NBA

Nets' winning run halted by Magic despite Irving heroics, Mitchell leads Jazz to late win over Raptors

By Sports Desk March 20, 2021

The Brooklyn Nets' six-game winning streak came to a grinding halt with a 121-113 loss to the lowly Orlando Magic, despite the return of Kyrie Irving after groin soreness.

The Magic were coming into the match on a nine-game losing streak, but jumped out of the blocks with Aaron Gordon scoring 21 points in the first half.

Orlando led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter before the Nets closed to trail by only two at the main break, led by Irving, who finished with a game-high 43 points, six rebounds and four assists.

James Harden's output was slightly down, finishing with 19 points, four rebounds and nine assists as Orlando raced away again in the third.

Gordon finished with a season-high 38 points, Evan Fournier scored 31, while center Nikola Vucevic had 22 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists as the Magic pulled off an upset.

The Utah Jazz returned to the winners' list with a thrilling 115-112 triumph over the Toronto Raptors, who have now lost seven in a row.

The Jazz had lost four of six coming into the match, but found some form, led by Donovan Mitchell with 31 points and five rebounds, the star pinching the lead late after the Raptors were up by five with 90 seconds to go.

Pascal Siakam put up a three-point attempt on the buzzer which cruelly rimmed out.

Blazers do it again, Wiggins' season high

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard produced another special performance as the Portland Trail Blazers came from behind again to win their third straight game, 125-119 over the Dallas Mavericks.

McCollum finished with 32 points, including seven three-pointers, while Lillard had 31 points along with six assists as Portland scored 32 points to 21 in the last to win. The victory was also Portland's Terry Stotts' 500th as head coach.

Andrew Wiggins produced a season-high 40 points, including six three-pointers, eight rebounds and four steals as the Golden State Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies 116-103.

Nikola Jokic sparkled with 34 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists as the Denver Nuggets edged the Chicago Bulls in overtime 131-127. Jamal Murray also scored 34 for Denver.

Guard Malcolm Brogdon scored 27 points as the Indiana Pacers piled on the points in a 137-110 win over the Miami Heat.

Mason Plumlee had 16 rebounds while Frank Jackson scored 23 points as the struggling Detroit Pistons won back-to-back games, 113-100 over the Houston Rockets, who have lost 19 in a row.

 

Melo makes history

Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, 36, scored 18 points in Portland's win but he also brought up the milestone of 27,000 NBA points, becoming only the 11th player to reach the figure.

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  • What Luka can learn from LeBron, Harden and Warriors' other superstar playoff foes What Luka can learn from LeBron, Harden and Warriors' other superstar playoff foes

    Michael Jordan has company at last.

    The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

    The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

    Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

    These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

    The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

    Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

    Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

    As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

    That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

    This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

    There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

    LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

    Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

    Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

     

    James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

    Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

    James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

    The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

    James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

    Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

    Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

    However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

    The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

    Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

    Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

    Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

    Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

    Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

    As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

    Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

    If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

    A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

    When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

    Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

    Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

    The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

    Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

    The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

     

    Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

  • Mosley represents Magic at NBA draft lottery: 'Tonight, he's coach of the year!' Mosley represents Magic at NBA draft lottery: 'Tonight, he's coach of the year!'

    The Orlando Magic's late switch to see Jamahl Mosley represent the team at the NBA draft lottery paid off with the number one overall pick.

    Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman joked Mosley was "the coach of the year" on Tuesday after he appeared on stage for the annual event and brought back the top prize.

    "I haven't been very good at this," explained Weltman, who had been in line to take part.

    "It's funny. Coach was feeling lucky and we let him roll the dice, and tonight, he's the coach of the year."

    This is the third time the Magic have had the first selection in the NBA Draft and the first since Dwight Howard was taken in 2004.

    Tuesday marked 30 years to the day since Orlando won the 1992 lottery that allowed them to select Shaquille O'Neal.

    The Magic had two of the first eight picks last year, recruiting Jalen Suggs at five and Franz Wagner at eight, meaning they have an opportunity to build now with a young core.

    "[For] the fans, the organisation, it's so exciting," Mosley told ESPN. "It's so much to look forward to with this organisation and this group and this fan base. It's going to be special."

    Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero are considered among the leading prospects, although the Magic have also not ruled out trading their pick – in 1992, they took Chris Webber and then immediately traded him – even if that is not Weltman's focus at this stage.

    "Obviously with that will come a lot of conversations, and it'll be interesting to see some of the calls that come up," Weltman said. "But mostly it means that we get to familiarise ourselves now with elite prospects, and we get to add one to our team.

    "I do feel that as they start to make the rounds, teams will start to fall in love with guys, which is what generally happens.

    "And generally, leverage will kind of unfold from there, but I know we'll have a lot of interesting discussions with teams. Obviously we don't go into this thing looking to trade our pick.

    "We look to add a really talented, young, high-character guy to our talent base and our roster. I have no expectations on it. Obviously, we'll continue to do our work.

    "This really doesn't change much of the way that we'll approach the draft. We're just really excited to be able to fall in love with somebody and pick that player."

  • 'I like physicality' - Butler guarantees Heat intensity after Game 1 win 'I like physicality' - Butler guarantees Heat intensity after Game 1 win

    Jimmy Butler has assured he will sustain intensity against the Boston Celtics, following the Miami Heat's 118-107 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday.

    Butler was at his best for the Heat, finishing with 41 points on 12-of-19 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.

    He also took 18 free-throw attempts and only two three-point attempts in comparison, attacking the basket at almost every opportunity.

    Against a Boston team that can be just as physical and aggressive as the Heat, the six-time All-Star said he will thrive on it, but the individual stat line does not matter in relation to wins and losses.

    "I like physicality. I want to run into people and see who falls down first, who's going to quit first," Butler said. at the post-game news conference.

    "I think that's the style of basketball I like to play and so do they. I was zero-for-two from three tonight, I want to go zero-for-zero next game, because I just want to keep banging into people.

    "I think I speak for my teammates, the Miami Heat organisation when I say I know what I'm capable of. I don't do this, score 40 points, I play the way that I play to win, by all means necessary. It just so happens that I scored 40, but if I score 40 and lose I'm gonna be really pissed off.

    "I have so much trust in my teammates and I will continue to play that way. I've been a quote unquote scorer at other points in my career, and it didn't work out too well for me, so I'm glad that I have the guys that I have around me and with me."

    Down by eight at the start of the second half, the Heat turned it around with a 39-14 third quarter in which they were able to get six steals and force the Celtics to none-of-seven from the perimeter.

    Butler's 17 points and three steals as the Heat turned Game 1 around were critical, but he asserted that the team knew they needed to dial up the intensity on the defensive end before coach Erik Spoelstra even addressed them.

    "It's crazy because he [Spoelstra] didn't have to say too much," he said. "We already knew what we were doing wrong – turning the ball over, not getting back. We're at home, we've got to play better basketball, as a team. We did that, went on a little run, but this was just a win.

    "I've said it all season long, whenever we let our defense dictate our offense, we're a much better team – we get stops, get into the open floor, we whip that ball around to our shooters and that's the style of basketball we call Miami Heat basketball. Gritty, dog-like, worried about getting stops instead of worried about getting buckets."

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