Did Orlando blow Dwight Howard trade? Too early to tell.

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With the Lakers, we’re going to know very quickly how this blockbuster four-team Dwight Howard trade worked — they are in win-now mode and with Dwight Howard it is possible for them.

With the Sixers, we’ll know in a few years — Andrew Bynum gives them a true center (on several levels) for their young core, a group that could grow together into something special.

With the Magic it is going to take even longer to judge this trade properly — it is far too early to judge this trade for them. We can’t until we see who they draft.

A lot of people are ripping the Magic today, but to me that is short sighted. If your reaction is “they would have been better with Brook Lopez and the Nets deal” I would counter that nobody is better with Brook Lopez on a max deal. The Nets can absorb that (and the Kris Humphries deal, another guy rumored for Orlando) in a way the Magic cannot. The Nets picks would be no better than the ones they’re getting. Yes, there also were scenarios where Orlando could get Andrew Bynum in three team deals, but those were never that solid and there are questions about whether Orlando kept Bynum past this season when he became a free agent (and Dallas would be out there with cap space).

What the Magic wanted to do in this deal was get young players, a lot of picks, future cap space and rebuild from the ground up. That’s not sexy and easy to sell, but it’s the smart thing to do. Brook Lopez you can sell a little but he kills a rebuilding effort — he’s a huge contract for a nice center. And they would have had to take on Kris Humphries as well, another bloated contract. This deal gets them to their goal of picks and a lot of future cap space.

If you want to argue they could have done better at the trade deadline last year rather than hold on to Howard… maybe. Houston had a good package at the deadline and this summer (more cap space and maybe better picks), but not one dramatically better.  In the case of the Nets offer Orlando would have had flexibility with Lopez then (the Houston deal at the deadline might have worked well). But at the time they wanted to try and win Howard over still.

In retrospect that was their mistake — not pulling the trigger back then.

To judge how the deal they did do works out for Orlando, we are going to have to see what they do with the draft picks and how they pan out.

And I don’t mean the picks they get from the other teams in this trade — those will be second half of the draft picks, not that thrilling.

No, the real key is what they do with their own draft picks. Because the Magic just became a bad team on the court. Their own picks are going to be high lottery ones for the next few years — they have Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington (who will be bought out after this season) and not much else (and you can get those guys from them if you offer more picks and young players).

A lot of teams around the NBA have talked about building in the Oklahoma City model, but Rob Hennigan (a former Thunder assistant GM) has them better placed to do it than anyone. Now, the Thunder had and nailed a top four pick for three consecutive years — we’re not sure the picks will be that high for Orlando. We don’t know if they will draft another Kevin Durant (or Dwight Howard), a true franchise anchor.

They might. They might not. But we can’t judge this trade for nearly five years for Orlando to see what they do with those picks. They have wiped the slate clean to rebuild. It sucks to be a Magic fan today. You just traded away a true franchise center. You can see a rocky road the next few years.

But we don’t know yet what is a few years down the road for this team. We have to wait and see. We can’t judge this trade from their perspective yet.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

Associated Press
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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.

 

LeBron James’ playoff streak ends at 13 years

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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The last time LeBron James missed the playoffs, YouTube hadn’t yet launched to the public.

LeBron had reached the postseason every year since 2005, when his Cavaliers went 42-40 and finished ninth in the East – another good marker. The last time LeBron missed the playoffs, it was so long ago, an Eastern Conference team could be that good and not qualify.

But his Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoff race Friday with a loss to the Nets.

That ends LeBron’s postseason streak at 13 years – tied for the 13th-longest of all-time. Karl Malone and John Stockton hold the record, each playing in 19 straight postseasons.

Here are the longest playoff streaks of all-time:

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Obviously, LeBron joining the Western Conference put his playoff streak in greater jeopardy. And the Lakers’ fate has been known for a while.

Still, it’ll be a little jarring to watch a postseason that doesn’t include a player who ruled half the bracket for so long.

That said, LeBron might not have the longest playoff streak snapped this year. Tony Parker, who reached the playoffs in all 17 of his seasons with the Spurs, could fall short in his first season with the Hornets.

If Charlotte misses the playoffs, 76ers guard J.J. Redick is in line to hold the longest active streak at 13 years.

Here are the players with the longest active streaks that could continue this season.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs in their stint with their current team, that team is listed in brackets.

Players whose teams are currently in playoff position are in teal. Players whose teams are currently outside playoff position but not yet eliminated are in purple. Free agents who’d be eligible for the playoffs if they sign before the end of the regular season are in white:

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There’s no reason to believe Manu Ginobili will come out of retirement. But he has played in every postseason since missing the entire 2009 playoffs due to injury. It’s technically possible for him to play in the 2019 playoffs and keep his streak alive.

Which is more than LeBron can say.

Knicks’ fans chant “Free IT” as Isaiah Thomas sits on Nuggets bench

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Well played, Knicks fans.

Denver went into Madison Square Garden Friday night to be the latest team to defeat the Knicks. Isaiah Thomas, out of the rotation in Denver, was the only dressed player not to play for the Nuggets. That did not sit well with Knicks fans.

Denver has better on court options than IT — Monte Morris should get Most Improved Player votes — but I hope he gets fully healthy and lands somewhere next season where he gets a chance to show what he can still do.