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Luke Walton says he talks regularly with Magic Johnson: ‘It’s been good’

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Back on Oct. 30, Magic Johnson chewed out Luke Walton for the Lakers’ 2-5 start.

Magic is a little like that boss we’ve all had who is around a handful of days a month but swoops in like he knows everything and offers edicts. Still, the rebuke reverberated. Magic and GM Rob Pelinka did not hire Walton, he’s not their guy, and the buzz around the league for a while has been that the front office would replace Walton with someone a little more old-school/hard-a** if they could (but owner Jeanie Buss stands in the way).

Walton pushed back on that idea in an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“It’s been good,” he said of the relationship with Magic. “Honestly, it has. …Anytime I call him, he calls back within an hour or two, and we talk hoops. He wants to win, and I want to win. So as far as that (goes), we’re all trying to do the same thing, and I don’t feel like he’s trying to move me out of there.

“We definitely talked about (the Oct. 30 meeting). Me and him, one on one. We one hundred percent have moved forward from it. I don’t think it has changed anything. We still – it’s still the ultimate goal, and there’s time when I’ll call him or go sit in his office and pick his brain on what he’s seeing and what kind of suggestions he might have. But there’s no – what’s the word – discomfort. I don’t walk in there, and it’s like ‘F***, I’ve got to go talk to Magic.’ Like, I have no problem going in and sitting down with him and talking about what’s going on without thinking about that at all.”

Walton has the young Lakers defending well — eighth in the NBA on the season, fourth since LeBron James went down. The offense has been an issue without LeBron, but is that on Walton or the fact Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are not stepping up consistently?

Walton has done a good job as the Laker coach.

Which leads to the real question for anyone who wants Walton out: Who are you getting that’s better? There are maybe five coaches around the NBA who are difference makers, who can get a team wins just by their system and presence. The Lakers aren’t going to be able to hire Gregg Popovich or Rick Carlise or any of the others, and if they are not getting one of those handful of elite guys — who all already have jobs — then they are getting another guy who is good but goes as his talent goes. Which is Walton. Which again leads to the “why are you doing this?” question. It’s like Sacramento firing Mike Malone while DeMarcus Cousins was out and blaming the losing streak. (How is Malone doing in Denver, by the way?)

Of course, the real test for if Walton is back next season: What does LeBron think of him?

If you can answer that, then you know the future.

 

Utah’s Rudy Gobert sets single-season record for most dunks at 270

Associated Press
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Mention Rudy Gobert and the first thing that comes to mind is his defense. The Jazz center is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and may well win the award again this season, Utah has a defensive net rating of just 92.2 when Gobert is on the court after the All-Star break, 14.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.

However, Gobert can provide offense, too — he rolls to the rim, has soft hands, and knows how to finish at the rim.

Meaning he dunks. A lot.

In the second quarter of Utah’s win against Phoenix on Monday, Gobert finished off an alley-oop from Donovan Mitchell and it was Gobert’s 270th dunk of the season, setting an NBA single-season record (Dwight Howard held the record t 269 from his 2007-08 season; this stat has only been tracked since the 1997-98 season). Gobert averaged 3.7 dunks per game, just finishing plays around the rim as defenses focus on Mitchell, Joe Ingles, or can’t anticipate the passing of Ricky Rubio.

Gobert finished with five more dunks in the game as the Jazz almost had their own private dunk contest against the Suns’ interior defense. Gobert finished with 27 points and got the Gatorade shower for it.

Gobert isn’t going to be the only person passing Howard’s old record this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has 262 dunks on the season. The race for most dunks this season is not over.

We just know it’s going at a record pace.

NBA family sends its love for Jusuf Nurkic after ugly leg injury

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It’s the kind of injury that turns your stomach.

Portland’s center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a devastating leg injury during the second overtime of Portland’s eventual win over Brooklyn Monday night. A win that clinched a playoff spot for the Trail Blazers, yet their locker room was silent after the game because a guy who is at the heart of why they are headed to the postseason, a guy having a career year, has an injury that is threatening that career.

After it happened, the love poured out from other NBA players.

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic taken off court on stretcher after gruesome leg injury

Associated Press
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This looked bad. It was worse — for Jusuf Nurkic, and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Midway through the second overtime against Brooklyn Monday night, Nurkic went down with what can only be described as a gruesome injury. The Trail Blazers later announced it was compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, which will require surgery and not only end this season but also will bleed into next season as well (there is no timeline for something like this).

Nurkic had gone up for an offensive rebound and came down awkwardly, his leg bending in ways that no leg should bend. He laid on the floor in pain, was carted off in a stretcher — with the crowd sending positive vibes — and taken directly to the hospital.

Here is a video of the incident, but be warned this is brutal and may be a video you want to avoid if these kinds of injuries make you feel ill. Or, even if they don’t.

Around the league, sympathy poured out for Nurkic.

This is a Portland team also without C.J. McCollum, who has a left knee injury and is out officially for the upcoming four-game road trip and may miss the rest of the regular season.

Nurkic got paid last summer, a four-year, $48 million deal — but unlike others who take their foot off the gas once they get their money, Nurkic came back better and more motivated. He has averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting, his PER of 23.1 and other advanced stats are at career bests, and on the defensive end he moved better and was more of a presence. On offense, he sets the picks for Damian Lillard (second most used pick-and-roll tandem in the NBA) and when teams inevitably trap and blitz Lillard he has gotten the ball to the rolling Nurkic, whose skills as a passer and playmaker have grown tremendously in the last year. He has been Portland’s second best player for stretches of the season.

Portland had looked like a more dangerous playoff threat this season and Nurkic was a big reason for the Blazers’ optimism heading into the postseason. Now, that edge is gone.

Magic shut down 76ers in second half, win 119-98, stay close to playoff berth

Associated Press
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A little desperation went a long way for the Orlando Magic.

The Magic shut down the Philadelphia 76ers in the second half of a 119-98 victory on Monday night that moved them within a half-game of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

“They were desperate. They played like it and we did not,” said 76ers coach Brett Brown, whose team was held without a field goal for a second-half stretch of nearly 12 minutes. “Nik Vucevic is a really difficult matchup and (Evan) Fournier really had a fantastic night. Their desperation was evident.”

Vucevic had 28 points and 11 rebounds, and Fournier scored 24 points for the Magic, who outscored the 76ers 30-5 while Philadelphia missed 15 straight shots.

“It’s impressive, especially when you look at all the firepower they have, even without Ben Simmons,” Vucevic said. “We needed this win with a tough road trip coming up, starting tomorrow night in Miami.”

The Magic completed their first 5-0 homestand in franchise history and moved a half-game behind Miami in chasing the final playoff spot in the East. They visit the Heat on Tuesday.

Joel Embiid led the 76ers with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Playing without point guard Simmons, the 76ers led 60-57 after shooting 61.5 percent in the first half. The second half was a different story.

“I thought we went away from what was working to get those field goals (in the first half),” said Tobias Harris, who had 12 of his 15 points in the first half. “But that game wasn’t won or lost on the offensive end for us. That game would have been won on the defensive end. We didn’t do a great job against them.”

Shake Milton‘s jump shot cut the Magic’s lead to 78-77 with 4:32 left in the third quarter, but Philadelphia did not score in the remainder of the period, falling behind by 14 points.

When Zhaire Smith hit a 3-pointer with 4:50 remaining in the game, it ended a stretch of 11 minutes, 42 seconds without a field goal for the 76ers, who then trailed 108-85.

“I think the urgency has not been with us,” Brown said. “It happens. As I candidly said, we’re trying to hold on to our third-place position, and land the plane and keep people healthy.”

J.J. Redick, who scored 79 points and made 18 of 29 3-pointers in the 76ers’ first three games against Orlando this season, made only 1 of 7 Monday night and finished with eight points.

“He’s not going to miss those very often, but we’ll take it,” said Magic coach Steve Clifford.