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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.

Watch Joel Embiid’s game-winning dunk lead 76ers past Cavaliers 98-97

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The shots weren’t falling for the Philadelphia 76ers, so they clamped down on defense.

Joel Embiid scored 27 points, including the go-ahead dunk with 13.2 seconds remaining, and Philadelphia held Cleveland without a point for the final 3 1/2 minutes in a 98-97 win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

Josh Richardson added 17 points and Ben Simmons had 15 for Philadelphia, which won despite missing 30 of 38 3-point attempts. Tobias Harris missed all 11 of his 3-point tries.

“You better guard if you’re not going to make shots,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We knew if we were going to do anything, we had to play defense – and defense we played.”

Jordan Clarkson and Kevin Love each had 20 points to pace Cleveland. Collin Sexton added 18 points and Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers trailed for most of the contest, but took advantage of Philadelphia’s poor shooting in the fourth quarter, going up by as many as five points on three occasions.

“We gave them life and were in a fistfight,” Brown said. “You can just feel it. We had a chance to discourage them and we didn’t. Certainly a hard-fought game and we’re lucky to get away with it.”

Cleveland led 97-92 with 3:34 remaining after Sexton’s driving layup, but the Cavaliers wouldn’t score again. Harris pulled Philadelphia within 97-94 with a follow layup and then hit a 17-footer on the ensuing possession to make it a one-point game with 1:42 left.

Cleveland had chances to build the lead after that, but Love missed a close-range shot before a shot-clock violation on the Cavaliers’ next possession.

“I think our defense was pretty OK,” Embiid said. “We just didn’t make shots.”

The 76ers were having their own trouble scoring with Richardson and Embiid failing to convert on consecutive possessions.

After a timeout with 26.6 seconds left, Brown called a high-percentage play with Harris finding Embiid close to the basket. Embiid slammed it home to give the 76ers their first lead, 98-97, since early in the fourth quarter.

“It was a great play-call by coach and we did the rest,” Embiid said.

Cleveland had a chance to win it, but Love’s 3-point attempt from the top of the key rimmed out.

“Kevin is a great shooter, not a good shooter,” Cleveland coach John Beilein said. “He took his time but just didn’t nail it. It’s one of many looks I’ll take at that time.”

 

Warriors two-way guard Damion Lee breaks bone in right hand

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Yet another member of the Golden State Warriors is injured, with two-way guard Damion Lee now out because of a broken right hand.

The injury occurred during Golden State’s 122-108 home loss to the Jazz on Monday night. Lee underwent an MRI exam Tuesday morning that revealed a nondisplaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal. The team said he will be reevaluated in two weeks.

“Hopefully just a few weeks,” coach Steve Kerr said before the team flew to Los Angeles, where the Warriors play the Lakers on Wednesday night.

Lee joins a long list of injured players on the depleted Warriors, who are 2-9 following five straight trips to the NBA Finals.

Stephen Curry had surgery on his broken left hand, which he injured Oct. 30, and will need another procedure next month to have pins removed. He said Monday that he expects to be playing again come spring.

The two-time MVP joins Klay Thompson, who is recovering from a July 2 surgery on a torn ACL in his left knee suffered during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Thompson could miss the entire season.

Kevon Looney, who is dealing with a nerve issue that has kept him out since a brief appearance in the season opener, is going through more extensive workouts but is still not ready to return, while guard Jacob Evans III is still dealing with a strained inner thigh muscle and also will miss Wednesday’s game. Kerr said he is likely still at least a couple of weeks from playing again.

Backup center Omari Spellman was listed as doubtful to face the Lakers because of a sprained left ankle and already sat out Monday’s loss to the Jazz.

Kerr, who took over coaching the Warriors in 2014-15 and immediately won an NBA championship, has never had this short a bench with so few healthy bodies to mix and match rotations.

“We’ll just see how it plays out,” Kerr said. “We’ll figure out who’s ready to go and we’ll go from there. It’s challenging. It’s been kind of the theme so far. It’s not exactly ideal but it’s the reality. You don’t spend a whole lot of time lamenting anything. You just keep going.”

Bulls big man Cristiano Felicio out 4-8 weeks with broken wrist

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This is not going to impact the Bulls’ rotations — Cristiano Felicio has yet to touch the court for the Bulls this season — but it’s a setback for a player trying to prove he belongs in the NBA.

Felicio fractured his wrist during the Bulls practice Monday and will be out at least a month, reports K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

Cristiano Felicio, who has yet to land on the active roster this season, broke his right wrist after falling in Monday’s practice, according to coach Jim Boylen. The Bulls’ coach said Felicio will miss four to eight weeks with the injury.

“We had the X-ray. It did not show up on the X-ray. Then we had the CT scan and it showed up on the CT scan,” Boylen said. “We’re going to do an MRI (Wednesday) just to let them give us a little more certainty on maybe how much separation there is in there and how much time it will be.”

The Bulls gambled on Felicio a couple of years ago and signed him to a four-year, $32 million contract. That roll of the dice has come up snake eyes so far, with Felicio playing a limited role the first two seasons — and this season no role at all.

It is expected the Bulls will try to use Felicio’s salary in any trade packages they put together closer to the deadline, this injury would not impact that.

Asked about getting stabbed in back, Chris Paul says trade from Rockets

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Chris Paul has gotten traded three times in his career.

New Orleans sent him to the Clippers – but only after David Stern nixed a deal with the Lakers – in 2011. In 2017, Paul engineered a trade to the Rockets by opting in. Then, in an unprecedented star swap, Houston dealt Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook last summer.

Paul recently discussed trades with comedian Kevin Hart.

Hart:

Why is it always such a crazy time when it comes to these trades and whether they’re happening. You’ve been part of some big conversations. Is it at a point where it’s just business, or is it becoming personal?

Paul:

Every situation is different. But the team is going to do whatever they want to do. They’ll tell you one thing and do a smooth nother thing.

Hart:

That’s the business side.

Paul:

Exactly.

Hart:

Do you feel like there’s been times where, “Damn, that’s a little eye-opening. I got stabbed in the back”?

Paul:

Absolutely. This last situation was one of them. The GM there in Houston, he don’t owe me nothing. You know what I mean? He may tell me one thing but do another thing. But you just understand that that’s what it is.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is an easy target right now. Many people around the NBA resent him tweeting support for Hong Kong protesters (who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms) and costing the league significant revenue in China.

But, in this case, Morey brought it upon himself. He said in June he wouldn’t trade Paul then did so, anyway.

Maybe that was to protect Paul’s feelings if he stayed in Houston. In that case, Morey could tell Paul he believed in him all along. There’d be no way to know Morey was fibbing. Now that Paul is gone, Paul being upset is someone else’s problem. It’s a common tactic by executives.

Paul reportedly requested a trade from the Rockets, but he denied it. I don’t necessarily believe Paul. There was plenty of evidence of tension between him and Harden. It’d be pretty conniving to request a trade then throw Morey under the bus for making the trade.

But Paul’s denial of a trade request is on the record. So is Morey’s declaration that he wouldn’t trade Paul.

Morey must own that.