NBA Playoffs: Atlanta takes Game 4, Orlando is still searching

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We’re well past a mere first round scare or claims of an “upset alert.” With an 88-85 win in Game 4, the Atlanta Hawks have pushed the fourth-seeded Orlando Magic to the very edge of their playoff lives, a considerable achievement considering the regular season profiles of both teams. The Magic were the league’s fourth best team this season according to efficiency differential (per Hoopdata.com), while the Hawks were merely the 18th best. Atlanta flashed all of the flaws that their ranking would suggest on Sunday night, but it didn’t matter — the Hawks’ Game 4 performance was enough to secure a crucial victory.

The Hawks honestly tried their damnedest to lose this game. They turned the ball over on 15.4 percent of their possessions. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford tried to lock out the rest of their teammates on offense. Josh Smith pulled himself up by the net to chase a blocked shot, which resulted in an automatic goaltending violation — just one of his many head-scratching plays. With 28 seconds remaining in the game and holding just a three-point advantage, Crawford hijacked control of the ball and forced his team into a shot clock violation. One could go on and on with Atlanta’s blunders, but none of it would mean a damn thing; the Hawks made all of those mistakes and then some, and still pulled within a single victory of the second round.

In Game 4, the shot creation issues that have plagued the Magic throughout the entire series were exacerbated by a complete inability among Orlando’s players (save Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas) to connect on even their uncontested shot attempts. Jason Richardson’s absence hurt, if only because it’s hard to imagine that he would have played worse than Hedo Turkoglu (six points, 2-12 FG) or J.J. Redick (two points, 0-6 FG). Gilbert Arenas came back from the dead to contribute 20 points (on 18 shots) to complement Dwight Howard’s 29 points and 17 rebounds, but the rest of the Magic shot an atrocious 27.7 percent from the field, and a frankly amazing 1-of-20 from three-point range. Orlando isn’t an elite offensive team by any means, but they’re sinking lower and lower into the doldrums with every game. It’s widely known that Howard is the only standout defensive player on the roster, but he may be the only standout offensive player, too.

The Magic aren’t quite hopeless, but they haven’t yet demonstrated the ability to win this series. The defense has been up to par, but scoring at a rate of 93.4 points per 100 possessions (Orlando’s woeful offensive efficiency in Game 4) isn’t going to cut it. Unfortunately, Orlando doesn’t have many readily accessible avenues to efficient scoring. Jason Richardson is a genuine help, but he hasn’t established a game-changing precedent in this year’s playoffs; Richardson has largely been interchangeable with his ineffective perimeter-oriented teammates.

So where, really can Orlando turn for more offensive production? Arenas’ Game 4 outburst was nice for the Magic, but depending on Gil is a mistake given his disappointing play this season. Nelson and Turkoglu have proven completely inadequate as Howard sidekicks. Redick and Ryan Anderson can’t capitalize on their opportunities. Brandon Bass has been decent (relatively speaking), but can’t generate the scoring output that Orlando needs. Stan Van Gundy is undoubtedly kept up late at night pondering the best ways to maximize this roster’s offensive potential, but there’s no easy cure for his insomnia. The Magic defense has been there (and held the Hawks to 96.7 points per 100 possessions in Game 4), but no Magic player except for Dwight Howard could — or can — score with any consistency. Orlando’s collective fate isn’t yet sealed, but it may as well be; the skill sets of Orlando’s players aren’t likely to change between now and Game 5, which leaves precious few possibilities for the Magic’s revival.

T.J. Warren targets Dec. 2 for return to court for Brooklyn Nets

2022-2023 Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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T.J. Warren was a breakout star in the bubble, averaging 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers.

Warren has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

The Nets signed him this season hoping he could get healthy and provide some depth off the bench at the four. We’re about to find out if that can happen on Dec. 2, with Warren targeting his return then Toronto, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Nets have not confirmed this timeline. However, coach Jacque Vaughn has recently talked up Warren’s workouts and hinted that a return is getting close.

A healthy Warren could be a big boost for a Nets team looking for more of a spark off the bench.

 

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

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The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

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PHOENIX — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Watch Spurs Collins bloody Russell Westbrook with a foul, get ejected

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
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Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.

Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied. Westbrook bounced back up and LeBron James had to hold him back from going after Collins.

Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.

Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.

The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.