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Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Hawks’

Morning shootaround — June 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: ‘Better ingredients’ needed in Game 2 | George plans to give Team USA tryouts ‘a shot’ | Warriors sound off on Dellavedova’s foul | Report: Sixers, Hawks discussing trade

No. 1: LeBron: Cavs need ‘better ingredients’ in Game 2 The Cleveland Cavaliers had a solid chance to win Game 1 of The Finals, what with Golden State’s star guard tandem of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combining for 20 points on 8-for-27 shooting. But Cleveland missed its chance (in large part because of Golden State’s stellar bench play) and is in a 1-0 series hole. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more on the loss and what Cavs star LeBron James expects from his team come Game 2:

“We will have a better game plan going into Game 2 for sure offensively,” James said, commenting on Cleveland’s 17 assists on 32 baskets and describing the so-so as a lack of continuous ball movement. “Sometimes your offense dictates your defense, and the fact that we had 17 turnovers and that led to 25 points is not a good ingredient for our offense for sure.”

But just a short while earlier, at that same podium in the bowels of the defending champs’ arena, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue took a decidedly different tone.

“We didn’t finish around the basket, so we’ve just got to keep playing the same way we were playing,” Lue said. “I thought we were fine. I feel good about how we played.”

The star player is ripping the ingredients and the coach is OK with how the meal was cooked, even if it came out a little raw. If this were last season, we’d be talking about the obvious disconnect between James and David Blatt, about the Cavs’ floor general taking yet another swipe at his beleaguered coach.

This season, in these Finals, with James trusting the cool-under-pressure Lue, we’ll instead chalk this up to just two men choosing different ways to say everything will be better in Game 2. And they would know: Neither James nor Lue has ever won a Finals in which their teams won the first game.

Lue’s 2001 Los Angeles Lakers lost Game 1 to the 76ers before winning the next four (when the Lakers won the 2000 Finals, including Game 1, Lue was not active for any playoff games). Both of James’ titles with the Heat came after losng Game 1.

James, of course, is 2-4 all-time in the Finals, and he’s only won Game 1 once. In all that time, his teams have only gone down 2-0 in the Finals once, and that was when the Spurs swept the Cavs in 2007.

All of that is to say there is reason to suspect Cleveland will indeed have it together come Sunday, perhaps evening the series at one like it did last season.

Obviously, something has to be different when this series resumes in two days, or it’s going to be rather short. The bench scoring and defense, the turnovers, the short shots, the ball movement, sure. But what else?

James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love were all productive if not efficient. James nearly had a triple double with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists; Irving scored 26 and Love contributed 17 points and 13 rebounds. But none of them shot above 50 percent from the floor and they committed 11 turnovers between them.

Whichever changes James seeks, there was no panic either from him or Lue afterwards. Of course there wasn’t. As previously mentioned, they’ve been here before, plenty of times, and it was unrealistic to suspect that the Cavs could win this in a short series.

When it comes to track records, though, the Cavs have one with the Warriors that is troublesome. They’ve now dropped six in a row to Golden State, dating back to last year’s Finals.

“This is the same team who we had down 1-0 last year and they hit us twice,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Obviously last year in The Finals I think we won three in a row and kind of figured that out. And then this year, I mean, well, both games they didn’t even have the same coach that they have now. Not that I’m blaming anything on David Blatt, I don’t know their situation. But there’s been a lot of changes to this team. They’re not even really playing the same style of basketball they were before.

“They’re used to winning,” Green said. “They’re going to battle, they’re going to compete, and they’re super talented. So you can’t come out saying, oh, we beat them six in a row, we’re good. Absolutely not.”

Analytics Art: Cavaliers sizzle from 3-point range in 2016 playoffs

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

One could say the Cleveland Cavaliers made 3-pointers looks like lay-ups during their conference semifinal series against the Atlanta Hawks. That wouldn’t be entirely accurate, though, because the Cavaliers cashed a higher percentage of their shots from beyond the arc than they did on attempts within five feet of the hoop.

That’s just one of the inexplicable factoids to emerge from Cleveland’s impressive march to the Eastern Conference finals, which has left a pair of shell-shocked teams in its wake. PointAfter‘s visualizations help illustrate just how deadly the Cavs’ offense has been.

Previously, only one team in NBA history had made at least 43 percent of its 3-pointers while attempting at least 31 of them in back-to-back playoff games (Dallas Mavericks, Games 2-3 of Western Conference semifinals). The Cavaliers have now done so for four games running following their sweep of the Hawks — something no other team has accomplished during the regular season or playoffs.

In fact, no playoff team had shot 43 percent on 3-pointers (on a minimum of 18 attempts) in four straight games.

Overall, the Cavs have improved their 3-point accuracy by 10 percent after a regular-season mark of 36.2 percent. They’ve accordingly emphasized 3-pointers by attempting 22.2 percent more of those shots in the playoffs than in the regular season.

Put another way, Cleveland has launched 6.7 more 3-point attempts per game while making 6.1 more per game. Those extra trifectas have certainly paid dividends.

The 77 triples Cleveland sank against Atlanta were easily the most in a four-game series in NBA history. The previous record was 57, set by … the Cavaliers, in their first-round triumph over Detroit.

Their dismantling of the Hawks was demoralizing for Atlanta after it thought it could compete with Cleveland thanks to a league-best defensive rating since the All-Star break. But Cleveland unlocked Atlanta’s seemingly cohesive unit in the series, shooting 50.7 percent on 3-pointers (and 46.1 percent overall) en route to a 123.0 offensive rating.

Dating back to last year, Cleveland hasn’t lost a playoff game with Kevin Love available. That’s no coincidence. Love has been the X-factor for coach Tyronn Lue’s crew, executing his role as a stretch-four to perfection. He outplayed Al Horford and Paul Millsap on the boards while also providing ample spacing on offense. The Hawks dared him to shoot, and he responded by taking nearly eight 3-pointers a game at a 44 percent clip.

Though Love has struggled to find his low-post offense, making 28.6 percent of his shots in the restricted area, it’s scarcely mattered. He’s knocked down more than half his looks on corner 3-pointers, and is keeping opponents honest on long-range launches from above the break, too.

Love is far from the only Cavalier who has ramped up his splashy shooting. J.R. Smith cemented his legacy as a Hawks nemesis, following up on his remarkable sixth-man performance in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals (18.0 points per game on 47.1 percent 3-point shooting) to average 11.0 points on 50 percent 3-point shooting in the 2016 East semis. His 50.8 percent shooting on 3-pointers in the playoffs mirrors Cleveland’s double-digit improvement from the regular season.

At their current rate of 16.8 3-pointers made per game, Cleveland should be favored to shatter Golden State’s record of 240 made triples during the 2015 postseason. Golden State set that mark in 21 games … Cleveland is on pace to surpass it in 15.

At this point, the biggest obstacle to establishing a new record might be their own dominance.

If they breeze through either the Toronto Raptors or Miami Heat before taking part in The Finals, the Cavs might not accrue enough time to make another mark in the playoff record book.

Morning shootaround — May 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry active for Game 4 | Horford mum on future with Hawks | Green essentially guarantees Game 4 win | Report: Kings to meet with Joerger again | Report: Grizzlies reach out to Vogel

No. 1:

Update, 9:41 p.m. ET — After saying Stephen Curry was “questionable” for Game 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers tonight, Coach Steve Kerr has upgraded him to active after tonight’s warmups …

Curry ‘doubtful’ for Game 4 — With a win tonight in Game 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers (10:30 ET, TNT), Golden State will be one win away from a Western Conference finals berth. They’ve made most of their progress in the playoffs without superstar Stephen Curry as he tries to recover from a knee injury suffered in the first round vs. Houston. To win Game 4 tonight, they’ll more than likely have to do so without Curry, whom coach Steve Kerr says is unlikely to play tonight, writes Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Sunday characterized the status of point guard Stephen Curry as doubtful for Game 4 versus the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.

“I would just say he’s doubtful for tomorrow but slowly and surely making progress,” Kerr said.

Curry hasn’t suited up for action since he sprained his right MCL when he slipped on a damp spot of the floor in a win over the Houston Rockets in Game 4 in the first round. Although Curry said earlier last week that he hoped he could play in Game 3 of this series, the Warriors have exercised caution with him and eased him into on-court drills.

During Sunday’s practice, he took part in some 3-on-3 action, in which he was guarded by Warriors reserve wing Ian Clark, as well as a variety of skills exercises.

“He looked about like he looked yesterday, in terms of movement,” Kerr said. “Conditioning is going to be an issue, but hopefully he can get more and more work in, and we’ll see how he comes up tomorrow, in terms of a night of sleep coming off the workout.”

“The trainers would have to tell me he’s good to go,” Kerr said. “Steph would have to say he’s good to go. And then we would have to figure out a plan from there.

“You trust the medical staff in terms of, ‘Is there potential for more damage?’ Then you trust the player with how he’s feeling. Steph has been, even when he’s lobbied like in the Houston series when he hurt his ankle, he would lobby and then admit, ‘No, it’s probably not right.’ I know I’d get a truthful answer from Steph. He’s not going to try to be a hero, and we’ll make the reasonable decision based on all the information.”

Curry will go through the team’s shootaround Monday morning, after which his status will be reevaluated.

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No. 2: Horford mum on future with Hawks — Since being taken with the No. 3 pick in the 2008 Draft, Al Horford has known no other NBA team than the Atlanta Hawks. The four-time All-Star has had his share of high moments with the team, but the offeseason has begun for him, now that Atlanta was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Horford is an unrestricted free agent this summer and stands to get a decent payday, whether that takes place in Atlanta or elsewhere. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution caught up with Horford and gauged his thoughts on the future:

Al Horford was not ready to think about his future.

Not minutes after the Hawks were swept from the NBA playoffs by the Cavaliers for the second straight year. However, the longest-tenured Hawks player will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The center will be coveted on the open market. The Hawks have the cap space to sign the veteran to a maximum five-year deal. Those are all issues to be worked out in the coming months.

Although he may have played his last game in a Hawks uniform, on Sunday night Horford just wanted to think about one more team meeting. The Hawks will have exit interviews and locker clean out on Monday.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Horford said. “We just had a tough loss. My main priority tomorrow is to meet with the team and the coaches one last time (for the season) and go from there and figure out how we can be a better group.”

“I’ve set up here with my family. We all live here. We live here in the summer. We live here year-round. I’m very grateful for all the people here. They have taken me in from the very first day, even though I was a Gator. They loved me. I really love the city.”

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Morning shootaround — May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Waiters: ‘One guy can’t beat us’ | Carroll says Lowry must ‘man up’ now | Report: Celtics in pursuit of Butler | Hawks shell-shocked by barrage of 3s | Report: Bickerstaff pulls out of consideration for Rockets’ job | Vogel awaits fate today

No. 1: Waiters says Aldridge alone can’t be Thunder — The San Antonio Spurs are more than getting their money’s worth out of free-agent addition LaMarcus Aldridge in the Western Conference semifinals. The newest Spur has been on fire in the series, averaging 39.5 points and shooting 75 percent in the first two games of the series. But to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters, the numbers that matter are 1 and 1. That’s the state of the series despite Aldridge’s heroics and, to Waiters, things are looking down for the Spurs as a team if Aldridge continues to sizzle. ESPN.com’s Royce Young has more:

“One man can’t beat you,” Thunder guard Dion Waiters said Wednesday. “So we’re fine with that. If they want to continue to get out of their offense and throw the ball down there to him, we’re fine with that. One guy can’t beat us, no matter how much he scores.”

“We’ve just got to make adjustments, try to make it tough on him,” Waiters said. “He’s a great player in this league, an All-Star. He’s going to make shots. He’s playing tremendous right now. But we’re fine with one guy just beating us. We’re fine with that. At the end of the day, Serge [Ibaka] and Steven [Adams] got to continue to do what they’ve been doing, but guys are going to make shots in the NBA and as long as they’re not running the offense and dropping it down to them, we’re living with that.”

Aldridge was asked by reporters in San Antonio if he’s putting pressure on himself to not cool down after his two big games in the series.

“I’m just playing basketball. I’m not trying to go do it [have a huge game],” he said. “You know, honestly, I didn’t think that I’d do it again after the first game. It’s just I’m going with the flow of the game out there.”

The Thunder primarily stuck with single coverage on Aldridge, with coach Billy Donovan saying they were mostly happy with the defense on the Spurs power forward. In the series, Aldridge is 17-of-26 on contested shots.

“We’re making him take the shots that we want, and he’s just making them,” Adams said. “That’s the only thing that’s kind of bumming us out right now. … We’re making him take similar shots [as in the past] and he’s just making all of them. And it sucks.”

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Ignoring inbounds techniques would be out of bounds for Hawks

CLEVELAND – Inbounds plays are the green beans of NBA games, not all that interesting until the day they suddenly line up on your dinner plate and dance like the Rockettes in a Christmas spectacular.

At that point, they demand your attention, in much the way they have on consecutive nights this week in conference semifinal games in San Antonio Monday and in Toronto Tuesday.

So it was a legit question for players and coaches still participating, such as Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, to identify proper execution, some pitfalls to avoid and so on from the world of Xs & Os.

“I’m assuming you’re talking a little bit about the OKC-San Antonio one?” Budenholzer said.

Well, yeah, considering that the Thunder’s inbounds attempt with 13.5 seconds left in Game 1 surprised even longtime NBA insiders with the number of things that went wrong and were uncalled in OKC’s 98-97 victory. From defender Manu Ginobili‘s toe touching the sideline for what should have been a delay of game call to inbounder Dion Waiters‘ thoroughly unexpected forearm to Ginobili’s chest to clear space, the play and the game’s subsequent final seconds generated an epic “Last 2 Minutes” report from the NBA and were chaotic from start to confounding finish.

Precisely what a team doesn’t want happening in the playoffs, when every possession allegedly is treasured.

“It’s definitely something you work on in practice,” Budenholzer said after Atlanta’s shootaround Wednesday in advance of Game 2 against Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, TNT). “There’s subtleties for the inbounder, things that can hopefully help him find the right guy. You want great spacing, hopefully guys who are coming hard to the ball.

“But that inbound position, I’ll just tell you, it is not an easy spot. But we practice it, we drill it, we work on it. It happens a lot during the season so you get a lot of in-game reps too.”

In Miami’s overtime victory Tuesday, Luol Deng had turnovers twice in the fourth quarter on inbounds plays. First he ran along the baseline when it wasn’t permitted, then he miscalculated on a toss intended for Dwyane Wade. “If we would have lost – that would have been a bad one,” Deng said.

“It’s tough, man,” Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. “It’s a lot of pressure on that inbounding guy. Teams are doing a better job of guarding the play and putting pressure on that guy. You’ve got to make good decisions. But it’s very important, obviously. It can cost you a game.”

Atlanta assistant coach Kenny Atkinson was hired by the Brooklyn Nets in mid-April and will become their coach once the Hawks’ playoff run ends.

He said the Hawks spend considerable time — especially in the playoffs — on both executing and defending sideline and baseline inbounds plays. Atkinson said he thinks many NBA teams eventually will designate a coach for such “special teams” situations, not unlike the NFL. Most already have go-to guys to be their designated inbounders in crucial moments.

“Last year, [center] Pero Antic was almost like our ‘long snapper’ [another NFL specialty],” Atkinson said. “He’d sit there the whole game and we’d put him in with four seconds left because he was big and he was an excellent passer. He could just look over the defender.”

Patience and a thorough knowledge of the circumstances are key. “Your first priority is to read your options. You’re the quarterback,” Millsap said. “Take your options one read at a time. If nothing’s there, don’t force it. If you have timeouts, use ’em. But the worst thing you can do is turn it over in a situation like that.”

And the flip side? “If you make ’em use a timeout or force a turnover, force it to a guy they don’t want to give it to, I think you’ve done your job,” Millsap said.

Some teams put a big man on the ball to crowd the inbounder’s view. Others may drop off him to double-team elsewhere. The defense, generally speaking, can’t often count on the man with the ball to break the inbounds plane and forearm the nearest opponent.

Coaches, meanwhile, can’t always count on their inbounders to know every rule, in terms of what they can and cannot do.

“I would say we are confident,” Budenholzer said. “Yet life never ceases to amaze us.”

Blogtable: Best bench left in the playoffs is ______?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who made your All-NBA teams? | Which remaining playoff team has the best bench? |
Who should Mavs pursue in offseason?


> Of the eight playoff teams still standing, who has the best bench? And who’s the most important player off that bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No sense overthinking this. Golden State has the best bench, versatile, deep, talented and at peace with the team’s pecking order. The other teams (most obviously San Antonio) have depth that works for them, well enough at least to be playing in May, and there are individuals among them who could be herded together to match or top the Warriors’ crew. But I’ll take Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights and the others as a proven unit and take my chances.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s hard to argue against the defending champs, especially with the efforts of Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights in the playoffs. But I’m going to do it anyway. The Spurs regularly go 10 deep and virtually every one of them is a threat to win a game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. That’s the Warriors with Stephen Curry. Without Curry, the bench is obviously weakened because Shaun Livingston goes from reserve to starter. He has been a key two one championship run already and the possibility of a second. But Andre Iguodala is the most important. Plays multiple positions, defends, can run the point.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The winner and still champion in this regard is Golden State. And that goes double for Andre Iguodala, still able to give the Warriors what’s needed (scoring, defense, energy) at that time he checks in. Shaun Livingston should get some love, too, given how he subbed for Steph Curry. Depth is what elevates the Warriors from all others.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Spurs had the best bench in the regular season by a wide margin, with an aggregate bench NetRtg of plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions. The depth advantage gets reduced a bit in the playoffs, when rotations are shorter, but with Patty Mills, Manu Ginobil, Boris Diaw and David West, they’re still the cream of the crop. Diaw is the most important player of the group, because he gives them frontline flexibility to match up with whatever opponent they’re facing and allows them to play both big and small at the same time. He’s the French Draymond Green, except that he came first.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Best bench, hands down, belongs to the Warriors. And it’s a tie for the most important player(s) off that bench between Andre Iguodala, the reigning Finals MVP, and Shaun Livingston, who is proving his worth to the franchise in Steph Curry‘s absence. If the Warriors do indeed get back to The Finals to defend their title, they’ll have done so behind the work of their bench and these two guys in particular.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: We’re seeing, again, that the Warriors’ depth is crucial. Last year it was sixth man Andre Iguodala who helped change the NBA Finals while being elevated to the starting lineup. This year the MV(Bench)P is Shaun Livingston, who is such a reliable fill-in for Steph Curry that Golden State doesn’t need to rush the league’s most explosive scorer back into the lineup. The fluid style of the Warriors owes much to their depth – and the versatility of that depth.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta’s bench is probably better and more versatile than most people realize. They have an above-average backup point guard (Dennis Schröder), a sweet-shooting stretch four (Mike Scott), a defensive specialist (Thabo Sefolosha) as well as guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and (when healthy) Tiago Splitter. But to me the best bench of a postseason team belongs to Golden State, and you’re seeing its value right now with Steph Curry injured. Shaun Livingston is a terrific guard, able to play and defend multiple positions, and he’s stepped right into Curry’s spot and played capably. Andre Iguodala is coming off an NBA Finals MVP award, Festus Ezeli is going to command some real money in free agency, and Mo Speights draining threes is never not fun.

Morning shootaround — May 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thompson dominating on glass again | Bird won’t commit to Vogel as coach | Warriors back Green’s star status | Batum wants to re-sign with Hornets

No. 1: Thompson breaking Hawks’ hearts again — Thanks in large part to a monstrous performance in the 2015 playoffs, Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson netted himself an $82 million payday last summer. His work on the offensive glass against opponents during that 2015 run was something to behold. He averaged 11 or more rebounds in every round from the semifinals on and in the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta, he averaged 4.3 offensive rebounds alone. As the Cavs took a 1-0 lead in their East semifinals series with Atlanta last night, Thompson was up to his old tricks writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

While LeBron James (25 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals), Kyrie Irving (21 points, 8 assists) and Kevin Love (17 points, 11 rebounds) occupied their regular starring roles against Atlanta, Thompson kept setting them up with opportunities to succeed.

“When teams play great defense for 24 seconds and he comes up with those rebounds, it’s just demoralizing to a team because now they have to come out and guard us again,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue of Thompson. “That’s what he’s done for us the last two years. We know what he does and we know what he brings and he knows who he is.”

Thompson let the basketball world know who he is last spring, filling in for the injured Love as the undermanned Cavs made it all the way to the Finals. He was particularly effective against Atlanta in last year’s conference finals — averaging 11.8 points, 11 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the series while racking up a plus-46 over the four games — and only continued that effort to begin the conference semifinals this year.

Atlanta, which led the league in defensive field goal percentage this season, is used to getting stops. But those stops become watered down if Thompson keeps generating possessions.

“If you help, then he’s active on the boards,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I know it’s more important that we make them miss first. That’s our priority and then we have to have all five guys in there competing, getting after it. Credit to him. He’s a good player. He plays off their penetration and shots well.”

Is it something about the Hawks that unleashes Thompson’s game?

“Every series is different,” Thompson said following the game as he shared the podium with James after adding eight points, two assists and two blocks to his rebound total. “Against the Hawks, in terms of [Paul] Millsap and [Al] Horford, we kind of weigh about the same amount, the same active bigs — for me it’s just staying with it on the glass.

“The first half I only had two offensive rebounds, but I’m just going to keep hitting the glass every possession, and as the fourth quarter, third quarter hits — that’s when I try to use my technique to be able to create second possessions for my teammates.”

Thompson, at 6-foot-10, 238 pounds, is indeed in the same size range as Horford (6-10, 245) and Millsap (6-8, 246), prompting teammate Richard Jefferson to suggest that Atlanta had “two Tristans” when previewing the series. It wasn’t lost on anyone that Jefferson was comparing two of the Hawks’ best players to someone considered to be a bit player for the Cavs.

“Just take the challenge,” Thompson said. “Horford and Millsap are both All-Stars and two terrific players, very good players in our league, so for me as a young guy I want to take advantage of an opportunity. I guess it’s extra motivation just because you’re playing against guys who are All-Stars and very talented. Just try to come with my hard hat and make it tough for them.”

James, who passed Michael Jordan in career postseason wins on Monday with 120, was asked if Thompson serves as the Dennis Rodman to his MJ as he sat beside him.

“I think what Dennis did for the Bulls — on the floor, make sure we note that part — Double T does for our team,” James said, referring to Thompson’s nickname.

While surely Rodman might have picked feather boa over Stetson as his flashy fashion choice, there weren’t rebounds just falling from the sky into his hands, either.

“Just giving us extra possessions, defending guys that are sometimes bigger than him, defending guys that are sometimes smaller than him,” James continued. “We know that every night he’s going to give us everything that he got, and a lot of it sometimes doesn’t show up in the box score. But what he does on the glass is huge for our team.”

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Numbers preview: Cavs-Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Last season, the Atlanta Hawks won 60 games and had home-court advantage in the conference finals … and got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This season, the Hawks won just 48 games. Expectations are lower and they’ll be in Cleveland to start the conference semifinals. But the Hawks may be better prepared to make things difficult for the Cavs this time around.

They’re certainly healthier than they were a year ago, when Thabo Sefolosha was out with a broken leg, Paul Millsap was dealing with a shoulder injury, and Kyle Korver was lost to an ankle injury in Game 2. The Hawks are also better defensively than they were last season.

Atlanta was the league’s best defensive team from Christmas to the end of the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, they held the Boston Celtics to 12.6 points per 100 possessions under their regular-season mark. Their defense has been strong in transition and at protecting the paint, two huge keys to slowing down LeBron James and the Cavs.

But they weren’t able to do that enough in the regular season, when James averaged 27.3 points on 58 percent shooting as the Cavs swept the season series, 3-0. That’s seven straight wins against Atlanta for the Cavs, who are also healthier and better defensively than they were a year ago.

The Cavs are trying to get back to The Finals with their “Big 3” intact this time. Before they can play for that opportunity, they have to get through the Hawks, which could be a much tougher proposition than it was last year.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Hawks, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Pace: 88.9 (15)
OffRtg: 115.8 (2)
DefRtg: 107.4 (12)
NetRtg: +8.4 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Cavs playoff notes:

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Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

First round: Beat Boston in six games.
Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 97.7 (13)
DefRtg: 91.3 (3)
NetRtg: +6.3 (5)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Hawks playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Cavs won 3-0 (2-0 in Cleveland).
Nov. 21 – Cavs 109, Hawks 97
Apr. 1 – Cavs 110, Hawks 108 (OT)
Apr. 11 – Cavs 109, Hawks 94

Pace: 99.8
CLE OffRtg: 106.9 (2nd vs. ATL)
ATL OffRtg: 95.5 (21st vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Terry gurantees win in Game 5 | Thomas says he’ll play in Game 6 | Raptors deliver in big moment | Control of series shifts to Portland

No. 1: Terry guarantees Rockets will win Game 5 — Houston Rockets veteran guard Jason Terry is never short on confidence (this is the player, after all, who had the Larry O’Brien tattooed on his bicep the offseason before his Dallas Mavericks won the 2010-11 NBA title). So it is not exactly a surprise that even after the Rockets were blown out in Game 4, Terry sees his team winning Game 5 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and forcing a Game 6, writes Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com:

During the team’s media session at Oracle Arena, Rockets center Dwight Howard wondered aloud if former teammate Chandler Parsons was a prophet. And then Jason Terry, the oldest player on the team, guaranteed a victory in Game 5.

Welcome to the world of the Rockets, who are faced with an elimination game on Wednesday night when they must defeat the Warriors, who will be without reigning MVP Stephen Curry for the remainder of the series.

Will they win?

“I’m guaranteeing it,” said the 38-year-old Terry. “If I don’t, then what? It’s a loss, right. I guarantee victory — that’s what it’s going to take. I believe in my group. I know we can get a win here and send this thing back to Houston.”

“I’m saying right here in front of everybody, I’m getting a tattoo of a Rockets trophy if we pull this thing out,” he said smiling. “You [heard] it here first.”

There were few smiles from Howard. If anything he was shooting down speculation of what he might do this summer. Howard is expected to become a free agent once the season ends and old buddy Parsons said he wants the two to play together with the Dallas Mavericks.

“I think he can still dominate the game,” Parsons said from Dallas. “I think he can still be a great player in this league. And I think he’s going to leave Houston. So why not come here?”

Howard, standing just outside the tunnel following Tuesday’s practice, didn’t seem happy discussing future plans.

“Is he a prophet?” Howard said stoically. “My focus is this basketball game. It doesn’t matter what nobody on the outside says, we are friends, we are close, but none of that stuff matters right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish, and who cares what anybody else says?”

This has been a nondescript postseason for Howard. He’s averaging a career-low 14.5 points per game and despite leading the league in postseason rebounding the previous two seasons, he’s averaging 12.3 boards a game. In his career Howard averages 11.6 shots per game, but in four postseason games this year, he’s at 8.8.

His frustration with not getting touches is apparent and when you add Parsons’ comments regarding his future, it appears Howard has some issues on his mind.

“I don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “It’s he said, she said. My job is to focus on being great [Wednesday] and helping this team win, not what anybody else has to say. Chandler is a close friend, but it’s not about what he thinks or what he wants right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 235) Playoff Time!

HANG TIME BIG CITY — I was sitting on the couch the other night, tuned in to the postseason, when I realized I didn’t know what day it was. Tuesday? Wednesday? It couldn’t be Monday, could it?

Welcome to the playoffs!

It’s that time of year, when every moment matters, when every game is must-see-tv. And the Hang Time Podcast crew has been on the ground from coast to coast checking out games, which was a great jumping off point for today’s podcast. 

But first, just as we began taping we found out about the tragic death of Prince, an artist we all grew up listening to and enjoying, and we had plenty of stories to tell as we paid our respects.

Once we got around to talking hoops, we went from the Thunder (and the Mavs) Dance Party to Atlanta’s impressive start, from the hot hot heat Miami has brought over the first two games to the Warriors and how long they should let Curry recuperate. We even talked about the Knicks and Lakers, and how those legendary franchises are moving forward without playoff participation.

Check out all that and more on Episode 235 of The Hang Time Podcast … Playoff Time!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Thunder/Mavs Game 2 All-Access


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