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Improved 3-point shooting has Hornets thinking playoffs

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Maybe the Charlotte Hornets are catching Curry fever.

The Hornets, who play about 20 miles from where sharpshooter Stephen Curry starred at Davidson College and who employ Stephen’s long-distance shooting father Dell as a broadcaster, are suddenly one of the NBA’s hottest shooting 3-point teams.

The seemingly playoff-bound Hornets (42-31) are averaging 10.6 made 3-pointers per game, second only to Curry’s Golden State Warriors. Behind the improved shooting of fifth-year point guard Kemba Walker and a revamped roster, the Hornets are hitting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc – sixth-best in the league.

That’s hard to fathom considering just last season the Hornets finished last in the NBA in 3-point shooting efficiency, making just 31 percent.

But an offseason spent revamping the roster by adding long-distance shooters and players with an ability to penetrate and open up the outside game has paid off.

“We have guys with chips on their shoulders; guys with a lot to prove,” Walker said. “For myself I know I had to get my percentages up.”

He’s done that.

Walker is shooting a career-best 37.9 percent from 3-point range, a marked increase from the 31.7 percent he made during his first four seasons.

Veteran power forward Marvin Williams has also elevated his long-distance game, shooting a career-best 40.2 percent on 3s. Walker, Williams and Nicolas Batum all rank in the top 25 in the league in 3-pointers made.

The Hornets are getting smaller, but still significant contributions from rookie 7-foot power forward Frank Kaminsky, and guards Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb and Courtney Lee, all new to the team this season. Charlotte is assured of a winning season, and they had the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference entering Monday night.

The additions of Lin and Lamb have helped open up more shots because of their ability to penetrate.

“They can make plays off the dribble and draw defenders and get an open guy the basketball and make an open shot,” Walker said. “And we have guys like Marvin (Williams) and Frank (Kaminsky) who can stretch the floor out. There’s a lot of spacing, so I feel like spacing attributes” to the improved shooting.

Third-year coach Steve Clifford is all for the Hornets letting it fly, although he preaches the importance of his team working inside-out and making sure the ball reaches the paint before any shots go up on most possessions.

When Clifford was an assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy in Orlando, the Magic were known for playing four-in, one-out basketball – and knocking down 3s.

So Clifford is comfortable playing that style.

“I think that worked for Mike D’Antoni, who gets a lot of credit for that, and also Stan,” Clifford said. “Stan is doing that same thing in Detroit. I think a lot of the things that we do are things I learned from them.”

The Hornets haven’t had small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist except for seven games this season.

While they miss his defense, hustle and ability to get to the basket, Kidd-Gilchrist has never been considered a dangerous long-distance shooter. In fact, he didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer in 55 games last season.

With Batum playing the 3-spot and Williams at the four, the Hornets are getting more offensive production from long range. Williams has made 135 3-pointers this season and Batum 133.

But Walker’s improvement is most noticeable.

He’s made 158 3-pointers, 14th-most in the league and by far the most of his budding career. He said he’s shooting the ball with a confidence he hasn’t had since his final year at Connecticut, when he led the Huskies to a national championship.

“Over the last couple of years, as far as consistency, it just hasn’t worked out for me. This year it has,” Walker said. “Just the guys that we have helped as well with spreading the floor out and me seeing the basketball go through the net early in the season has given me confidence. I’m trying to stay confident.”

Report: All-Star fourth quarter featured more than 15 minutes of gameplay

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One overlooked feature of the NBA’s new All-Star game format: It seemed designed to shorten the game.

Sure, the league wanted to add an interesting wrinkle to a game that had grown stale. The exact details were tweaked to honor Kobe Bryant.

But – in the era of load management – shaving a few minutes off the exhibition game should be taken as a feature, not a bug.

This year’s game ended when a team scored 24 more points than the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. The last time a team had scored 24 or fewer in All-Star quarter: 2010, when the East scored just 23 in the fourth quarter.  In the decade since – including the first three quarters Sunday – All-Star teams averaged 24 points every seven minutes.

But Sunday’s fourth quarter took a while longer than the standard 12 minutes for LeBron James‘ team to outscore Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s team, 33-22.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Defenses really turned up in the fourth quarter. Here’s how the teams’ shooting percentages changed from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter:

  • 2-pointers: 73% to 46%
  • 3-pointers: 34% to 23%

More shots being contested also led to more fouls. After attempting just 13 free throws in the first three quarters, the teams took 26 free throws in the fourth quarter.

In The Basketball Tournament, which first introduced the Elam Ending, the target score is eight more points than the leading team has at the first whistle inside four minutes. By turning off the game clock later, there’s less room for variance in gameplay length.

I suspect the NBA would have also turned off the clock later if not using the target score to honor Bryant. Because Bryant wore No. 24 last, the league has generally used that – not his other number, No. 8 – in tributes, including the All-Star jerseys.

With All-Star MVP now named for Bryant – a perfectly fitting lasting tribute – the league can alter the ending format next year.

The concept is sound. The exact execution just needs tweaking.

Bulls’ starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.

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.