Today is Thursday, February 22, 2018.
|Thursday, February 22, 2018|
|National Basketball Assoc.|
|Knicks||vs.||Magic||7:00 (EST) Preview|
Magic get Gordon, Vucevic back for Knicks game
Wednesday, February 21 at 10:23 PM (EST)
The Orlando Magic are getting a dose of good news while the last three weeks have been nothing but bad news for the New York Knicks.
The Magic are expected to get Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic back from injuries Thursday when they host the Knicks, who are trying to stop an eight-game losing streak.
Gordon is returning after missing nine games because of a hip flexor injury after missing time earlier in the season because of a calf injury and a concussion.
Vucevic is coming back from missing nearly two months because of a broken bone in his left hand.
Orlando (18-39) went 4-5 in Gordon's absence with four defeats by single digits and a stirring comeback victory from 21 points down against Cleveland on Feb. 6.
The Magic are 5-13 in the 18 games Gordon has missed.
Gordon leads the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game. He is shooting 44.7 percent after shooting 32.8 percent in his last seven games following a 30-point showing against Cleveland on Jan. 6.
The Magic were 7-16 without Vucevic and most of the losses piled up early in his absence. The Magic dropped eight of the first nine games without him, but since Jan. 12, they are 6-8.
Vucevic is third on the team at 17.4 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 9.3. Before getting hurt, he was averaging 22.1 points and 13 rebounds in his previous eight games.
Instead of going on vacation during the All-Star break, Vucevic continued working out to improve his conditioning.
"I felt like it was much easier for me to stay here and get the work done in our gym with everything available," he told reporters following practice Monday.
"I did some work every day but (Monday), which was my day off. It was good for me to do some conditioning and shooting, so I'm in better shape and I'll use (the two practices) and then be back Thursday to play."
Without Gordon and Vucevic, Mario Hezonja received ample playing time. Hezonja averaged 16.8 points while playing 25 to 35 minutes in Gordon's absence.
Although Orlando headed into the All-Star break with a three-game losing streak following a 104-102 loss to Charlotte on Feb. 14, Hezonja scored at least 20 points for the third straight game.
"People step up and Mario is playing great and hopefully he can keep that up," Gordon told reporters.
Orlando beat the Knicks twice earlier this season when New York was at or above .500. The Knicks (23-36) are 12-25 since a 105-100 loss to the Magic in New York on Dec. 3 when Tim Hardaway Jr. injured his leg.
Since getting to 17-14 with a victory over the Boston Celtics on Dec. 21, the Knicks are 6-22. They enter Thursday on their sixth losing streak of at least eight games since the start of the 2013-14 season.
New York's skid continued when it blew a 27-point lead in a 118-113 home loss to the Washington Wizards on Feb. 14. Hardaway scored 32 of his 37 points in the first half, while Enes Kanter totaled 24 and 14 and Michael Beasley finished 16.
That trio will comprise New York's starting frontcourt since Kristaps Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee, though Beasley missed practice with a right ear infection and might sit out Thursday.
The starting backcourt will be different, with veteran Jarrett Jack going to the bench while the Knicks see how young guards Frank Ntilikina, Emanuel Mudiay, and Trey Burke perform with increased minutes.
"Just giving the young guys some more chances," New York coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters at practice Tuesday. "We might win with those guys. So, we'll throw them out there and they'll take their lumps probably at times, but you got to get through that, you got to battle through that, learn and build up the consistency."
Ntilikina averaged 5.2 points and 3.2 assists while playing 20.1 minutes in his first 56 NBA games, Burke is averaging 7.4 points on 54.1 percent shooting in 13 games since joining the Knicks last month, and Mudiay scored 29 points in his first three games after being acquired from Denver on Feb. 8.
|Nets||vs.||Hornets||7:00 (EST) Preview|
Hornets begin playoff push versus Nets
Wednesday, February 21 at 10:43 PM (EST)
The Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets will each feature a new look when they return from the All-Star break to duel Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C.
Star point guard D'Angelo Russell is expected to make his first start for the Nets since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in November.
The team's leading scorer has played 13 games as a reserve under a minutes restriction since returning from his two-month absence.
He averaged 18.3 points in 28.7 minutes in his last three games before the break. That, coupled with the additional week off, has gotten him deemed ready to resume the starting role he had to begin the season.
The Nets, already well out of playoff contention and without their first-round pick this June, are seeking to gather momentum for the 2018-19 season with improved play in the "second half," as they thought they'd done last year when they finished 11-15 after going into the break with just nine total wins (9-47).
"We'd love to have any facsimile to that," assured Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who won the skills competition at the All-Star Game. "We'd love to go .500 or roughly .500 or above .500 and kind of turn our season around a little bit to have a little more optimism heading into the offseason."
The Nets entered the break with a 19-40 record, having lost seven in a row. They have yet to play Charlotte this season.
The Hornets won last year's season series 3-1, with all four games featuring tight finishes. The total margin of victory in the four games was 17 points.
Surely, having three games remaining against the Nets is one reason for optimism for the Hornets, who haven't given up hope of returning to the NBA postseason after having missed the playoffs last season.
The Hornets (24-33) will begin the "second half" with the 10th-best record in the Eastern Conference, trailing No. 8 seed Miami by 5 1/2 games.
Charlotte has no games remaining against the Heat, which might be a good thing. Miami swept the season series 4-0.
Eleven of the Hornets' next 18 games are against teams with losing records, giving a club that went into the break with four losses in its last five games something positive to look forward to during the week off.
"Not only physically do guys feel a lot better, but just mentally," Hornets forward Marvin Williams tweeted during the break. "Sometimes, the All-Star break is a great time to step back from basketball, decompress a little bit and refocus on what we have to do to make this playoff push the next couple of weeks."
While the players were decompressing, Hornets chief decision-maker Michael Jordan was busy firing general manager Rich Cho this week.
Assistant GM Buzz Peterson has been promoted while Jordan interviews candidates for Cho's fulltime replacement. Former Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is said to be among the candidates.
One of Cho's final acts as GM was dealing away a pair of second-round draft choices, along with Johnny O'Bryant, to the New York Knicks for Willy Hernangomez.
Hernangomez saw no action in his first four games with the Hornets after the trade.
|76ers||vs.||Bulls||8:00 (EST) Preview|
76ers playing for playoff position, Bulls playing for future
Wednesday, February 21 at 11:42 PM (EST)
CHICAGO -- The Philadelphia 76ers will spend the rest of the regular season attempting to position themselves for a spot in the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls, meanwhile, will spend it focusing largely on the future.
The 76ers come out of the All-Star break as the Eastern Conference's No. 7 seed. But they will enter Thursday's game against the Bulls at the United Center well within reach of the No. 4 seed.
As they begin to approach the season's stretch run, the 76ers do so understanding that they their play will determine what their postseason chances look like, which provides plenty of incentive to build some momentum against a Chicago team that will devote chunks of the remainder of the regular season looking to develop young talent.
Philadelphia enters Thursday's game having won its last five games.
"The last couple of games, we've been playing great," 76ers center Joel Embiid told Philly.com. "So we just have to keep the same momentum."
In addition to angling for playoff positioning, the 76ers will begin the final 27-game stretch with the understanding that if they can get to within the top four seeds, they will begin the postseason with home-court advantage. Each of Philadelphia's past five victories all came at home.
The 76ers (30-25) are just two games back of No. 4 seed Washington and will face only seven teams with winning records the rest of the way. The Bulls are among the 20 opponents that are playing sub-.500 basketball, which should make for an easier road for Philadelphia.
But the 76ers also realize they must take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.
Embiid will return on Thursday after missing the final game before the break with an ankle injury. But even without him, Philadelphia was able to extend its winning streak behind Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli -- all of whom reached double figures in a victory over the Heat as the 76ers erased a second-half 24-point deficit.
The 76ers won for just the third time in 11 games while playing without Embiid.
"So that was kind of great for the guys to know that they didn't need me all the time," Embiid said.
The Bulls (20-37) have lost eight of their past 10 games as they prepare to finish the regular season in experimental mode. While the Bulls have gotten solid performances from its young core of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and rookie Lauri Markkanen, Chicago is committed to seeing what it can get from younger players who have spent this season performing mostly as reserves.
Thursday against Philadelphia, Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup as Bulls executives strive to better understand what they have in place as they start to enter the next phase of what is expected to be a multi-year rebuilding process.
"You can't play 12 guys in our game. Nine or 10 is the most. And it's just the position we're in as a young team, (with a) 20-37 (record), with a lot of young guys and several who we haven't really had the chance to see play much this year," Bulls executive vice president John Paxson told the Chicago Tribune. "For us to make the proper evaluation in terms of who fits us moving forward, this is something we have to do."
Paxson added: "We have to look at the big picture."
|Wizards||vs.||Cavaliers||8:00 (EST) Preview|
Cavaliers look to continue surge against Wizards
Wednesday, February 21 at 10:37 PM (EST)
Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said the team's four new players forgot all the plays over the All-Star break, so Wednesday's practice was a busy day to re-teach and re-learn.
No one is forgetting about the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavs now, especially since LeBron James has awakened from his January slumber.
So has his team.
The Cavs resume play after the All-Star break by hosting the Washington Wizards on Thursday. Cleveland has won four straight and James is averaging 30 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 13 assists in those games.
Two of those wins came with new players George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. - all of whom were acquired at the Feb. 8 trade deadline. They are averaging 48.5 points and shooting 51.4 percent from the field as a group.
"I don't see them being scared or being afraid of the moment," Lue said Wednesday.
The Cavs were 7-13 since Christmas leading up to the deadline, needing a serious injection of attitude and energy. The same went for James, who saw major dips in production in January while the Cavs struggled.
General manager Koby Altman traded away six players Feb. 8 -- including Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose -- and the mood around the team has been noticeably lighter since.
James is back to being, well, James. He was named the NBA All-Star Game MVP for the third time in his career Sunday, and his team (named Team LeBron, because of the new format) edged Stephen Curry's team 148-145.
With the hoopla from the All-Star weekend in Los Angeles behind him, James is ready to begin talking about the Cavs contending for a title -- something he hadn't been able discuss over the past month.
"We have a lot of work to do," James said. "We just added four new guys before the break, and we have a lot of work to do. So I really don't like to think that too far ahead. But obviously winning championships is what it's all about. That's what this league is all about and hopefully at the end of the road then I have the Cavs there to actually compete for one, to be in a Finals representing the East. So that's my goal. Getting back."
Cleveland sits third in the East, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards. Washington has been hot lately, winning two straight and seven of their last nine, and has been largely riding the hot play of All-Star Bradley Beal (36 points in his last game against the Knicks).
Otto Porter Jr. is averaging nearly 20 points over his last nine games.
All-Star guard John Wall is expected to be out until mid-March after knee surgery before the All-Star break.
The Wizards have the third-toughest schedule in the NBA after the All-Star break, according to basketball-reference.com
"We take advantage of (the All-Star break) because we got a lot of guys banged up," Beal said, according to the Washington Post. "We still got John out. So, we got to get as much rest and take care of our bodies as much as we can. I think (the break) came at a good time, although we were definitely on a nice, little run. We finished off well, going into All-Star (weekend), and we've got to pick it up right where we left off."
Wizards guard Tim Frazier (broken nose) is expected to play against the Cavs and wear a mask.
|Thunder||vs.||Kings||10:00 (EST) Preview|
Streaky Thunder face Kings, look for consistency
Wednesday, February 21 at 11:45 PM (EST)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- An air of mystery about the fate of the Oklahoma City Thunder surrounds the team as they prepare to embark on the final 23 games of their season.
The Thunder remain optimistic they possess the talent to move up another couple rungs in the Western Conference. Their critics remain steadfast that the inconsistency Oklahoma City showed in the season's first half may continue to bite them now that the All-Star break is over.
The Sacramento Kings only wish they had such problems. With them, there's no mystery whatsoever.
The Thunder (33-26) and Kings (18-39) resume the regular season Thursday night at the Golden 1 Center. To say the two teams are headed in different directions is an understatement.
Oklahoma City, considered among one of the Western Conference favorites before the season after acquiring Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to complement reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, experienced a first half of fits and starts. Oklahoma City rolled through separate eight- and six-game winning streaks, but it also struggled through two four-game losing streaks, the second of which followed their season-best winning streak.
The Thunder lost six of nine heading into to the break. They sit two games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the third spot in the Western Conference and one game back in the loss column behind fourth-place Minnesota.
Anthony has been particularly inconsistent. His 41.2 percent shooting from the field in the season's first half is a career-worst mark, as is his 17.1 points per game.
A season-ending injury to Andre Roberson on Jan. 28 only seemed to add to Anthony's struggles. According to the Daily Oklahoman, Anthony has the team's second-lowest net defensive rating (point differential per 100 possessions when in the game) since Robertson's injury, with a mark of negative-1.
"I haven't really got a chance to sit down and kind of breathe a little bit and relax," Anthony told the Daily Oklahoman on Wednesday. "Everything's happened so fast. So this past week (of the break) was very helpful for me."
Westbook and George each enjoyed big first halves. Westbook, who averaged a triple-double (31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists) in his MVP season, is only slightly off a triple-double pace this season (25.4 points, 10.4 assists, 9.4 rebounds). George is averaging 22.5 points and career-high and league-best 2.2 steals.
The Kings, now a full year removed from the trade of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, start the second half of their season with far less fanfare than a season ago. The team has been open about a rebuilding effort that started from ground zero after the Cousins trade, and their first half went about as expected.
That said, they've seen glimpses of promise, particularly from the backcourt. Rookie De'Aaron Fox averaged 11.3 points and a team-best 4.3 assists in 27 minutes per contest. Fellow rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic totaled 11.5 points in 27.4 minutes while canning 40 percent of his 3-pointers.
Bogdanovic also provided one of the Kings' highlights by nailing seven 3-pointers in 22 minutes and earning MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge. He scored some of those points while going against Fox.
"It was fun to play against him," he told reporters. "As you can see, we have great chemistry on the court, and I'm looking forward to transferring that to the Sacramento Kings."
The two teams have split their two meetings this season, with Oklahoma City winning 95-88 at home on Jan. 15 in their most recent contest.
|Clippers||vs.||Warriors||10:30 (EST) Preview|
Clippers hope to continue surge against Warriors
Wednesday, February 21 at 11:35 PM (EST)
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Two teams at the opposite ends of the Western Conference playoff race square off to begin the NBA's second half Thursday night when the Los Angeles Clippers visit the Golden State Warriors.
Surprisingly, it is the Clippers who will tip off the game with the better recent form of the two.
The last time they visited Oakland, on Jan. 10, the Clippers were 18-21 and floundering in the West, already a full 14 games behind the Warriors in the Pacific Division.
But the Clippers stunned the defending champs 125-106 that night, triggering a 12-5 sprint to the All-Star break.
They're still 13 games behind the Warriors in the Pacific, but the recent run -- the third-best in the NBA behind Houston (16-2) and Utah (14-4) -- has vaulted them back into the thick of things in the Western playoff chase.
The Clippers (30-26) will take the court Thursday in ninth place in the West and currently out of a playoff position, but they are tied in the loss column with the four teams immediately ahead of them -- Oklahoma City (33-26), Denver (32-26), Portland (32-26) and New Orleans (31-26) -- and just two losses behind the current No. 3-seed (San Antonio, 35-24).
Left for dead when they dealt star Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 29, the Clippers instead have parlayed greater depth and improved health to a 5-2 mark since the trade.
"I think a lot of people slept on us when we got all these players," point guard Austin Rivers said of the trade. "But I think we're getting better and better."
Tobias Harris (17.2) and Avery Bradley (9.2) have combined for 26.4 points per game since moving from the Pistons to the Clippers.
Danilo Gallinari has poured in an average of 20.1 points in seven games since returning from a partially torn glute.
And Rivers has chipped in with 13.3 points per game since rehabbing an ankle injury.
Mix in the consistently high-level play of DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams, who had 50 points in that Jan. 10 meeting with the Warriors, and the Clippers will return to Oakland with an attack far beefier than the one that put up 125 points in their last visit.
Like the Clippers, the Warriors return from the break within arm's length of where they want to be -- atop the Western standings. Their 11-6 record since Jan. 10, a game worse than the Clippers, has caused them to drop below the surging Rockets in the race for the NBA's best record.
Golden State (44-14) will enter play Thursday a half-game behind Houston (44-13), with the Rockets already having clinched a potential tie-breaker by virtue of a 2-1 win in the season series.
The Warriors' biggest problem of late -- first quarters. The team with the league's third-best net points per game (plus-8.1) has trailed after the first quarter in 17 of its last 30 games, and has fallen behind by at least 10 points a whopping 23 times this season.
The Warriors have rallied to win 13 of those latter 23 games, but that's missing the point, guard Stephen Curry said.
"We obviously need to fix the first quarters," he observed. "It's a consistent theme."
The problem was getting progressively worse just before the break. The Warriors were outscored by an average of 34-26 in the first quarter in a four-game homestand against Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix, then got boat-raced 40-27 in the opening period of their 123-117 loss at Portland in their final game before the break.