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NBA PM: Magic Relying More on Veterans

In pursuit of the playoffs, Magic head coach Frank Vogel is turning to his veterans.

Cody Taylor

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Magic Relying More on Veterans

The Orlando Magic have arguably been one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA this season. While the team isn’t talked about much on a national scale, it expected to be better than it has been so far this season.

Orlando invested over $100 million into the roster and made a couple of trades leading up to the start of the offseason last year. In addition to the upgrades on the roster, they opted to hire a new head coach in Frank Vogel. He was expected to be the voice needed to guide the team back to the playoffs.

Consistency has been one of the biggest areas of concern for the Magic this season. It seems like for every step forward the team takes, they then take two steps back. For example, they won four out of five games on the road at the beginning of December but then followed that up by losing three-straight games. More recently, the Magic posted two wins over the Toronto Raptors in the past week but followed those wins with losses.

With a number of younger players on the roster in Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic among others, it’s easy to see how there have been inconsistent stretches of play. Given the mounting pressure on this group to return to the postseason, they’re beginning to rely more on their veteran group of players. Players like D.J. Augustin, C.J. Watson and Jeff Green have been counted on more in crucial situations for the Magic in recent games.

In the Magic’s win over the Raptors last Sunday, Augustin and Green combined to score 37 points off of the bench to help lead the team to a one-point win. During the win over the Raptors on Friday night, Watson tied a season-high with 18 points off of the bench, including 10 points in the fourth quarter.

“We know how to play the game,” Augustin told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve been playing for a while. A lot of us have been on winning teams so we know what it takes when we’re out there and what we need to do as a team. Just playing smart and playing how we know how to play. We got guys like Jeff, C.J. [and] myself, who know how to play, know how to make the right plays and that’s all we try to do out there and not do too much.”

As the Magic try to figure out how to get back on the right track, they’re still very much alive in the playoff race. By nature of how the bottom half of the Eastern Conference has performed collectively thus far, Orlando is just four games back of eighth place. It seems absurd to think that a team that is 20-33 is still alive in the playoff race but teams like the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks have struggled to close the door on Orlando’s playoff hopes.

“We haven’t given up on any means,” Watson said. “We’re fighting for a win every night. It’s like coach said, we just got to get some wins in a row; not just win one and then lose four in a row. We got to get some streaks – two, three, four, five wins in a row.”

While the playoffs still are within reach, Orlando has a tough upcoming stretch of games to close out the month of February. They face the Houston Rockets tomorrow night and then have games against some suddenly-hot teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, Miami HEAT and San Antonio Spurs before the All-Star break.

“We’re gonna keep fighting to the end,” Augustin said. “Anything can happen. We still have our eyes on the prize. We’re not worried about any other team right now, we’re just worried about ourselves and trying to get better.”

The next month of the season will be critical for this group. If the team can pile up some wins, it could find itself right in the playoff race while a losing streak could mean it misses out on the postseason for a fifth consecutive season.

With roughly three weeks to go until the trade deadline, the Magic are widely considered to be active in trade discussions. They must decide if they want to trade Serge Ibaka or risk losing him for nothing since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this upcoming summer. Vucevic has also been mentioned in some trade rumors recently.

The team must decide if they’re all in on this season or if it’s time to look ahead to next season and try to acquire some draft picks or younger players. It remains to be seen how this Magic roster will look in the coming weeks but expect them to be very active in trade discussions.

Watson Happy to Play Spoiler

Each offseason, players will often meet up and workout together. For Magic guard C.J. Watson, he works out in his hometown of Las Vegas at Impact Basketball.

Players like Kyle Lowry, DeMarcus Cousins, Lance Stephenson, Kyle O’Quinn and E’Twaun Moore are among the many players that will stop by Impact Basketball to get some work in during the summer months.

A picture O’Quinn posted to Instagram a few summers ago blew up on social media as it was the first look at Lowry after he lost a significant amount of weight. It was the beginning of the “Skinny Kyle Lowry” nickname. He would end up losing about 15 pounds that summer and he completely transformed his image around the NBA.

Having worked out with Lowry for quite some time now, Watson was happy to play the role of spoiler to Lowry’s Raptors twice over the past week. Watson recorded 15 points against the Raptors last Sunday and followed up that outing with a season-high 18 points on Friday night.

With the Magic up by four points in the final minutes on Friday night, Watson knocked the ball away from Lowry and led the fastbreak up the court for a lay-up that put the Magic up for good.

“I know him a little bit because we work out in the summer time together,” Watson said. “There is a little familiarity with him. It’s pretty easy to guard him.”

Since the two are friends, Watson said some trash talk was going on during the game. When he was asked if it felt better to get a steal on Lowry since the two were friends, he smiled.

“When I hit the ball, I knew he was going to be pissed when I did it,” Watson said. “It was a good feeling.”

Watson’s Magic are 2-1 against Lowry’s Raptors so far this season with one more game left to be played in Toronto on March 27.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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