Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Hawks’

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

***

No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

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No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

***

No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Blogtable: Worried about Hawks?

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: Remembering Nash’s career | Next moves for Thunder? | Worried about Hawks?



VIDEOHow the Spurs diced up the Hawks in Atlanta

> The Hawks have lost three in a row for the first time all season. Is this team simply in neutral, coasting to the finish line, or have the Hawks run out of gas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Some of the Hawks’ remarkable achievements have caught up with them, in terms of trying to maintain such excellence so long (think Indiana last season), and some of what befalls any NBA team has been in play too. As in injuries to Kyle Korver and Mike Scott. Once a lot of us in the media started saying, “Yeah, we’re convinced now that Atlanta is good. But let’s see what happens in the postseason…,” it seemed only fair that the Hawks might embrace a little of that attitude, too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’ll go with neither. The Hawks are hardly coasting and I don’t believe they’ve hit the wall. It’s a long, long season and virtually every team goes through some kind of funk. But I’m thinking that by the time the playoffs start in three weeks, the Hawks will have rediscovered their Uptown Funk and gon’ give it to you.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFirst of all, the losses were to the Warriors and Spurs (plus also the Thunder with Russell Westbrook getting a triple-double). Secondly, it’s was three games. So, no. I’m not seeing running out of gas yet. I’m not seeing coasting either. If this continues for a couple weeks, if the Hawks start falling over face first against Orlando, Charlotte and Detroit within the next five games, then we’ll have something to talk about. Right now, it’s nothing beyond the same tough stretch every team navigates.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comLook, the Hawks simply couldn’t play any better than they did from December through February. Eventually, a slide was coming; the only question was how much? It’s tough to place a sense or urgency on their latest performance only because we’re in the dog days. I trust Al Horford will snap out of it as well as the Hawks once the games take on a greatest sense of importance. That said: Cleveland and LeBron are the favorites coming out of the East, and I thought that way even at the height of Hawksmania.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey lost to the Warriors, Thunder and Spurs, and they were missing Kyle Korver in the first two games. Questions about how well their defense (which has been really bad in the three games) will hold up in the playoffs are legit, but it’s not time to panic just yet.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com They are certainly not out of gas. And you don’t win 55 games with a month left in the season coasting or stuck in neutral. The Hawks simply ran into that tough stretch of the season where you get exposed a bit. It’s nothing that cannot be cured with some intensive film study, a little introspection and the return to health of several key players who have dealt with injury concerns since the All-Star break. Beyond that, there is nothing to see here folks … until the playoffs get underway.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThere is no shame in losing at Golden State and OKC or at home to the Spurs. And there was no way for the Hawks to maintain their high level of efficiency all season long — as the Warriors have also discovered recently. This little dip should have no bearing on the playoffs, when the Hawks’ success will be defined by the matchups.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh, so here it comes. All Atlanta fans knew this was in the cards, because no matter how great things are going, this is how it always ends for Atlanta sports teams — in disaster and sadness and disappointment and despair. Except maybe not this time? Because even though the Hawks have lost three in a row, I’m not ready to count them out just yet. They’ve been without Kyle Korver, Mike Scott and Thabo Sefolosha, three of their best eight players. If anything, their absence has highlighted how important having a full complement of players is for this team. It’s not any one guy, it’s not the four All-Stars, the Atlanta Hawks are a team where guys one through 15 each matter.

Film Study: Missing Korver

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In a game between the league’s two best teams, the Golden State Warriors were, by far, the better of the two, beating the Atlanta Hawks 114-95.

And that’s been the case all season, really. While the two teams were just a half game apart in the standings entering Wednesday’s game, there was a big difference statistically. The Warriors led the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, while the Hawks ranked sixth offensively and fourth defensively.

The Warriors’ lead in NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) over the Hawks (5.1) was larger than any No. 1 team has had over the No. 2 team in the last 37 seasons (since turnovers started being counted in 1977). The next largest margin (4.6) belonged to the 72-win, 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.

Both offenses looked great in the first meeting between these two teams, won by the Hawks, 124-116. The difference on Wednesday was on the end of the floor where the Hawks shot 36 percent.

A lot of that open shots that didn’t go in the basket. In fact, you can tell the story of the two head-to-head meetings by just looking at the shooting numbers on uncontested jumpers.

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Kyle Korver’s absence on Wednesday was definitely felt in that regard. Korver has shot 52.5 percent, with an effective field-goal percentage (taking the value 3-pointers into account) of 75.6 percent on uncontested jumpers this season. Both of those marks lead the league among players who have attempted at least 100 uncontested jumpers.

But Korver’s impact on the Hawks’ offense goes well beyond the shots he takes. And it can be seen in a couple of pick-and-roll plays from Wednesday’s game.

Play 1 – Iguodala helps off Bazemore

First, here’s a Shelvin MackAl Horford pick-and-roll on the right side of the floor early in the second quarter on Wednesday. We see Andre Iguodala on the weak side, where he’s guarding Kent Bazemore (hidden in the left corner). Iguodala has his eye on the ball, focused on Horford’s roll …

20150319_film_1

Here’s the play, where Iguodala helps off Bazemore to alter Horford’s layup attempt…


VIDEO: Play 1 – Iguodala helps

Play 2 – Holiday helps off Bazemore

Second, here’s a Jeff Teague – Horford pick-and-roll from early in the third quarter, with Justin Holiday guarding Bazemore near the top of the 3-point line …

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When we roll the play, we see Holiday leave Bazemore all alone in order to help on Horford’s roll. And Bazemore can’t make him pay.


VIDEO: Play 2 – Holiday helps

Now let’s rewind to February …

Play 3 – No help off Korver

Here’s a play from the first meeting that was similar to Play 1 above. Dennis Schroder and Horford run a pick-and-roll with Iguodala guarding Korver, who’s parked in the weak side corner …

20150319_film_3

As Horford rolls, watch Iguodala turn his head a little bit to see where Korver is. He’s not there to help on the roll and the result is a dunk for Horford …


VIDEO: Play 3 – No help off Korver

Pretty simple stuff. When the league’s best shooter is on the floor, he’s going to make things a lot easier on his teammates. The Hawks use Korver in a lot of different ways to draw the defense’s attention. Here are a couple of examples from a November game against the Jazz …

Play 4 – Setting a screen

On the last play of the half, in semi-transition, Korver sets a sideline screen for Teague …

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Instead of switching onto Teague, Joe Ingles is looking to his right, to fight through a potential screen for Korver …

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So Teague just goes right to the basket. Watch the play here.

Play 5 – Switch = mismatch

In the middle of the third quarter Korver (blue 26) runs off a baseline screen set by Paul Millsap (blue 4), who’s being defended by Enes Kanter (red 34) …

20150319_play5

Instead of waiting for Alec Burks (red 10) to fight through the screen and giving Korver a second to shoot, Kanter switches out on him. That creates a mismatch underneath that Millsap takes advantage of. Watch the play here.

With Korver on the floor, the Hawks’ offense has scored 110.9 points per 100 possessions, a rate that would rank No. 1 in the league. With him off the floor, it’s scored 97.4, a rate that would rank 29th.

The Hawks have a great ensemble cast. Everybody in their starting lineup can shoot and they share the ball like no other team. But Korver’s individual impact is huge and he was sorely missed on Wednesday.

Morning shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Highlights for games play March 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers lose Matthews for season | Parker taking “baby steps” | What about JaVale? | Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best

No. 1: Blazers lose Matthews for season — The Portland Trail Blazers got a big win at home last night on TNT, beating another Western Conference playoff team, the Dallas Mavericks, 94-75. But the bigger story for the Blazers was the loss of starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who went down in the third quarter with a non-contact injury to his left leg. The Blazers eventually announced that Matthews had suffered a torn achilles and he would miss the rest of the season. Matthews had started every game this season for the Blazers, and was averaging 16.2 ppg. For a team with championship aspirations, the loss of Matthews will be tough to overcome, writes Jason Quick in the Oregonian

The injury is officially a ruptured Achilles, but to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a breaking of their heart. To the people of Oregon a punch to the gut.

How important is Wesley Matthews to the Trail Blazers?

Owner Paul Allen, moments after Matthews was carried off the court, went back to the locker room to check on him. I’ve watched Greg Oden‘s knee explode. Watched Brandon Roy hobble off the court. And seen Rudy Fernandez carted out, immobilized on a stretcher.

And never have I seen Allen move from his courtside seat.

Matthews is that type of player.

He doesn’t just make three-pointers with the best of them. He makes this team.

He has an unbelievably positive attitude. Sometimes, I believe, he wills the Blazers out of slumps with his sheer belief that the Blazers are the best team in the West.

He holds teammates accountable, willing to call them out if he sees an effort, or an attitude, not meet his standards.

And he sets an admirable example with his tireless and determined work ethic. I’ve seen some great, hard-working professionals put on a Blazers uniform – Scottie Pippen, Joel Przybilla and Roy among them – and none of them outwork Matthews.

Few throughout the years have been as banged up as Matthews. He once played the last half of the season on an ankle the size of a grapefruit, waiting until after the season to have surgery. His elbow has been battered. His side has been bruised. And this season, he famously hyperextended his knee – elicting gasps from the Moda Center crowd – only to return later in the game, bringing a chuckle to coach Terry Stotts on the sideline.

Wesley Matthews is, quite frankly, the heart and soul of the Blazers.

And now, it no longer beats. Out for the rest of the season.

***

No. 2: Parker taking “baby steps” — One season ago, San Antonio’s Tony Parker finished sixth in MVP voting. This season, he’s struggled with injuries and, even after returning, hasn’t been able to consistently play the way he did last season. Now back and healthy, with the playoffs looming, Parker hopes the worst is behind him, writes Dan McCarney in the San Antonio Express-News

It was the type of move that has been seen only rarely from Tony Parker in his star-crossed 14th NBA season, a lightning quick crossover that left his defender grasping at air followed by an aggressive drive to the basket resulting in two free throws.

Coming against Sacramento’s Andre Miller, who will turn 39 in two weeks, Parker wasn’t about to gloat. After looking more than a little aged himself during his recent slump, how could he? No, he was pleased simply for a glimpse of his old self with 19 points in Wednesday’s victory over the Kings.

“I’m not going to take credit (for crossing Miller up),” he joked at practice on Thursday. “I’m just happy I shot 50 percent (8 for 14). Baby steps. Baby steps.”

And perspective. Two solid games, sandwiched around one dreadful performance, does not constitute a turnaround for Parker, just as the Spurs cannot be declared as having recaptured their championship mojo with a three-game win streak that includes two victories over the lowly Kings.

But unlike his 19-point outing at Sacramento last Friday, in which he scored 11 points in the fourth to inflate his production, Parker was steady pretty much throughout Wednesday’s rematch before the game got out of hand in the second half. Less important than the numbers was the manner in which they were produced, with Parker using the blend of mid-range shooting and around-the-rim accuracy that made him a six-time All-Star.

“(Coach Gregg Popovich) was joking, saying ‘I don’t remember the last time you shot a tear drop’ and I said, ‘You’re right,’” said Parker, who hit two of his trademark floaters in the third quarter alone.

“Sometimes you go through those times and you don’t know why you don’t know how to play basketball any more. It happens and so our job is to get back in rhythm, get back the way I was before I got hurt.”

***

No. 3: What about JaVale? — One of the better players to become available in the last few weeks was former Nuggets big man JaVale McGee, who was traded at the deadline to the Sixers and then waived on Sunday. Yesterday it appeared for a few hours as though McGee was heading to the Celtics, until that deal fell through. As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, McGee is apparently looking to land somewhere he can can control his contract next season, while teams that have been interested in McGee have wanted the same option…

McGee visited the Celtics this week and had been inclined to sign there, only to have his agent, B.J. Armstrong, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge become unable to move past that deal point on Thursday afternoon.

For McGee, the plan is to sign a deal that provides him with a player option on the 2015-16 season – something teams, including Boston, would prefer to be a team option. That way, if McGee plays well, teams won’t be so vulnerable to lose him this summer.

McGee had courted interest from multiple playoff contenders, including the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri signed McGee to a $48 million extension in Denver, and remains interested in offering him an opportunity to join the Raptors for a playoff run, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Nevertheless, McGee’s insistence on holding onto his freedom for the 2015-16 season could cause some teams to resist committing to him for the rest of this year and the playoffs.

***

No. 4: Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best — The Atlanta Hawks have spent this week celebrating franchise hero Dominique Wilkins, unveiling a statue and reminding everyone of how much he means to the franchise. But now the conversation turns back to the court, as tonight the Hawks host the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers in what could be an Eastern Conference playoffs finals. And in Atlanta, they don’t mind pointing out that as good as Cleveland has been in the new year, the Hawks still have a healthy lead in the Eastern Conference, as Mark Bradley writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Hawks lead Cleveland, LeBron’s latest team, by 10 1/2 games with 22 to play. But the Cavaliers, to give them their due, have won 20 of 24 and beat Golden State last week and Toronto on Tuesday. Naturally, this has inspired many in the media to proclaim the Cavs the East’s best team — even if the standings don’t reflect anything of the sort.

Any sign of a Cleveland uptick was bound to become an uproar, given that the Cavs have LeBron and the hoops world revolves around him. And I’d also submit that the Hawks, who’ve won five straight after that post-All-Star flop-apalooza against the Raptors, aren’t playing quite as well as when they were winning 35 of 37. But it’s not like they’ve turned tail at the sound of LeBron’s approaching footsteps. This isn’t a team easily cowed.

If the Cavs win Friday, we’ll be treated to six weeks of the The-King-Has-Reclaimed-His-Throne stories. If the Hawks win, we’ll be buffeted with It’s-Only-A-Matter-Of-Time-Before-The-King-Reclaims-His-Throne. Because he’s LeBron, he and his team will always be granted the benefit of every doubt. But I have fewer doubts about these Hawks than I do LeBron’s Cavs. At last check, 48-12 trumps 39-24.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After missing 8 free throws against the Rockets on Sunday, LeBron James has adjusted his free throw shooting formGoran Dragic loves the relationship he has with Dwyane Wade in Miami … The Timberwolves made some moves, picking up Justin Hamilton and waiving Glenn Robinson III … The Hawks have signed Jarrell Eddie from the D-League to a 10-day contract …

Morning shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant waiting for pain to subside | Howard on schedule | James takes another hit | Noah working to stop violence in Chicago

No. 1: Durant waiting for pain to subsideRussell Westbrook is tearing through defenses and getting a triple-double every time he takes the floor. But the Oklahoma City Thunder are still in a fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, just a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans, who have won six of their last seven games and just got Anthony Davis back. That doesn’t mean that Kevin Durant is in a rush to return from surgery to replace a screw in his right foot. He spoke about his eventual return with Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman

You had a reevaluation yesterday. Were you happy with what you heard?

Um, I’m more so just focused on trying to get this pain out of it and coming back when I’m ready, when I’m 100 percent ready and not trying to force it or play with pain. Just trying to conquer this little stage I’m in right now, which is getting this thing right, working as hard as I can in the weight room and on the court. Yeah, it’s tough, but I just gotta be ready to go.

Was there any relief that the pain you were feeling, there was a reason for it?

Yeah, now I know what happened in that Memphis game, in that Dallas game. I know why I was having so much pain and to have that corrected feels so much better. It’s just a matter of when somebody digs in your foot, you’re going to have some pain. That’s what happened when they reinserted a different screw. The pain that I had before is gone, but there’s still some pain there obviously from them going in there and stitching me up. But I should be fine soon.

You feel very confident you will return this season?

No doubt. No doubt. I’m looking forward to returning this season. No doubt. I’m not packing it in at all.

***

No. 2: Howard on schedule — It’s been a month since Dwight Howard had a “bone marrow aspirate injection” on his right knee. Howard was reevaluated this week and his recovery is “on schedule,” but that doesn’t mean that he’ll be taking the floor for the Rockets any time soon, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

Rockets center Dwight Howard’s “checkup” with the team physician, including an MRI, confirmed the team’s confidence that Howard is progressing “on schedule,” a person with knowledge of the process said, though reports from his workouts remain the most important measures of his progress.

Wednesday marked four weeks since Howard’s bone marrow aspirate injection, but Dr. Walter Lowe said last month that he expected the time out to be the key to healing the edema that had built up on Howard’s right knee, rather than the procedure.

“He’s coming along,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I saw him on the treadmill which is a good sign, but I haven’t seen him on the floor. Until you see him on the floor, who knows.”

***

No. 3: James takes another hit — Three days after getting kicked in the groin by James Harden, LeBron James got tackled by Jonas Valanciunas in the Cavs’ win in Toronto on Wednesday. James isn’t the type for retaliation, but he’s certainly getting a little frustrated with the physicality, as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes

After being the recipient of a second flagrant foul in his past three games, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said he might have to take matters into his own hands in the future.

“Maybe I got to protect myself a little bit more, too,” James said after the Cavs’ 120-112 win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas wrapped James up around the neck and shoulders as he drove the lane with 18.8 seconds left in the third quarter. The infraction was initially whistled as a common foul before being upgraded to a flagrant foul 1 after an official’s review of the video replay.

“I don’t want to get too much involved in it because I don’t want to cry about it because it’s not like I’m not able to get back up, but it’s a lot of plays that are just not basketball plays,” said James, who was kicked in the groin Sunday by Houston’s James Harden, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Rockets swingman.

***

No. 4: Noah working to stop violence in Chicago — Joakim Noah is from New York, but Chicago has been his home for eight years now. He’s been trying his best to help curb violence in his adopted city, and has a new initiative that he talked about after practice on Wednesday. K.J. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there

On the direct heels of Noah’s well-received, anti-violence video “You’re Not Alone,” produced by Noah’s foundation and award-winning journalist and author Alex Kotlowitz, Noah has launched another initiative.

“I think the video was very important for people from all shapes of life to look at it as it’s not just a problem that’s just going on the South Side or the West Side. It’s everybody’s problem,” Noah said. “So me and my mother started this movement, it’s called Rock Your Drop: The Drop of Consciousness. It’s a necklace that represents a tear drop. It’s something we’ve been working really hard on. It’s to bring awareness to all the violence that’s going on and also that we’re all in this together, and you’re not alone.

“It’s our movement and we’re very proud of it, and we just hope that it can spread. The more money we raise with these drops, the programs we can put in for these kids.”

The necklaces are available for purchase on www.rockyourdrop.com.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steve Kerr explains why David Lee didn’t play in the second half of the last two games of the Warriors’ road trip … Kevin Garnett says the Nuggets quit on Brian Shaw … Raptors coach Dwane Casey is using the last part of the season to do some experimentingKelly Olynyk returned from an 18-game absence in the Celtics’ win over the Jazz on Wednesday … and bidders for the Hawks continue to emerge.

ICYMI: Russell Westbrook, Western Conference Player of the Month for February, took an early lead for the same award in March with 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in the Thunder’s overtime win over the Sixers:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Russell Westbrook

Morning shootaround — March 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith calls Hawks fans ‘bandwagoners’ | Mirotic steps up for banged-up Bulls | Can LeBron’s milestone entice Ray back? | Duncan: No time to panic

No. 1: Smith calls Hawks fans ‘bandwagoners’Josh Smith brought an enormous bundle of skills to Atlanta and hung out his shingle for the Atlanta Hawks for nine years. But he eventually came to represent unfulfilled potential and a little bit of indulged stardom, to the point his services no longer were required. Smith left in 2013 to sign a fat free-agent contract with Detroit and has been a target ever since of however many fans cared to populate Philips Arena. The difference this season is that there are more of them, and their booing rankled Smith, on a mediocre night individually, in his return Tuesday with the Houston Rockets. Here’s Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

The interplay between Smith and the Philips Arena crowd was lively throughout the night. Smith, an Atlanta native who played his first nine NBA seasons with the Hawks, was booed loudly whenever he touched the ball. The catcalls grew louder in the third quarter, after Smith drained a 3-pointer that rattled around the rim several times before dropping in. Smith then shushed the crowd by placing his finger over his lips as the Hawks called timeout.

“I mean, those fans are fickle, very fickle and bandwagoners,” Smith said. “It really doesn’t mean anything to me.”

Despite qualifying for the playoffs in Smith’s final six seasons in Atlanta, the Hawks never finished in the top half of the NBA in attendance. This season, the Hawks are faring better at the gate and averaging just more than 17,000 per game, their highest total since Smith came into the league.

Smith was a polarizing player during his nine seasons in Atlanta. Chosen by the Hawks with the No. 17 pick in 2004 draft, Smith dazzled fans with his acrobatics, shot-blocking and athleticism. But despite being only a 28.3 percent 3-point shooter, Smith attempted more than 942 shots from beyond the arc as a Hawk. Toward the end of his tenure, a groan would emanate from the crowd at Philips Arena whenever he elevated for a long-range shot.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets on outs for Dragic? | Assessing Reggie Jackson’s worth | Lakers, Clippers slide in ratings | Andrew Young supports Ferry

No. 1: Rockets on outs for Dragic? — Bittersweet might be the best way to describe it, the way the NBA trade deadline follows just days after Valentine’s Day each year. One moment people are flush with romance and gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, the next they’re casting covetous glances at a neighbor’s point guard. Or they’re trading away a player before that player can dump his team, a league transaction as the equivalent of a pre-nup agreement. Then there’s the unrequited love of deals that never actually get consummated, which is what the Houston Rockets were nervous about as Phoenix guard Goran Dragic hit the market this week. The good news for Houston was, Dragic definitely was available. The discouraging news, though, was that the Suns playmaker didn’t have the Rockets on his short list of trade destinations. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle broke down the Rockets’ potential heartache:

With Dragic – who said last month that he would consider all of his options, including the Rockets and Suns – listing the Knicks, Lakers and Heat among teams he would target as a free agent, the Rockets would be considerably more hard-pressed to gamble on a trade deadline move for Dragic.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has previously gone after a deal for a player that had shown no interest in signing with the Rockets when he pursued a deal with Denver for Carmelo Anthony. He also was willing to close a deal with Orlando for Dwight Howard when Howard at the time was interested in signing with Brooklyn, if he opted out of his Orlando contract to become a free agent.

Those deals were never completed, with Anthony going to the Knicks and Howard agreeing to opt in with Orlando, only to be traded to the Lakers the next off-season.

The Rockets were very interested in trading for Dragic with no guarantee that they could keep him. But unlike the seasons in which they pursued Anthony or Howard, they are not lacking in star power and as open to making a long-shot deal to land and eventually try to keep a foundation piece.

The Rockets could still be willing to make a deal centered around the first-round pick they acquired from the Pelicans in the trade of Omer Asik, an asset they primarily picked up to strengthen their position in a trade during the season. But it could be difficult to give up a rotation player, particularly a player signed beyond the season, in a trade for Dragic, who could leave after the season.

***

No. 2: Assessing Reggie Jackson’s worth — Lose a player for nothing or give him away for next-to-nothing. Often, that’s what it comes down to at the deadline for teams whose players can hit free agency in a few months. Whether they’re unrestricted and certain to leave or restricted but likely to fetch a price too high to match, the players’ current teams have to ask the same question a prospective suitor faces: What is this guy worth for two months and whatever playoff run follows? The Oklahoma City Thunder were mulling that in regards to guard Reggie Jackson as Thursday’s trade cutoff approached, as reported by the Daily Oklahoman:

As the clock ticks, Jackson’s name remains one of the hottest on the market. There’s a general feeling that the Thunder, a calculated and forward-thinking organization that has always tried to maximize its assets, doesn’t want to lose him for nothing this offseason when he hits restricted free agency. So a trade would seem likely.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

With the Thunder still harboring playoff and title hopes, Jackson remains a key contributor. He is OKC’s best playmaker off the bench and remains capable of taking over and changing games, which he’s done multiple times the past two years. The Thunder’s talent level and championship probability takes a dip without him.

That, of course, changes if Sam Presti can swing a deal that nets the Thunder a contributor in return. But by solely moving Jackson, that’d be tough.

Any franchise interested in Jackson would likely be a non-playoff team needing point guard help — a Knicks or Kings type. It would be a move for the future. But trading for Jackson wouldn’t guarantee he’d be on the roster next season.

Plus, Jackson’s cheap $2.2 million deal complicates things even more. Most of the potentially available rotation players around the league — Brook Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler — make far more than Jackson. The Thunder would have to add more money (potentially Kendrick Perkins) into that type of deal.

***

No. 3: Lakers, Clippers slide in ratings — The show-biz capital of the world isn’t easily impressed with entertainment that isn’t first class, and that apparently extends to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers this season. According to the Los Angeles Times, both teams have seen the telecasts of their games dip in the ratings. The NBA is trying to stay in front of technology, including a lot of younger fans’ switch from traditional TV viewing to using their tablets and smartphones to access entertainment, but this still is a trend that bears watching, considering the money at stake in broadcasts rights fees and advertising rates. Here is some of the L.A. Times’ report:

Nielsen ratings for the Lakers in the Los Angeles market are at an all-time low, dipping below a 2.00 rating for the first time, according to the ratings firm.

The Lakers’ 1.95 rating on Time Warner Cable SportsNet is down 25% from this point last season and puts the team on pace to break the record low 2.11 figure it posted for the 2013-14 season.

The Clippers are averaging a 1.10 rating on Prime Ticket, a drop of 13% from the same point last season. The ratings gap between the Lakers and Clippers is the lowest on record.

The Lakers (13-40) are on pace for the worst winning percentage in the franchise’s 66-year history. Making them all the harder to watch has been the absence of veteran stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash and rookie Julius Randle.

The Lakers’ TV ratings have declined in each of the three seasons they have partnered with TWC, which is paying the team $5 billion over 25 years. The team’s ratings are down 57% from only two years ago, when it posted a 4.63 during Dwight Howard’s one season in L.A.

The Clippers (35-19) are only one game worse than they were at this point last season on the way to a franchise-record 57 victories. They also had avoided injuries to top players before All-Star forward Blake Griffin was diagnosed last week with a staph infection in his right elbow that required surgery.

“The schedule has presented several challenges thus far, including fewer prime-time games and multiple matchups versus marquee events such as Monday Night Football,” said Steve Simpson, senior vice president and general manager of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. “That said, with the exciting brand of basketball the Clippers play, we are optimistic as we head into the second half of the season.”

***

No. 4: Andrew Young supports Ferry — As the Atlanta Hawks continue to have their way in the Eastern Conference as the NBA’s biggest surprise team of 2014-15, their exiled general manager, Danny Ferry, remains M.I.A. due to the controversy last summer over some racially insensitive (and tape-recorded) remarks. Ferry’s sabbatical hasn’t been turned into a pink slip, though, and a number of folks inside and outside the NBA have spoken up in defense of his character. Now Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and a longtime civil rights leader, has added his name to that list, saying “Hell no” when asked by a local TV station whether Ferry should be fired. Here’s more from ESPN.com:

Asked by WSB TV’s sports director Zach Klein whether Ferry should lose his job, Young responded, “Hell no.”

Ferry took a leave of absence from the Hawks on Sept. 12 after a recording of him making inflammatory comments about Luol Deng on a conference call was made public. Since Ferry’s departure, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has presided as the head of basketball operations, with assistant general manager Wes Wilcox also active in day-to-day proceedings.

On the call, Ferry characterized Deng as a player who “has a little African in him,” and added, “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Young said that were he the decision-maker in the Hawks executive offices, he would’ve encouraged Ferry to stay on. He added that he doesn’t believe Ferry is a racist.

“No more than I am,” Young told the Atlanta station. “That’s a word that you cannot define, ‘You are a racist.’ You can’t grow up white in America without having some problems. You can’t grow up black in America without having some subtle feelings.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One reason Sacramento’s new hire, George Karl, has been so successful as an NBA coach might be all the games he got to play against the Kings. … It’s going to be a busy day for trade deadline rumors, so add this to the list: Detroit and Brooklyn might be circling a Brandon Jennings-Joe Johnson maneuver. … Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight, another restricted free agent this summer, didn’t squeeze onto the East All-Star squad but is highly valued by the trade-meisters. … The folks at SheridanHoops.com kick around some trade speculation too, including Utah’s Enes Kanter to OKC? …

Star-studded Three-Point Shootout field highlights All-Star Saturday Night


VIDEO: Star-studded field for Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Forget East versus West. After two years of NBA All-Star Saturday Night pitting one conference against the other, this time, it’s personal. And for once, long range marksmanship may trump dunks as the center of attraction.

NBA All-Star 2015Conference affiliations will be out the window on Saturday, Feb. 14, for the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. This year, it’s every man and woman for themselves in the annual Saturday night showcase.

In the Degree Shooting Stars competition, the two-time defending championship team of Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash will reunite. Although this is a shooting competition, Team Davis, made up of Anthony Davis, Scottie Pippen and Elena Delle Donne, will have unbelievable length. Other participants include Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his father, retired guard Dell.

Eight players will compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, a three-round, obstacle-course competition that tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills. Seven of those players are point guards, including the defending champ, Utah’s Trey Burke, as well as All-Stars Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague and John Wall. The lone non-point guard in the field is Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, an All-Star swingman with well-rounded skills.

The Sprite Slam Dunk field was announced a few weeks ago. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee bring an energetic edge to the proceedings this season. Brooklyn’s Plumlee is the lone active NBA player with New York ties participating on Saturday night.

Yet even with the loaded dunk field, it may be tough to top the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which is this year stocked with sharpshooters …

Marco Belinelli, Spurs — Last year’s defending champ, Belinelli has played just 30 games this season due to injury. Belinelli has the lowest 3-point percentage (38.2) of any player in the Three-Point Contest field.

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Drained 10 3-pointers Wednesday night in a 51-point performance against the Mavs. Earlier this season, became fastest player in NBA history to make 1,000 career 3s.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — At 44.6 percent, Thompson trails only Korver in 3-point percentage this season. Thompson and Curry are the only teammates ever to combine for 400 3-pointers in back-to-back seasons.

James Harden, Rockets — Fifth this season in 3-pointers made and attempts, and the NBA’s leading scorer at 27 points.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Other than Belinelli, Irving has the least made treys in the field, with 100. But last year’s All-Star Game MVP has a flair for the dramatic, and he knocked down 11 3s in his 55-point performance a few weeks back against Portland.

Kyle Korver, Hawks — On pace to have the greatest 3-point shooting season in NBA history, currently leading the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 53.2 percent. Korver is attempting to become the first player in history among qualifiers to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers — Leads the NBA in 3-pointers made (151) and attempted (375). Has had 11 games this season where he made at least 5 3-pointers.

J.J. Redick, Clippers — Has made 114 3-pointers, putting him on track to break his previous high of 165. Currently shooting a career-high 43.2 percent on 3s.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 14, from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.


VIDEO: All-Star guards highlight Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Blogtable: The road ahead for Atlanta

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: Cavs’ resurgence | Phoenix should root for …? | Atlanta’s final destination?



VIDEOThe Starters point out an area of concern for the Hawks

> The Hawks’ historic winning streak is over, but their season, of course, is not. How will this all end for Atlanta? Will we still be talking about the Hawks in late May? In June?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI still like Cleveland to get out of the East, though a Finals in Atlanta would be a thoroughly unexpected hoot. The Hawks have been good for the league – you don’t need megastars to win, see? – and a conference championship between them and the Cavs would be as much a referendum on modern team-building as it would be a best-of-seven playoff showdown. Can’t say I fully trust their perimeter-based attack in the grinding postseason, and the absence in Atlanta’s rotation of someone like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving to get whistles and earn easy points could swing a game or two at the least opportune time. Anything less than three rounds, though, would be a disappointment now to all concerned, so yeah, I think the Hawks keep flying and ka-kawing till about Memorial Day.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There is nothing flukey about the Hawks. They’re a solid lineup with three legitimate All-Stars, arguably a deserving fourth in Kyle Korver and with good depth with a fun young wild card in Dennis Schroeder. They’re a top six team in offensive and defensive ratings thanks to the job done by Coach of the Year candidate Mike Budenholzer. They move the ball a la the Spurs, play for and with each other. I’m definitely expecting to see them still playing in late May and, at this point, a push all the way to the NBA Finals isn’t out of the question. The Hawks are for real.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: May, yes. June, maybe. A lot of what happens in the playoffs depends on matchups, so lets wait and see. But if you’re asking if the Hawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwks are legit threats to make The Finals: absolutely. This is no good run. This is a team that has been coming since last season. The first half of 2014-15 is a convincing body of work.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI like the Hawks. When you play good defense, find the open man and make 3-pointers, you tend to go far in the postseason. Provided that there’s no lapse in those areas, I don’t see why the Hawks can’t reach the East finals or even win the conference. Of course, Atlanta’s been healthy. We still haven’t seen the real Bulls, or the real Cavs. Can I reserve my final judgment until then?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I really have no idea. I think they’ll finish the regular season with the best record in the East and it wouldn’t shock me to see them in The Finals. But I still don’t know what to make of Chicago, which has all the tools to be a great team on both ends of the floor, or Cleveland, which has the world’s best player and a strong supporting cast if they can all get on the same page. Especially with the defensive upgrades that the Cavs have made, it’s impossible to dismiss either of those teams as potential postseason roadblocks.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You mean Hawks fans won’t be satisfied with the fifth-best winning streak in league history and a first-round playoff exit? Kidding, of course. The optimist in me can see the Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals and me throwing a monster barbecue here at headquarters for my NBA.com brothers who travel back and forth between Atlanta and Cleveland or Chicago for that series. I think they are that good and the foundation of what coach Mike Budenholzer has built is that sound. It’s a winning formula that translates to the postseason. If you get that far, June is certainly a possibility. I think this is a season where we’re going to get some new blood in The Finals. I’m rooting for new blood on both sides of the conference divide — no offense to the blue bloods.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You’re asking whether they’ll be maintaining this high level three months from now. That’s a long run for a team that has never been in this position before. If they could pull it off, then it would be one of the most inspiring performances of this era. But think about it – the reason it would be so inspiring is because it would be so unlikely for a team without stars to dominate this star-driven league.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the key thing here is, “How will all this end for Atlanta?” Because regardless of how this ends for the Hawks, considering the recent history and relationship between the city of Atlanta and the Hawks, this season is pretty much the greatest thing that could have happened. Fans are excited and energized and they are so, so ready to embrace a winner. Winning 19 in a row in the regular season is incredible, no doubt, but if the Hawks lose early in the postseason, you’ll probable hear some grumbles around town of “Same old Hawks…” The only way to keep Atlanta invested? Keep winning.

Hawks complete greatest month in NBA history


VIDEO: NBA TV previews Atlanta’s matchup with New Orleans on Monday

So what was your New Year’s resolution?

Drop a few pounds? Quit smoking?

Can’t touch those Hawks.

All the NBA’s hottest team has done since ringing in 2015 is shed its reputation for being bland and gave up losing altogether.

Now with their 91-85 victory over the 76ers on Saturday night, the Hawks stretched their team record winning streak to 19 games and just so happened to cap off the single greatest month in NBA history.

17-0 for Atlanta in January.

Move aside, Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. The Hawks topped the 16-0 mark by the Lakers in December 1971 on the way to their NBA record 33-game win streak.

Slide on down, future Hall of Famers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat went 17-1 in March 2013 during their 27-game win streak, which ranks second-best of all time.

Nobody has yet mentioned enshrinement for Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — the three players chosen for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game — but along with Kyle Korver, Dennis Schroeder and the rest, the Hawks keeping right on soaring with a 33-2 record since Thanksgiving.

Not that things came easy this weekend. The Hawks had to come from five down in the fourth quarter to beat the Trail Blazers on Friday night and then got an unexpected push from the lowly Sixers on Saturday. After building a 21-point lead in the first, the Hawks found themselves down 83-81 with less than three minutes to play before Horford rose up to carry them home and into the history books with the greatest month in NBA history.

Just remember, those 1972 Lakers and 2013 Heat teams both went on to win the championship. The fun might only be starting.