NBA Playoffs, Magic v. Celtics Game 2: Orlando can't just be different, they have to be better

2 Comments

Screen shot 2010-05-18 at 12.57.11 PM.pngThe Magic made a ridiculous comeback to make the finale of Game of the Eastern Conference Finals more competitive than the bulk of the game, but Orlando still dropped home court advantage and played anything but an impressive game. A Magic team that had been completely untouchable in the playoffs prior to this series now seems very beatable, provided the Celtics continue to defend.

One of the most discussed culprits for Orlando’s Game 1 demise was Dwight Howard’s post play. Howard, even at his most efficient, never quite seems at home in the post, and that’s fine. The responsibility in this case is not Dwight’s; it’s not prudent for him to do something completely unnatural or something as misguided as trying to bully Kendrick Perkins deep into the post.

Instead, Howard’s offense needs to be part of an adjusted system. The Celtics were ready for the Magic going into Game 1, and by eliminating the threat of Orlando’s three-point shooters, the C’s were able to win the day. The foundation of that plan eroded when Jameer Nelson started breaking down the defense, which is clearly an offensive development of the greatest import for the Magic.

Oddly enough, Nelson’s — and Orlando’s — success didn’t lean too heavily on the pick-and-roll. The 2009 series between the Magic and Celtics was greatly influenced by Stan Van Gundy’s ability to get Howard on the move, where he could use his athleticism to its greatest advantage. The same has been heralded as a potential Orlando adjustment for Game 2, but as usual, that won’t quite be enough.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Orlando was only able to execute three pick-and-roll plays that ended with the roll man (only one of those plays involved Dwight Howard). In contrast, 21 pick-and-roll plays ended with the ball handler. That tells you that the Magic’s problem wasn’t necessarily the lack of frequency in running pick-and-roll plays, but that they struggled in executing them.  

Howard can score down low, even if Game 1 wasn’t his finest performance. However, the Celtics are not going to double team him regardless of his effectiveness, meaning the endgame of Dwight’s dominance will only be his solo production. With Jameer penetrating though, all of a sudden Boston’s bigs have to rotate. Dwight’s open for the lob, or Rashard gets some room in the corner. The Celtics will continue to work and contest, but the shots will continue to get easier for the Magic if they’re willing to work with them.

There’s nothing wrong with a player like Jameer Nelson or Vince Carter creating for themselves off of a screen, but Orlando’s two-man game will have to be more balanced if their offense is going to make a true comeback tonight. Unpredictability can only be a good thing in this case, as the well-defended Magic pick-and-roll in Game 1 only generated 0.67 points per possession. Dwight’s horribly unrefined post-ups, for comparison’s sake, scored 0.79 points per possession.

Running more pick-and-rolls isn’t the answer, just like running more post-ups or more isolation plays isn’t the answer. Orlando needs to make the necessary adjustments, but just has to play better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1.

They’ve certainly given themselves room for improvement. Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook broke down the video for some of the Magic’s early three-point attempts, which were shockingly good but just didn’t go down. Dwight caught plenty of rim on a number of and-one attempts, but the rolls didn’t go his way. Rashard Lewis was invisible, Vince Carter started off as a one-man show, and Matt Barnes really didn’t do anything constructive in his 15 minutes on the floor.

The rotation and approach will be tweaked, but this Magic team is good enough to expect other kinds of improvement. There’s enough talent there that you can expect more shots to fall for them even if Boston is on a roll defensively. The Celtics deserve credit for the defense in Game 1, but it wasn’t the only factor influencing the Magic’s subpar offensive production. Orlando did plenty to work against themselves, and only so much of that will be solved with schemes and lineups. 

Karl-Anthony Towns: “I’m planning to be in Minnesota for a long time”

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
4 Comments

A few years back, Minnesota looked like a team on a fast rise in the West, mostly because Karl-Anthony Towns looked like a young dominant force starting to come of age in the league.

It hasn’t worked out that way, even though Minnesota finally made the playoffs back in 2018. Andrew Wiggins has not developed into a No. 2 options (even though he is getting paid like a No. 1 option), Towns has not consistently owned the defensive end, and under Tom Thibodeau there were a lot of chemistry issues highlighted by Jimmy Butler blowing up last training camp and essentially torpedoing the season before it started.

In today’s NBA news cycle, driven by rumors and speculation about player movement — and the player movement itself — all those issues in Minnesota has people looking at Towns. That despite the fact his five-year max extension just kicks in this season.

Towns isn’t looking to move. There’s a new coach (Ryan Saunders) who Towns has a good bond with, there’s a new head of basketball operations (Gersson Rosas) who is aggressive and who Towns likes, and the two-time All-Star center told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic he is happy right now in Minnesota.

“The biggest thing when you have that conversation [about a star switching teams] is you say, ‘Is he happy here?’” Towns said. “I’m tremendously happy. I love my front office. I love my coaching staff. I think we’ve made great moves and great changes. I love the culture we have here. If you want to leave, you have to be miserable somewhere. I am not there. I’m planning to be in Minnesota for a long time.”

What makes Towns happy is he can see the plan now — and it’s finally to build around him. Towns is the top dog and this summer the Timberwolves made a push to land D'Angelo Russell to be his No. 2 (since it’s not Wiggins). That, however, fell short as Russell is in Golden State. (For now at least, if the fit with Stephen Curry is not right Russell could be on the move, and Minnesota would be interested.) Still, there was an organized plan of attack and a shuffling around of players to give Minnesota more flexibility. Towns says he is comfortable this is a franchise on the right path. Even if it’s going to take some time to get there.

In a deep West, Minnesota looks to be a team on the outside of the playoff chase that needs a lot of things to go right to get in it. They have some good players, but also a lot of youth and questions.

“We all can’t rush in and think we’re going to win 75 games right now,” he said. “We have to take it day by day. We have to be patient with the process and accept the process and go through the cycles. I think we’re going to have a really good team and we have to go out there every single night and try to accomplish it. My job as a leader, I’ve got to get the best out of every single player.”

Marcus Smart, Thaddeus Young reportedly added to USA Basketball training camp roster

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
1 Comment

Elite NBA players have not dropped out of playing for Team USA like this since 2004, when nobody wanted to play for Larry Brown and rumors of potential terrorism in Athens had the NBA’s best backing out.

For the 2019 World Cup in China, USA Basketball has watched James Harden, Anthony Davis, Tobias Harris, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon, and CJ McCollum all back out, robbing the American team of a lot of star power. Zion Williamson, who was projected to be part of the “select team” of young stars Team USA goes against also dropped out.

The Americans were down to 14 players heading into training camp (12 will be chosen to travel to China), and they needed more players. Enter Boston’s Marcus Smart and Thaddeus Young, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Don’t be surprised if another veteran name or two is added before training camp opens.

Smart and Young are a couple of smart selections, elite defenders who can shut down the best wing players on other teams (and in FIBA competition only a couple of teams have more than one top-flight wing player to handle).

So who is on the USA roster now? Let’s break it out by position:

GUARDS:
Damian Lillard
Kemba Walker
Kyle Lowry (questionable coming off thumb surgery)
Marcus Smart

WINGS:
Khris Middleton
Donovan Mitchell
Jayson Tatum
Harrison Barnes
Kyle Kuzma
PJ Tucker
Thaddeus Young

BIGS:
Andre Drummond
Myles Turner
Brook Lopez
Kevin Love
Paul Millsap

(We could argue about whether Mitchell is a guard or a wing, if Tucker is a big or a wing, but you get the basic picture.)

After Lillard, that roster does lack star power.

But the USA talent pool is so deep that it will overwhelm all but a couple of teams in the tournament. Serbia — led by Nikola Jokic and Bogan Bogdanovic — is the biggest threat to the USA and has good depth. Spain is impressive as well, but older.

The USA is and should be the World Cup favorite, but an improved rest of the world and a depleted USA roster is going to make things a lot more interesting in China.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

Tim Duncan joins Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with Spurs

Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images
3 Comments

The Tim Duncan era in San Antonio is over quite yet.

The future Hall of Famer has been added full time to Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with the Spurs, the team announced Monday.

“It is only fitting, that after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor,” Popovich said.

Duncan was around the Spurs practice facility a lot last season, helping out informally. Now it is formal.

Expect more bank shots from the Spurs big men next season.

Duncan was at the heart of the Spurs historic NBA dynasty the past couple of decades. The future Hall of Famer is a five-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP, 15 time All-NBA teams, 15 times NBA All-Defensive teams, 15-time All-Star, and way back when the Rookie of the Year. However, his impact was greater than just that insane resume, he was the guy who set the tone and the work ethic for those Spurs teams. Duncan worked as hard as anyone, won as much as anyone, but did it without trying to draw attention to himself. If fact, he wanted to deflect it.

The Spurs will be competitive for a playoff spot in the deep West this season — they still have LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, plus Dejonte Murray gets healthy and returns — but are poised to start a rebuilding process in the coming years.

We will see if Duncan wants to be part of that, or if he is only around while Popovich remains the coach (somebody has to go to dinner with Pop). But he has earned the right to pretty much any role he wants.

The Spurs also announced that Will Hardy will be added to the bench as an assistant coach.

“Will Hardy is a talented, young basketball mind who has earned a great deal of respect from everyone in the organization thanks to his knowledge, spirit and personality,” Popovich said.

Report: Tobias Harris won’t play for Team USA in World Cup, either

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

The theoretical lineup of players who’ve withdrawn from consideration for Team USA’s FIBA World Cup roster just gained frontcourt depth.

So far, we had:

Add Tobias Harris.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Harris is a real loss. He’s a good player whose ability to blend with other good players – as he showed with the 76ers last season – would’ve made him particularly helpful on Team USA.

The Americans still have other forwards available – Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Harrison Barnes, Kyle Kuzma, Paul Millsap, P.J. Tucker. But none match Harris’ combination of talent and frontcourt versatility.

USA Basketball is down to just 14 players for its training camp next month:

The U.S. almost must add more players to the pool.