Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Masked Russell Westbrook just needs a cape

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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 being concerned about the amount of crap (literally) left on Mount Everest

1) Russell Westbrook is a destroyer of worlds. Anytime you do something that can only be compared to Michael Jordan you are killing it. After Wednesday night’s 49-16-10 line, Russell Westbrook now has put up four straight games with a triple-double — the last guy to do that was MJ. Westbrook has been superhuman and has to be right in the middle of any MVP discussion — especially putting up these numbers days after surgery to his face that forced him to wear a mask. Westbrook’s 49 points against a better-than-you-think Sixers defense moved him past James Harden as the leading scorer in the NBA this season. Westbrook now averages 27 points a game, Harden 26.9. OKC needed this game (the Pelicans remain one back for the final playoff spot in the West), and Westbrook got it for them. Maybe what has impressed me most about Westbrook is we have seen numerous other athletes in other sports come back from injuries and it takes a while to get over the mental hurdle, to play fearlessly again. Not Westbrook. Mask or no mask he only knows how to attack.

2) Get that man some coffee: Marc Gasol is a closer. You’ll hear this heading into the playoffs: “But who are the Grizzlies going to give to ball to when they need to close out games? They don’t have that star.” Show them video of this game — Marc Gasol knows how to close. Alec Baldwin would get him coffee. Houston was rightfully frustrated after not getting a foul call on Harden at the other end, but the final play shows why the Rockets need Dwight Howard back for the postseason. Terrence Jones had another strong game for the Rockets, but for much of the key parts of the game Kevin McHale had him matched up on Gasol. Jones tried but he is not going to win that matchup, and he didn’t with the game on the line.

3) Anthony Davis returned and reminded us he’s as good as anyone. Here’s a name nobody is mentioning anymore in the MVP race but should be in your five-man ballot: Anthony Davis. He missed five games with his shoulder injury but was back Wednesday and had 39 points and 13 rebounds. The Pistons defended him, but Davis hit 13-of-17 contested shots. That’s insane. In the final minute, he knocked down two midrange jumpers, pulled down a rebound, and altered the potential game-tying three. Oklahoma City likely gets the eight seed but the Davis and his Pelicans are not going away.

4) Portland in the NBA Finals? It could happen. The Trail Blazers have become my dark horse team to come out of the West and this game shows why. Portland was down 10 inside three minutes to go but they close games well, they have a defense with size in the paint (hello Robin Lopez) that can get stops, they have a good defender on the perimeter in Wes Mattews, and they have guys who can knock down threes. Damian Lillard missed his first 12 shots yet Portland was able to grind out a good win against the Clippers. With the addition of Arron Afflalo, there’s just a lot to like in Portland.

5) Charlotte looked like a playoff team knocking-off Brooklyn. If you watched this game you would have had no idea these two teams came into Wednesday tied for the eighth seed in the East — Charlotte was clearly the better squad. The Hornets went on a 27-4 first quarter run, and that was about it for the game — Charlotte moved the ball better on offense and defended better on defense. Mo Williams was brilliant again for them, helping save their season. There are six teams battling for two playoff spots in the East, I like Charlotte’s chances. And remember, the Hornets get Kemba Walker back soon from injury — they are only getting better.

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.