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Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans hung 40 points on the Orlando Magic in the second quarter.

In the entire second half, they managed only 35 as Orlando scored a 115-99 victory at Smoothie King Center on Monday.

The Magic won this game with solid bench play, strong defense, aggressive transition scoring and lights-out shooting. Those four things have typified a red-hot start to the 2018 season for a team few expected to make any waves at all.

Davis came out strong and never let up. He got Aaron Gordon into early foul trouble (Aaron Gordon ended up playing just 18 minutes) and finished with an impressive 39 points on 20 field goal attempts. Jonathan Isaac subbed in for Aaron Gordon until he too picked up some quick fouls. Then, it was up to Marreesse Speights to guard Anthony Davis and play power forward.

In the first half, it looked like the Magic had no answers for Davis, who had his way over and over again in the paint. Nikola Vucevic appeared to shy away from shooting threes in favor of going at DeMarcus Cousins in the post, which was largely ill-advised aside from a few nice hook shots.

But the Magic started bringing hard double teams in the third quarter and managed to do so without giving shooters any openings beyond the arc. Every defender on the floor trusted each other, rotated properly and allowed the Pelicans no breathing room.

Once the defense gathered its bearings, everything else seemed to fall into place.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Magic were near the top of the league in transition opportunities off steals entering this game. Aggressive defense from Evan Fournier, Jonathon Simmons and D.J. Augustin may have caused that ranking to rise tonight, in addition to creating excellent scoring opportunities for their teammates.

Later in the game, coach Frank Vogel entered an intriguing lineup with Marreese Speights at center and good defenders all around: Shelvin Mack, Jonathon Simmons, Terrence Ross and Jonathan Isaac. Speights went absolutely nuclear, draining six threes, five of which came in the second half, and finishing with 18 points.

The Magic were clearly firing on all cylinders at this point.

The Pelicans began to look listless, getting little offensive production from anyone but Davis and Cousins, who seemed to look more to pass than to score at times. They did not let up and pulled away, winning by 16 and outscoring the Pelicans by more than 20 points in the second half.

A rough first half clearly did not discourage this team. They made good defensive adjustments and seemed to beat their opponents into submission as the clock ticked down. That is how the Magic will win games this season.

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What the Miami Heat had here was a failure to communicate.

At least that’s what the Heat hope amid this 2-3 start, that such concerns have moved into the past tense, after a team meeting prior to Sunday’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“Every season is different,” guard Goran Dragic said. “Every season, it’s not like we expected to have immediately that chemistry like we finished the season.”

So the players hashed it out in real and raw terms.

“We had our discussions this morning,” forward James Johnson said. “We aired it out this morning. A lot of people took heat. I think it was the best thing for us to do, even more important than film. That’s what this culture is about, that’s what we’re about — staring guys in the eyes, telling guys the truth and that’s how you show you really love somebody.”

So they shared the love, in a somewhat visceral manner.

“We made a great step in the right direction today,” forward Justise Winslow said, with last season’s 11-30 start a haunting memory. “I mean it’s a concern of ours, but it’s not the end of the world.”

What Johnson said can’t happen is maintaining an ongoing Hassan Whiteside Watch, with the center having missed the past four games with a bone bruise on his left knee.

“We’re going to keep fighting through it and figure out ways to win without him, because you never know, it’s a long season. You never know … he might be out the rest of the season or he could be out a couple more games,” he said, exaggerating the possibilities as a way of making his point. “But we need to figure it out now.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said Whiteside was limited to non-contact work Sunday, terming him “very doubtful” for Monday’s game against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves, the fifth game on this season-longest six-game homestand.

“We’d like to get him some contact,” Spoelstra said of the optimal plan before a Whiteside return, “but this was a good step.

“He certainly is making progress. That’s why we’re all encouraged, just to see him down here. He’s working, he’s jumping, he’s running, and hopefully there’s no pain tomorrow.”

Spoelstra also attempted to put perspective on the pain that led to Sunday’s team meeting.

“Every season’s different,” he said. “I love all the emotions that players go through. I don’t even care if it boils over. It means you care. And our guys in the locker room really care.

“This is not the type of start that our group wanted. You can’t guarantee anything in this league.”

The element that the Heat pride themselves on, and acknowledge has been missing, is intensity.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not working harder than everybody,” Johnson said. “That’s doesn’t mean we’re not the most physical. That just means that we’re not applying more effort. There’s got to be more effort to it.

“We all got to play with a chip on our shoulder. And we also all got to play with that edge again. We’re losing who we were and who we are. And that can’t happen on this team.”

Dragic said he did not regret his Saturday postgame comments comparing last season’s opening struggles to the current predicament.

“That’s why we addressed this so early,” he said. “We feel like everybody is on the same page now. We know what we need to do, as long as we put some work in. That’s why we had this meeting.

“On the floor, we don’t talk much and I think that’s a problem, because you need to be comfortable to say, ‘You need to be on the help side,’ ‘You need to do this for me.’ The list goes on and on.”

The grievances have been aired. Seventy-seven games remain.

“Guys were honest today,” Winslow said, “just opening up and being vulnerable and letting it all out there, not holding anything in. It can go a long way in this league — that honesty and connection part.”

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Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers took a gamble on having just four veteran guards on their 15-man roster, and for the second time already, they have paid a price for their own admission.

They were put in a precarious state when starting point guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury to his left foot that the Clippers said will sideline him indefinitely.

So now Austin Rivers, who started in place of Teodosic on Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams will see their playing time likely increase.

“You take a risk sometimes,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “In our case, we just decided we were going to go with four guards and then use some of the young guys, maybe. So now he’s out, and that hurts us.”

Austin Rivers suffered a strained left glute during the first exhibition game against the Toronto Raptors in Hawaii. That put the Clippers in an insecure spot for the rest of the exhibition season because he didn’t play in the last four games.

Now here the Clippers are again, down one of their seasoned guards. They are hoping that one of their rookie guards, Sindarius Thornwell or Jawun Evans, can provide a lift when called upon.

“I said that before the year. If anyone of those four guys goes out, that puts a strain on us,” Doc Rivers said. “So, Sindarius or Jawun, one of those two will play. They both are ready, in my opinion. I think Sindarius has a chance to be an elite defender in our league, maybe not right away. I think the minutes will help him. So, we’re just going to plug him in.”

Jazz’s Quin Snyder has history with Teodosic

When Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder walked into Staples Center on Tuesday night, he stopped to have a chat with Teodosic, who was on scooter.

The two have a history together.

Snyder was the assistant coach at CSKA Moscow in 2012-13 when Teodosic was on the team.

The amazing passing that everyone saw from Teodosic before his injury is something Snyder saw a lot of when they were in Russia together.

“He’s a unique playmaker,” Snyder said. “I think he’s just got a sense. He’s artistic in the way he plays the game. You don’t have to watch him for long to see that, as far as some of the passes and creativity. He’s a guy that people like playing with, and couple that with his ability to make shots and stretch the floor, he’s a unique player that can really add a lot to an already very, very, very good offensive team.”

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Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors

DALLAS – A week ago, it seemed nothing could stop the Warriors. Their depth appeared so overwhelming that NBA teams pondered if any weaknesses existed. The Warriors’ discipline appeared so consistent it suggested they could run on autopilot.

Instead the Warriors have lost two of their first three games, matching their worst three-game start since 2009-10 under Don Nelson, the season they finished 26-56.

It’s absurd to think the Warriors could crash to those depths. They remain the heavy favorite to win their third NBA title in four years. There is no sign of panic.

“If you ask anybody in this locker room, nobody was expecting us to be playing at the level we left last year,” Warriors center Zaza Pachulia said after the 111-101 loss in Memphis on Saturday night. “That’s normal. Maybe it’s even good. That way we work harder and prepare ourselves for April, May and June.”

The Warriors have coughed up double-digit leads in losses to Houston and Memphis, and nearly squandered their cushion in their win over New Orleans. After vowing to finish in the top-five in defensive efficiency for the fourth consecutive season, the Warriors have allowed 117.7 points per game. Opponents are shooting 47.1%. And turnovers; despite a training-camp emphasis on passing, the Warriors have made 52 turnovers in three games.

Defending NBA champions are vulnerable to complacency. NBA coaches, Larry Bird once said, tend to lose their influence on players after three years. That led Warriors coach Steve Kerr to crack: “I’m in year four, aren’t I? I’m on the clock.”

Turning serious, Kerr said: “I was really lucky coming into this organization at the right time when players were really entering their primes. The thing I try to do is keep it light and fresh and let the assistants do the talking and hopefully my voice doesn’t get too old on them too quickly.”

The Warriors have suggested their problems lay elsewhere.

After having reduced practice time due to a compressed preseason schedule and a week-long trip in China, the Warriors have admitted feeling behind both with their conditioning and rhythm. The Warriors suggested those issues have contributed toward their struggles to defend without fouling.

Kerr called that a “major problem… Our habits are really bad. A lot of reaches, a lot of silly ones late in the shot clock.”

Stephen Curry has been the biggest offender. He was called for four fouls in Houston and five in Memphis. That wreaked havoc on Kerr’s substitution rotation. Saturday night in Memphis, he kept Curry in the game after he was called for his third foul in the second quarter. Moments later, Curry picked up his fourth foul.

Curry knows what he must do.

“You can still play aggressive defense and not reach,” Curry said. “I’ve done it my entire career just being conscious of where my hands are and where my body is. You play physical, the ticky-tack stuff and you’re literally reaching in and trying to get a steal and overzealous. That’s the stuff that can get you come back and bite you.”

While Curry accepts responsibility for the Warriors’ foul trouble, Durant takes the blame for the team’s turnover problem. Of the 52, Durant has 19.

“I’m just rushing,” Durant said. “I need to calm and settle down and I guess that will ignite the whole team. If I turn the ball over, it’s contagious.”

Still, a win Monday night at Dallas — the Mavericks are 0-3 — would give them a 2-1 trip.

“If we go 2-1, I’m happy with that,” Klay Thompson said. “2-1 on the road trip, that’s a good outcome.”

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Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

Count Mark Cuban among those who see the NFL becoming less and less popular in the future. And it has nothing to do with the national anthem protests by players that have pushed a handful of fans away.

Instead, the outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner pointed to the health and safety of the sport as the No. 1 reason for its decline. The national anthem protests, in Cuban’s mind, are more of a short-term issue.

Cuban referenced a study from this summer that found 110 of 111 brains of deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly called CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. Dr. Ann McKee’s study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The NFL has got real structural problems,” Cuban said during an interview on 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday. “I have an 8-year-old son — I would not let my son play football. CTE’s a problem. … You can’t push something like CTE under the rug.”

Cuban mentioned meeting with NCAA officials over the latest college basketball scandal, and the topic of football participation came up. Cuban said football participation is “down significantly” in all the SEC states.

“They’re going to have to go global,” Cuban said of football grooming players. “Half of NFL rosters (in the future) are going to be international guys. That’s a bigger issue for the NFL longer term, and I don’t know how to fix that.”

Cuban has criticized the NFL before, memorably saying: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”

He stands by that statement regarding football’s future.

“They’re on path to be absolutely true,” Cuban said. “Because they haven’t been able to solve that (CTE) problem, they’re going to lose participants and they’re going to lose people watching. … I just don’t think kids are going to be as excited about football as we were growing up and that’s a long-term problem.”

Cuban also criticized the NFL for having too many games, particularly Thursday Night Football where the games have largely been underwhelming in recent years.

“People question the brand, question the quality of the brand,” Cuban said.

Even though the NFL faces well-documented challenges, Cuban made it clear that the NBA isn’t immune to them either.
Cuban acknowledged that it’s more difficult for every professional sports league to get kids excited and interested in their game and teams. That’s why he’s trying to lure more fans to American Airlines Center this season by offering more than 4,000 seats for $19 or less.

“We’ve got to be more aggressive in creating young Mavericks fans, young NBA fans,” Cuban said. “I see the NFL pricing themselves out of families, which is going to make it very, very hard for them to develop young fans. We all have that challenge of how do we turn young kids, boys and girls, into hardcore NBA and Mavericks fans? That’s going to be a huge challenge for all of us going forward.

“(We want it to be) where going to a Mavs game is competitive with going to a movie or going to a high school football game.”

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Buzz City Beat is Swarm and Sting’s one stop for the best articles from around the internet surrounding the Charlotte Hornets.

After the injury to Nicolas Batum, a YouTuber made a video explaining why the team should trade Kemba Walker. In this edition of Buzz City Beat, we look at where the Charlotte Hornets‘ top players rank in the NBA, a trade made by the Greensboro Swarm and Kemba praising Avery Bradley.
Hornets have five players rank in NBA top-100 (BleacherReport.com)

Wake the heck up if Kemba Walker checking in at No. 23 grinds your gears. You’ve been sleeping on him for too long. (If you’re more rattled because you think he’s too low, then you have my #respek.)

Kemba was the highest ranking Charlotte player as he came in inside the top-25. He was just ahead of Klay Thompson and just behind Kyrie Irving. If those players are considered stars in this league, then I think it’s time that Walker is considered one as well. Taking the next step on defense will help put him over the top and into the next tier of players.

Dwight Howard was the second-highest ranked Hornets’ player at No. 73. Nicolas Batum (80), Cody Zeller (85) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (87) were all named inside the top-100 giving Steve Clifford’s side five players ranked on the list. Marvin Williams was in the “Soul-Crushing Exclusions” section as he barely missed the cut.
Greensboro Swarm trade (Twitter)

We have acquired 1st round draft picks in 2017 & 18 from @WisconsinHerd in exchange for the returning player rights to Xavier Munford

Munford played 30 games for the Swarm last year before leaving to Spain as he signed with FC Barcelona Lassa midseason. With Marcus Paige, who is on a two-way contract with Charlotte, set to spend most of the 2017-18 season in the G-League with Greensboro, it made Xavier expendable. Over the summer, Munford put up 10.2 PPG with Team USA as he helped lead them to the FIBA AmeriCup Title.

The Swarm got a pretty good return in exchange for Xavier with two first-round picks. The 2017 NBA G-League Draft is on October 21st. He averaged 18.5 PPG, 5.3 APG and 4.7 RPG with the Hornets’ G-League affiliate.
Kemba Walker praises Avery Bradley ahead of regular-season opener (freep.com)

Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker rolled his eyes when asked about the Bradley snub. “That’s ridiculous. He’s probably, if not the best, one of the best on-ball defenders in our league,” said Walker, who will lead the Hornets against the Pistons on Wednesday night in both teams’ season opener.

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Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid’s five-year, $146.5 million maximum extension is essentially guaranteed but protects the franchise financially should Embiid suffer a contractually specific catastrophic injury, league sources told ESPN.

Embiid, 23, signed the rookie-scale max extension Tuesday, with the $146.5 million total for the deal based on the NBA’s new salary cap projections for the 2018-19 season.

For the Sixers to curb the ultimate value of the extension, it would take the triggering of several severe circumstances detailed in a 35-page-plus contract. Embiid’s unique career trajectory — missing his first two NBA seasons with successive foot surgeries and playing only 31 games in the 2016-17 season — created a pathway for Philadelphia general manager Bryan Colangelo; Embiid’s agent, Leon Rose of CAA Sports; and the National Basketball Players Association to work together on creating a complicated and creative contractual agreement. The dramatic impact of Embiid’s brief but dominant debut season left him as the only rookie since Wilt Chamberlain to average at least 28.7 points per 36 minutes played.

Here’s how a perfect storm of calamity would have to unfold for Embiid to earn any less than the full $146.5 million: Across each of the final four seasons of the extension, ending with the 2022-23 season, the 76ers could waive Embiid for a financial benefit if he’s lost because of a contractually agreed-upon injury that causes him to miss 25 or more regular-season games and if he plays less than 1,650 minutes, league sources said.

Specific injuries are laid out in the contract and include only past problem areas with Embiid’s feet and back, sources said. Embiid has to miss 25 or more regular-season games because of injuries in those areas, and play less than 1,650 minutes, for Philadelphia to have the option of releasing him for cost savings.

For example, if Embiid hypothetically suffered a serious knee or wrist injury — something outside the contractual language surrounding the feet and back — the 76ers would have no avenue to waive Embiid to reclaim any portion of his salary. And given Embiid’s rare talent, there’s a belief that he’d have to suffer a career-ending injury to inspire the 76ers to release him.

If Embiid met that narrow criteria and the Sixers decided to waive him after the 2018-19 season, he would receive $84.2 million of his full contract; $98.2 million after the 2019-20 season; $113.3 million after the 2020-21 season; and $129.4 million after the 2021-22 season.

What’s more, if Embiid played a minimum of 1,650 regular-season minutes in three consecutive years during the extension, or three out of four including the 2017-18 season, those benchmarks would eliminate the possibility of a reduction in the contract, league sources said.

The first full season of Embiid’s contract extension starts with the 2018-19 season and pays him $25.3 million, a salary that escalates a standard 8 percent a year until the 2022-23 season.

For Embiid to reach the threshold of the super maximum contract criteria — which would pay him 30 percent of the salary cap and ultimately as much as $176 million — Embiid must earn first-team All-NBA honors or be voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in the 2017-18 season.

Despite missing the entirety of his first two seasons with injuries, and underdoing season-ending surgery limiting him to 31 games in 2016-17, Embiid showed the promise of being a transformational talent. He averaged 20.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in the 2016-17 season.

Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, had successive surgeries on his right foot that sidelined him in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee ended his 2016-17 season in March. Embiid has yet to make his debut this preseason, but recently returned to full-contact participation in practices.

Embiid is expected to be ready to play for the Sixers on opening night on Oct. 18 against Washington, but could initially face minute restrictions as part of the rehab process on his knee.

Embiid is the centerpiece of a Sixers revival that will include the debuts this season of the NBA’s two previous first overall picks, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons. The Sixers signed two veteran free agents this summer, guard JJ Redick and forward Amir Johnson.

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Atlanta Hawk


Atlanta Hawk

Two years ago, the Atlanta Hawks set a franchise record by winning 60 regular season games, but after being swept out of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals by Cleveland, the team has essentially hit the reset button.

The Hawks haven’t won an NBA title in 59 years and haven’t made an appearance in the Finals since losing to the Celtics in 1961.

After making it halfway to a championship just two years ago, winning eight postseason games, the team has once again entered a rebuilding mode.

All five of the starters from the 60-win season have either been traded away or allowed to walk in free agency, prompting Atlanta to bring in a new general manager to oversee the complete breakdown of the roster.

The 2017-18 rendition of the Hawks is dramatically different from the playoff team from just a season ago.

Dwight Howard spent just one season playing for his home town team, before being unceremoniously dumped in a trade to Charlotte. After four consecutive All-Star selections, Paul Millsap was allowed to leave town without an offer from the Hawks in free agency.

An offer from the Knicks for restricted free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. went unmatched by Atlanta, removing three of the four leading scorers from last season’s roster and tempering expectations heading into 2017-18.

The Hawks have qualified for the postseason in 10 consecutive years, the second-longest active streak in the NBA, behind only San Antonio.

Only seven returning players are on the roster, with the backcourt pairing of Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore being the only players to spend 1,500 minutes on the floor for the Hawks.

The dramatically different roster poses plenty of questions, so let’s examine the strengths and weaknesses of the Atlanta Hawks heading into the 2017-18 season.