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.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.

Report: Hornets rookie Miles Bridges to compete in dunk contest

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Want to see more dunks like this and this?

Watch the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Miles Bridges, the No. 12 pick in last year’s draft, has quickly proven himself as belonging in the Hornets’ rotation. He’s active, capable of getting to the rim and picks up defensive concepts quickly.

But like most rookies picked in the middle of the first round, he hasn’t yet earned a national profile.

The dunk contest will be his opportunity to change that.

Bulls’ Wendell Carter reportedly out 8-12 weeks following thumb surgery

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Wendell Carter Jr. has had a strong rookie season in Chicago: 10.3 points a game, 7 rebounds, showing real strength and touch inside and getting 67 percent of his shot attempts in the paint. The advanced stats like him: He’s got an above average PER and Value over Replacement Player, something very rare for a rookie. He looks like a key part of the future in Chicago.

And he’s out for the next two-to-three months.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune first reported that Carter might have ligament damage in his left thumb requiring surgery, and that coach Jim Boylen said Carter was seeing a specialist. Shams Charania of The Athletic took it to the next step.

That’s a blow to his development but doesn’t really change the trajectory of a Bulls team that will pick high in next June’s draft.

This does not change the Bulls’ plans heading into the trade deadline — big man Robin Lopez is still available (but likely will end up a buyout candidate) reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Bobby Portis will get more run with Carter out.

The young Bulls have been hit hard by injuries this season.  Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Portis have all missed time, and Denzel Valentine has yet to play a game for Chicago this season.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis: ‘We will never, ever tank’

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Before the season, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis stated his goals: 50 wins and the conference finals.

Washington is 19-26 and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

Time to shift priorities?

NBC Sports Washington:

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards are too talented to tank right now. Led by Bradley Beal, they have a roster of capable veterans. They just traded for Trevor Ariza, making that even more true.

As bad as they’ve been, the Wizards are just 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position. They will likely miss the postseason, but there’s no alternative better than trying to get there. They’re too far down the road toward winning now to simply pivot into a rebuilding.

But what about if the Wizards get eliminated from playoff contention with games left in the season? They won’t tank down the stretch to improve their draft position? What’s the point of that?

And what about future seasons? Washington will have a tough time building a satisfactory winner after signing John Wall to a super-max extension that kicks in next season. That difficult-to-move contract almost mandates the Wizards prioritize the present. A healthy Wall is good enough to ensure Washington can’t bottom out – for now.

Wall be 32 in the final year of that deal. The Wizards could be in ruins by then. Taking the option to tank off the table would be a mistake.

To be fair, I’m not totally sure Leonsis is doing that. Owners almost never admit to tanking. Most deny it.

But this goes a level beyond. This is far more forceful than Leonsis had to be, which makes me believe it’s actually his plan.

That’s fine right now. Eventually, it could make a futile situation far worse.