Magic Looking to Finish Season Strong
It’s been quite a disappointing season for the Orlando Magic. The team was supposed to end its playoff drought and return to the postseason in 2016.
Instead, the Magic now find themselves out of the playoffs for a fourth-straight season, tying a franchise-high for consecutive seasons without a trip to the postseason.
It was a 104-101 win by the Indiana Pacers over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night that officially eliminated the Magic from playoff contention. Although they were officially eliminated last night, the team seemed all but out of the race long ago.
The team’s struggles this season have long been covered previously on Basketball Insiders. The team was 19-13 at the end of December and were sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
They were competing in games against some of the best teams in the league, and they were winning the games they were supposed to win. It seemed as though they were going to be alive in the playoff race until the end of the season.
The Magic were getting it done on the defensive end, and the offense appeared to be improving as well. Last season, the Magic had the league’s fourth-worst offense and the sixth-worst defensive rating. They improved the offense to 13th, and the defense was tied for ninth-best in the league by allowing 100.3 points per 100 possessions.
The calendar flipped to 2016 and an entirely different team showed up to play basketball. Since January 1, the Magic have gone just 11-30, which is the fourth-worst record in the league during that time frame. The offense sputtered, and the defense began to allow seven more points per game compared to 2015.
Head coach Scott Skiles made a comment to reporters in the beginning of the season that he’ll know more about his team around the halfway mark of the season. With such a young group of players, Skiles said the team will either show they’re a legitimate contender or they’ll begin to show bouts of consistencies.
We now know it’s the latter part of that statement that has plagued the team. The biggest area of concern with the team is how they’ve managed to close games. When opponents went on runs, the Magic couldn’t find ways to stop them.
So far, they’ve played in 18 games this season that were decided by three or fewer points, which ranked inside the top five in the league — they won just six of those contests. Being able to win close games separates the good teams from the bad, and can be the difference between a playoff berth and a lottery pick.
Despite being officially eliminated from playoff contention, the team will now attempt to finish on a strong note and continue to make progress.
“It’s going to help us for the future so we got to keep playing great like we do now; don’t stop at all,” Mario Hezonja told Basketball Insiders. “No negativity at all or whatever it is. Just keep working and get us better individually and as a team.
“In our approach there is no, ‘Today this. Tomorrow something else.’ So, we really have the same mindset in [improving].”
Although it’s been a season of disappointment, the Magic have already posted more wins than they did last season. Saturday night’s 111-89 win over the Chicago Bulls snapped a six-game losing streak, and was the team’s 30th victory of the season.
“Everyone on this team loves the game of basketball,” forward Aaron Gordon said. “We’re playing for the joy of it. More than anything, we’re playing for the joy of it. Obviously, we want to compete and we’re all very competitive people. [We need to] just go out there, try to win and have fun.”
So, what’s next for the Magic?
Orlando has nine games remaining on the season and will try to gain some momentum going into what figures to be an important summer. Of the nine games remaining, they’ll play five at home and four on the road. They’ll almost certainly attempt to finish with a winning record over that nine-game stretch.
While the players will look to finish off the season strong, it’s likely the front office has already started looking ahead to this upcoming offseason. They already started to look ahead awhile back at the trade deadline when they opted to trade Tobias Harris to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.
Both players could come off of the books this summer, as Jennings will be an unrestricted free agent and Ilyasova is on a non-guaranteed contract for next season. The move to trade Harris was said to add a couple of veteran players in Jennings and Ilyasova to help in the team’s push for the playoffs and to create cap space this summer.
In addition to those two players, Evan Fournier (restricted), Jason Smith, Andrew Nicholson (restricted), Dewayne Dedmon (restricted) and Devyn Marble (non-guaranteed), could all become free agents this summer. By renouncing the rights to those players, the Magic could have up to $50 million in cap space.
The problem for the Magic is over half of the league will be in contention for this summer’s top free agents. As things stand currently, there could be as many as 17 teams that have enough cap space to sign at least one max-deal player, with five teams having enough space to sign two max players.
With players like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Al Horford, Chandler Parsons, DeMar DeRozan, Mike Conley, Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah (among others) having the option to become free agents, the fight for these guys will be extremely competitive.
If the Magic are interested in making a big splash this summer (and all indications are that they will be), they’re going to have to hope that one of those top players is interested in coming to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in four seasons.
The team has been linked previously to Horford and Parsons, but the chances of either player leaving their current team are unknown at this point. A source has indicated Parsons would be open to the idea of signing with the Magic since he grew up in the Central Florida area, but things in the NBA can change quickly.
Bringing Howard back to Orlando has been an idea that has gained traction in recent days, but given the way things ended previously with Howard and the Magic, it seems unlikely that the team would welcome him back.
Depending on how things play out over the last few weeks of the season, Orlando could have a draft pick within the 8-12 range. Does the team want to draft another player that would likely take another couple of seasons to develop when they’re trying to make a return to the playoffs? Would the Magic want to trade that pick?
It’s clear that it’s going to be a busy summer for the Magic. There are questions all over the roster that will need to be answered before next season. It’s very possible that by the start of training camp this Magic roster will be completely different.
Regardless of which players will suit up for the Magic on opening night next season, the team still has a lot to improve upon before making the jump to becoming a playoff team.
Nowitzki Could Play Two More Seasons
Dallas Mavericks forward Nowitzki is currently playing in his 18th season in the NBA and his current deal runs through the end of next season. Nowiztki currently holds a $8,682,184 player option for the 2016-17 campaign, and it sounds as though he will opt to pick up that option.
“My goal was when I signed this three-year deal to fulfill that contract,” Nowitzki told ESPN Radio on Sunday. “If I play next year through, by that point I’ll be 39. To be honest, 20 years [in the NBA] would sound really, really great. And next year would obviously be my 19th year, so maybe after this next year I could sign on one more. But I’ll just have to wait and see, I think, at this point.”
Nowitzki has proven this season that he can still remain productive for the Mavericks. He’s only missed seven games, and currently leads the Mavericks with 18.7 points per game while also shooting 46 percent from the field. His 20.04 PER ranks 10th-best among all power forwards.
“This season I felt good,” Nowitzki said. “Next year we’ll see how it goes and then I can make that decision with my family, with [longtime shooting coach and mentor] Holger Geschwindner and all my guys that have been working with me for so long … I can make that decision if I play one more season.”
Dallas is still fighting for their playoff lives. Entering tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets, the Mavericks are a game and a half out of the eighth-placed Rockets with just nine games remaining. Of those nine games that remain, only four of them are against teams above .500.
They’ll play the Rockets on April 6, which could be a huge game for both teams with the season drawing to a close.
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”