Olajuwon doesn’t think “super teams” are good for NBA

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We’ve heard this all before. Part of what fueled the owners during the lockout was what happened in Miami — that was well behind the financial motivations for the owners, but it was there. Owners didn’t like players controlling their own destiny to form a “super team.”

The argument is that super teams not good for the NBA — small market teams need to have a chance and be able to compete or the NBA becomes MLB with a handful of rich teams and everyone else playing catch up. That argument looks at the NFL’s parity as a model to strive for.

I don’t buy it (and we’ll get to that). But a lot of people do, a lot of people think the super teams are bad for the league.

And Hall of Famer and current big man guru Hakeem Olajuwon is one of them. Look what he told the USA Today.

“That’s the dilemma the league has to balance to make sure each team at least has the opportunity to have a superstar and has the opportunity to be a championship contender. That’s the goal of every team, but now the quality of players, true franchise players, is less than what it was…

“There are superstars and then there are franchise players,” Olajuwon said. “There are superstars in their own right, but a franchise player is a player who can carry his team to the next level. There are always very few of those in any era, true franchise players. Once you have that player, you can build your team around him. Today, the ones who are franchise players are teaming up together, which makes it more difficult for the teams without a superstar or a franchise player.

“I think in time, when you have guys coming from college who have the potential to be a superstar, they’re going to be drafted by a losing team that can then ultimately be a contender, and that’s what we need to see more of. We need to see college players who are superstars or can be franchise caliber players who can take those teams from being average teams to being a contender.”

Here are four reasons I don’t think this holds water.

First, the NBA has always been a league of super teams. What do you think the 1960s Celtics were? So the Lakers went out and had to get Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain together to compete with them. It was true in the 1980s (Boston trades for Robert Parish and pick that becomes Kevin McHale for peanuts to pair with Larry Bird). Yes, those teams were assembled differently in an era before free agency, but they were still super teams. And for the record, Olajuwon himself was part of one, his Rockets went out and got Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, they needed more star power to compete.

Second, fans love super teams. Look at the television ratings from the past couple years. Fans watch the Heat more than anyone else. It’s the same way fans were drawn to the Bulls in the 1990s and the Lakers and Celtics before them. Some NBA fans claim to want parity, but their eyeballs don’t lie and they tune in to watch these super teams in a way they do not parity.

Third, you can never have NFL style parity in the NBA anyway because great players can control the game in a way no single football player can. If you have LeBron James or Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant or even peak Olajuwon you have a player who can change the game on both ends of the floor for 80 percent of the game’s plays. Superstar basketball talent has a huge advantage and if you have one of those 10 or so guys franchise guys at any given time you are going to win a lot whether or not you pair them up.

Finally, fourth and to Olajuwon’s point directly — small market teams in the NBA do have a chance if they are smart. Oklahoma City is a small market that is smart and drafted well. San Antonio is a small market. New Orleans is a small market that just got potential franchise player Anthony Davis. Cleveland is a small market and the reason they lost LeBron James is not the bright lights of Miami but their own missteps in building a team and how they let LeBron have too much power around the organization. LeBron didn’t have to grow up in Cleveland, they enabled him in a way Pat Riley didn’t in Miami.

The same is true in Orlando — they had a chance with Dwight Howard, they lost him. The fact he went to L.A. may gall Magic fans, but the organization lost Howard long before a destination was chosen.

Small market teams in the NBA have a chance — their margin for error is smaller than for Los Angeles or New York, but they have a real and legitimate chance. Fans will tune in to watch a small market super team just like they will a big market one. So long as they have the star power in uniform.

Because the NBA is a league of stars. Not parity.

Russell Westbrook outduels Damian Lillard, Thunder pick up win to get back in series

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook called his play in Game 2 “unacceptable.”

It was more than acceptable in Game 3. He had 33 points and 11 assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 on Friday night to cut their series deficit to 2-1.

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder. They will host Game 4 on Sunday night.

Damian Lillard scored 32 points, but he had just three in the fourth quarter after scoring 25 in the third.

C.J. McCollum had 21 and Enes Kanter added 19.

Oklahoma City closed the second quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 49-39 lead. Lillard was held to four points on 2 -or-6 shooting and the Trail Blazers shot 37.5% in the half.

George hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw in the opening minutes of the second half to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 55-43. Westbrook backed down Lillard, hit a bank shot and was fouled. Westbrook brought out his “rock the baby” celebration, then made the free throw to put Oklahoma City up by 15.

Lillard scored 23 points the rest of the quarter to help cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 86-82 at the end of the period. McCollum hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 89 early in the fourth.

Oklahoma City regained control, then kept it. Westbrook’s jumper with just over two minutes remaining put the Thunder up 10.

 

Celtics beat Pacers 104-96 to take 3-0 series lead

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Kyrie Irving added 19 to help the Boston Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers 104-96 on Friday night for a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.

The Celtics can close out the Eastern Conference series Sunday in Indianapolis.

Irving also had 10 assists and five rebounds.

Tyreke Evans matched his career playoff high with 19 points for the Pacers. Bojan Bogdanovic had 15, not enough to prevent Indiana from losing its sixth straight to Boston in the regular season and playoff.

Indiana desperately needed a win to avoid facing its second sweep in three years, but Boston started fast and closed it with a 10-4 spurt late in the fourth quarter.

And once again, Boston’s defense turned the game by allowing just 12 points in the third quarter.

It’s been that kind of series for Indiana, which erased a 15-point first half deficit to take a 61-59 halftime lead. Myles Turner opened the third with a 3-pointer to make it a five-point game.

But Boston charged back with eight straight points to retake the lead, closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to make it 80-73 and pulled away late.

The Celtics took control quickly by going 8 of 10 on 3s in the first quarter to build a 37-22 lead.

Evans finally got the Pacers righted with 12 second-quarter points including bookend 3s to start and finish the 17-3 spurt that allowed Indiana to tie it at 52. The Pacers closed the half on a 9-2 run to take the lead.

 

Pascal Siakam scores 30, leads Raptors past Magic for 2-1 series lead

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Raptors think Pascal Siakam should be selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

He was their MVP on Friday night.

And the East’s No. 2 seed has the home-court edge back again.

Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a floater with 1:33 left to help snuff out a big Orlando rally and the Raptors held off the Magic 98-93 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

“He’s unbelievable,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better.”

Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting.

“It’s just taking what a defense gives us and going with it,” Siakam said.

Kawhi Leonard — battling illness this week — had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green had 13 points and Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, plus ran down a huge offensive rebound with about 15 seconds left to extend a critical possession and spoil Orlando’s first home playoff game since 2012.

“It was really what I thought it was going to be tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I really thought this was going to be a tough atmosphere to play in.”

Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.

“Our turnovers hurt us again,” Vucevic said, lamenting Orlando’s 16 giveaways. “We had too many of those. Empty possessions for us and against a team like that you can’t have that.”

The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third after a brief Orlando spurt, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.

That being said, they went down swinging.

Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.

Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, Lowry ran it down and Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to clinch the win.

“Critical,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.

Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Magic got within 48-45 at the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.

The Magic got the lead twice in the second half, once by one point, the other by two points. And both leads lasted exactly 15 seconds, getting taken away on 3-pointers by Siakam and Green.

And now it’s up to Orlando to regroup, the same way Toronto did after dropping Game 1.

“It’s 2-1,” Clifford said. “It’s not like it’s 3-0. It’s 2-1…. Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s a bigger part of playoff basketball.”

Watch Orlando’s Terrence Ross drain halfcourt buzzer beater just before half

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Back on their home court, the Orlando Magic are hanging right with the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 1-1 series.

This helped.

It looked like the Magic would go into halftime down by at least six, and then Terrence Ross did this.

Ross’ name came up a lot just before the trade deadline when other teams thought the Magic would decide to tank and move on from their players who could bring back assets to help the rebuild. The Magic were 10 games below .500 and four games out of the eight seed. Orlando decided instead to push for the postseason, and they made their first playoffs since the Dwight Howard era, climbing all the way to the seven seed. That would not have happened without Ross.

Now they are making the most of their opportunity.