NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 5: Stan Van Gundy has to be willing to gamble

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Thumbnail image for Howard_blinded.jpgOnce again, Orlando, this is it. You staved off the monster, backing into a cave and swiping at its tentacles, forcing Rajon Rondo to the locker room, forcing Kevin Garnett into tough decisions (other than yelling and barking), and generally didn’t suck. Congratulations. Now you just need to do it three more times in a row.

Stan Van Gundy is often labeled with, and I’m sorry to apply simplistic adjective here but I’ve got little choice, the stupid moniker of the Master of Panic. Guys that panic don’t get their teams to the Eastern Conference Playoffs in consecutive years. But if panicking means overreacting to the situation, this is one scenario where SVG needs to embrace that label. The rotations must change.

Van Gundy needs to turn to unlikely and unconventional sources to give his team the best attack it can provide. Boston will likely be refocused. Rajon Rondo will likely be back to his werewolf-like self. Kevin Garnett may not miss as many open looks. So the Magic have to be willing to turn to alternative options if the Celtics are able to create the havoc they wreaked in the first three games. That means more time for J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, and some looks for Ryan Anderson, and less time for Jason Williams, Mikael Pietrus, and especially Vince Carter.

Redick should be a no-brainer. The argument will be that you don’t disrupt the rotation and “psyche of your team” in the Eastern Conference Finals. No, you don’t disrupt the rotation and psyche of your team when you start the Eastern Conference Finals. Down 3-1 versus a very pissed off Celtics team that annihilated you in the first three games? That’s when it’s totally fine to pull any trick you think will work out of the bag.

Redick is +21 in this series (via PopcornMachine.net), versus Carter, who is -23 .Even if you for some reason feel that after Carter’s complete quitjob in Game 4 (going 1-9, getting torched on defense, and not showing any interest in coming back in the game in the fourth quarter) he’s your best option, you can still give Redick significant minutes. Redick’s handle isn’t superb, it’s true. But he’s a better option to run the offense than Jason Williams, who has been a complete disaster. Jameer Nelson is ready to log long minutes, and switching to a Redick-Carter backcourt means you have your best perimeter weapon (when he feels like trying) and the best pick and roll ball handler in this series in while Nelson rests. This is the time for trying new things. Just because you caught the Celtics napping at home doesn’t mean they won’t bring the thunder tonight. You need lightning in a bottle to respond, and so far in this series, the Magic’s regular rotations have been cumulus clouds drifting past a peaceful landscape.

In the front court, the Magic may want to consider some unorthodox alternatives, particularly if Dwight Howard winds up in foul trouble. Does playing Rashard Lewis at small forward against Paul Pierce sound like a nightmare? Absolutely. But it’s not like any of your other options, especially Carter or Matt Barnes, have had any success whatsoever. Lewis has the length to contest Pierce’s pull-up jumper and the size to give him problems if he should drive. What happens for those stretches at power forward then? Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson. Anderson has seen no time in this series, due to his inexperience in both the playoffs and the system. Again, I would respond, “It’s not like the traditional approach has been effective!” Anderson has the size to body up against Sheed and the physical nature to combat Glen Davis, plus range to give both of them significant problems. Why have all this stocked talent if you’re not going to use it?

Then there’s Brandon Bass, who is quite the mixed bag. Questionable on defense, a definite spark on offense. Bass has shown at least a willingness to be aggressive against Boston which is more than you can say for several of the Magic’s wing players. Plus he has touch, which Dwight Howard has struggled with.

There are plenty of reasons to go in with what you feel are your best players and stick to the script that made you so successful during the regular season. But you’ve also got to turn to alternatives when that formula has been neutralized, tazered, dragged outside and left for dead. The Magic aren’t just up against the wall, they’re at knife point. If they want to see tomorrow, and another game in Boston (at which point you’ll see a whole lot of puckering from the guys in green whether they show it or not), they’ve got to be willing to try some new things.

Variety is the spice of life. The Boston Celtics beating the crap out of you for four quarters and you not adjusting? That’s the overcooked toast.

Emmanuel Mudiay beautifully fakes behind-the-back pass to get open layup (video)

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This is where I reminder you Emmanuel Mudiay is just 23. It’s not too late for Mudiay – now with the Jazz after stints with the Nuggets and the Knicks – to implement enough craft into his game to succeed in the NBA. Point guards tend to develop late.

(Relatedly, Jarrett Culver is just a rookie. Falling for this sweet move doesn’t destine him to poor defense. And at least his Timberwolves beat Utah yesterday.)

Carmelo Anthony talks opportunity, playing role as he starts play in Portland

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Carmelo Anthony has got his chance.

Portland is a team that needs what Anthony can bring to the court, and Anthony needs the Trail Blazers to end his career on his terms.

Saying the whole thing came together in about 48 hours, Anthony talked about joining Portland in a video posted to YouTube called “The Next Chapter.” He said the Blazers have long been on his mind.

“I always kept my eye on Portland. It just didn’t work out at other times, but now it seems like a perfect opportunity. Me and Dame, we’ve been talking for the past couple years, just off and on. CJ has been playing in my Black Ops runs for the past four years. I just look at that opportunity, that team and say, look ‘this is what I can bring to the team, this is where I can help it.’ It will only work if all parties see it the same way.”

One of the things that gave teams pause about welcoming in Anthony was whether he’d accept a role. The Trail Blazers have a pecking order: Damian Lillard is the alpha and CJ McCollum is the No. 2. Anthony is coming off the bench, not being the focal point of the offense. Anthony is saying the right things.

“What happened before is the past, I can’t dwell on that, I learned from that. This happened at a point in time in my life where I do have a lot of clarity and understanding of different situations and just life, and my approach is totally different.”

Anthony could make his debut as soon as tonight when Portland faces the Pelicans. If not, it will be soon.

Then it will not be about words, but actions.

 

Marcus Smart forced to leave Celtics game with with ugly right ankle sprain

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Marcus Smart has been playing through a lot of bumps, bruises, and minor injuries, refusing to take time off as the Celtics are off to a red-hot start to the season.

He will have to sit out a while with this one, however.

Smart went down with a scary non-contact right ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of Boston’s win against Phoenix Monday. It happened with 9:12 to go in the fourth quarter and Smart didn’t return.

The real test with ankles is the next day (when there will be further testing), but there was optimism after the game that the sprain was not that bad, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“They’ll check it in the morning,” [Boston coach Brad] Stevens told reporters after the game and added, “it doesn’t look too bad.”

In his postgame comments, Smart said he was okay but he had aggravated the “exact same ankle injury I was coming back from.” He added that he “should be fine to play the rest of the road trip.”

Smart’s a competitor who wants to play. Still, with this being the same ankle he has injured twice now the team might be wise to force him to sit for a few games and let his ankle (among other ailments) heal completely and not become a chronic issue all season (there’s still nearly five months of NBA regular season left).

Look for an update from the team later on Tuesday.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic is destroying the NBA, setting records — and he’s still 20

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Luka Doncic is destroying the NBA, setting records — and he’s still 20. I, for one, welcome our new Luka Doncic overlord.

LeBron James is right, Doncic is a “bad m***** f*****.” Doncic is destroying the Association and he’s not yet old enough to legally buy a drink. Monday night against the Spurs he had arguably his best game yet: a career-high 42-points, plus 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

It’s hard to get a grasp on just how historic a start to the season Doncic is having, but to help here’s the full list of players who have had 40+ point triple-doubles at or before age 20:

LeBron James
Luka Doncic

That’s it. Expand that to age 21 and you can add Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Isiah Thomas. That’s some Hall of Fame company Doncic is running with at a young age.

Doncic has six triple-doubles this season, which leads the league. On the season he is averaging 29.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game, all with a ridiculously efficient 61.2 percent true shooting. Those rebounds are the real difference maker, by the way.

It’s far too early to have a serious MVP conversation, but if you do, Doncic has to be a part of it. He’s been that good this season.

Did I mention he’s only 20?

2) Also making history: James Harden. The Beard put up 36 points in 33:06 minutes on the court against Portland, which is actually slightly below his per game average (39.2) but is still its own bit of history.

Russell Westbrook is right about how we view Harden sometimes, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“I think that a lot of people like to normalize greatness when you see it over and over again, but it’s not normal because there’s nobody else that can do it. If it was normal, everybody would do it.”

Westbrook, by the way, had his own big night with a triple-double of 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The Rockets have won eight in a row and are one of the NBA’s hottest teams right now.

3) Paul George sticks a dagger in his former team, Clippers beat Thunder. It looked like the night former Clippers would get revenge on their team: First Danilo Gallinari hit a three to tie the game at 86-86, then Chris Paul made two free throws for an 88-86 Thunder lead.

Then Paul George happened.

Gallinari had a shot at a three to win but it missed, George hit a free throw after being fouled, and the Clippers get out 90-88 with a win. The real Los Angeles star for the night was Montrezl Harrell, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.

George saw his minutes jump to 29 in just his third game back from shoulder surgeries (plural, as in both of them) but did not score north of 30 like his first two games as the Thunder defense had more of a focus on him.

Kawhi Leonard missed his third straight game with a bruised knee suffered against the Rockets.