed up or not.” I don’t think Mr. Johnson is long for Atlanta.)
For the Magic, everything looks good right now — all that’s left for them to do is close out the Hawks, go home, and prepare for the Eastern Conference Finals. They look like the best team in the NBA at the moment, but they still have nine wins to go before they reach their ultimate goal. The way they’re playing, it’ll be very tough for anyone to stop Orlando from getting those nine wins. 

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

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If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.