Posts Tagged ‘Al Horford’

Ginobili’s in; World Cup could feature more than 50 NBA players


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili Exit Interview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Tony Parker was happy to remind everyone that he’d be taking the summer off after winning his fourth championship. Tim Duncan made his feelings regarding FIBA known after the 2004 Olympics. But Manu Ginobili couldn’t resist making one more run with his national team.

After The Finals, Ginobili was unsure if he’d take part in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. But he announced over the weekend that he’ll represent his native Argentina one more time, with the blessing of his wife. He’ll join fellow NBA players Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola to put Argentina in the mix for a medal.

When they’re at their best, no national team plays prettier, Spurs-like basketball than Argentina. And Ginobili’s presence is obviously a big boost to what was one of the top offenses at the 2010 World Championship. The Bucks’ Carlos Delfino has expressed his interest in playing for the 2004 Olympic champs as well, but is coming off two surgeries on his right foot that kept him on the sidelines the entire 2013-14 season.

Though Parker won’t be representing France and injuries will keep Al Horford (Dominican Republic) and Andrew Bogut out, there could be more than 50 current NBA players representing 16 different countries at the Basketball World Cup. That list includes five more Spurs: France’s Boris Diaw, Brazil’s Tiago Splitter, the U.S.’s Kawhi Leonard, and Australians Patty Mills and Aron Baynes.

Diaw and Splitter will meet in Group A, which could have as many 20 NBA players representing Brazil (four possibles), France (seven), Serbia (three) and Spain (six). Spain, the tournament’s host and silver medalist in each of the last two Olympics, is obviously the biggest challenger for the U.S., which will compete in Group C and which has won 36 straight games under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

In January, the U.S. named 28 players to a preliminary roster for the next three summers. They have commitments from Kevin Durant and Kevin Love to play in the Basketball World Cup. They could also have a healthy Derrick Rose and the Finals MVP.

The U.S. will open a five-day training camp in Las Vegas on July 28. They’ll also train in Chicago and New York before making their way to Spain. The Basketball World Cup tips off on Aug. 30 and concludes with the gold medal game on Sept. 14.

In addition to the 50-ish current NBA players, there could be more than 20 former NBA players and several more players whose draft rights are owned by NBA teams.

Proud Hawks keep playoff streak alive

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeff Teague talks about the Hawks clinching their playoff bid against the Heat

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They did it with their best player sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle since Christmas, with a parade of journeymen and supposedly over the hill stars like Elton Brand filling in and playing huge minutes, with the likes of Pero Antic and Mike Scott, Cartier Martin and DeMarre Carroll playing vital roles.

Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, fantastic basically from start to the near finish of this regular season for the now playoff bound Atlanta Hawks, can probably walk around the city without being rushed by fans for autographs. Would you even know Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap if he walked up on you in street clothes?

Perhaps … but probably not.

Reserve guard Lou Williams, in and out of the regular rotation all season, is arguably the most recognizable face on the roster for locals, and that’s mostly because he played his high school ball in the area at South Gwinnett High.

These Hawks are the poster child for the anti-tanking movement, a motley crew if ever there was one, bound for a first round playoff matchup against either the two-time defending champion Miami Heat (the team they beat Saturday to secure their Eastern Conference-best seventh straight postseason trip) or the struggling Indiana Pacers.

Instead of accepting their fate after All-Star center Al Horford saw his season end the day after Christmas due to a torn pectoral muscle, the Hawks survived and advanced to yet another trip to the playoff line.

Williams, who scored 18 of the Hawks’ 29 fourth-quarter points, including the final 12 Atlanta points of the game, admitted that the opponent Saturday night did not matter. The outcome was the sole focus.

“It doesn’t make a difference (who the opponent was),” he said. “That was our second time beating them this year. We gave them an overtime run earlier this year. It’s a team we’ve played well against this season. It was just satisfying to get a win and be in the groove that we’re in.”

As stubborn as they are fearless, Mike Budenholzer‘s Hawks finished the season series with a 2-2 record against the Heat. They had the same mark against the Indiana Pacers, the team they’d face if the playoffs began today. Whoever earns that No. 1 seed will be dealing with a No. 8 seed just crazy enough to believe they can compete with the best.

They could have packed it in and headed for the lottery, like so many others. Their fans wouldn’t have blamed them. The prospect of a higher pick in the lottery and the wistfulness that comes with it make for an easy sell. What could be is always a powerful elixir when you know there is no hope for a championship.

The hard work and dedication it takes to earn a playoff berth, even in a year when the Eastern Conference is historically weak, shows a level of perseverance that the Hawks should be applauded for showing. They knocked the dysfunctional Knicks (and former Hawks coach Mike Woodson) out of the playoff mix, ending Carmelo Anthony‘s personal playoff streak at 10 seasons.

Budenholzer is working with a much different talent base than Woodson did when he started the Hawks’ playoff streak. Horford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Mike Bibby and Zaza Pachulia comprised the core group. Hawks boss Danny Ferry hasn’t had the time to build a comparable core group, yet.

They backdoored their way into the No. 8 seed in 2008 and promptly scared the life out of the top-seed and eventual champion Boston Celtics with an epic seven-game series that was as entertaining as it was intense, considering one team finished the regular season 66 wins and the other with 37. (It was arguably the Celtics’ toughest series during their championship run, seeing as how they only saw one more Game 7 — against Cleveland — during their march to the Larry O’Brien trophy.)

“I’m happy that we get to play more games and I get to talk more about improving, and getting better each practice,” Budenholzer said after his team outlasted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat before a raucous home crowd Saturday night. “We want to build something here. Miami has been in the Finals for three years in a row. There are a lot of teams that have had a lot of success. It takes time to build your habits. (Miami’s) habits are outstanding. We want to continue to build our habits and continue to improve. Our group has really fought hard and competed hard this year. I think they got what they deserved.”

The Hawks got exactly what they earned, which is at least four more games for this bunch to show that sometimes it’s hard to break a habit of winning your way into the playoffs.


VIDEO: Jeff Teague leads the way as the Hawks earn their seventh straight playoff bid

Ex-Hawks teammates Smith, Horford ponder what might have been

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Al Horford talks about his relationship with former teammate Josh Smith

ATLANTA – As different as they were and are, as players and people, the chemistry was undeniable. And it was instantaneous on the court for both Josh Smith and Al Horford, the former staples in the Atlanta Hawks’ frontcourt for six seasons.

Most folks agree they both played out of their comfort zones — Horford at center and Smith as some sort of hybrid power/small forward — but they did it with and energy and fervor. That duo fueled six straight playoff trips that spanned from Horford’s rookie season in 2007-08 through last season, Smith’s ninth and final campaign with his hometown team. After a first-round loss at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, Smith left town for free-agent riches in Detroit that weren’t available here.

Nearly a full season later, the No. 8-seeded Hawks host the playoff-eliminated Pistons tonight (7:30 ET, League Pass) in a make-up game that was postponed because of a snowstorm. Neither Horford nor Smith are expected to suit up for due to injuries. Still, the questions linger.

Were they friends … or merely co-workers? Was their a rift between them that made working together for say another six years impossible … or was their split precipitated simply by the business of the NBA? And what might have been if the Hawks had decided to build around and play through their undersized frontcourt stars from the start?

“I think we both have only wanted the best for each other in life,” Smith said of his relationship with Horford. “He’s a little different from what I’m accustomed to off the court, in terms of just our personalities and where we come from, but we were always cool on and off the court. We fed off of each other. Even when he made those All-Star teams when I was here, it was like I made it I was so excited for him. It took some of the sting away for me knowing that one of us was representing for our team. And that chemistry was instant because it equaled success. Playing with a guy of his caliber and feeding off of each other each and every night … it was special.”

The answers to those questions, and plenty more, flow freely from both men now that they’ve had some time to reflect on just how hard it is to sustain playoff-level success. The pain and disappointment of seasons filled with injury and unmet expectations have a way of clearing the past’s haze.

“I think we had different personalities, definitely. Josh is probably louder or whatever and I’m probably more laid back, but we got along because we’re both competitors and wanted to win,” Horford said. “He’s very smart. He’s a very smart basketball player. He gets the game and understands the game. I learned so much from him. We had a good relationship. It was definitely good.

“His mom and my mom would have karaoke nights, so I would definitely be over there hanging out with them and things like that. It was good, we definitely had a good relationship. Josh is a good guy. Like you said, there probably wasn’t a lot of emotion going on, but I respect his game and I respect him.”


VIDEO: Josh Smith had big hopes for himself in his first season in Detroit

Smith believes there was more they could have accomplished together, had they been allowed to finish what they started.

“I don’t think we hit a ceiling as teammates,” he said. “I think we didn’t necessarily get the opportunity to maximize our potential together. I think it could have worked. We could have a been a smaller version of the twin-towers down there on the block where we were both getting featured. Who knows what it might have been? You never know … until you have a coach who says these are the guys we’re going to go through every night and we’ll see what happens.”

The Hawks should be headed back to the playoffs, provided they survive the next two weeks. But they’ll have to do so without Horford, who tore his right pectoral muscle on Dec. 26 and has not played since. He tore his left pectoral muscle in 2011 and eventually came back for the playoffs, but he’s already ruled out trying to do so this time around. Paul Millsap, Smith’s replacement in the lineup, was an All-Star berth this season. But he’s never gotten the chance to develop the sort of chemistry with Horford that Smith had.

The Pistons, picked by many to be one of the upstarts in the Eastern Conference this season after adding Smith and Brandon Jennings to a core that included promising young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, struggled mightily to start 2013-14. They never mounted a comeback in the standings, coach Maurice Cheeks was fired 50 games into the season and now, it’s no secret that longtime Pistons boss Joe Dumars is expected to resign sometime soon.

Smith will shoulder much of the burden in Detroit. As the team’s highest paid player, the player Dumars targeted and landed in free agency, he’s paid to carry that weight. And he’s fine with that. He believes the Pistons can do what the Hawks once did: turn a struggling outfit into a playoff regular.

Talented big men in Drummond and Monroe are good building blocks, but the Pistons must work through whatever issues arise and cultivate the right chemistry, the kind Smith and Horford used to use to torment opposing big men.

“The thing that stood out to me was how they could both rebound and push the ball in transition,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of the Smith/Hoford combo. “They could find each other and have plays that made them special. But they could find shooters on the perimeter, too. And just to have two big guys that could really rebound and push and make plays in transition, the ballhandling and passing, it made them different and unique.”

It was the differences that clicked with Smith and Horford. But there were plenty of similarities as well. Most notably, they are both fiercely loyal family men, and that included their extended, work families. Their mothers became fast friends while they were teammates, with those karaoke nights, dinners and card-playing parties at the center of many gatherings. Their moms, Paulette Smith and Arelis Reynoso, were perhaps even better friends off the court than their sons.

“My mother is an open-arms type of person, always wanting to cook for somebody and hang out,” Smith said. “When Al’s mom came here she was the same way, so naturally they embraced each other. And it was great to see. You never forget how someone treats your family. And I consider Al and his entire family as an extended part of my own, and I always will.”


VIDEO: Josh Smith’s high-flying ways have continued in Detroit

Season On The Brink For The Hawks?

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Atlanta Hawks vs. Magic

The Atlanta Hawks have struggled to keep up their early-season success of late.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sooner or later, one way or another, you knew it was all going to catch up with the Atlanta Hawks.

The injuries.

The close losses.

The missed opportunities.

The injuries.

They weren’t going to stay above the fray in the Eastern Conference mix behind the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat forever. Not without Al Horford. Not with coach Mike Budenholzer pushing every button possible to make up for the loss of the team’s franchise player after his season-ending pectoral muscle tear the day after Christmas.

It’s amazing it took this long for the wheels to come off for the Hawks. They held on to their top-four status in the East for a good month after Horford went down. Jeff Teague played his guts out before injuries interrupted his season and he hasn’t been as consistent since. Elders like Elton Brand and Kyle Korver and pups like Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack rose up when they were needed. Paul Millsap even earned an All-Star nod, the first of his career, stepping into the void to replace what Horford gave the Hawks on a nightly basis.

But here they are now, with the smoke clearing and the mirrors smashed, facing their most grueling stretch of the calendar with their season on the brink as they cling to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Wednesday night’s game in Boston begins a season-defining road stretch that includes stops in Phoenix Sunday, Portland (March 5), Golden State (March 7), Los Angeles (the Clippers on March 8) and finishing up in Utah (March 10). Survive this stretch and there is still hope that the Hawks can get healthy enough in time to at least fend off late-season charges from issue-laden Detroit, Cleveland and even woeful New York.

If the Hawks get buried on this road trip, they’ll surely get caught (and be passed up) by one of those teams. Not that they are looking that far ahead.

“You never should look ahead that far,” forward DeMarre Carroll said. “We’re just trying to get better and trust the system and let our work do the talking.”


VIDEO:
Al Horford suffers a season-ending pectoral injury in Cleveland

The power of positive thinking might not save the Hawks this time around. They overachieved early this season and their above-.500 work through early February was fool’s gold. The Hawks are 2-9 this month and don’t exactly boast a road reputation that gives reason to think this big trip will end well.

They are 9-19 on the road with wins over the likes of Sacramento, Charlotte, New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Of that group, only the Bobcats are in the playoff mix.

The only saving grace for the Hawks is that they are not alone. Every team in the Eastern Conference not named the Pacers or Heat have to operate like their season is on the line over the course of the next four to six weeks. That’s how fluid the playoff picture is. Whoever gets hot the fastest can chew up some real estate in the standings and push their way into that No. 4-5-6-7 mix in the pecking order.

“We talked about that Monday in our meeting after the [Sunday loss to Miami],” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, taking his cue from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Thibs said it best, we cannot exhale right now. We have to push through these next couple of games and weeks because this next stretch can alter your season and what you want to do if you let the fatigue of the season get to you. We look at the loss columns for everybody and we feel like we’re right there. You have to bounce back from tough losses and get back at it. Miami and Indiana have separated themselves from the pack, so everybody else has to be fighting for that next spot, that No. 3 seed. And we’re grinding for it right now.”

The Bulls are also grinding without the face of their franchise, Derrick Rose. They’ve surely dealt with their fair share of injuries and adversity this season. But some teams handle it better than others. They are 16-8 since trading Luol Deng to Central Division rival Cleveland. While the Hawks struggle to dig out from under their February avalanche, the Bulls surge along.

Thibodeau oozes confidence when talking about his wounded group, insisting that they have more than enough to get the job done each night. The Bulls’ experience operating under duress in recent seasons certainly aids that cause. Their familiarity with one another (and Thibodeau’s hard-charging style) are assets as well.

The Hawks, with a first-year coach in Budenholzer and a largely revamped roster, have no such benefits. General manager Danny Ferry had a chance to look for some temporary roster help at the trade deadline, but didn’t come away with anything that would make a significant impact.

The fact is, the Hawks are still finding out if they are cut from that same tough fabric the Bulls are. Time will tell. And time, particularly the next 13 days or so, will tell about these Hawks. They are 10-17 without Horford and their confidence seems to be fading.

“The interesting thing about the East,” Hawks veteran guard Lou Williams said, “and I’m trying to say the politically correct thing here … a couple of wins in a row here and you’ll be right back in the fold. We recognize and understand that. So our job is just go out, take it one game at a time and see if we can put a string of wins together and get there.”

That’s much easier said than done at this juncture for the Hawks, who can hear the clock ticking on their season.


VIDEO: The Hawks fight back, but can’t finish off the Bulls in Atlanta

The Trade Deadline: Let’s Make A Deal?




VIDEO: Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gets it done on both ends

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The clock is ticking.

The trade deadline is near. It’s time for general managers and front office executives around the NBA to earn their money. Fix your team. Make it better. Pave the way for a brighter future by pulling the trigger on the deal, blockbuster or not, that creates the space for your franchise to go to the next level — whatever that level may be.

It’s easier said than done in most cases, mostly because a willing partner is needed to complete the trade dance. And everyone is out to fleece their potential partners in one way or another. Whether we see a blockbuster deal or not, we are guaranteed to see a flurry of activity by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.

A team’s wants and needs are two very different things. We’re focusing on what is needed here, which should coincide with what these teams want out of the trade deadline. Planning for the future is fine, but these deals are designed for immediate returns for (almost) all involved …

1. Reggie Jackson to the Bulls – Jimmy Butler to the Thunder 

The skinny: This is a nuts-and-bolts trade for both teams, one that doesn’t rise to the blockbuster ranks by any means. But this deal involving youngsters with extremely manageable salaries allows the Thunder and Bulls to shore up their key weaknesses. Jackson would be Derrick Rose insurance for the Bulls, a young point/combo guard who could be groomed to play alongside a healthy Rose whenever Rose returns. He’s acquitted himself well in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook‘s absence but will be reduced to a role player when Westbrook returns and assumes his position alongside Kevin Durant (which is expected to happen Thursday). Butler fits the Bulls rough-and-rugged mode perfectly, but if they are in rebuilding mode, he’s expendable. He offers the Thunder something they simply don’t have on the roster right now, and that’s a player capable of matching up with elite small forwards on defense. Imagine him in a Thunder uniform in The Finals going after LeBron James the way Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard did last year.

2. Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries to the Pacers — Danny Granger and George Hill to the Celtics

The skinny: This is a risky move for a Pacers’ team that has rock-solid locker room chemistry and has played at a consistently high level without boasting an elite point guard. Hill, an IUPUI star, is a hometown guy and is widely regarded as one of the league’s most respected professionals. He’s a guy Pacers All-Stars Paul George, Roy Hibbert and team leader David West trust to run the show. But Rondo gives the Pacers the chance to add a game-changer at point guard, a guy who, come playoff time, has an edge in either the talent and/or championship-experience department with any other East point guard. The hang up, of course, is going to be Danny Ainge trying to do his usual and shake everything he can out of the Pacers’ pockets in the name of his rebuilding efforts. Granger and Hill are established players who could help facilitate any rebuilding plans for the more immediate future. Of course, Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t have to play ball. He doesn’t have to deal. He can go to battle in the playoffs with the roster as is, though there is a consensus among most observers that an upgrade at the point would give them a clear edge in matching up not only against the Miami Heat but any team that they could potentially face in The Finals, were they to reach that summit.

3. Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith to the Cavaliers — Austin Rivers, C.J. Miles and Anthony Morrow to the Warriors — Earl Clark and Dion Waiters to the Pelicans 

The skinny: Believe it or not, the Cavaliers are just three games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase as the post-All-Star break portion of the season kicks off. As Kyrie Irving showed us at the All-Star Game, he knows how to shine amongst other elite players on his team. Since he hasn’t had any suit up with him in Cleveland, Thursday’s deadline is acting general manager David Griffin‘s opportunity to upgrade the crew around Irving and see if the playoffs can become a reality. Barnes needs a fresh start somewhere, as a starter, and would be a great running mate for Irving and Luol Deng. Both Speights and Smith would provide much-needed big man depth. The Warriors get role players to help fill out their roster and Waiters, a HT fave whose talents have never shined in Cleveland the way they have when we’ve seen him during All-Star weekend or during his stints with USA Basketball, gets a fresh start of his own in New Orleans. He and Anthony Davis could help elevate the Pelicans to a playoff-level team in the future.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving stole the show at All-Star Weekend

4. Omer Asik to the Hawks — Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, John Jenkins and a Draft pick to the Rockets

The skinny: This is certainly not the way Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is used to doing business. He’s used to fleecing much more from the opposing team’s executives (that mode of operation would explain the bevy of assets the Rockets have piled up the past few years). Brand and Ayon aren’t big names but when healthy, yet they have been surprisingly productive for the Hawks. That said, the Draft pick is the Rockets’ real prize … that and getting Asik out of town. And that’s where the needy Hawks swoop in and rescue their season — they had lost five straight heading into All-Star weekend. Asik helps stabilize the frontcourt rotation and joins All-Star Paul Millsap as the staples up front for a team that still has lofty aspirations for playoff positioning. Fellow All-Star center Al Horford is not walking through that door in Atlanta as his torn pectoral muscle will keep him out of action until well into the summer. Adding a physical presence like Asik at a relatively reasonable price makes a ton of sense for the Hawks right now. And the three of them together in the future is complicated, but certainly something Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could tinker with and make work.

5. Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and Chris Singleton to the Grizzlies — Zach Randolph to the Wizards — Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Eric Maynor to the Suns

The skinny: Randolph and Marcin Gortat balancing the frontcourt in Washington with All-Star point guard John Wall and sharpshooter Bradley Beal would be an interesting mix for a Wizards team that is definitely on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Just think of Randolph and Gortat as the Eastern Conference version of Randolph and Marc Gasol (Grit and Grind lite?). The Wizards have been an above-average team defensively, and now they’d add some serious toughness in Randolph. The Grizzlies need a building block for the future and would get that in Len, who was always viewed as a long-term project when the Suns selected him with the 5th pick in the 2013 Draft. The Suns are taking the opportunity to seize their surprising playoff moment in the Western conference with the aid of quality veterans in Ariza and Maynor and would also have a developmental prospect to work with in Vesely. There’s always a healthy dose of risk involved when you talk about trade deadline deals. And this one would come with plenty for all involved.


VIDEO: John Wall talks with the Game Time crew after shining on All-Star Saturday night

U.S. Gets Favorable World Cup Draw

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – FIBA held the draw for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Monday. The United States was drawn into Group C with the Dominican Republic, Finland, New Zealand, Turkey and Ukraine.

The World Cup will take place from Aug. 30 – Sept. 14 in Spain. Group C will play preliminary games (against each of the other five teams) in Bilbao. From there, the top four teams will advance to the 16-team, single-elimination tournament against teams from Group D.

Group C could be the deepest of the four, with five teams that have a legit shot to make the round of 16. Playing at home, Turkey went 8-0 in 2010 before falling to the U.S. in the gold medal game. Both Finland and Ukraine got some good wins at Eurobasket last year, and the Dominican Republic could have Al Horford if he’s healthy. Games between the Dominican, Finland, Turkey and Ukraine will be huge.

But who’s in their group isn’t of much consequence for the U.S. At worst, they’ll go 4-1 in preliminary-round action. It is noteworthy that the other half of the draw (Groups A and B) is much stronger at the top.

2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup groups

Group A (Grenada) Group B (Sevilla) Group C (Bilbao) Group D (Gran Canaria)
Brazil Argentina Dom. Republic Angola
Egypt Croatia Finland Australia
France Greece New Zealand Korea
Iran Philippines Turkey Lithuania
Serbia Puerto Rico Ukraine Mexico
Spain Senegal USA Slovenia

Group A is certainly the strongest in spots 1-4. France, Spain and Serbia are three of the four strongest teams in Europe, while Brazil (if they bring some of their NBA bigs) is the second best team from the Americas. It’s a distinct possibility that all four of those teams will beat their Group B counterparts in the Round of 16 and face each other in the quarterfinals.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, though. The U.S. Team’s group will provide them with some solid competition before they face the pressure of single-elimination play. And we know they won’t have to face Spain, France, or Serbia before the final (or, perhaps, the bronze medal game). The toughest team on their half of the bracket would be Lithuania, the team they beat in the semifinals in 2010.

In 2010 though, the U.S. didn’t have to change hotels for their entire 17-day stay in Turkey. They were drawn into the group that played in Istanbul, where the entire single-elimination tournament was also played.

This time, if they were to make it to the gold medal game, they’d have to travel twice. The round-of-16 and quarterfinal games played between Groups C and D will be played in Barcelona, and the semifinals and finals will be played in Madrid.

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.

Hawks’ Teague Ready For (All-)Star Turn?




VIDEO: Jeff Teague does it all for the Hawks in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

ATLANTA – It’s a good thing Jeff Teague doesn’t have to rely on … uh, Jeff Teague to crank up the hype machine on his All-Star campaign. Because the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard would rather discuss anything but his obvious candidacy for one of those coveted spots on the Eastern Conference reserves list.

Make no mistake, Teague wants on that prestigious list. He makes that clear night after night during his fifth and finest season in the league. He’s just not willing or able to commit himself to the sideshow that is lobbying on his own behalf, which is actually pretty refreshing.

In an era when some players are busier on Twitter and other social media sites than they are on the court on a given night, Teague is decidedly frills-free in his approach to the game and everything else that comes with along with his status as the healthy face of the Hawks. Al Hoford, who was headed for his third All-Star nod before suffering a season-ending right pectoral muscle tear on Dec. 26, is physically unable to perform that duty now. That leaves the work to a committee headed by Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver.

“I honestly don’t worry about that stuff,” Teague said before leading the Hawks past the Indiana Pacers to snap a three-game losing streak Wednesday night at Philips Arena. “I just play, do my job and let everything else take care of itself.”

That shouldn’t be hard in an Eastern Conference All-Star landscape where Teague is the head of the snake of one of just three teams with a winning record (the Pacers and Miami Heat are the others). And with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams either injured or suffering through injury-plagued seasons, there is an opening for some fresh blood in the All-Star point-guard mix.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel praised Teague’s work this season and said he’s absolutely on the short list of players that Eastern Conference coaches need to consider when filling out their All-Star reserves ballots.

“The history of the league has rewarded winning teams,” Vogel said. “He’s certainly and All-Star level, an All-Star caliber player. He’s having a terrific season and carrying the load now even more that Horford is out. And I know he is the focal point of our game plan every time we play these guys. They are spread out more and they have 3-point shooting bigs, and I think that just opens up the court for him to go to work and makes it more difficult to help. And he’s just growing, he’s developing and each year he’s gotten better. Like I said, he’s a terrific young guard.”

Seven months ago the restricted free agent wasn’t even sure he’d be wearing a Hawks uniform. Teague signed an offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks, where his former coach Larry Drew landed, and was prepared to start over in the Central Division. After spending his first four seasons here in Atlanta, with the team that drafted him with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Teague was mentally prepared to start over if the Hawks didn’t match the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer.

Once the Hawks made it clear that they planned to rebuild with Teague at the controls, he was able to make peace with his situation and dive into the point-guard friendly system of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Atlanta’s new boss learned a thing or two about tutoring young point guards after helping mold San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tony Parker‘s game over the years.

“I’m happy to be here, I love Atlanta, the city … it’s perfect for me,” Teague said. “I’ve been here my whole career, so I was glad to be back. We’ve got all good guys, nobody looking for extra. Just all good guys working hard and trying to get better and trying to win. So at the end of the day, it’s a perfect environment for me.”

A perfect environment with the perfect coach. Budenholzer’s meticulous approach intrigued Teague. His collaborative approach also struck a chord with the extremely laid back Teague, whose easygoing nature should not be confused for any lack of desire or effort to try to dominate the opposition on a nightly basis.

“He pulls me aside all the time just to talk basketball,” Teague said. “I’ve never had that happen before. It’s just the perfect system for me, the perfect blend. And we’re all still trying to figure it out. As the year goes on I think we’ll get better and better at doing what we do.”

They’ll have to do it without the security blanket that Horford provided. Horford’s steady face-up game allowed the Hawks to lean on their “system” in the fourth quarter of games, to let Teague and Horford’s chemistry to shine through.

“We’re running the same stuff but it’s definitely different without Al,” Teague said. “In the fourth quarter we usually go the high pick and roll with me and Al. And that was real effective for us. I honestly didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot with Pero (Antic) and Elton (Brand), so we’re all still getting adjusted, I’m still getting comfortable with those guys and learning where they want to be and where they like to get the ball in those situations. We’re still learning each other and still learning on the fly right now.”

Teague has already put in the necessary work to garner favorable All-Star consideration. He’s averaging career highs across the board, in points (16.9), assists (8.0), rebounds (2.8) and minutes (33.5).There is still plenty of work to be done, something Teague is the first to admit. His 3-point shooting remains streaky as ever, he made just 3-for-17 from deep in the five games prior to Wednesday night’s game.

Still, the overall strides made in his game from last season to this one are glaring and should not be overlooked when All-Star bids are discussed.

“I just know how valuable he’s been to us,” Budenholzer said. “He’s kind of that engine that gets us going. And any success we’ve had this year, he’s been a huge part of that, taking on the responsibility with the ball in his hands a lot and generating shots for others and for himself. I know there are a lot of good point guards, and I’m a little bit biased, but I think he deserves to be [on that list].”

At least someone is willing to lobby for Teague, even if he won’t.

Hang Time One-On-One … With Al Horford

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Al Horford‘s season came to an abrupt end on Dec. 26 when he reached for the ball and tore his right pectoral muscle, the second such injury in three seasons for the Atlanta Hawks’ two-time All-Star center.

Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in 2012 and missed four months recovering from that injury, coming back in the playoffs that season but missing all but 11 regular season games during the 2011-12 season. But the heat and soul of the Hawks’ franchise will not let this latest injury setback deter him. He’s vowed to return better than ever while continuing to serve as an influential voice and presence for his team during his recovery.

Just so we’re clear on the impact Horford had on the Hawks this season, his first playing alongside someone other than Josh Smith (now in Detroit) in the frontcourt, you need to consider what sort of company he was in as the Hawks’ leading scorer and rebounder.

At the time of his injury Horford was one of just six players – LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings were the others — leading his team in points and rebounds.

Now Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and guys like Elton Brand and Pero Antic are left to help fill the massive void left by Horford’s absence for a Hawks team that has overachieved this season.

Interestingly enough, those are the same guys Horford expressed extreme confidence in when I sat down with him before his injury for the latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series …



VIDEO: Al Horford opens up about his Hawks, his city, his journey and much more in this HT One-On-One

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors pursuing Hinrich? | Gasol tunes out trade chatter | Wallace lays into Celtics after loss | Nuggets could save money on Gallinari | Horford opens up on goals, season

No. 1: Report: Warriors may be interested in Hinrich — With last night’s victory in Milwaukee, the Golden State Warriors have been the hottest team in the league and are riding a 10-game win streak. But, as our own John Schuhmann pointed out in a conversation with GameTime on Monday night, all is not perfect, roster-wise, in Oakland. In particular, the Warriors are playing point guard Steph Curry and small forward/point forward Andre Iguodala an awful lot simply because the team has yet to find a capable backup playmaker. That may lend some credence to the report from USA Today‘s Sam Amick, who writes that Golden State could be interested in working a trade for Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich:

When news broke late Monday night that the Chicago Bulls had broken up their championship-contending core by trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the proverbial blood was in the water almost immediately.

Rival executives had been waiting and wondering whether the Bulls would have to go this route, to opt for Plan B because of Derrick Rose‘s second season-ending injury by finally succumbing to the league’s collective bargaining agreement by way of a money-saving deal. And so they did, taking on Andrew Bynum‘s contract for the right to waive him and sneak under the luxury tax that is so much more punitive than it has been in the past. The Bulls landed three draft picks in the trade as well (a first and two seconds) but the strong message had been sent that the Bulls’ shop may finally be open for business.

Bulls fans, players and most certainly coach Tom Thibodeau may be in mourning today, as Deng was a fan favorite and this is as tough as NBA decisions come. But this is welcome news for everyone else around the league.

So, what’s next? We shall see.

While forward Carlos Boozer could be waived via the league’s amnesty clause during the offseason as yet another way to clear the Bulls’ books, it appears point guard Kirk Hinrich will be drawing the most immediate interest when it comes to the Bulls’ possible next move. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors are among teams that had been showing serious interest in Hinrich long before the Deng trade. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because trade talks are typically private.

Even with the Warriors’ current nine-game winning streak, they remain on the lookout for a point guard to play behind Stephen Curry. While small forward Andre Iguodala spends ample time as a playmaking point-forward and veteran Toney Douglas provides spot minutes, this is the void that was created when Jarrett Jack left for Cleveland as a free agent last July. Hinrich is certainly not the only possible solution on the Warriors’ radar, as they remain in the mix for Denver point guard Andre Miller as well.

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No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol not sweating trade talks — Before Andrew Bynum was traded to the Chicago Bulls early Tuesday morning (and, whom the Bulls cut a day later), his name was most closely linked with his former teammate in Los Angeles, Pau Gasol. For weeks, Gasol had to listen as his name was bandied about in the rumors for Bynum. But it wasn’t the first time Gasol has been in trade rumors since joining the Lakers and even though he dodged a bullet this time, Gasol is doing what he can to not worry about trade rumors, writes our own Jeff Caplan:

Monday for Gasol was D-day. The deadline for Cleveland to trade Bynum was ticking down with one false alarm already doused. For the Lakers, Monday meant a practice at the team’s training facility in El Segundo followed by a flight to Dallas where they would play the Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Tick. Tock.

Gasol tried to make it feel like any other day, but it was impossible to totally shake the odd feeling of not knowing if he would join his teammates on the flight to Dallas, or make arrangements to catch one to Cleveland.

“I packed my bags like I was going on the plane and doing my job, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Gasol said. “But you know, the thought crossed my mind, obviously. I came into practice like any other day. If something would have happened, somebody would have come to me or called me and told me, ‘Look it’s done.’ “

Nothing.

The Lakers’ charter departed LAX at 2 p.m. Pacific Time and arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 7 p.m. local time. The team then bused to the hotel. Still nothing.

“Pretty quiet, pretty calm,” Gasol said, describing how the day was unfolding.

Tick. Tock.

Then, about 15 minutes before midnight Central Time, Twitter erupted with news of a major trade. An All-Star forward was headed to Cleveland in exchange for Bynum and Draft picks. Only it was the Chicago Bull’s Luol Deng, a regular in the rumor mill, but a something of a stunner to be the one going to the Cavaliers at the midnight hour.

“I was up,” Gasol said. “I guess that was kind of the confirmation that it didn’t involve me. At that point I thought that nothing was going to happen either way for anyone, but I guess it did, and now obviously, I’m glad I continue to be a Laker.

“It felt like it was pretty much done at times and that’s the way the media put it out or leaked it,” Gasol said. “It feels good to survive, I guess, and live to fight another day. That’s what they say, right? I’d like to continue to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

“I don’t really know how it really played out. I don’t know what was the reason that it didn’t happen, I don’t know that,” Gasol said. “So I know there are probably going to be other rumors and potential trades coming up, but I can’t really worry about it. I just need to continue what I’ve been doing, which is come in, be ready to play and focus on what I need to do as a player for myself and my teammates.”

***

No. 3: Wallace lays into Celtics after loss to Nuggets — Small forward Gerald Wallace is the second-oldest player on the Celtics and seems determined to leave a lasting impression on Boston’s young core no matter what. Throughout the season, he’s been one of the most vocal members of the team — particularly when Boston isn’t giving a full effort — and was none too happy last night after the Celtics got waxed by the Nuggets in Denver, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Gerald Wallace has emerged as the Celtics’ voice of reason and biggest critic in his first season in Boston and once again he challenged the team following its embarrassing 129-98 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Denver canned 14 3-pointers, attempted 38 free throws and led by 22 points at halftime.The Celtics allowed 103 points through the first three quarters and looked discouraged and lethargic throughout the night.

“I’m very surprised. Right now, we’re the team that’s all talk,” he said. “We talk about how we want to get better. We talk about things we need to do to get better. It’s easy to go out and practice and do it. Practice doesn’t really apply to anything with making yourself better. When they turn them lights on, when it really counts, when it’s about the team and making the team better and trying to win as a team, we don’t do it.”

Jared Sullinger‘s evening exemplified that of his team. He was called for two flagrant fouls in a 23-second span and was ejected in the third quarter. Sullinger now has five flagrant points and would serve a 1-game suspension with his next flagrant 1 foul.

“Hey, Denver was doing everything the right way, so everything was going their way,” Wallace said. “The way we played, the way we play as a team, the things that we do, we don’t deserve to get the calls they got. They got them. Jared’s first (flagrant) was 50-50 and the second one, I’ve seen that play done 50 times, that’s my first time ever seen it called a flagrant foul. Everything was going their way, so why should get the benefit of the doubt? We’re not playing worth a crap anyway.”

The Celtics have dropped eight of nine games and have allowed 248 points in the past two games. Wallace said he is done with team meetings and gatherings to figure out the issue.

“Like I said, guys gotta look in the mirror man. It’s gotta be the individual. It’s gotta be timeout for I and what I can do to help us win?” he said. “What can I do to help the team win? What can I come out on the court and provide to make our team better? Right now it’s too much of ‘I,’ too many guys trying to do it on their own and in this league, that’s hard to do.”

Finally, Wallace said the Celtics have all the right answers in the locker room but they don’t translate to the court.

“We done met, we done talked, we done did everything, we done argued, fussed, complained, moaned, everything you can do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter in here. It matters out there on the court. And until we can take all the talk and everything that we say in here and apply it to out on the court, it’s useless, it’s basically like talking to the wall.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

No. 5: Nuggets could save some money on Gallinari — Denver continues to wait for do-it-all forward Danilo Gallinari to return to the lineup. While there’s no timetable on his return, Gallinari is working out more and more as he continues to rehab his knee injury suffered late last season. The Nuggets would no doubt love to see him in the lineup again, but while he’s out, he could potentially save the team from paying some of his salary, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

As Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari continues to work toward a return from a knee injury, his time missed is approaching a level for which the team will get some of his money covered.

The magic number is 41. If Gallinari misses 41 consecutive regular-season games — and this goes back to last season — an NBA insurance policy will pay for part of his salary per game in every contest after that.

Gallinari has missed 40 consecutive regular-season games, dating to the final six games of last season, as he rehabs a left ACL injury. Starting Saturday in the Nuggets’ home game against Orlando, the insurance policy pays for 50 percent of his base salary per game, meaning the Nuggets will get about $61,800 covered each night he does not play until he returns. Gallinari is making more than $10 million this season, the second of a four-year contract.

“I don’t know how close he is or not,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “Obviously he would be a welcomed addition, but I’ll save my excitement for when it gets really, really close (to his return), whenever that is.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After several players were waived on Tuesday afternoon, there are roughly 20 roster spots open league-wide … Magic big man Nikola Vucevic has a concussion and is likely out for a week … The Rockets are reportedly trying to trade forward Donatas Motiejunas … Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets have received a $5.25 million disabled player exception for Brook Lopez

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: The Jazz’s Derrick Favors gives us a nice in-game demonstration of what the phrase “going up strong” looks like with this two-handed and-one mash on Kevin Durant


VIDEO: Derrick Favors dunks over the Thunder’s Kevin Durant