NBA Playoff preview: Indiana vs. Orlando

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SEASON RECORDS


Indiana 42-24 (3 seed)
Orlando: 37-29 (6 seed)

SEASON SERIES


Orlando won the season series 3-1, but all four games were played with Dwight Howard in the lineup (he had 30 points in the last meeting) and before the wheels came off the bus in Orlando. Also, all the games were before the Pacers found their end of season groove. Not sure you can take much from those games into this series.

KEY INJURIES

Orlando: Dwight Howard is out due to surgery on a herniated disc in his back. Without him the Magic are 5-9 and one of those wins came against Charlotte. Without him they lack any offensive or defensive identity.

Glen Davis: The primary backup at the five for Howard rolled his ankle Wednesday and it questionable for the start of the series. Even if he plays he will not be 100 percent.

Indiana: While Leandro Barbosa and Danny Granger rested at the end of the regular season due to minor injuries, both are expected to play in Game 1.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Indiana: offense 106.7 (7th); defense 103.1 (9th)
Orlando: offense 105.0 (15th); defense 104.1 (12th)

THREE KEY PACERS:

George Hill: Since he has taken over as the starting point guard the Pacers have gone on a run. His numbers are not mind-blowing — 9 points and 4.3 assists per game in his last 10 — but the offense flows better with him and he can defend. (Plus, with him starting the second unit gets an infusion of quickness with Darren Collison.) The Magic are going to run a lot of pick-and-roll and be bombs away from the perimeter, Hill and Collison need to be on their game defensively.

Roy Hibbert: It’s simple, with no Howard to defend him Hibbert should put up monster numbers in this series. He should have his way inside. He needs to not let the Magic get a lot of second chance points, he needs to defend the paint and he should be able to get deep position and do whatever he wishes on offense.

Danny Granger: He’s the best perimeter player on the Pacers and the team’s leading scorer. For Indiana this postseason is about gaining respect then he needs to be the leader at the forefront of that charge. Orlando’s defense without Howard in the middle is weak and Granger should be attack off the dribble and get to the rim.

THREE KEY MAGIC:

Hedo Turkoglu: He came back from a broken face (basically) on Thursday and if Orlando is to win in this series he is going to have to play 2009. He’s a solid player in the pick and roll and can knock down threes, and Orlando is going to have to knock down a whole lot of threes if they are to win this series.

Ryan Anderson: While he has had a strong season he is going to have to find his touch consistently from deep in this series (he is shooting just 27 percent on threes in his last 10 games). What’s more, he’s not a bad rebounder but he’s going to need to be a monster one in this series with Indiana rolling out David West at the four (and Hibbert at the five). Orlando needs to counter the Pacers advantage inside and Anderson will be at the forefront of that.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis. He is going to have to play through that sprained ankle and play well — Orlando’s offensive and defensive schemes are based around having a dominant presence in the paint and Davis needs to fill those shoes for Orlando to have a chance.

OUTLOOK

I think the Indiana Pacers are a whole lot better than people realize, I think they are on a mission for respect, and I don’t see how this Magic team is really going to stop them. Indiana is a team that can beat you any number of ways, usually with balance and depth (five or six guys in double figures every night), something the Magic just cannot counter now. Orlando is 5-5 in their last 10 games and they may win one in this series simply because Anderson or J.J. Redick get hot from three. But for the most part the Pacers are just too solid at both ends of the court — I’d likely pick them even if Howard were healthy.

If the Pacers want respect it will come when they push the Heat six or seven games in the second round. This round is just the appetizer.

PREDICTION

Indiana in a sweep, 4-0.

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.

Report: R.C. Buford moving on from Spurs GM role, Brian Wright taking over

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For 15 years, through championships and an unparalleled run of playoff berths and success, R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich seemed to work as one brain. Popovich was the coach but also team president, Buford the GM, and together they built an NBA powerhouse.

Buford is moving on from that role. Or, more precisely moving up into a new management role, and assistant GM Brian Wright is taking over as GM, reports Jabari Young of The Athletic.

After a little more than 15 years serving as GM, Buford is getting prepared to bequeath the role to assistant GM Brian Wright, league sources have confirmed to The Athletic. Wright will report directly to Buford, who will officially get a new title that some around the NBA believe will be a role helping to oversee Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

When the Spurs initially hired Wright in 2016, he stayed behind the scenes and focused mainly on scouting. But sources have informed The Athletic over the last year Wright has been more involved, even fielding calls and packages for the trade of Kawhi Leonard the previous summer.

Wright came to the Spurs from the Pistons a couple of years ago. That said, don’t expect a big change in how things are done in the Spurs front office. For one thing, Popovich is still there. Also, Wright has an excellent reputation around the league as being smart and a straight shooter. On top of all of that, Buford will remain his ultimate boss, although Buford’s role will change into one of more of a business manager for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

Young hints there could be more changes coming. Obviously, the biggest would be when Popovich decides to step back in his dual roles as coach and president, but there could be shifts in the assistant GM ranks as well.

Just don’t expect the Spurs to stop being the Spurs.

Exclusive video preview: Dwyane Wade joins America’s Got Talent as guest judge

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Dwyane Wade is retired. He’s got some time on his hands.

But if he wants to spend quality time this summer with his wife, Gabrielle Union, he’s got to get on the set of America’s Got Talent, because she is a judge on the hit show. So, Wade did exactly that and steps in this week as a guest judge.

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Next week… it’s going down on @agt

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In the video at the top of this page, you can see an exclusive of Wade and the rest of the AGT crew watching and judging an insane danger act out of India, a sneak preview of the show airing on NBC this Tuesday night (8 p.m.).

Wade knows talent on the court, but we’re going to see what talents impress him on the stage.

Kings hire WNBA’s Lindsey Harding as assistant coach

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have hired former WNBA player Lindsey Harding as an assistant and player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff.

The team also hired Stacey Augmon and Rico Hines on Friday.

Harding played nine years in the WNBA before working as a pro personnel scout and then player development coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

She becomes the latest woman to serve as a coach in the NBA, joining others like Boston’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek and Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Kings have a history of hiring female coaches, notably Nancy Lieberman and Boucek.