Maybe it won’t be so easy, Magic beat Pacers 81-77 in Game 1

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This was the dull series. This was going to be a sweep (as I predicted). The Orlando Magic without Dwight Howard were not going to be able to hang with an up-and-coming Indiana Pacers team.

Well, unless Indiana helps them out with a terrible offensive performance. One where they looked young and in awe of the moment, not up-and-coming.

The Pacers did not score in the final 4:30 of the game shooting 0-9 down the stretch, which gave way to an 11-0 Magic run and an 81-77 Orlando win in Game 1. Where the Pacers were missing shots, the Magic were gritty and knocking down threes in the clutch (that was mostly Jason Richardson).

The Magic, counted out by everyone (myself included) crowed a little after the game. From the AP.

“Y’all look real stunned,” Magic center Glen Davis, Howard’s replacement, yelled at the crowd as he left the court. “Y’all look real stunned.”

This one game didn’t likely change the outcome of this series — I still think the Pacers will come back and win it — but it shows why experience matters. This shows why it will not be as easy as we thought. And it shows that Stan Van Gundy is going to be a very good coach for some team next year (still don’t think that will be Orlando, but this was a good win for his resume).

Orlando was not an offensive force (they have just 81 points, shot 39.5 percent and scored just 0.82 points per possession) but they made some adjustments to get good looks. Early on they had Jameer Nelson and others driving the lane — and Pacers center Roy Hibbert had four blocks in the first nine minutes. So the Magic adjusted and started driving and kicking — they still only shot 9-25 on their spot up looks in this game, but they were better looks and they hit enough.

They also had a hot Jason Richardson — he was 5-of-8 from three including two key threes late in the fourth quarter. They ran him of screens that created just enough space to get him a look, and he was feeling it.

But the bigger issue was the Pacers offense — they shot just 34.5 percent for the game and were 4-13 from three. Late in the game David West got a good look in the paint, Paul George got two wide open threes, Darren Collison got a good look and just none of it fell. The Pacers looked inexperienced too — none more so then when Danny Granger got Big Baby Glen Davis switched on to him late and rather than attack he tried to step back for a three and traveled. Granger also missed two free throws down the stretch as the Pacers went cold. Granger, supposed to be the best Pacer player, was just not good down the stretch.

Look for the Pacers to go to the things that worked — like the Collison/David West pick and roll. Or just a lot of David West, he had 19 points and 9 boards on the night.

The Magic need more games like that from Nelson and Richardson (each had 17 points). They need some more luck.

But they are not going to roll over, they are not going to make this easy on the young Pacers at all. This is a real series now.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

Associated Press
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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.