Orlando Hoping to Rebound in February
After securing the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference through the end of December, the Orlando Magic tied the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves for fewest wins during the month of January.
Including last night’s 119-114 win over the Boston Celtics, the Magic posted just two victories in 14 tries last month. The team’s other win came against one of the worst teams in the league in the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 8.
A 100-93 win over the Nets on Dec. 30 brought the Magic to fourth place in the East, but the team has been in a free fall ever since.
Among the many disappointments for the Magic during January included another blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a blown 15-point fourth quarter lead against the Charlotte Hornets and a loss to the last-placed Philadelphia 76ers.
Many of the things the team was doing well over the course of the first two months of the season had fallen off drastically in January. Orlando had the 14th-best offensive rating in the league in 2015 and was holding opponents to 100.3 points per 100 possessions, which was 10th in the league.
Once the calendar flipped to 2016, the Magic have posted the third-worst offensive rating and fourth-worst defensive rating (giving up 108.2 points per 100 possessions).
“The problem with what I’m about to say is it makes it seem like I’m saying we don’t have any talent [and] that’s not the case,” head coach Scott Skiles said. “We’re a hustle team. We’ve got to be flying around, even if we make mistakes; we have to stay in plays. Like a lot of teams in a league, we don’t have just one guy that can bail us out of situations we get in. We’ve got to be flying around all of the time.”
The disappointing month further proved that the team may not be as close to competing for a playoff berth as initially thought. After three seasons of rebuilding, the team had shown that this season may finally be the year in which they seriously challenged for a playoff berth.
The team’s drought has dropped them to 12th in the standings, three games back of the final playoff spot in the East. But, after posting a come-from-behind win last night against the Celtics, the team is hoping the win could be the spark to getting back on the right track.
“I think it was a good way to end the month by winning,” center Nikola Vucevic said. “Now, we have to turn things around and wake up and get some wins. I know one win is not going to do anything if we go get on a losing streak, so we have to make sure that we take away stuff from tonight the way we played and finished the game. If we keep playing like that going forward, I think we’ll be in a pretty good position.”
The Magic will face an uphill battle if they want to remain in the playoff picture. February is going to be make or break for the team as they have a tough schedule against a lot of playoff teams.
Nine out of the team’s 12 games will be against teams currently in a playoff spot. Among Orlando’s games left before the All-Star break are contests against San Antonio (twice), Atlanta (twice), Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Waiting for Orlando after the All-Star break are games against the Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors. That schedule begins in San Antonio, where the Spurs have yet to lose a game this season.
“Every night we’re playing against the best players in the world,” rookie Mario Hezonja said. “[The upcoming schedule] is not affecting our mind. We know it, but we gotta focus on ourselves and do our job. We go step by step, so nothing can affect us.
“We got to keep growing up as a team and get the wins; we’re a young team. We got to outplay our enemies with our energy. We have a tough schedule, but we got to get wins. That’s the most important thing here.”
It seems clear by this point that the Magic are still a piece or two away from seriously competing in the East. The team is winless in 11 attempts against the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks.
Orlando is in a bit of a unique situation regarding the upcoming trade deadline. While it’s clear that they still need a superstar player, it’s likely that player won’t become available via trade. Equally, it doesn’t make much sense to part ways with one of their young prospects if a deal doesn’t make sense. In addition, what could the players on the team realistically yield in a trade?
It’s true that the Magic have made improvements this season, but it remains to be seen if this group can take the next step without more help. Skiles has made lineup changes, has tried tough love through the media and has benched players in an attempt to send a message and nothing has seemed to work yet.
With the upcoming schedule, the Magic are going to prove what kind of team they are by the All-Star break. At that point, the team could try to trade some of their upcoming free agents if they feel like they don’t want to retain them. Evan Fournier (restricted), Andrew Nicholson (restricted), Jason Smith and Dewayne Dedmon (restricted) will all be free agents and could be on the trading block.
This team is clearly still a work in progress, and could be much different by this summer.
Nash not Interested in Suns’ Job
Following the conclusion of a four-game road trip, the Phoenix Suns opted to fire head coach Jeff Hornacek late Sunday night upon arriving back to Phoenix.
The team will conduct several interviews today and will likely hire an interim head coach from within its staff, according to Yahoo Sports.
One candidate that has come up for a potential replacement is former Suns point guard Steve Nash. He was a target even before the firing of Hornacek and is someone the Suns have long wanted to take over the team.
Marc Stein of ESPN reported earlier today that Nash is apparently not interested in taking over the job. Instead, Nash would like to focus his time on his three young children for the time being.
Nash retired from basketball in March of last year, and has since joined the Golden State Warriors in a consultation role. His role with the Warriors calls for him to spend a few days per month with the team, according to the report.
In addition to his part-time job with the Warriors, Nash also trained with various players over the summer, including Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker.
The Suns’ decision to part ways with Hornacek didn’t seem to be all that surprising as he had been rumored to be on the hot seat for some time now. He was nearly fired back on Dec. 27, but the team opted to let two of Hornacek’s assistants go instead.
The team had hoped the changes within his staff would be enough to spark a change in the right direction. However, the team has lost 15 out of 17 games since the change and has dropped to 13th in the Western Conference – nine and a half games out of the last playoff spot.
The Suns had high hopes entering the season, and have failed to live up to expectations. Injuries have been a huge part to the team’s inconsistent play, but it became clear to the team that a change was needed.
The Suns return to action against the Toronto Raptors tomorrow night, with a replacement expected to be announced sometime before then.
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.”