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NBA AM: Can The Magic Continue To Win?

After two improbable wins, the Orlando Magic find themselves some confidence… Pacers plan to take it slow with Andrew Bynum… The Cavs want to get to the playoffs, not blow up the team.

Steve Kyler

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OK, Now What:  The Orlando Magic have done the improbable. After amassing 14 wins in 51 tries, in the span of the weekend the Magic have taken down the top two teams in the NBA, overcoming 17-point deficits against both the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and the Indiana Pacers last night.

After the game last night in Orlando, one media member leaned into a Magic player and asked jokingly “Isn’t this a rebuilding team? This isn’t the plan.” The player looked up from his locker and smiled coyly.

Two games does not a season make, but what these two wins have done is prove to the players inside the Magic locker room that they can win when they apply themselves defensively, and they can play with anyone in the NBA, even the top two teams in the game.

After both games, the opposing teams gave credit to the Magic’s second unit – a defensive dynamo that’s been holding team’s best players to single digits in the fourth quarter, in this case the high scoring Kevin Durant and the super potent Paul George.

Shockingly the Magic are only seven games behind the eighth seeded Charlotte Bobcats, which was a running joke in the Magic locker room after the game. Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn pleaded mockingly with his teammate Glen “Big Baby” Davis to “take me to the playoffs, baby… please. I wanna taste the playoffs too.”

While clearly all in jest, the Magic have not lost sight of who they really are after a handful of wins on their home court. What has surfaced is a confidence in each other and trust among the younger guys that continues to grow with each new conquest.

»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects in 2014.

The Magic have been taking about the “steps in the process” and that as much as individuals may want to short-cut that process, it is a learning curve that each player and the roster as a unit must endure to get to the point where they can compete. As much as some players in the locker room would love to see the winning continue, they understand how much home court has helped them and how badly they have played on the road.

Confidence for a young team is huge, and there is no doubt that there is a little swagger and positive energy around the Magic after two highly improbable wins, but there is a reality that two wins isn’t going to change the overall course of the season. The plan in place is to let the young guys learn and grow and given the talent level of those young guys, wins are going to come from that as they learn to trust each other. Equally, because of their inexperience losses are going to come with that too.

It’s been a fun weekend for the Magic players. You can see it in their eyes, you can see it in the bounce they have after games. There is a reality that this isn’t how the season is going to play out, but it is OK for young players to dream a little even if making the playoffs is not part of the plan.

IN RELATED: With the NBA trade deadline just 10 days away things around the Magic are heating up on the trade front. Not necessarily because the Magic are making a ton of outgoing calls, but because there are several would-be suitors for Magic guard Arron Afflalo. The problem for the Magic, or the teams trying to extract Afflalo from the team, is that Orlando really does not seem overly interested in trading Afflalo. Several teams that have made passes at Orlando classify them as listening to offers, engaging in the normal due diligence that teams engage in to understand what’s possible and available at the deadline, but that serious offers are not being considered and that real trade scenarios are not taking place. This could be a case of the Magic playing a little poker in the days leading up to the deadline or it genuinely could be that the Magic are not going to make a trade involving their best player. A lot of conversations will take place over the next ten days, so things can and often do take a different tone after the All-Star break, but if the Magic’s stance today is any indicator do not be surprised if the Magic hold the line and finish the season with what they have on the roster and explore trades and real moves in the off-season.

» Are You Ready For The 2014 NBA Trade Deadline? Basketball Insiders has you covered. Our first Digital Magazine issue will drop in the coming days, featuring the most comprehensive look at the NBA Trade Deadline you will find anywhere. The magazine will be available on your smartphone, tablet or desktop. If you are an Apple user, you can grab the Digital Magazine app here. For our Android users you can grab the Digital Magazine app here. When the issue is ready this week it will automatically appear in your App for purchase. If you do not want to download the App, the web version is available now. The links for that will drop when the issue is available. We have made the pledge to keep our content free from annoying auto-play ads and content lockers, so buying the magazine is how we’ll keep up our end of the deal. Download the app today and get ready for 110 pages of trade deadline knowledge, exclusively from Basketball Inisders.

Taking It Slow With Bynum:  An informal survey of the players in the Indiana Pacers locker room yielded pretty much the same response with regards to new Pacer big man Andrew Bynum. Shoulder shrugs.

The Pacers inked Bynum to a one-year deal last week worth a reported $1 million for the balance of the season. As one Pacer insider put it, “its low risk, high reward”.

Bynum has spent one day with the Pacers and has been allowed to deal with some personal issues that sources close to the situation say involve an ailing family member. The Pacers are taking a very slow and deliberate approach with Bynum, looking to work with him on physical therapy and strength and conditioning with one goal in mind – have him ready for the postseason.

»In Related: The Indiana Pacers Team Salary Page.

The Pacers are not expecting much from Bynum and it’s clear that the players in the locker room want to see him put in the work before they buy into him being anything to the team.

The one thing that was clear in talking to Pacer players is that there hasn’t been much of a need to police behavior inside the locker room. Each guy on the team understands what’s at stake and what needs to be done. Pacers big man David West said that there hasn’t been anything notable all year and that everyone has sold out to the cause and bought into the program.

Before Bynum gets a seat at their table, he is going to have to prove that he’ll do the work to be part of the unit.

One Pacer insider said that there would be a low tolerance for Bynum, that if he does not come in and work hard that he could just as easily be gone as he was brought in and that nothing was promised to Bynum other than the chance to come in and work and earn a chance to be part of team trying to win something.

The first step for Bynum is strength training and rehab. There is a belief that that’s going to happen soon, from there is will be about how hard he works to get into condition and from there the coaching staff will decide if he gets minutes and when.

The Pacers plan from the beginning is to have him ready for the postseason. They are not overly interested in trying to fast track or accelerate that. The view Bynum as an all-upside project, but it will be on him to earn the trust of a team that’s been together for a while and to get his body and mind behind what Indiana is trying to do.

The Pacers’ players were extremely complimentary of him, but cautioned he’d spent one day around the team, so they want to see what he does to prepare before they create a seat at the table for him.

» Get a head start on your chatting: My weekly chat is at 10:30 am EST today. Yannis Koutroupis will chat at 3:00pm EST today. Bill Ingram will chat on Tuesday at 8:00pm EST. Jabari Davis will chat at 3:00pm EST on Thursday. Chats fill up fast, so get your questions in early. To find all of the upcoming chat go here: http://www.basketballinsiders.com/upcoming-chats/

The Tough Road For Cleveland:  Making the playoffs matters. As much as fans may love the idea of landing top tier draft picks or may understand all too well that being the eighth seed usually means an early exit, but there are real non-basketball benefits to making the postseason that even marginal teams covet.

Season ticket sales go up when a team makes the playoffs. TV and radio rights deals go up when a team makes the playoffs. Advertising and corporate sales go up when teams make the playoffs and most importantly it is a lot easier to get an existing roster to buy into the plan when the playoffs are the result. The same is true of free agency. Free agents tend to look at playoff bound teams a little more attractively than lottery bound teams.

»In Related: Should The Cavs Trade Kyrie Irving?

‘A rising tide will lift all boats’, is an expression about mutual benefits and the playoffs for almost every team in sports is exactly that. Everything gets better when you make the postseason.

So as the Cleveland Cavaliers parted ways with general manager Chris Grant last week and appointed former assistant GM David Griffin to the post of interim GM, there is a singular goal at play: Make the playoffs.

As Griffin addressed the media about his mindset it was clear that Cleveland is not throwing in the towel and that fire sale in Cleveland is not coming, unless the outgoing players return better talent.

“I don’t see how you get better and win more games selling,” Griffin said to reporters. “We’re going to buy to the extent that it makes us better for the long haul. I don’t think we’re going to do anything that’s an act of desperation. I think we’re going to be willing to buy the right asset at the right price. We are dedicated 100 percent from top to bottom to getting better and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Griffin said he still believed in the roster he helped assemble as the assistant general manager, but acknowledged that some things needed to change.

“We lost our mojo somewhere,” Griffin said. “We lost our way somehow. We have compelling talent.

“I want to see us smile more. I want to see us enjoy this. I want to see us remember this is a game. I want to see us remember that there’s passion involved in this. We’re not robots. Nobody is flawless. We’ve all made mistakes.”

Griffin is expected to finish out the season as the general manager and will get a chance to keep the job long-term as the team embarks on a search for a new permanent leader this summer.

“I want to do that which puts us in the best position to be successful,” Griffin said. “We’ll analyze every opportunity and we’ll look for every opportunity that does that for us.

“I’m here right now. Dan (Gilbert) has shown faith in me. He’s put me in a position to be very successful right now. I have full latitude to do this job.”

There has already been a mountain of speculation about who the Cavs will contact in the offseason, however Cavs sources said that dealing with the immediate problems is what’s most pressing and that while Griffin will lead the way on many fronts a lot of the decisions that will be made, especially regarding trades, will be made in a collective effort that will include Gilbert.

The Cavaliers are 18-33 on the season which puts them three games out of the playoff picture in the East. The Cavs have won two straight, but just three of their last ten games.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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The Real Jrue Holiday Has Finally Arrived

It may have been a little later than they would have wanted, but the Jrue Holiday that New Orleans has always wanted is finally here, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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New Orleans has always earned the nickname “The Big Easy”, but ever since Jrue Holiday came to town, his time there has been anything but.

When New Orleans traded for Holiday back in 2013, they hoped that he would round out an exciting young core that included Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. At 23 years old, Holiday averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, and 4.2 rebounds the previous season and was coming off his first all-star appearance in Philadelphia, so the Pelicans had much to look forward to.

Unfortunately, recurring extensive injuries prohibited the Pelicans’ new core from ever playing together fully healthy, with Holiday getting his fair share of the bruises. In his first two seasons, Holiday played in only 74 games combined with the team due to injury, and things didn’t get much better his third season. While he played more games, Holiday was on a minutes restriction and his season ended again with injury.

Holiday avoided the injury bug his fourth season, but he nobly took a leave of absence at the start the season to tend to his ill wife, which caused him to miss the season’s first 12 games and 15 in total. Holiday’s inability to stay on the court coupled with New Orleans’ stagnated progress made him a forgotten man in the NBA. That was until last summer, when Holiday became a free agent.

Given the circumstances, Holiday did what he could for the Pelicans. He certainly proved he was above average, but he hadn’t shown any improvement since his arrival. Coupling that with both how many games he had missed in the previous four seasons and the league’s salary cap not increasing as much as teams had anticipated, and one would think to proceed with caution in regards to extending Jrue Holiday.

But the Pelicans saw it differently. New Orleans gave Holiday a five-year, $126 million extension last summer, befuddling the general masses. Besides Holiday’s inability to stay on the court, the Pelicans already had an expensive payroll, and they later added Rajon Rondo, another quality point guard, to the roster. So, with all that in mind, giving Holiday a near-max contract on a team that had made the playoffs a grand total of once in the Anthony Davis era seemed a little foolish.

This season, however, Jrue Holiday has rewarded the Pelicans’ faith in him and has proven the doubters so very wrong.

With a clean slate of health, Holiday has proven himself to be better than ever. This season, Holiday averaged career-highs in scoring (19 points a game) and field goal percentage (49 percent overall), which played a huge role in New Orleans having its best season since Chris Paul’s last hurrah with the team back in 2011.

Holiday’s impact extended beyond what the traditional numbers said. His on/off numbers from NBA.com showed that the Pelicans were much better on both sides of the ball when he was on the court compared to when he was off. Offensively, the Pelicans had an offensive rating of 108.9 points per 100 possessions when he was the on the court compared to 104.4 points per 100 possessions when he was off.

On the other side of the court, Holiday was even more integral. The Pelicans had a defensive rating of 103.3 per 100 possessions when Holiday was on the court compared to 112.3 off the court. Overall, the Pelicans were 13.6 points per 100 possessions better with Holiday on the floor. That was the highest net rating on the team, even higher than Anthony Davis.

Other statistics also support how impactful Holiday has been this season. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus page, Holiday’s 3.81 Real Plus-Minus ranked ninth among point guards – No. 16 offensively, No. 4 defensively – which beat out Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Goran Dragic, all of whom made the All-Star team this year.

However, Holiday’s effectiveness shined through mid-way through the season, or more specifically, on Jan. 26, when Demarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear. While Davis certainly led the way, Holiday’s role could not have been understated when the Pelicans went 21-13 without their MVP candidate to finish the season. Offensively, Holiday’s point average went from 18.6 to 19.4 and his assist average went from 5.2 to 7.2, all while his turnover average – from 2.6 to 2.7 – stayed the same.

Defensively, Holiday had much to do with the Pelicans’ improved defense after Cousins went down. According to NBA.com, the Pelicans defensive rating went from 106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions to 103.7, and much of it can be attributed to Holiday. When Holiday was on the court, the team’s defensive rating was 101.2 points allowed per 100 possessions compared to 109.6 points allowed per 100 possessions with him off.

Holiday’s improved numbers, combined with the Pelicans steadying the boat without their star center, make a fair argument that Holiday was one of the league’s best all-around point guards this season, but Holiday’s style isn’t much of a thrill to watch. He doesn’t have Russell Westbrook’s other-worldly athleticism, he doesn’t have Stephen Curry’s lethal jumper, nor does he have Chris Paul’s floor general abilities. Holiday’s specialty is that he has every fundamental of a good point guard, which makes his impact usually fly under the radar.

That was until last week, when the Pelicans unexpectedly curb stomped the Blazers. The Jrue Holiday coming out party was in full-swing, as the 27-year-old torched Rip City, averaging 27.8 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds a game on 57 percent shooting from the field, including 35 percent from deep. He did all of that while stymieing MVP candidate Damian Lillard, as Dame averaged 18 points and 4 assists while shooting 35 percent from the field, including 30 percent from deep, and surrendered four turnovers a game.

If Holiday’s contributions weren’t on full display then, they certainly are now. The Pelicans have suddenly emerged as one of the West’s toughest and most cohesive teams in this year’s playoffs, with Holiday playing a huge role in the team’s newfound mojo and potentially glorious future.

This was the Jrue Holiday the New Orleans Pelicans had in mind when they first traded for him almost five years ago. While his impact has come a little later than they would have wanted, it’s as the old saying goes.

Better late than never.

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NBA Daily: Are Player Legacies Really On The Line?

How important is legacy in the NBA playoffs? Lang Greene takes a look.

Lang Greene

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As the NBA Playoffs continue to pick up steam, the subject of individual greatness has become the big topic of conversation. Today, we ask the question: is legacy talk just a bunch of hyperbole or are they really made or broken in the playoffs?

To be clear, legacies do matter. Reputations are built on reliability and how dependable someone is throughout the course of their respective body of work. We all have them. They are built over time and it’s seldom they change from one misstep – but they can. Some of the greatest players in NBA history never won a title; see John Stockton and Karl Malone during their Utah Jazz years. Some NBA greats never won a title until they were past their physical prime and paired with a young charge that took over the reins; see David Robinson in San Antonio. Some NBA greats never won a title as the leading man until they were traded to a title contending team; see Clyde Drexler in Houston. We also have a slew of Hall of Famers that have been inducted with minimal playoff success in their careers; see the explosive Tracy McGrady.

So what’s in a legacy? And why does it mean more for some then it does for others?

Four-time League MVP LeBron James’ legacy is always up for debate, despite battling this season to make his ninth NBA Finals appearance. James’ legacy seems to be up in the air on a nightly basis. Maybe it’s because of the rarified air he’s in as one of the league’s top 10 players all-time or maybe it’s just good for ratings.

As this year’s playoffs gain momentum, the topic of legacy has been mentioned early and often.

Out in the Western Conference, the legacy of Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is being questioned at all angles. There’s no doubt Westbrook is one of the best players in the league today as the reigning MVP and coming off two consecutive seasons averaging a triple-double. However, Westbrook’s decision making has come into question plenty over the past couple of seasons.

The subject of whether you can truly win a championship with Westbrook as your lead guy serves as the centerpiece of the debate. It goes without saying former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted to the Golden State Warriors amid rumors that he could no longer coexist next to Westbrook in the lineup. Ever since Durant’s somewhat unexpected departure, it seems Westbrook has been hell-bent on proving his doubters wrong – even if it comes at the detriment to what his team is trying to accomplish.

The latest example was in game four of his team’s current first-round series versus the Utah Jazz.

Westbrook picked up four fouls in the first half as he was attempting to lock up point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a career night in Game 3 of the series. Westbrook infamously waved off head coach Billy Donovan after picking up his second personal foul in the first quarter. Westbrook was also in the game with three personal fouls and under two minutes left in the first half before picking up his fourth personal.

You can make an argument that this was just bad coaching by Donovan leaving him in the game in foul trouble, but it also points to Westbrook’s decision making and not being able to play within the constructs of a team dynamic. Further, what will be Westbrook’s legacy on this season’s Oklahoma City Thunder team with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George if they were to flame out in the first round with little fizzle – against a Jazz team with no star power and zero All-Stars? Is discussing Westbrook’s legacy worthless banter or is it a legitimate topic? There is no doubt on his current trajectory Westbrook is headed straight into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As an individual player there is no greater achievement than to have your name etched in stone with the greats of yesteryear, but the court of public opinion factors in team success and this is where the topic of legacy comes into play.

Say what you will about Durant’s decision to go to Golden State, but his legacy is undoubtedly secured. Durant won the Finals MVP last season in absolute dominant fashion and showed up on the biggest of stages. All that’s left from those that question Durant’s legacy at this point are the folks on the fringe saying he couldn’t do it by himself. But that is exactly the line of thinking that’s getting Westbrook killed as well, because winning championships is all about team cohesiveness and unity.

Out in the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on Milwaukee Bucks do everything star Giannis Antetokounmpo. After five seasons in the league, Antetokounmpo has zero playoff series victories attached to his name. Heading into the playoffs this season, the seventh-seeded Bucks were considered underdogs to the second-seeded Boston Celtics.

But the Celtics are wounded. They do not have the services of All Stars Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. The Celtics are a team full of scrappy young talent and cagey veterans. Antetokounmpo is clearly the best player in the series and teams with the best player usually fare well in a seven game series. But the Bucks are facing elimination down 3-2 versus Boston. Antetokounmpo has only been in the league half of the time Westbrook has, but the chirping about his legacy has already begun as Milwaukee attempts to win its first playoff series since 2001.

So what’s in a legacy? Are there varying degrees for which people are being evaluated?

Despite James’ success throughout his career, a first-round exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers over the next week will damage his legacy in the minds of some. While others feel even if Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were to drop this series against the Celtics, he should be given a pass with the caveat that he still has plenty of time in his career to rectify.

As for Westbrook, there are vultures circling the head of his legacy and these folks feel that a first-round exit will damage his brand irreversibly after 10 seasons in the league

Ultimately, the topic of legacies makes for good column fodder, barbershop banter and sport debate television segments. Because when guys hang up their high tops for good, a Hall of Fame induction is typically the solidifying factor when it comes to a player’s legacy.

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: The Futures Of LeBron, PG13, Kawhi and More

Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

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