Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Hawks’

Blogtable: Predicting the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race

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: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOHeat solidify their playoff chase with win vs. Pistons

> By this time next week, which teams will be seeded No. 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the Eastern Conference? And which team (if any) is most at risk of falling into No. 7 or 8 territory and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

No. 3: Heat
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Celtics
No. 6: Hornets

This isn’t merely how I think they’ll land — to me, this represents the relative strength and playoff readiness of the four teams involved. Miami knows how vital it will be to land in the third (or sixth) spot, just to avoid facing Cleveland for as long as possible. I don’t think any of the four is in danger of slipping to No. 7 or No. 8. That’s the East’s “green room,” with Indiana and Detroit likely to get bumped fast and asked to return next year.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

Minimal shuffling from current standings.  Boston will beat out Atlanta because of a favorable home schedule and having the critical Jae Crowder back in the lineup.  Also a pair of road back-to-backs will keep Charlotte down in the sixth spot.  I don’t believe any of these teams are in danger of slipping out of the middle of the pack.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

As much as this is the latest opportunity for a lot of people to wrongly overlook the Hawks again, because they are capable of a nice postseason run, it’s tough not to like the Boston defense as a difference maker in this race within the race. The return of Jae Crowder is a big boost. I don’t think anyone falls into 7 or 8.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

I’d be wary of the Heat, only because they might not feel necessary to press Dwyane Wade into heavy minutes for the stretch run. Miami could falter. Otherwise, this is a four-team coin flip.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Celtics
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

This is just a wild guess, because we don’t know what teams (out of this group or their opponents) are going to rest guys in the final eight days. I’ll guess the Hawks and Celtics finish at 49-33 (Atlanta would take head-to-head tiebreaker with a win on Saturday), while the Heat and Hornets finish at 48-34 (Miami wins division-record tiebreaker). And no, none of them are in danger of falling down to 7 or 8.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Celtics
No. 5: Hornets
No. 6: Heat

The hot Hawks have a favorable schedule and can clinch their tiebreaker vs. Boston with a home win against the Celtics. The Celtics, for their part, close their season with three games (two at home) against these rivals — but it isn’t reasonable to forecast a sweep, given the tight competition within this grouping. The Hornets have been terrific on the road lately, which can enable them to hang in despite four remaining games away from home. It has been a month since the Heat has won more than two games in a row, and so a major move is unlikely now.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Hornets
No. 5: Celtics
No. 6: Heat

The Hawks have a relatively tough schedule remaining (home against Toronto and Boston, plus at Cleveland and Washington), but they’re due to win one against Toronto or Cleveland, and have played Boston and Washington well this season. Charlotte has been playing well, and they’re 10-6 this season against the teams they have remaining. And Miami has three games left against Boston and Detroit, who they haven’t won against all season.

Morning shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs (yawn) set more marks | Running with Bulls proves hazardous | Pacers need to snap out of it | Jazz’s Exum waits, watches, learns

No. 1: Spurs (yawn) set more marks — San Antonio has been so good for so long – 19 consecutive seasons of 50 victories (or the equivalent in 1998-99’s 37-13 post-lockout finish), five NBA titles – that it hardly seems possible for the Spurs to top themselves. But they did that Saturday, beating Toronto to set a franchise mark for victories in a season and extend their perfect mark this season at the AT&T Center. Interesting that on such a memorable night, it wasn’t Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili leading the way but rather Kawhi Leonard (career-high 33 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (31 points, 15 rebounds). As usual, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News was there to chronicle it:

The Spurs’ 64 wins – next to 12 losses – set a franchise record, snapping a tie with the 63-win squad from 2005-06.

The 39-0 mark at home continued the best single-season streak in NBA history. The Spurs’ 48th consecutive regular-season win at the AT&T Center continued a streak rendered the longest active home streak in the league after Golden State lost a night before to Boston.

None of this information made coach Gregg Popovich’s postgame speech.

“There’s not much we’re allowed to care about,” guard Danny Green said. “We made the playoffs. We care about that. Being healthy and winning games in the playoffs – those are the things we care about.”

With the playoffs two weeks out, Popovich wasn’t much impressed by the Spurs’ seven-point win over a Toronto team resting All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

He didn’t think his defenders did a good job of staying in front of the Raptors’ wing players. He thought his team’s offensive execution was satisfactory for only about a half.

Popovich said he wanted to get meaningful minutes for most of his starters, and accomplished that.

“We got that done,” Popovich said, “but we didn’t play great.”

Even so, the Spurs can go a ways in the playoffs with Aldridge and Leonard producing nights like Saturday.

It marked the first time the Spurs had two players reach 30 points since a Dec. 28, 2012 win over Houston, when Tony Parker and Tim Duncan hit that threshold.

Against the Raptors, no player other than Aldridge or Leonard reached double figures.

Yet the Spurs still doled out 28 assists, led by Leonard’s seven, proof that the ball still moved.

If Popovich seemed typically curmudgeon-like in his postgame comments, it wasn’t any big departure from his in-game demeanor. Consider his reaction when guard Patty Mills, on a 1-for-6 night from 3-point range, finally hit his lone long ball in the fourth quarter:

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Blogtable: The best backup point guard in the NBA 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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEODennis Schroder stars in Hawks’ win vs. Lakers

> Who is the best backup point guard in the NBA today?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Isn’t The Professor always the answer? All right; if I have to pick someone besides 71-year-old Andre Miller, I’ll go with Shaun Livingston — who I don’t believe has missed a single shot this season. Maybe it just seems that way.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I were going by sheer numbers, I’d tip toward Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. On a per-36-minute basis, the Hawks’ feisty backup to Jeff Teague is averaging nearly 20 points and eight assists. But one of the traits I value most in a backup PG is stability, which is why I choose Sacramento’s Darren Collison. He has the experience and temperament to master that role, leading the Kings’ reserves without unduly seeking out his own stats or disrupting the pecking order. At 16.5 points and 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, his numbers are strong enough — including a career-best 48.0 field-goal percentage and 39.8 percent on 3-pointers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: G’day, Mate. I’m riding with Patty Mills. As coach Gregg Popovich micro-manages the minutes of his Big Three, Mills is playing more than 20 minutes per game behind Tony Parker. Mills keeps the pace up, penetrates and has a knack for hitting big 3s. He was instrumental in the 2014 championship run and even more important two years later in a graying lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably Shaun Livingston. He makes shots (though without great range) and smart plays, is dependable and has the size that not only can create mismatches but is also a nice contrast to Stephen Curry. Dennis Schröder is in the conversation as well. And Darren Collison, since he has returned to a backup role after starting last season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI love the spunk that Jeremy Lin is giving the Hornets, but my pick is Dennis Schröder of the Hawks, who has raised every facet of his game (11.5 points and 5 assists in 20 minutes per). Tough and fearless, Schroder has often played better this season than Jeff Teague, who slumped badly early on. I just wish the German would go all-out with his hair as he does on the court. Go full blond. Be daring.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I love the way Cory Joseph is being used in Toronto in relief of Kyle Lowry, as well as when he and Lowry work together. Coach Dwane Casey found something in that point guard rotation. But the best game changer at the position off the bench this season has been Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He can play at any speed and shreds defenses when he’s attacking the basket and finishing over much bigger players. Something has to give eventually with he and Jeff Teague both wanting the keys to the car in Atlanta. But for now, Schroder will have to settle for being the best back-up point guard in the NBA.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaun Livingston because of his efficiency, experience and game-changing length. But the real proof is in the results: The Warriors have been as close to perfect as any team we’ve seen in two decades, and if Livingston wasn’t providing the highest level of leadership off the bench then we would definitely notice.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogA couple of names came to mind, guys who are currently backups but, given the chance, should or could be able to lead NBA teams: Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Michael Carter-Williams. But to me the best back-up in the NBA is Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He ain’t perfect — Schröder can be inconsistent, his jumper needs improving, and he sometimes struggles with understanding when to attack and when to pull back. But when he’s on, Schröder keeps an All-Star in Jeff Teague on the bench during crunch time. And there aren’t a lot of back-ups who can say that.

Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters in the NBA this week


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin dominates against Spurs

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

For the fans who have tuned into the NCAA Tournament more than the NBA of late, they are missing out on some stellar shooting performances from players determined to improve their team’s playoff positioning.

As the regular season winds down, each of those efforts seems to matter more than the last.

PointAfter breaks down the three hottest shooters of the week with interactive visualizations.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between March 18-24.

Guard: Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets

Jeremy Lin has had a pretty poor shooting season, posting field goal percentages below league-average in six of PointAfter’s seven shooting zones (the right corner being the lone exception). But he improved this week, even if his seven-day shot chart shows he still can’t drive effectively to his left very well.

Note: You can hover over each shooting zone to see Lin’s stats compared to the league average.

The clear standout performance from Lin came in Charlotte’s stunning win against the Spurs, which saw the Hornets rebound from a pitiful seven-point first quarter to win 91-88. Lin sparked that remarkable comeback, converting 11-of-18 shots (4-of-4 from beyond the arc) for 29 points, including 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the fourth quarter.

Lin averaged 22.3 points in three games this week as Charlotte has won 17 of its last 21 games to solidify its standing in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Wing: Tim Hardaway Jr., Atlanta Hawks

Like the Hornets, the Atlanta Hawks have also gotten hot down the stretch to climb up the Eastern Conference standings. And they’re getting major contributions someone who played in just four of the team’s first 35 games.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has shown why the Hawks traded their first-round pick in the 2015 Draft to acquire him. After showing development on the defense since a month-long NBA D-League stint, Hardaway has evidently been granted the green light from downtown.

And why not? He’s sunk 49 percent of his 3-pointers in March, and canned 11-of-20 treys in Atlanta’s three games this week to average 16.7 points on 60 percent shooting overall. His seven-day shot chart epitomizes the club’s preference for shots at the rim and from beyond the arc.

Hardaway’s recent hot streak has kept the Hawks rolling even though a bruised knee has limited Kent Bazemore lately. His emergence will let coach Mike Budenholzer mix and match more aggressively down the stretch to give Bazemore and others some late-season rest.

Forward/Center: Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons

Detroit’s trade for Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and the since-released Danny Granger with Phoenix (that only cost the Pistons a 2020 second-round pick) was one of the offseason’s best under-the-radar moves. The Suns dumped this trio in an ill-fated quest to sign LaMarcus Aldridge, and gifted the Pistons a starting stretch-four in the process.

Morris has responded well to the increased usage in Detroit this season, providing it with spacing that long eluded during the Josh SmithGreg Monroe days. In fact, the Pistons’ offensive rating has been nearly five points better with Morris on the floor.

The streaky Morris has sizzled of late, shooting 63.4 percent overall, 76.5 percent on 3-pointers and 66.7 percent on free throws in Detroit’s four games this week. The Pistons were undefeated in those games, putting more space between themselves and the No. 9-seeded (and swooning) Chicago Bulls.

This story was published by PointAfter (https://basketball-players.pointafter.com/stories/11962/nba-hottest-shooters-jeremy-lin-marcus-morris), a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — March 1


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry questionable vs. Hawks | Report: Some teams unhappy with Udrih buyout | James: More adversity likely for Cavs | Report: Raptors waive Bennett

No. 1: Curry questionable tonight vs. Hawks — The Golden State Warriors remain a game ahead of the pace the Chicago Bulls set in 1995-96 for a 72-win season. The Warriors have, of course, been fueled this season by reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry, who added to his season-long lore with a masterful performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder before a national-TV audience on Saturday. Curry, however, sustained a left ankle injury in that game and is listed as questionable for tonight’s showdown with the visiting Atlanta Hawks (10:30 ET, NBA TV). Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Two days after Stephen Curry scorched the Thunder with a 46-point outburst – punctuated by his memorable, game-winning, 32-foot shot in the waning seconds of overtime – Curry rested his sore left ankle as the Warriors returned to work Monday.

Curry sat out practice, and also skipped his customary post-practice shooting session, in the wake of the left ankle injury he sustained Saturday night in Oklahoma City. The Warriors are listing Curry as questionable for Tuesday night’s home game against Atlanta.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “Considering how it happened and how it felt after the game, I’ve made some progress. It’s still a little sore, but hopefully I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

Curry rolled the ankle early in the third quarter, as Russell Westbrook challenged him on a fast-break layup. Curry hobbled to the locker room, where he had the ankle re-taped; he returned to the game later in the third quarter.

He acknowledged the ankle was “very sore” Sunday.


VIDEO: The Warriors reflect on the win over the Thunder

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NBA, NBPA and NBRPA join forces for cardiac screenings


VIDEO: Hall of Famer Bernard King was an unstoppable force on the basketball court

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The wake-up call for Bernard King came the morning after the 2015 Naismith Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

The night before he’d spent a good hour talking with fellow Hall of Famer and former teammate Moses Malone about everything but basketball. It was a joyful time, King said, a chance for old friends to catch up on one another’s lives after the game.

But before King could open the door on his car as he headed to the airport that next morning, he received the news that Malone had died suddenly, yet another member of the NBA family gone way too soon.

That’s one reason why King was one of 25 retired NBA players to take part in a cardiovascular screening for local NBA alumni Saturday at Philips Arena, a program sponsored by the Hawks in conjunction with the NBA, the Players Association and the Retired Players Association.

“We’ve lost a lot of guys over the last couple of years,” King said, “Moses, Darryl Dawkins, Jerome Kersey and before that Pat Cummings, just to name a few. And a lot of these guys have died of heart attacks. So I think it’s great that the league, the players association and the retired players association are joining forces to try and figure out why that is and what we can do to adequately provide for everyone.”

Malone died in September of a cardiovascular disease, a month after Dawkins died of a heart attack. It’s the loss of those close to you, King said, makes the reality of the situation even more real for he and his fellow retired players.

“It certainly hits home,” he said. “These are guys you’ve competed against and played with or against for so many years. I sat with Moses for 90 minutes at the Hall of Fame just laughing and joking about everything you can think of going back to our days playing together in Washington. We didn’t even talk about basketball. Before I could even get in the car the next morning Meadowlark Lemon, who we just recently lost, and Artis Gilmore stopped me and asked if I’d heard about Moses. I said, ‘what are you taking about? I was just with him last night.’ And they told me he’d died last night. So yes, it’s disheartening that anyone would lose their life like that, whether they were a professional athlete or otherwise. The bottom line is, too many guys are dying at too young an age.”

That’s one of the main reasons the cardiovascular screening program was initiated, said Joe Rogowski, the NBPA’s Director of Sports Medicine and Research. The first one was held in Houston in December. Saturday’s event included Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, Hawks Vice Chairman Grant Hill, who was instrumental in the event being held at Philips Arena, as well as more recently retired players like Tony Delk.

“This is fantastic,” Delk said. “I’m 42 and very conscious of my health now that I’ve stopped playing. So when I heard they were offering this program free to retired players, I made sure to get my name on the list. When you’re playing, you take so much of this for granted, you’re talking about some of the best-conditioned athletes in the world. But none of us is immune to the issues that come with getting older.”

Rogowski worked in the league for a decade and said that the NBPA’s executive committee was discussing player health and retired player’s health during a meeting and idea for the screening program came out that exchange. It was placed on a high-priority list by the executive committee and fast-tracked for this season.

The NBA and the NBRPA jumped on board immediately when informed about the program, Rogowski said, and now that they have the Houston and Atlanta screenings in the books, there is much more to come.

“It’s been a truly collaborative effort,” he said. “From the NBPA, the NBRPA and the league to all of the specialists we fly in from all over the country to the teams, both Houston and here in Atlanta, for allowing us to set up shop and use the space in the arenas. It’s the same group that goes from city to city. And were thankful we’re doing it, because we’ve found some things that need to be addressed. And this is just the first step in a long-term process that will help us address the needs of the players, past, present and in the future.”

Rogowski cited the program’s mobility as one of the crucial elements to the success of the first two screening events. It can travel and reach the retired players in a place that is familiar and comfortable for them.

“I consider this a golden opportunity,” said King, 59, who has lived in the Atlanta area for over 15 years. “You have the finest experts here, health-wise, to check you out and ensure that your body is okay and functioning the way it should be. Those opportunities don’t always present themselves to you after you are done playing, so I made sure to get my name on the list before it filled up, because it was first come first serve.”

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

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No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

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No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

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No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

***

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Report: Joe Johnson to sign with Heat

HANG TIME BIG CITYJoe Johnson is taking his talents to South Beach, according to one report. Just hours after agreeing to a buyout and being waived by the Brooklyn Nets, Johnson has agreed to sign with the Miami Heat, writes Shams Charania of Yahoo

Johnson, 34, had narrowed his teams to the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks after reaching a buyout agreement with the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. Johnson is expected to clear free-agency waivers on Saturday.

Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, averaged 11.8 points, 4.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 57 games for the Nets this season.

In his 15th NBA season out of Arkansas, Johnson has career averages of 17 points, 4.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds while playing for Boston, Phoenix, Atlanta and Brooklyn. He was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft.

Johnson will join a Heat team that is currently 32-25, in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Heat have been playing without Chris Bosh, who is out indefinitely after suffering a calf injury and missing the All-Star Game.

Analytics Art: Schroder, McDermott, Lopez among week’s best shooters


VIDEO: Doug McDermott talks after his big game against Washington

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

For many NBA players, All-Star Weekend represents an opportunity to rest up before the home stretch of the regular season. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that all three of this week’s hottest shooters stayed home during All-Star festivities.

Fresh legs certainly seemed to play a part in kick-starting these players’ second halves. Two guys highlighted this week were well-rested and prepared for an uptick in minutes when All-Stars in front of them on the depth chart were sidelined with minor injuries.

PointAfter guides you through the most noteworthy shooting performances of the week with interactive visualizations.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Feb. 19-Feb. 25.

Best Guard: Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have a good problem, in that they possess two point guards fully capable of starting – and excelling – in the NBA. When regular starter Jeff Teague (wrist) left a game against Milwaukee on Saturday, Schroder took over and became the first player this season to record 25 points and 10 assists off the bench. He nearly notched a triple-double, too, collecting eight rebounds.

Schroder followed that up with an electrifying showing against Golden State, tallying 18 points and six assists in just 18 minutes to help the Hawks briefly recover from a daunting halftime deficit.

One of the game’s best creators off the dribble — Schroder led all players in last year’s playoffs with 52.9 percent shooting on drives – the 22-year-old showed off his shooting stroke this week, going 24-of-41 (58.5 percent) from the floor overall and 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) from long range.

It’s no wonder Atlanta’s offense has been markedly better with Schroder on the floor this year, posting an offensive rating of 108.2 points per 100 possessions compared to 103.1 with him on the bench.

Best Wing: Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls

With Jimmy Butler sidelined recently due to a knee injury, McDermott has flashed the potential that made him a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft after leading the nation in scoring at Creighton. He poured in a career-high 30 points in a massive 116-106 home win over Toronto last Friday, sinking 13-of-17 shots (4-of-5 from downtown). The 24-year-old then shot 60 percent (12-of-20) in two more victories at the United Center against the Lakers and Wizards.

McDermott made at least half his shots from all seven of PointAfter’s designated zones this week. That includes a 73.3 percent mark inside the restricted zone, where he’s been below league average at 49.3 percent for the whole season.

Note: You can hover over each shooting zone to see McDermott’s stats compared to the league average.

McDermott largely failed to make an impact as a rookie in 2014-15, but he’s resembled an entirely different player under coach Fred Hoiberg. After making 31.7 percent of his 3-pointers last season, he’s earned back that “McBuckets” nickname thanks to a 43.1 shooting percentage on 3-pointers in 2015-16. He’ll be an important sparkplug off the bench as Chicago attempts to claw back into the upper echelon of Eastern Conference contenders.

Best Forward/Center: Robin Lopez, New York Knicks

Lopez is a noted mascot bully, but has been roughing up opponents in the post this week. He tied season highs with 26 points and 16 rebounds on 11-of-14 shooting in a much-needed win over the Timberwolves. He shot 28-of-40 (70.0 percent) overall on the week, though New York lost its other three games out of the All-Star break.

That continued a miserable 2-13 stretch that’s effectively pushed the Knicks of the playoff race, but don’t blame Lopez for his team’s poor form. He’s upped his efficiency and raw scoring numbers lately, and is averaging a double-double in February (14.7 points, 10.6 rebounds) despite putting up just 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Report: Johnson, Nets talk buyout

It was earlier this month when famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted the arrival of an early spring. Now the first sign of an NBA thaw might be showing in Joe Johnson’s resolve to remain with the Nets.

The 34-year-old swingman has begun talks with new Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks about buying out the rest of his $24.9 million contract this season, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

As long as Johnson is released by new Nets general manager Sean Marks by Tuesday, he’ll be playoff eligible for his next team.

“I think he’s deserved the right to (play on a playoff team if that’s what he wants),” Marks said of Johnson during an appearance on WFAN on Thursday.

Johnson, 34, is earning $24.9 million this season in the final year of a mammoth six-year, $124 million deal that was the league’s largest at the time when he signed it with the Hawks in 2010. Brooklyn absorbed the remaining four years and $89.3 million left on Johnson’s deal — soon followed by the acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — in a bid to first convince then-franchise point guard Deron Williams to stay with the Nets and then to make a run at the NBA championship that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov vowed to win within the space of five years.

But the Nets have only won one playoff series after acquiring Johnson and don’t have control of their own first-round pick until June 2019.

For the new GM Marks, moving on from Johnson would be the second step in what promises to be a tremendous undertaking to turn the Nets around. He had released forward Andrea Bargnani.

Despite averaging just 11.8 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting this season — his lowest numbers in more than a dozen years — Johnson will have no shortage of would-be contending teams lining up to add him to their playoff rosters. Stein reports Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Oklahoma City and Toronto have already made contact.