NBA Playoffs: Hawks take series lead in crazy game

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The Orlando Magic are in some serious trouble against a team that gave up more points than it scored in the regular season. Game 3 could have gone either way, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Magic are a team built around Dwight Howard and versatile shooters, and the versatile shooters have failed to show up.

Howard didn’t have the kind of masterpiece performance that he did in Games 1 or 2, but he still did enough to give the Magic a very good chance on Friday. He scored in the post, patrolled the paint on defense, and controlled the glass, but that wasn’t enough to elevate his sub-par supporting cast in an 88-84 loss.

In Game 2, Howard had to play all 48 minutes. In Game 3, Howard was only allowed to sit for three minutes, and the Magic were outscored by seven points in those three minutes.

Hedo Turkoglu looked two steps slower than everyone else on the court, and it’s hard to remember that he was actually causing mismatches as recently as 2009. Jameer Nelson is a fine player, but he’s also a score-first guard that isn’t the most reliable scorer in the world. Jason Richardson is a 3-point shooter at this point in his career, and he’s shot 26.7 percent from beyond the arc in this series. On Friday night, he made things worse by getting himself ejected after a fight with card-carrying instigator Zaza Pachulia. Gilbert Arenas is done. If it wasn’t for Quentin Richardson rising from the dead to hit a few threes, the Magic would have had no bench production to speak of.

The Magic aren’t just losing a series to a team they should be beating; they’re providing a compelling case for Howard’s departure after the 2012 season. If the Magic don’t make some major changes in the next few days or some major roster moves in the next few months, Howard may not be long for Orlando.

The Hawks didn’t have their best game offensively, but they were able to do enough to best the Magic’s pitiful efforts from the perimeter. The Hawks’ offense was stagnant and Joe Johnson still doesn’t look like a true No. 1 option, but some timely shots from Jamal Crawford (including one of his signature four-point plays and a ludicrous off-the-dribble banked three that turned out to be the game-winner) were enough for the Hawks in Game 3.

The Magic need to find answers, and fast. If they don’t get a win in Game 4, they’re likely looking at an early playoff exit. And with Howard’s impending free agency likely to loom over the team for the duration of next season, and how weak his supporting cast has looked, being eliminated in the first round would only be the beginning of Orlando’s problems.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

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.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.