For the first month of the season, the Orlando Magic had been rolling through their schedule. The team had jumped out to a 19-13 start and were sitting fourth in the standings in the Eastern Conference following their 100-93 win over the Brooklyn Nets on December 30.
Fast forward three weeks later, and the story has been the complete opposite. Through nine games in January, the Magic are 1-8 and they are coming off of last night’s embarrassing home loss to the last-placed Philadelphia 76ers.
For one reason or another, the team just hasn’t performed as well as they previously were. After experiencing several high points thus far this season, last night was by far rock bottom for a team that has playoff aspirations. It’s a reality check that the team may not be as close to competing as initially thought.
With the trade deadline exactly four weeks away, one question should be asked regarding the Magic: is it time for a change?
From now until the February 18 deadline, trade rumors will be surfacing quite a bit. By this point in the season, we know which teams will be buying and we know which teams will be selling.
So, where does Orlando stand? Following that loss to the Sixers, the team is 20-21 and just one game back of eighth place in the East. By no means is the team eliminated from the playoff race. One win could be what’s needed to get the team back on track.
Equally, the season could begin to spiral out of control soon. Among Orlando’s games left before the All-Star break are contests against San Antonio (twice), Atlanta (twice), Boston (twice), Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers.
With the trade deadline looming, here is where each player on the team stands. It should be noted that these updates are merely opinion-based after being around the team for the majority of the season.
Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris
Both players entered the 2015-16 season in the first year of their respective long-term deals. Vucevic’s deal will pay him $48 million over four years, while Harris will earn $64 million over the next four years. Because the team just committed to these players and both guys are now getting paid a higher salary, it seems unlikely either player would be moved before the upcoming trade deadline.
While both players are a significant part of the team’s younger core, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has said in the past that no player on the team is untouchable. However, in the case of Vucevic and Harris, it would likely take a huge offer for the team to move either of them.
Payton could be as close to untouchable as it gets on the Magic. It would take a huge deal in order to pry Payton away, and is there a team out there that wants him that bad? Likely not.
Payton has become one of the most valuable players to the Magic this season. He’s proven this season to be just as valuable on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end. He recently missed four games earlier this month with a couple of sprained ankles, and the team went just 1-3 in his absence. Payton has the tools to become a special player in the NBA, and figures to be a huge part of the Magic’s future.
It seems as though there could be a point within the next year or so that the Magic will have to decide if they want to keep both Fournier and Victor Oladipo. Both players are shooting guards and both will be seeking long-term deals. Fournier will be a restricted free agent this summer, while Oladipo will be a restricted free agent the following summer.
As far as Fournier goes this year, it’s possible that a team would trade for him in order to have him as a restricted free agent under their watch this summer. That’s what the Phoenix Suns did last year by acquiring Brandon Knight and re-signing him over the summer when he was restricted. It’s also possible that any team overly intrigued in Fournier could just make him an offer this summer if they feel the Magic won’t want to match it. It remains to be seen if Fournier will stay with Orlando long-term, as he could be moved or he could be out of Orlando’s price range this summer.
Oladipo’s trade value likely is as low as it’s ever been. A knee sprain has kept him out of the Magic’s past two games, and he has been listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. Outside of the injury, Oladipo has had an up-and-down season to this point. He began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bench at the end of November and has remained there for the most part.
He started five games prior to suffering the knee injury in place of Elfrid Payton, and was playing some of his best basketball of the season. But, even with his improved play as a starter during that five-game stretch, the team posted just a 1-4 record. The Magic are 13-7 this season when Oladipo comes off of the bench, compared to just 6-11 when he starts. He’s currently posting career-lows in points (13.5), assists (4.0), steals (1.3) and field goal percentage (40.5 percent). Given his injury and inconsistent season, Oladipo likely isn’t going anywhere.
This seems to be the part of the roster where anything could happen. Gordon played just 47 games during his rookie season after suffering a broken foot. He’s almost eclipsed that mark this year, and has made some improvements. Gordon can be a change-of-pace player that can come into games and give the Magic a spark when needed.
It’s clear that he still has work to put in and is a work in progress. The Magic just used a very high draft pick on Gordon last year so they clearly value him. However, if the right deal came along, it’s possible Gordon could be had. He could be an attractive piece in a package deal that could land a notable player in Orlando. He was the team’s fourth overall pick in 2014, so it would still take a lot for the Magic to part ways with Gordon.
Nicholson’s time with the Magic has been spotty. During his first two years with the team, he played in nearly every game; last season, he played in just 40 games. He saw a bigger role under head coach Scott Skiles last month, but now appears to be out of the rotation again. Nicholson doesn’t figure to be a part of the Magic’s long-term plans, and is likely being shopped.
He can be a restricted free agent this summer if the Magic make him a qualifying offer. Once they make him that offer, he counts against the team’s cap space, so they may not opt to do that since he doesn’t appear to be a part of their future plans. Nicholson has shown some flashes this season that he can still be a viable option off of the bench. So, if the Magic can flip him to a team in need of bench depth for a draft pick or contributor, they likely take that deal.
Frye has been frequently mentioned as one Magic player that could be had. Entering the season, his price tag was reported to be fairly low. But, when the team made the move to bring Oladipo off of the bench, Frye became a starter. And he was a viable starter for the Magic. He provided the team with floor spacing, which opened things up for other players. During the month of December, Frye shot 47 percent from three-point range.
January has been a different story. In nine games this month, Frye has shot just 16 percent from three. Since his struggles, the trade talks could intensify with the trade deadline just a month away. Frye is owed just under $16 million over the next two years, so the Magic could look to dump his contract in order to spend it on younger players. Equally, Frye’s $8 million salary could look good for a team in need of another scoring option for a playoff run.
Smith has been very solid this season for the Magic. He’s given the team productive minutes off of the bench. He’s known to be a grit-and-grind type of player and has played extremely hard this season. He signed over the summer on a one-year deal worth $4.3 million deal and could be an attractive option to a contender looking for frontcourt depth or to a team looking to shed some cap space this summer. Given that Smith has been one of the team’s better bench options, it would seem likely that it would take an attractive deal for the team to trade him.
One of the biggest offseason signings for the Magic was Watson. They valued his veteran leadership in that backup point guard spot behind Payton and thought he could help the team. The team tried to sign and trade for Watson prior to this season, but were unable to strike a deal. The two finally came together over the summer, signing a three-year deal worth $15 million. He’s a guy that they like and want to be a part of the team.
A calf injury has limited Watson this season to just eight games played, and his return to the floor is not yet known. He was said to be improving, but recently suffered a setback. Given his uncertainty with the injury, Watson has no trade value for the Magic. It was likely that he may not have been a trade option if we has healthy.
The injuries to Payton and Oladipo opened up some playing time for Hezonja recently. He had played under 13 minutes per game through the end of December, but is now averaging about 18 minutes per game in January. He was the team’s fifth overall pick in last year’s draft and remains a work in progress.
He’s shown flashes thus far of the type of player that he can be. He can shoot and drive the hole, but his defense and decision-making needs further work. It’s seem highly unlikely Hezonja is traded as the Magic knew he would be a player that would need time to develop when they drafted him.
Napier was acquired over the offseason in a cost-cutting move by the Miami HEAT. The terms of the deal included the Magic sending Miami a second-round pick, but it’s highly protected and will likely never have to be surrendered. So, the Magic acquired Napier for basically nothing. The team exercised its option on Napier, keeping him under contract through next season.
The Magic have been looking for a backup point guard given the injury to Watson, and so far they haven’t had any luck finding that player. Napier had a role with the team in November, but has since fallen out of the rotation. He could be a player to keep an eye on that gets packaged in a bigger deal.
Dewayne Dedmon and Devyn Marble
Each of these players don’t figure to be a part of the team’s future. Dedmon and Marble are guaranteed through this season. Dedmon can be a restricted free agent this summer, while Marble’s deal for next season is non-guaranteed. They could be used as filler pieces as well. It’s worth noting that recent 10-day signee Keith Appling cannot be traded.
It’s clear that the Magic are still an elite player away from seriously competing. It would take a large package of players and likely picks for Orlando to land that kind of player. Free agency could be the best bet for the team to bring in a star player, and perhaps the team would want to trade away some unnecessary contracts to make that happen.
As things stand today, they’re looking at about $30 million in cap space, figuring in a projected $90 million cap next season. That number could change depending on how they handle their upcoming free agents (Fournier, Nicholson, Smith, Dedmon). The team will need to shed some salary in order to bring in a max-level player, so they could be active in the coming weeks.
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”
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