Where do the Magic, Hornets and Blazers go from here?

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (R) and Orlando Magic shooting guard J.J. Redick (L) react after an Atlanta Hawks basket late in the second half of their NBA Eastern Conference Game 6 basketball playoffs at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia April 28, 2011. The Atlanta Hawks won the game. REUTERS/David Tulis (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It was a Graduation Night of sorts as three teams closed out their respective series instead of letting things go to a Game 7.

Hawks 84, Magic 81
Joe Johnson (23 points) and Jamal Crawford (19) led the way for the Hawks, who shot just just 39% from the field (to the Magic’s 43%), but still managed to win due to three extra three-pointers and seven more offensive rebounds. Dwight Howard had 25 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and six turnovers. He averaged 5.5 turnovers against the Hawks, which is way too many for any player, especially a big man.

Where do the Magic go from here? Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Wasn’t it just two years ago that Orlando was an up-and-coming team giving the Lakers a good run in the NBA Finals? Pay attention, kids. This is what trading for Vince Carter (and then Gilbert Arenas) will do to you. Whatever mojo the Magic had is clearly gone and they could very well have their own Carmelo Anthony situation brewing with Dwight Howard scheduled to become a free agent after next season.

Lakers 98, Hornets 80
The Lakers enjoyed nice games from each of their top four players. Kobe (24 points), Pau Gasol (16 points, eight rebounds), Andrew Bynum (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Lamar Odom (14 points, eight rebounds) all played well, and when that happens, the Lakers are nearly impossible to beat. The difference in this game was on the glass, where the Lakers’ length outrebounded the Hornets by 13, including seven additional offensive rebounds. Offensive rebounds equal extra possessions, and extra possessions usually equal points.

Where do the Hornets go from here? I’ve been impressed with Chris Paul and the Hornets this season, and taking two games off the defending champs without your second best player (David West) is not an easy feat. That said, Paul is probably going to become a free agent after next season, so the Hornets will have to re-sign West at an injury discount and find a bona fide shooting guard soon, because Marco Bellineli isn’t going to cut it. (He was serviceable during the season, but had a dreadful series shooting the ball.) There is the makings of a contender here, but to convince CP3 to re-up, the Hornets need West to return to form and they need to land a really good perimeter scorer, and those aren’t easy to find.

Mavericks 103, Blazers 96
Many pundits, including myself, picked the Blazers in this series and it just didn’t happen. The Mavs shrugged off the Game 4 debacle and showed some grit by winning both Game 5 and Game 6 to close out the series. Dirk Nowitzki led the way with 33 points (on 11-of-17 shooting, highly efficient) to go along with 11 rebounds. Shawn Marion (16 points, six rebounds) has been playing well lately, averaging 14 points over the last three games. He’s the X-factor for the Mavs.

Where do the Blazers go from here? Portland has a nice team, but they’re never going to get over the hump with this lineup, largely because Brandon Roy’s knees aren’t healthy enough to get them there. He has four more $15 M+ years on his contract and if he doesn’t somehow get back to form soon, that deal is destined to hamstring the franchise. Portland should be building around LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and maybe Gerald Wallace, so they really need to strike gold by finding a Ty Lawson-type point guard in the late first round of the draft. Kemba Walker is that kind of player, but he’ll probably be long gone by the time the Blazers pick. Portland is in no man’s land (too good for the lottery, but not good enough to contend) and it looks like a long, hard road ahead. Roy’s contract is a great example of why guaranteed deals should be a max of 3-4 years.

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