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NBA Three Things to Know: Is Orlando for real or a mirage?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed while watching Yu Darvish cost the Dodgers a World Series.

1) Are the Orlando Magic for real? Wednesday night saw the battle of the surprise starts: Orlando vs. Memphis. Both teams were projected to miss the playoffs by most (myself included), and both teams had started out 5-2, which had people re-thinking what the postseason might look like. The Grizzlies were without Mike Conley (out with a sore Achilles, which is concerning considering his injury history) while the Magic still had Aaron Gordon. Ballgame.

Orlando is off to a 6-2 start… but are they for real? Or, is this an illusion of great basketball, much like the illusions that draw millions to the city each year?

Orlando has the second-best offense in the NBA so far this season, averaging 109.9 points per 100 possessions. However, they are doing that via the jump shot mostly — they are 26th in the NBA in percentage of shots at the rim with just 29.5 percent of their attempts from there (stats via Cleaning The Glass, which eliminates garbage time from their stats). In the modern NBA the goal is to get efficient shots, which are the ones at the rim or from three (ideally corner threes, but good defenses are better at taking that away now). Orlando is 20th in the league in the number of corner threes taken and 15th in threes overall, but they take the ninth most midrange shots.

What the Magic are doing so far is hitting those jumpers — Orlando is shooting a 41.8 percent from the midrange overall, and a very good 48.4 percent on long two pointers (second in the league). Plus they lead the NBA shooting 45.3 percent from three (again stats via Cleaning the Glass, so no garbage time in there).

When you ask if Orlando’s offense is sustainable, the question becomes: Can they keep hitting jumpers at that rate? Probably not. Last season the Magic did shoot 40.8 percent from the midrange overall, but the best team in the NBA hit just 45 percent on long twos (Warriors). Also, the best three-point shooting team in the NBA last season hit 39.3 percent (Spurs). The Warriors hit 37.9 percent from three. I like Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, but they are no Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson from deep. The Magic will return to earth with those jumpers, they will not keep falling at this rate.

A lot of the basis of this note was done better by Ben Falk earlier this week. He is the guy behind Cleaning the Glass, and he noted that defensively the Magic are doing a good job defending the arc but are giving up a lot of shots at the rim, teams are just not hitting those shots at a high rate. That likely changes, too.

Are the Orlando Magic for real? Define real. Are they going to stay at the top of the East all season? No. The jumpers will stop falling as much, opposing teams will start to shoot better, and things will return to earth a little. But are they a playoff team in the East? Very possibly. Frank Vogel has gotten the pieces on this team to fit much better, Gordon is far better playing the four, Fournier has found more space, Jonathan Simmons has been fantastic, and the Magic are starting to put it together. This is a good team — maybe not as good as their start has looked, but a good one nonetheless.

2) Now it is time for our daily “what the heck is wrong with the Cavaliers?” segment. Turns out, a team “clear the air” meeting was not the only thing the Cavaliers needed.

The Cavaliers have now dropped four in a row after falling to the pesky Indiana Pacers 124-107.

Indiana carved up a Cleveland defense that is now second worst in the NBA overall allowing 111.3 points per 100 possessions — and the Cavs are worst overall if you take garbage time out of the equation. Cleveland is terrible in transition, plus they are doing a poor job running teams off the three-point line (and teams are knocking down those threes, shooting 43.8 percent against the Cavs from deep this season). Indiana did that to Cleveland Wednesday, hitting 16-of-26 from three (61.5 percent). The Pacers moved the ball and got the looks they wanted, and they carved up the Cavaliers with the pick-and-roll in the halfcourt and forcing rotations Cleveland was slow to make. As has been the pattern all season.

On offense, the Cavaliers were not moving the ball and were just trying to beat guys one-on-one.

It’s hard to say how serious the Cavaliers’ problems really are right now because they just don’t care yet. Call it a Finals hangover after having gone three years in a row, blame the injury to Isaiah Thomas, heck blame Donald Trump if you want, the answer is the same — until the Cavaliers not named LeBron James (who has been phenomenal this season) start to show up and perform, it doesn’t matter. Yes, there are serious questions about this team, it’s defense, and it’s playoff rotations (can they survive with Thomas and Derrick Rose defending at the point against good teams?) That’s not the issue yet. Brian Windhorst of ESPN had a great point on the Lowe Post podcast — the Cavaliers right now cared more about their Halloween costumes for LeBron’s annual bash than they did the games on either side of it. The team meeting didn’t change Cleveland’s focus, so we continue to wait on them. Eventually, they will wake up, but who knows when.

3) Jahlil Okafor and Sixers still at odds over future. Jahlil Okafor wants out of Philadelphia — “It could be a buyout, it could be a trade. I just want something to happen rather quickly.”

The Sixers, however, are not going to rush things. They shot down the idea of a buyout because they still think there is a trade for him to be made. Okafor’s camp thinks a reasonable trade offer has already been made, but Byran Colangelo and the Sixers front office don’t see it that way, and they have the hammer. At this point, what kind of offer can the Sixers really expect beyond a second round pick or two? They didn’t pick up his fourth-year option, so Okafor can be a free agent next summer. That killed any trade value. There are rumors Boston would like to bring in Okafor but they are willing to wait until he’s a free agent. Why give up an asset for him when you know he’s going to walk in July?

So Okafor sits on the Philly bench, out of the rotation, and just wanting a chance somewhere. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can reshape his career somewhere else — he can still get buckets around the paint. The game has moved away from his skill set — Okafor doesn’t space the floor and doesn’t defend well — but as a poor man’s Zach Randolph as a sixth man, he could carve out a nice career. There is a place for him in the NBA on some teams.

The only question is when we will get to see him try to find that niche in another uniform. It could be a while.

Kevin Durant confirms “My season is over. I don’t plan on playing at all.”

Nets star Kevin Durant
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The betting odds on the seven seed Brooklyn Nets to win the NBA title dropped to 60-1, even with the Thunder and better than the Trail Blazers and others, all because some fans thought maybe Kevin Durant would return. That despite report after report that it was not happening.

Now Durant himself has shot down the idea, speaking to Mark Spears of The Undefeated at ESPN.

“It’s just best for me to wait,” Durant said. “I don’t think I’m ready to play that type of intensity right now in the next month. It gives me more time to get ready for next season and the rest of my career.

“My season is over. I don’t plan on playing at all. We decided last summer when it first happened that I was just going to wait until the following season. I had no plans of playing at all this season.”

His Nets teammate Kyrie Irving will not play in Orlando, either. Irving had shoulder surgery back in March and is still recovering from that.

Durant added in the interview he has fully recovered from COVID-19 after testing positive for the coronavirus back in March not long after the season was shut down.

Next season the Nets will enter as one of the favorites in the East. For the restart this season, however, they will be the seven seed in the East with a tough first-round matchup against Toronto, or maybe Boston.

 

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum commends Jody Allen for no vote

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum
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The Trail Blazers, owned by Jody Allen, cast the lone dissenting vote on the NBA’s plan to resume with 22 teams.

Why?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Portland guard CJ McCollum:

Damian Lillard expressed his concern: He wanted the Trail Blazers to have a real chance at making the playoffs. They got that.

Wojnarowski mentioned how lottery odds are calculated – relevant only if Portland misses the postseason and something current players tend not to dwell on.

This feels incongruous.

Was safety a concern? The risk of coronavirus is higher with 22 teams than 20. However, it’s higher with 20 teams than 16.

The Trail Blazers are 17th in the league. And nobody publicly mentioned health. Having just 20 teams – especially with a group stage – would’ve given Portland an easier path into the top 16. (It’s unclear how many teams would’ve made the playoffs with a group stage).

NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted everyone to unite behind this plan. Even other owners who disagreed with the plan voted for it. But with the Trail Blazers’ no vote, Allen engendered greater support from her players. If nothing else, that has value.

Report: NBA eying in mid-July 2021 NBA Finals in advance of Olympics

Tokyo Olympics
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The NBA plans to rush through the 2020 offseason and begin the 2020-21 season Dec. 1… just to rush through the 2020-21 season.

Frank Isola of The Athletic:

The NBA Finals normally begin 226 days after the regular-season opener with an 18-day window to play the best-of-seven series. So, based on a typical timeline, a Dec. 1 opener would mean the Finals would be held July 15 – Aug. 1., 2021.

The Tokyo Olympics are slated to begin July 23, 2021.

So, something must give.

It probably won’t be regular-season games. As much as the NBA would like its players to get exposure in the Olympics, owners will be extremely reluctant to surrender direct revenue. Likewise, the many NBA players not headed to the Olympics should share similar financial concerns.

More likely, the league will reduce the number of rest days during the 2020-21 season. That seems risky given the drastic disruptions already affecting conditioning entering the season.

It’s also possible players whose NBA teams advance deep enough in the playoffs just won’t be able to play in the Olympics (or Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, which are scheduled for June and July 2021).

Like with many things affected by coronavirus, there are no good answers – just hard decisions on what to compromise.

Details leak on life inside Orlando bubble: Daily testing, 1,600 people, 2K crowd noise at games

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Players do not report to the Walt Dinsey World campus in Orlando for another month to restart the NBA season — and it will be weeks after that before games start on July 31 — but we’re beginning to learn more about life inside that bubble.

A bubble the players from a couple of teams could be in for more than three months.

On a Friday conference call, representatives of the National Basketball Players Association backed the 22-team return-to-play format.  Out of that call, we learned some more details about what life will be like in the bubble, courtesy Shams Charania of The Athletic. Among his notes:

– 1,600 maximum people on campus
– Coronavirus testing every day; minimum seven days of quarantine for a player who tests positive
– There could be crowd noise via NBA 2K video game sounds, but the NBA and NBPA is still discussing creative opportunities

That 1,600 people in the bubble/campus includes players and staffs from teams (about 770 people) plus referees, league personnel, broadcasters, and more. It fills up quickly, which is why family members — likely just three per player — will not be allowed until after at least the second round of the playoffs when a number of teams have cleared out (an issue for players).

Players were asked once in the bubble not to leave, and the same applied to their families when they arrive. This is not a summer vacation at Disney World. While there are no armed guards or security to keep players and staff on the campus, the goal was to create a safe environment and people heading out into greater Orlando, for whatever reason, sets that goal back.

The daily testing will be done by the NBPA and will involve mouth or light nasal swabs, not the invasive ones. Also, there will be no antibody testing, and no blood tests.

Teams will get a three-hour practice window during training camp and on off-days, which will include time in the provided wight room. After that, the equipment will be sanitized before the next team uses the courts.

Crowd noise — as seen on the Bundesliga soccer broadcasts from Germany seen here in the USA — is controversial. While the league is talking to the makers of the NBA 2K video game about piped-in crowd noise, that is definitely a topic still up for discussion.

As Keith Smith discussed on the ProBasketballTalk Podcast this week, games in Orlando are expected to be played sort of like at Summer League, with some starting at noon (or early afternoon) and alternating on courts all day. East Coast teams will likely have the earlier slots while there could be some 10 p.m. Eastern start times for a couple of West Coast teams (where it would still be just 7 p.m.).

We previously knew players would be allowed to golf and eat at outdoor restaurants at the Disney resort, so long as they followed social distancing guidelines.

For everything we know about life in the bubble, there are far more questions left unanswered. In the next month we will learn a lot more.