Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

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No. 2: Love ready for rough return to Minnesota — He knew it was going to be rough, the return to the place he abandoned over the summer. Kevin Love is no rookie. He understood exactly what he was doing when he left Minnesota (via trade) for Cleveland and a spot alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in the latest version of the “Big 3.” He also knew that his first trip back to Minneapolis wearing the Cavaliers’ wine and gold would be a brutal one. Those same fans that cheered him for years would not be happy to see him. The Cavaliers have won nine straight, LeBron is back from a short injury absence and Love played one of his best games of the season (28 points and 10 rebounds) Friday night in a win over Sacramento. Perfect timing, huh? NBA.com’s very own Steve Aschburner forecasts what should be a wild night at Target Center as Love makes his return to familiar territory:

Love has moved on from Minnesota and his three All-Star selections, and two all-NBA berths, even if some folks back there have not. A harsh welcome-back seems all but assured, especially after Wolves coach and president Flip Saunders went out of his way to talk about it, five weeks early, when his team was headed to Cleveland.

“Minnesota people are pretty loyal. You turn on Minnesota, they don’t forgive you,” Saunders said then. “So I think people probably appreciated him while he was here. But you leave under the terms that he did, just the way Minnesota people are, they’re not pretty forgiving along those lines.”

Take it from someone who lived there for 24 years — those Upper Midwest fans generally are less boisterous than elsewhere, their proverbial “Minnesota nice” more likely to slip into a passive-aggressive coolness than to come strong with an edge. They’ll surely make an exception Saturday for Love — the team’s game-operations crew already was getting cute — but it won’t be anything he hasn’t heard before.

Probably not even close.

“When we played at Oregon, people they were cursing at my family. Throwing things, death threats and everything,” Love recalled. This was back in January 2008, when UCLA played the Ducks in Eugene, and it was ugly enough to generate a Sports Illustrated story.

In the midst of his lone college basketball season — all because Love, who had grown up and starred at Lake Oswego (Ore.) High, opted to play for the Bruins — some Oregon fans went crazy. Somebody got Love’s cell phone number and its voicemail filled up with so much bile, he cancelled the service. His parents, his sister Karen, his grandmother and his uncle Mike (of Beach Boys fame) were pelted with trash and profanity. “It was the grossest display of humanity I’ve ever been involved with,” said Stan Love, Kevin’s father and a former hoops star at the school. He vowed that night never to return to his alma mater.

The NBA schedule allows no such prerogatives, so assuming Love is healthy, he’ll be back on the floor at Target Center on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on League Pass) and taking the best-worst that Wolves fans can give them. Count on a significantly different vibe from the one seven years ago, when another statistically fascinating, All-Star power forward named Kevin made his return.

Kevin Garnett didn’t even play that night — whatever his physical ailment at the time, it very likely was the emotions that kept him in street clothes and, for the game, in the locker room — when he and the Boston Celtics visited the Twin Cities in February 2008. He had endured 12 seasons in Minnesota, leading the Wolves to eight playoff appearances and establishing himself as the franchise’s best player ever and an all-time NBA great. That building was all about class that night, the standing ovation, the video tribute, the genuine love.

Love’s return won’t generate the same response. His stay was half as long and nowhere near as successful. Minnesota went 153-323 in Love’s six seasons there, never making the playoffs and feeding skepticism about his flashy numbers and individual accolades.

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No. 3: Pistons players, fans brace for Josh Smith’s return — His departure delivered the biggest spark of the season for the Detroit Pistons, and somehow Josh Smith is sure to get something other than a hero’s welcome tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills, his first game back in Detroit since being released by the Pistons just days before Christmas. With Smith and the Houston Rockets in town, things are sure to get interesting for a fan base that has never been shy about expressing the way it feels about the opposition. The players and fans in Detroit have prepared themselves for the inevitable awkwardness of the moment, according to Vincent Goodwill Jr. of the Detroit News:

Talk of ex-Piston Josh Smith’s first visit to Detroit tonight since his release was approached with carefully chosen words and well-considered facial expressions in the Pistons locker room Friday.

Players are “released” all the time in the NBA, usually players at the end of the bench not good enough to stay with a team. The Pistons’ dramatic improvement following Smith’s release last month proves his case as a prime example.

But as much as Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy likes to sugarcoat it, he felt a player who was owed at least $40 million over the next three seasons was most valuable as an empty $5 million cap filler.

Which is why Van Gundy is doing everything he can to downplay the unusual circumstances surrounding Smith’s return. He has tries to write it off as a means of getting other players a chance to show what they can do, but the teams dramatic turnaround makes it appear Smith’s presence hung over the locker room like a dark cloud, and Smith has always said he’s an easy target for criticism.

“I don’t know Josh’s mind-set,” Van Gundy said. “I’m sure he’ll want to come back and play well. I think almost everybody does when they come back and play their old teams. So sure, he’ll want to play well.”

Such blatant rejection is bound to motivate any athlete.

“There’s always a little bit (extra motivation) — especially when you get cut,” said Pistons forward Anthony Tolliver, who played with Smith in Atlanta in 2012-13.

“That’s extra. Getting traded is one thing. Getting cut is another. We expect to get the full-fledged Josh Smith experience, that’s a way to put it. He’s gonna come in here and want to have a good game, and obviously want to win. But he’s gonna want to be a big part of that.”

Pistons fans had their own experience with the “full-fledged Smith experience,” and will likely let him hear it when he checks into the game. They didn’t often see Smith at his explosive, versatile best.

They saw the one who frustrated them, and whose strong personality was a bad fit for a young, unstable team in search of an identity.

“You hear it. Players hear it,” Greg Monroe said about fans who often got on Smith when he became too jump shot-happy. “As far as how the fans are gonna react? I don’t know. But that’s besides the point.”

Some have suggested the Pistons fans should give Smith a backhanded standing ovation rather than boo him. At any rate fans will not sit silent when Smith launches a jumper.

***

No. 4: Cousins snags All-Star nod, passes deadline — Be careful what you say (Tweet, post, etc.) about DeMarcus Cousins. The Sacramento Kings’ freshly minted All-Star center remembers everything. And he’ll be glad to point out the error of your ways later. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee explains:

There is no such thing as a throwaway post on social media.

Just ask Clay Travis, who tweeted this about Kings center DeMarcus Cousins on Jan. 30, 2010, when Cousins was a freshman at Kentucky:

“There is a 100% chance that Demarcus Cousins is arrested for something in the next five years. 100%. Write it in stone.”

Friday was the five-year mark of that post, and Cousins was sent a screenshot of Travis’ post.

Cousins, who has not been arrested, posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts “Today’s the day!! Let’s all show him some love!! @ClayTravisBGID” with a picture of the prediction he’d be arrested

That turned Travis, now a blogger for Fox Sports, into a trending topic across the country.

“I take a lot of things personally, especially something like that,” Cousins said. “I hate when guys judge someone from his job and you try to make that his personality as a person. I think that’s completely unfair.”

Travis took the post in stride, even pledging to donate $5,000 to the charity of Cousins’ choice.

Cousins was able to laugh about it, noting before the Kings played the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quickens Loan Arena that the day wasn’t over, so there was still time for Travis to be right.

“Anyway, apologies to Demarcus Cousins and congrats on his all-star selection,” Travis wrote on his college football blog Friday. “Let me know where to send the check.”


VIDEO: The Top 10 plays from Friday night’s action around the NBA

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz popped Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors … However long it takes, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak insists Kobe Bryant is worth the wait … Snubbed Western Conference All-Star Damian Lillard shuts down random headlines with this Instagram post

ICYMI of the Night: Eric Gordon can still get it done, as he proved Friday night with a 28-point effort in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers without the aid of Anthony Davis 


VIDEO: New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon still has it …

6 Comments

  1. Jackitup says:

    gggg

  2. Simrat says:

    Clay Travis needs to think before he speaks; however, Demarcus did have some questionable behavior.

  3. harriethehawk says:

    Let’s Go Hawks!!!!!

  4. 4pt Range says:

    Way to stay out of jail cous!

  5. Cousins is a headcase and Coach Killer! Hell end up in Jail eventually since he has such anger issues! Book it!!!

    And he’s not even the best Big in the West, D. Jordan and Dwight Howard are better and Lillard should have gotten the All Star Slot over him!

  6. dustydreamnz says:

    The Hawks have the best bench in the league, Bazemore is an underrated player.
    It was about time Eric Gordon stepped up. He’d been so disappointing, perhaps you could put that down to all the injuries.