Five Things We Learned In NBA Wednesday: One half of Durant, Westbrook is all you need

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while thinking maybe you don’t want to go swimming in Australia

One half of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook is all you need. Okay, maybe we didn’t learn that so much as get reminded on Wednesday. Oklahoma City has now won four in a row and, finally with everyone healthy, are starting to play like the legit title contender we thought they were. And all of that is because of Westbrook and Durant, who turned it on in the second half after a sloppy second quarter from the Thunder when they shot 4-of-22 as a team (OKC was down a dozen at the break). In the second half the best one-two punch in the NBA just took over — Westbrook had 25 in the second half, Durant 21. When Westbrook was using his athleticism to attack he was dangerous, when he settled it was a win for Washington — in the second half Westbrook was 8-of-9 shooting in the paint and 2-of-11 outside it. Which is why when he attacked and didn’t settle he got the overtime game winner.

No matter how well Durant and Westbrook are playing it’s not going to be easy for Oklahoma City to catch Phoenix. The Thunder are just three back of the Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, and if you look at Phoenix’s schedule and see eight quality playoff teams in a row lined up you think they will lose a few and OKC will close that gap easily. Nope. The Suns started out this gauntlet beating Portland Wednesday night to make it four straight win. The three guard attack of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas combined for 76 points, while Gerald Green scored another dozen. Oklahoma City may well catch Phoenix at some point but this is not going to be easy for them.

Kyle Korver can dunk. The Hawks sharpshooter is a borderline All-Star because he’s having as good a shooting season as anyone has in the history of the NBA — he’s shooting 53.5 percent from three this season. But what he really wants to do is dunk — for the first time in two years Korver threw it down on Wednesday. We wouldn’t believe it either, but there is video evidence.

Andre Drummond vs. Nikola Vucevic could be a fun matchup for years to come. Brandon Jennings was the story in the Pistons’ win over the Magic — 24 points and 21 assists — but what I was watching in this game was a matchup of potential All-Star centers from the East in Andre Drummond and Nikola Vucevic. It’s a contrast of styles (which is why they weren’t matched head-to-head all game long). Vucevic scored a couple times on Drummond (and missed a couple) on traditional post ups but the strength of his game is that he can pop out and hit the 15-18 foot jumper, something Drummond didn’t always contest (to be fair he had rim protecting duties on a lot of those and needed help rotations). Drummond on the other hand got the ball in the post more and was 4-of-5 by my count on Vucevic in that setting. The bottom line is Vucevic ended up with 26 points and 15 boards, Drummond 26 points and 17 boards. These are two of the best young centers in the game and we would be watching them battle for many years.

Head-to-head, the Sixers are tanking harder than the Knicks. The real losers here? Anyone who paid for tickets to this game. Philadelphia met New York and unfortunately for two tanking teams someone had to win. Sure, the players didn’t see it that way but you can be sure parts of the fan bases (and front offices) did. The Sixers sat Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel and that was enough to give the Knicks the edge and the win behind 27 from Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks have a two-game winning streak and they are just half a game (two in the loss column) behind the Sixers.

Rui Hachimura gets destroyed by kid in Pop-A-Shot-like game (video)

Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura
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Rui Hachimura got kicked so hard in the groin by a teammate, the Wizards rookie needed surgery.

That’s pretty awful. Yet, there’s still a new contender for the worst moment of Hachimura’s season.

At All-Star Weekend in Chicago for Rising Stars, Hachimura faced a kid in a Pop-A-Shot-like game. It didn’t go well for Hachimura.

Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News:

An NBA player losing to a kid is bad enough. Twice, we’re entering troubling territory.

But claiming the game is cheating, demanding to switch sides and still getting routed?

That’s a ROUGH look.

Orlando Magic to build new practice/health facility

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Last week, before the NBA world headed off to Chicago for the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend, the Orlando City Council voted to approve the sale of a plot of land to the Orlando Magic.

That land, located between the Amway Center (home of the Magic) and Exploria Stadium (home of Major League Soccer’s Orlando City Soccer Club) will become the site of the Magic’s new practice facility. The building will also house a community health center an orthopedic center. The Magic hope to have the facility ready in time for the 2021-22 NBA season.

When the Magic moved into the Amway Center in 2010, it was a state-of-the-art building. Not only is the Amway Center the home of the Magic for games, it’s the center of their entire basketball operation. The backside of the building is entirely dedicated to the Magic practice facility, including weight room, therapy and training space, and offices for the basketball staff.

The challenge with this setup is that there is little to no room to expand. For example, there is just one full court, as was seen during the Orlando Summer League, which ran from the building’s opening through 2017. In addition, there are two shorter courts, which run horizontally across the main court.

Magic CEO Alex Martins said the Magic and AdventHealth (who will run the community health center and orthopedic center) “will build a world-class practice and health facility”. Martins and Magic President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman, have toured other facilities around the NBA to gain insights and ideas in what Orlando should be looking for in a new facility.

The new building is expected to include at least two full courts, and likely additional baskets for drills and shooting work. In addition, as NBA teams invest more in health and physical science, the new facility will have space for equipment related to those advances as well. That type of addition to a facility allows a team to keep all of it basketball training and medical rehabilitation all under one roof.

When Kevin Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets, he commented that one reason was the Nets practice and training facility. Multiple players have commented that Brooklyn went all out when building the facility and regularly uses it as a recruitment tool in free agency. While facing a lengthy rehab from a torn Achilles’, Durant is able to work out and get treatment in the same building as his active teammates. In recent years, the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and others have upgraded their facilities.

NBA players desire simplicity when off the court. By keeping medical and practice facilities in the same building, it allows for them to go to one location. Where the Magic will build their new facility is right around the corner from the Amway Center, which allows players to commute to the same general vicinity as they do today.

The Orlando Magic already have some built in advantages when it comes to recruiting players. Central Florida has beautiful weather year-round, there is no state income tax, plus there are major players in the entertainment business and a growing technology sector in the Orlando area.

The Magic have used those benefits in the past to lure free agents like Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. Adding a shiny new practice facility to the list, just as a banner crop of free agents hits the market, is something Orlando hopes can get it back in the superstar mix once again.

Report: Villanova coach Jay Wright not reciprocating Knicks’ interest

Villanova coach Jay Wright, rumored Knicks target
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A report of the Knicks being interested in Jay Wright and Wright emphasizing his happiness at Villanova.

Let’s do it again.

Adam Zagoria of Forbes:

League sources say Villanova coach Jay Wright could become the next head coach of the Knicks.

“There is a strong possibility that Jay Wright in New York could happen,” one league source said.

Dana O’Neil of The Athletic:

The Knicks are reportedly hiring Leon Rose to run their front office. Presumably, he’ll choose New York’s next coach.

Despite the Knicks’ denial, Steve Stoute let the cat out off the bag: The Knicks aren’t keeping interim coach Mike Miller. Perhaps, Miller can rally late in the season and change their minds. But it seems unlikely.

So, we’re in a limbo period where many candidates will emerge. Getting reported as a possibility is a great way for a coach to get publicity and maybe even gain leverage in contract negotiations at a current job. It can be difficult to tell which rumors are real.

But when a credible reporter like O’Neil states something with such certainty and attributes it to only a single source, that carries major weight.

Rockets to add Spurs buyout DeMarre Carroll, free agent Jeff Green

Spurs forward DeMarre Caroll
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that DeMarre Carroll and the San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a buyout. Carroll will then sign with the Houston Rockets:

ESPN’s Tim McMahon added in a subsequent report that the Rockets will bring in free agent forward Jeff Green:

Green will first sign a 10-day contract with the Rockets, so he can get used to their system and see if there is a fit, Woj reported.

Carroll signed a three-year, $20.65 million contract as part of a sign and trade from the Brooklyn Nets to the Spurs this past summer. That agreement was part of a three-team trade that saw San Antonio send forward Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards. The 10-year veteran is owed $7 million for this season, $6.65 million for 2020-21 and $1.35 million guaranteed for 2021-22. San Antonio will incur a cap hit for each of the three seasons as part of the buyout process with Carroll. How much of a cap hit will depend on how much money Carroll gave up as part of the buyout agreement.

Carroll was added via sign and trade after Marcus Morris spurned the Spurs in free agency. Morris had originally agreed to sign with San Antonio, but backed out after the New York Knicks offered him $15 million as a free agent. The Spurs moved on to Carroll as a backup plan, but he was never able to crack the rotation. He’s played only 135 minutes over 15 games with San Antonio.

Green was with the Utah Jazz earlier this season, before being waived to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker. The 11-year veteran Green averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances with Utah. The Rockets will be the ninth different franchise Green has played for.

In Houston, Carroll and Green will join Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball crew as big man depth. Carroll and Green will likely back up P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington up front. Their experience at both forward spots will give the Rockets additional depth for their playoff run. Carroll and Green are also likely be to asked to play some center, as Houston has downsized dramatically at that position, including trading Clint Capela at the trade deadline.