Orlando’s mid-season trade not reason for trouble (they were bad before)

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Orlando is in trouble.

They are down 2-1 to the Atlanta Hawks, a team that through the regular season and into the playoffs has shown its matchup advantages are hard for Orlando to overcome. Now the Magic face a virtual must-win Game 4 and likely will have to do it without Jason Richardson, who probably will get suspended for his little run in with Zaza Pachulia in Game 3.

There are a lot of people blaming Orlando’s roster-changing trades in November as the root of the problem.

Unless you think Vince Carter could solve the Magic’s woes, that theory doesn’t really work. And if you think Vince Carter changes this series, your issues may require professional help.

Orlando traded one roster that was going to lose early in the playoffs on for another.

The Magic would have gotten about as much out of Rashard Lewis as they are Gilbert Arenas. Orlando GM Otis Smith had more faith in Arenas than anyone else, and that hasn’t worked out, but Lewis was already becoming a ghost on this roster. Marcin Gortat would have given the Magic depth in the paint and allowed Stan Van Gundy to cut Howard’s minutes from the 46 a game he has played this series to maybe 38 or so (he wouldn’t go much lower) but that is not a series changer.

The Magic brought in guys who were supposed to get them through a series like this easily. Orlando certainly expected more out of Jason Richardson in the playoffs (8.7 points per game and he’s shooting 26.7 percent from three). Hedo Turkoglu has been worse, and we’re not just talking about that disaster of a last play the Magic ran in Game 3. Turkoglu was always a pretty average player who Van Gundy understood how to use well, but he has not found room this series

Orlando as a team is shooting 26 percent from three, the Hawks are doing a good job contesting the arc (because they can single-cover Howard with Jason Collins and others). When Orlando can’t hit threes, their offense falters. The guys Orlando got in this deal are not doing the job.

But if you think that Carter and Lewis were changing things you are sorely mistaken. The only real difference between this roster and the last one is that this one is more expensive long term.

Which might have Dwight Howard thinking about things. But that is another issue for another day.

Knicks say they scouted Giannis Antetokounmpo in Greece

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s agent, Giorgos Panou, said the Knicks were the only team not to scout Antetokounmpo in Greece before the 2013 NBA draft.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

If the Knicks indeed scouted Antetokounmpo that thoroughly, it’s a shame they were smeared for not doing so.

Milwaukee took Antetokounmpo No. 13. New York had the No. 24 pick and kept it to draft Tim Hardaway Jr.

Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma scores 35, wins MVP, leads USA to victory in Rising Stars dunkfest

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CHARLOTTE — Nobody comes to the Friday night Rising Stars Challenge — the All-Star weekend showcase of first- and second-year stars — for the defense. Which is good, because there isn’t any. Zero. Nada. Your Saturday blacktop pickup game at the local park has guys that care more about defense than you see in this game.

What the Rising Stars has are dunks. A lot of big dunks. And some threes. Then more dunks.

For example, the Hawks’ John Collins was showing off why he was in the dunk contest, complete with a pass off the backboard to himself.

As for the game itself, the USA won 161-144 over the World.

The Lakers Kyle Kuzma raced out to 23 first-half points and finished with 35 to earn MVP honors.

“Last year I didn’t really play that hard,” Kuzma said of his first time in this game. “This year I just came out, one, I wanted to get some conditioning, and, two, why not MVP? You’re in the game. So might as well just try.”

Kuzma also broke out the windmill.

D’Aaron Fox said before the game he wanted to break the assist record for the Rising Stars, and while he fell short of that number he had 16 for the USA. Boston’s Jayson Tatum had 30 and Donovan Mitchell had 20 for the USA. Ben Simmons led the Word team of 28 points.

As for highlights, there were plenty.

Atlanta’s Trae Young hit six threes and had this dime.

He also had the play of the night, nutmegging Deandre Ayton.

Philly’s Ben Simmons had a couple of throwdowns.

The Timberwolves Josh Okogie had the putback of the night (teammate and All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns sat courtside wearing an Okogie jersey).

Hawks’ John Collins passes to self off backboard for dunk in Rising Stars

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CHARLOTTE — The NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge — the Friday night showcase of first- and second-year players during All-Star Weekend — has less defense than your lunch run pickup game at the Y. Even less than the All-Star Game itself.

Which leads to some monster dunks.

Enter Atlanta’s second-year big man John Collins, playing for the USA (vs. The World), who went off the backboard to himself for the best throwdown of the game.

That wasn’t Collins’ only quality dunk in this game.

He looks ready for Saturday’s Dunk Contest.

Report: Nuggets extend president Tim Connelly’s contract

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On the same day the Pelicans fired general manager Dell Demps, the Nuggets extended the contract of president Tim Connelly, who went to Denver from New Orleans.

Nuggets release:

Nuggets President and Governor Josh Kroenke announced today that the Nuggets have extended the contracts of President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and General Manager Arturas Karnisovas as well and also provided multi-year extensions for the entire basketball operations staff.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I don’t know whether Connelly used the threat of the Pelicans job as leverage. But he deserved this extension, anyway.

The Nuggets have only continued to rise since his previous extension three years ago.

Denver has yet to make the playoffs under Connelly, and he declared this season postseason or bust. Denver (39-18) is second in the Western Conference.

Connelly made a second-round pick so good in Nikola Jokic, it altered the course of the franchise. Connelly has done well to lock Jokic onto a five-year extension, surround him with young talent like Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez and get them a good coach in Michael Malone.

If Denver weren’t stuck barely missing the playoffs in the loaded West the last couple years, we might have been singing Connelly’s praises sooner. But his success is undeniable. The Nuggets are in great shape now and in the future, and Connelly should see that through.