That’s what is on tap for Orlando Magic fans tonight when Dwight Howard makes his return to the building built upon his broad shoulders, the one that was supposed to house the city’s biggest and brightest star.
A win over the Los Angeles Lakers would sweeten the deal, anything the Magic can do to damage the Lakers’ playoff chances serves that purpose. And a lousy game by Howard might also add to the feel-good nature of the evening for those Magic fans still wounded by Howard’s departure last summer via a blockbuster trade.
But after it’s all over, when the booing is finished and the Lakers are in the air and headed to Atlanta for a Wednesday night matchup against the Hawks, the Magic and the entire city of Orlando needs to close the door on this Dwightmare drama for good. It’s time to wake up from this mess and finally move on.
That’s an extremely tall order, what with Howard’s refusal to stop sticking his size 18s in his mouth at seemingly every turn. Howard, however, is someone else’s Dwightmare now. The Lakers have to sweat out this summer wondering what he’ll do, whether he’s willing to stick around or chase his fortunes elsewhere (the Brooklyn whispers remain).
Magic fans will get a fresh start after tonight, and a well-deserved one. They can thank their front office for only having to see Howard once this year anyway. The decision to trade him to the Lakers and not somewhere else in the Eastern Conference prevented us all from having to go through this exhausting exercise on more than one occasion.,
That said, tonight’s meeting between the Magic and Lakers (7 ET, League Pass) promises to offer up one of the more bizarre scenes of the season, which is saying a mouthful, given the traveling circus the Lakers have been all season long.
Howard’s recent comments about his time in Orlando and his words about his former teammates (that he insists were misconstrued) will have to be addressed again … and in the flesh. There’s no Stan Van Gundy around to serve as the punching bag/foil for Howard, as he did during that infamous hallways scene after a shootaround practice last season.
One-time Howard ally Jameer Nelson will be in the other locker room. The eyes and ears of former Magic players like J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis and even Vince Carter will no doubt be tuned into whatever is said.
“What’s said is said, and what happened is over and done with,” Nelson said. “I’m just here trying to look forward and not trying to dwell on the past. The decision was made and things happen, so it’s not like anybody could take them back or anything like that. And me personally, I’m not mad at him for doing what he did. I don’t know. Could things have been done differently? Yeah. But they weren’t. So, me as a person, I just have to move on and try to continue to be successful and do the things I need to do to help the team get back in the position we used to be in.”
“In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way,” he said. “If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media.
“I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me.”
That something else, for now, is trying to rebound from the Lakers’ disastrous start to this season and assist Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash in delivering his new team to the playoffs.
Howard would be wise to focus on that tonight and not the hate shower he’ll get from the crowd tonight in Orlando. Because it should get nasty.
But when it’s over, win or lose, the Magic need to wake up from their Dwightmare and just move on.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Fourteen games on the slate all-but ensured plenty of drama around the Association … and that’s exactly what we got. There were several comeback games, but most notably Jazz-Cavs (which Cleveland won), Celtics-Pacers (which Boston won), Lakers-Hornets (which L.A. won) and Magic-Heat (which Miami won). Whew! Lot of great games to pick from just from that slate, and we’re not even getting to Blazers-Grizz (another rally, this time by Memphis) or Kings-Warriors (where Klay Thompson played the hero). Picking one comeback over another is never easy, but that is what we’re here to do: make the tough decisions. All that said, we’re going with Celtics-Pacers as our one to watch this morning. Indiana seemingly had this one in the bag thanks to some clutch baskets by George Hill, but Kevin Garnett showed why he’s a future Hall of Famer with his pinpoint pass to Jeff Green to clinch the win.
Lakers bond stronger after rally — In case you were living under a rock last night (or even this morning) and missed the Lakers’ epic comeback from a 25-point hole in New Orleans last night, our multimedia crew has all the best moments from L.A.’s stunning win. A win like the one the Lakers experience last night not only helped get them closer to the No. 8 spot in the West playoff race, but also created more of a bond amongst the team. Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News has more:
The Lakers’ 108-102 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets didn’t just mark a game in which they overcame a 25-point deficit against a sub.-500 opponent.
This didn’t just mark the first time the Lakers overcame such a large gap since overcoming a 30-point deficit against the Dallas Mavericks in 2002. The Lakers’ latest win gave them renewed confidence they can overcome any obstacle.
“Games like this really strengthen the bond between us players,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “That’s really what the playoffs are all about. You have adversity. It’s about who’s going to stick together and who’s not going to break.”
It helps that the win improves the bottom line results, too.
With the Utah Jazz losing Tuesday to Cleveland, the Lakers (31-31) trail Utah (32-29) by only 1 games for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
The Lakers sat in their locker room afterwards eagerly watching the final minutes of Houston’s loss to Dallas.
“Come on, Dallas!” Lakers forward Metta World Peace yelled from his stall. “Do what you gotta do!”
With Houston’s loss, the Lakers are only two games behind the Rockets (33-29) for the seventh seed.
Bryant took over the offense by scoring 18 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard overcame early foul trouble by taking a large defensive role, including blocking Robin Lopez’s layup attempt with 27 seconds remaining. Reserve guard Jodie Meeks posted 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter by making 4 of 5 three-point attempts.
“Dwight played big. When he’s like that and Kobe’s like this, that’s kind of what everybody envisioned it would be,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We hope we can build on this.”
The roles worked out perfectly.
Woodson: Anthony has fluid buildup in knee — After admitting that he should have pulled Carmelo Anthony out of Monday’s game in Cleveland when Anthony asked instead of letting him suffer a knee injury, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said his star forward will get his rest now. An MRI revealed that Anthony has fluid buildup in his injured right knee and will be taking a seat for a few games, writes Al Iannazzone of Newsday:
Mike Woodson said the MRI on Carmelo Anthony’s injured right knee showed “some fluid buildup” in there.
“That’s what’s causing the stiffness,” Woodson said. “Rest will probably be the best thing for him.”
Anthony rested Wednesday night, sitting out against the Pistons. Woodson said Anthony would be evaluated again Thursday night and if he feels better, he could play against the Thunder at the Garden. Woodson said it will be Anthony’s decision.
“I’ll do whatever he wants to do,” Woodson said. “Trust me. Players know their own body. If he tells me he wants to play I’m going to play him. I’m not going to fight him on that . . . If he says, ‘Coach, I need to sit down and rest a game or two,’ I’m going to grant that, absolutely.”
The irony is Woodson said Anthony asked out of Monday’s game in Cleveland before he aggravated his knee and the coach didn’t listen to him.
“He just kind of nodded that his knee wasn’t right,” Woodson said. “I kind of ignored it somewhat. Maybe I shouldn’t have.”
After tripping over his own feet, Anthony fell in the second quarter in Cleveland. When he got up, he walked right to the locker room and never returned. The Knicks were down 22 at the time and rallied to win behind a strong game from Amar’e Stoudemire. This was the seventh game Anthony has missed all or part of this season.
“Obviously he was hurting,” Woodson said. “He asked me to bring him out. I kind of ignored it because we were down. I probably should have taken him out and then he took the spill and he left the game because he was hurting. I didn’t heed to it because I’ve seen him banged up and hit and things of that nature.”
Howard’s comments irritate ex-Orlando mates Lewis, Nelson — In the 2004 Draft, the Magic took Dwight Howard with the No. 1 overall pick and, 19 picks later, worked out a savvy trade with the Nuggets to add Jameer Nelson to the fold, too. Three seasons later, with the Magic as a budding young team in the East, Orlando added Rashard Lewis as a free agent. From there, the Magic began a steady climb in the East, culminating in a 2009 Finals appearance as well as three division titles. Nelson and Lewis joined Howard as All-Stars in 2009, but apparently Dwight’s memory of his teammates and his days in Orlando isn’t so clear. His comments to a local CBS affiliate in L.A. about his Magic teammates riled up Nelson and Lewis, who is now with the Heat. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:
Former Magic forward Rashard Lewis called Dwight Howard’s recent comments about his former Magic teammates “disrespectful” and defended Jameer Nelson, once one of Howard’s closest friends.
Howard told a CBS affiliate in L.A. that “my team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted, and I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face.”
Howard, Lewis and Nelson were on the Magic team that defied odds and reached the NBA Finals in 2009.
“It’s disrespectful more than anything. We helped Dwight become the player he was,” said Lewis, who signed this summer with the Miami Heat, which faced the Magic on Wednesday night.
“We made a good run. Hell, look at those (conference and division) banners hanging in the stands. They don’t say Dwight Howard on them…”
Nelson said after shootaround that he was disappointed in Howard’s professionalism.
“At some point, when are you a gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner,” Nelson told the Sentinel.
“I would be less of a man to comment on certain things that people comment on about me and my teammates. We had a great run as a group, as core guys, and he was a part of it (reaching the 2009 Finals) and for him to say things about anybody in a negative manner, that’s up to him.”
Nelson and Howard were close, drafted together in the first round in 2004.
But their relationship eroded after Howard said before he was traded to the Lakers last summer that he would love to play with some of the league’s elite point guards, such as Chris Paul.
Former Magic General Manager Otis Smith said that Howard “threw Jameer under the bus.”
Said Lewis, “Everybody on that team was very close friends. Not only that, but Jameer Nelson, out of all people. I don’t care. I got thick skin. That stuff bounces off me…but him and Jameer are supposed to be best friends.
“Jameer kept his mouth shut for a long time..you hear him (Dwight) say stuff like Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, this guy, that guy and Jameer Nelson is the one who took us to the Finals, who helped, even though he got injured.”
Nets opt to bench Humphries — Enteringthe season, Nets forward Kris Humphries was fresh off back-to-back double-double campaigns in which he had elevated himself as one of the free-agent gems of 2012. Humphries re-signed with Brooklyn and was the Nets’ starting power forward for the first 18 games, but since then has seen his minutes dwindle. He’s averaging a mere 5.5 ppg and 5.9 rpg this season, with averages of 2.1 ppg and 4.1 rpg since the All-Star break. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that the Nets are going to dwindle Humphries’ minutes even further as they gear up for the playoffs, writes Seth Walder and Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
Kris Humphries’ official divorce from Kim Kardashian is fast approaching, but his divorce from playing time will come much sooner. According to a league source, Humphries was informed by coach P.J. Carlesimo Wednesday morning that he will no longer be part of the Nets’ shortened rotation.
Carlesimo has said in recent days that he wants to limit the rotation to nine or 10 players as the Nets head into the stretch run before the postseason.
The 6’9″ forward is averaging 18.4 minutes per game this season, a number that has dwindled substantially since the beginning of the year.
The decision to bench Humphries is curious given how fervently the Nets have worked to keep him. In July, the Nets inked the forward to a two-year, $24 million contract. Two weeks ago, at the trade deadline, the Nets could have traded Humphries to their opponent Wednesday night, Charlotte, in a deal that would have brought back Ben Gordon. And yet, despite their commitment to Humphries financially and the value he could have returned in the trade market, his only spot on the team for the foreseeable future will be on the bench.
Carlesimo has preferred Reggie Evans to Humphries since taking over as coach, despite the fact that Evans essentially offers nothing in the offense department (3.4 points per game). Evans has shot just 46% from under and around the basket, according to NBA.com. Evans has had 22% of his shots blocked this year and 33% blocked in February and March. Though Humphries hasn’t displayed a vast improvement on the offensive end of the floor this year, he has been better, and has demonstrated some talent in that respect of the game in previous seasons.
Humphries hasn’t performed at the level that the Nets presumably hoped when they signed him to a lucrative contract in the offseason.
Carlesimo spoke about the rotation Wednesday morning in Charlotte, saying he wanted to limit it to 10 players and that MarShon Brooks will be part of that rotation.
“I think 10 for now. We’re looking more 10. We want to play minimum four bigs and it would be hard to take one of the smalls out of the rotation,” Carlesimo said. “I’m not hung up on the number as much as, for us, coming off the bench, there’s nights we need defense and there’s nights we need offense.”
Budinger, Love await word from doctors– As our own Steve Aschburner documented on Hang Time last night, the Wolves lost 242 man games through their first 57 games to injuries. Two key names on that list, Chase Budinger and All-Star Kevin Love, have missed a combined 90 games and have been a big reason why Minnesota has disappointed so much this season. Good news may be on the horizon for those two players, though, as they are scheduled to talk to their respective doctors this week, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:
Injured Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger will speak by phone with his Florida knee surgeon Tuesday, hopeful he’ll be cleared to practice again with his teammates soon thereafter.
On Wednesday, two-time All Star Kevin Love will revisit his New York City surgeon seeking clearance to play with a healing right shooting hand he has broken not once but twice this season.
Both could be back playing games within two weeks, three weeks at most for Budinger.
With such similar timetables, could both such long-awaited returns possibly come on the same night?
“You never know,” Love said. “You never know.”
Either way, both hope to play at least the season’s final 15 games, Love perhaps a little more than that.
Love said he’ll join the team in Houston the Friday after his Wednesday’s doctor’s visit. He said he won’t play immediately that night even if he does get doctor’s clearance —like he did when he came back the first time in November — because he had surgery this time, on Jan. 15.
But probably not too terribly long after that …
“It’s really up to the doctor and myself and Glen and David,” he said, referring to owner Glen Taylor and basketball President David Kahn. “But until I see what the doctor says, I just won’t know.”
ICYMI of the night: We aren’t sure if this Jamal Crawford-to-Blake Griffin is the dunk of the year, but it has got to be in the running:
DALLAS – Now that J.J. Redick is gone from Orlando, and likely for good, he reflected Tuesday night on his six-plus seasons, all but this one spent with Dwight Howard, and how close the Magic seemed to a dominant run.
Orlando traded the 3-point sharpshooter to the Milwaukee Bucks at last week’s trade deadline. All that’s left of the 2008-09 Finals team that lost in five games to Los Angeles Lakers is Jameer Nelson and the suspended Hedo Turkoglu (who left as a free agent in ’09 and returned in a trade in ’10).
“I can remember being in my third year in the NBA and playing in The Finals,” Redick said Tuesday after scoring 14 points in the Bucks’ 95-90 win over the Mavericks. “You look at Dwight’s contract situation, you look at Rashard’s contract situation, Jameer’s contract situation, we had a chance to re-sign Turk, so you’d think maybe the team would have kept its core together. And you think you’re going to be back in The Finals the next year and the year after that, and it’s frustrating in that sense because I thought we would be back at some point, and we weren’t.
More from Redick in his own words:
Q: How close did you feel the team was to being a dominant force in the Eastern Conference?
A: We were very close. I think the big decision was what to do with Hedo. We didn’t necessarily want to give him a five-year deal and he had options out there, two five-year deals in excess of $50 million with Portland and Toronto. He made his decision and it was a good decision for him. As a player you have to strike while the iron is hot and take advantage of your small window to make a living. We made the trade for Vince [Carter] and for whatever reason we just couldn’t get over the top and beat the Celtics the next year. The following season we had a bunch of injuries and sicknesses early on and got off to a little bit of a slow start, and we made two separate blockbuster trades (Carter, Mikael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Turkoglu, Earl Clark anda first-round pick; andRashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas).
And, to me, that was the turning point. We never really got back to elite status after that.
Q: How did things begin to devolve with Dwight Howard’s ongoing situation?
A: Dating back to a year and a half, two years ago is when things started to get a little hectic in Orlando. It definitely changed the makeup of the organization and the franchise. And obviously, when you have a player of Dwight’s caliber you’re in contention to win a championship. When you lose a player like that there’s a strong possibility you’re going to have to rebuild and it might get a little ugly.
Q: It’s been a little ugly in Los Angeles. The Lakers are essentially backed into the same corner as the Magic were, waiting with bated breath for Howard to make a decision, one he says he won’t make until this summer. He says he doesn’t want another circus, but isn’t he creating another one by being non-committal?
A: I think he’s non-commital, I guess, for a reason. I’m not sure what that reason is, but if he wanted to explore his free agency he could have done it last summer. I’m not sure why he opted in [last year] because he wanted out of Orlando. I’m not really sure.
Q: You dealt with weeks of speculation about where you would be traded or if you would be traded at all. Now that you are with the Bucks, a team that appears, at worst, locked into the No. 8 seed and headed to the playoffs, is there a sense of relief?
A: Yeah, there’s definitely a feeling of relief. My feeling on just being traded in general is it’s part of the business. I’m a guy who just believes in making the best out of any situation. You can’t always change or control your circumstances, but you can change your perspective and your attitude. So no matter where I went, if I had stayed in Orlando, I would have made the most of it.
With Howard and the Lakers smarting from the 10-point loss to the Magic, the All-Star big man reportedly left the court without so much as a handshake for the guys he battled alongside for years in Orlando.
Magic players said they weren’t upset that Howard didn’t shake their hands or wish them well after Sunday night’s win. Howard walked off the court once the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked off Staples Center’s clock.
“That’s fine,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. “Certain guys don’t shake hands after the game.
“I don’t have any hard feelings to the guy. He made a decision to do what he did. He’s on the team that he’s on. I’m here in Orlando, where I want to be. I just wish him the best of luck. I’m not going to go up and hug him and kiss him or anything like that. I think my coach would be mad at me.”
Magic power forward Glen Davis said he didn’t take any offense.
“If he wants to walk off the court, it’s cool,” Davis said. “No hard feelings, you know? He lost. I would feel bad, too. I wouldn’t want to shake anybody’s hand. So it is what it is.”
Howard and the Lakers have issues of their own to deal with. They’ll have to play another week without Steve Nash and another six to eight weeks without Steve Blake (abdominal surgery), the man who was slated to serve as Nash’s primary backup,
Used to be, when a point guard re-upped to continue setting up the best center in basketball, it was a joyous occasion for both sides. The little man would keep playing with an ideal finisher for his passes, while the big man would stick with a playmaker he’s known, in this case, since they both arrived in the NBA eight years earlier.
Once upon a time, that’s howJameer Nelson’s reported agreement Thursday to re-sign with the Orlando Magic would have looked too, strengthening his connection with Dwight Howard. But that fairy tale has fluttered away, and Nelson’s return looks more like another sign of Howard’s certain departure. He reportedly will sign a three-year deal, the dollar amount so far undisclosed, after averaging 11.9 points and 5.7 assists in 57 appearances.
The combo of Nelson out front and Howard down low once was vital to the Magic’s ambitions; they got to the 2009 Finals and reached the Eastern Conference finals a year later. But like many of Howard’s relationships in Orlando, his dealings with Nelson appeared to sour from the All-Star center’s self-indulgent embrace of his options and clout via impending free agency.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Let the Orlando Magic be the cautionary tale for any team embracing change, on their roster, this time of year.
Roster building in the NBA is a living and breathing thing, one that requires constant attention but not necessarily constant action. The Magic know this better than most, having not only flipped their roster several times in the past eight years but also swapping out the people in charge of roster building more than most.
But as Schmitz points out, the Magic are not exactly experiencing change anyone can believe in right now:
The casualties so far include one CEO, one head coach, six assistant coaches, one GM, one assistant GM, six scouts and one player-development director.
An entire basketball operations department could go on Craigslist.
The Magic have fired so many folks, they’re making Donald Trump look benevolent.
The 30-year-old kid in the hall, freshly appointed GM Rob Hennigan, whacked the last eight himself after taking the job last week. We probably can stop the concerns whether his tender youth might cloud his decision-making, so my last crack about Rob’s age will be the fact he no longer will be allowed to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall.
It’s a new launch for the Magic, and frustrated fans have no choice but to embrace the unknown. They’ll be saluting or blaming strangers, beginning with tonight’s draft, and that seems perfectly fine with the faithful now that Otis Smith isn’t near a contract and a pen anymore.
And the biggest change hasn’t even happened yet, speaking of Dwight Howard.
Hennigan fielded more questions Wednesday about Howard’s future than whom he might pick at No. 19.
Hennigan deflected the inquiries like a hockey goalie, including mine: What are the chances Dwight will be traded Thursday night?
“You know what? I don’t want to comment on that,” Hennigan said. “We’re going to continue to evaluate everything we can, analyze all the details, any options and scenarios. I don’t know the answer to that.”
Hennigan knows the answer, and a draft-day deal for Dwight is possible. He just can’t go there yet about Howard.
The Magic’s direction depends on Howard’s direction, and what we do know is this: Dwight hasn’t told the club he’s dying to sign an extension.
For fans, there could be some tells in the Magic’s poker game regarding Howard. If J.J. Redick is dealt on draft-day and Jameer Nelson opts out Friday, Hennigan won’t have to keep pretending publicly that there’s a chance Howard is coming back.
Hennigan’s job will turn into a rebuilding project.
There’s that “R” word that no fan of any team wants to hear at Draft time.
Any “rebuilding project” comes with a fair amount of pain for all involved. For a Magic franchise that played in the The Finals in 2009, it has to be a particularly painful way of heading into the summer.
Even worse for Magic fans, this might only be the beginning of an excruciatingly painful chapter in franchise history, depending on just how much change is ahead.
Jeremy Lin is down for the count and who knows when/if Amar’e Stoudemire will return to action. That means what’s left of the Knicks’ roster will have to carry New York for the duration. While the Knicks are still battling for the last playoff slot, they also have their sights set on the No. 6 seed in order to play Orlando in the opening round instead of either Miami or Chicago. And on the heels of last week’s trampling of the Magic, a repeat performance would not only greatly enhance the achievement of both of these goals, but also make Orlando shiver in anticipation of encountering New York in the money season. After their fourth-quarter meltdown in Indiana on Tuesday, the Knicks also has to prove that they do have a necessary killer instinct.
On the flip side, the Magic need the win to demonstrate that their humiliating performance in New York was a fluke, and that they are indeed legitimate championship contenders.
HOW THE KNICKS CAN WIN
Forget about LeBron, Kobe and/or Kevin Durant — Carmelo Anthony is the most versatile scorer in the game. If KD is a better long-distant dialer, Anthony’s 3-point shooting is more reliable than the other two elite scorers. The difference is ‘Melo’s dynamic post-up game. With Stoudemire out, Anthony is now filling the power forward slot, which makes his offense even more unstoppable (plus he’s a better rebounder than his predecessor). There’s certainly no way that either Hedo Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson (if he makes a miraculous recovery from a freshly sprained ankle), or Glen Davis can put up any meaningful defensive resistance without considerable help. The problem is the Knicks’ spacing forces defenders to come a long way to double Anthony. And should Anthony bring his A-game into the last period, the Magic will run out of tricks.
Assuming that Dwight Howard has recuperated from the infamous phantom punch, Tyson Chandler has the length and the defensive chops to make him labor mightily to score in the low post. In addition, Howard gets flustered when he’s doubled on the move and tends to force shots, make wayward passes, or simply commit turnovers. Chandler’s timely dive-cuts on high screen/rolls should also put him in dunk city. (more…)
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
We’re near the end of a crazy, compacted season. Give us a player who has been heavily leaned-on during this breakneck schedule who may be in danger of flaming out in the playoffs.
Steve Aschburner: The easy answer would be Kobe Bryant, given his minutes, his advanced years and his usage rate for the Lakers. Baron Davis might experience a shock to his system, taking on the stretch-drive load that the Knicks need now with Jeremy Lin sidelined. But neither of those is my final answer. I’m going with Chicago forward Luol Deng, who is trying to make it through most of the season, whatever playoff push the Bulls enjoy and the 2012 London Olympics playing with a torn ligament in his left wrist. Surgery would have wiped out most or all of that for Deng, the most used (39.0 mpg) and versatile tool in Tom Thibodeau‘s belt. But just because Kobe played through something similar once doesn’t mean most mortals can do that. Deng feels it every time he falls or takes a whack on that wrist, and it has affected some of his moves on the court.
Fran Blinebury: If Kobe has a few more 3-for-20 shooting nights and the Lakers lose in the playoffs, is he the “flame-out” you’re looking for? Can Lamar Odom qualify as a “flame-out” if he’s been just a soggy pack of matches all season? If you’re looking for someone who needs to stop playing games, get his head screwed on straight and deliver in the playoffs, well, there’s that infamous 3-point shooter Mr. Bynum. He could be the difference in the Lakers making a real run at The Finals or crashing and burning early.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Bad trend for Jameer Nelson: He has shot worse than 38 percent in two of the last three playoffs. Bad trend for the Magic.
Shaun Powell: I wonder about Chris Paul, never accused of being the sturdiest player in his career, continuing to play at a high level without Chauncey Billups. He does have Randy Foye and Mo Williams for relief, but neither can run the team or involve teammates quite like Paul; the Clippers suffer when he isn’t on the floor. He has led this late charge (six straight wins) that rescued Vinny Del Negro and the club from flirting with disaster; will he feel the effects in May? Possibly. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Let the case of Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried be a lesson to all NBA rookies fortunate enough to be drafted by a playoff-caliber team that doesn’t need him in the starting lineup from the first day of training camp.
Faried was in the shadows at the start of this season, unsure of his role and whether or not he would spend his season with the Nuggets or with their D-League affiliate. If you weren’t careful, you’d have forgotten he was even on the roster the first few weeks of the season. Faried played in just three games through the end of January.
It’s obvious Faried didn’t fret when he wasn’t in the rotation. He kept his head down, kept working and earned the respect of Nuggets coach George Karl and his teammates with his non-stop energy and effort and a relentless approach that fans anywhere should appreciate.
Now he’s playing crucial, late-game minutes for the Nuggets, a team in thick of the playoff chase in the Western Conference.
The Bulls are in a holding pattern, trying to maintain their position atop the Eastern Conference standings while Derrick Rose recuperates. Thus far, some spirited play from their second unit has been a huge help in keeping the Heat in the rearview mirror. Yet despite Chicago’s being the best road team in the conference, winning in Orlando would provide a significant boost in confidence for all of D-Rose’s supporting cast.
With Dwight Howard committing to stay put, the Magic are looser and more sure of who they are than they have been all season long. Moreover, getting safely through the trade-deadline enhances the security and mutual trust of the entire roster, and contributes to the players’ belief that the best is yet to come.
HOW THE BULLS CAN WIN
• Unless Rose undergoes a miraculous recovery, C.J. Watson will start at point guard. Watson is a savvy, experienced veteran who can routinely drain 3-balls, show quick helping hands on defense, and alertly draw charging fouls. Since Jameer Nelson is the motor of Orlando’s offense, Watson has the difficult task of both staying in his face to discourage bonus shots, and also to keep his opposite number from penetrating. If Watson can match Nelson point-for-point and assist-for-assist, the Bulls will cruise.