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Numbers preview: Hawks-Celtics


VIDEO: Hawks vs. Celtics: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Atlanta Hawks took a step backward this season. After leading the Eastern Conference with a franchise-record 60 wins last season, they were unable to recapture the magic they had on the offensive end of the floor.

But while Atlanta isn’t the offensive team that it was a year ago, it has become an elite team defensively. The Hawks ranked second in defensive efficiency, and first since late December. And because they’re healthier this year, they may be a better playoff team than they were in 2015.

You can say the same thing about the Boston Celtics, who, like the Hawks, got swept out of the 2015 playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics made one key addition (Amir Johnson) this year, but also got better with internal improvement. And like the Hawks, they’ve done their best work on the defensive end of the floor.

The Hawks are making their ninth straight playoff appearance, a streak that began with a first-round loss to Boston in 2008. This is a much different Celtics team, one that seemingly has more steps to take in the future. Atlanta has home-court advantage and won the season series, but these teams were even in the Eastern Conference standings.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 4-5 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

Pace: 99.4 (8)
OffRtg: 103.0 (18)
DefRtg: 98.8 (2)
NetRtg: +4.1 (7)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Hawks notes:

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Boston Celtics (48-34)

Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 103.9 (13)
DefRtg: 100.9 (5)
NetRtg: +3.0 (9)

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

20160414_bos_shooting

Celtics notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Nov. 13 – Celtics 106, Hawks 93
Nov. 24 – Hawks 121, Celtics 97
Dec. 18 – Hawks 109, Celtics 101
Apr. 9 – Hawks 118, Celtics 107

Pace: 103.3
ATL OffRtg: 107.0 (4th vs. BOS)
BOS OffRtg: 99.3 (15th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Playoff Scenarios: What’s at stake on final night of season

HANG TIME BIG CITY — 81 games down, one to go. After Wednesday, the NBA regular season will be over, but even with the end around the corner, there are still more questions than answers. Luckily, we’ve got Wednesday night, the results of which will determine the playoff matchups. So what’s the scenario? Let’s take a look at all the different ways this could play out …

  • For a few playoff teams, Wednesday’s games will have no impact on their postseason standing. In the Western Conference, the top four teams are locked in: the Golden State Warriors (1), San Antonio Spurs (2), Oklahoma City Thunder (3) and Los Angeles Clippers (4) are set. In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland (1), Toronto (2), Indiana (7) and Detroit (8) are assured of their spots. So the Cavs will host the Pistons, while the Raptors will host the Pacers.
  • The 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference couldn’t be much closer. The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat both enter Wednesday night with 48-33 records, while the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets are both 47-34. Miami owns the tiebreaker over Atlanta and Charlotte, Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston and Charlotte, and Boston owns the tiebreaker over Charlotte and Miami. If Miami wins or Atlanta loses, the Heat win the Southeast Division. If Atlanta wins and Miami loses, the Hawks win the Southeast Division. Got all that?
  • Miami could finish anywhere from the No. 3 spot to the No. 6 spot. No matter what else happens, if the Heat beat the Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks will be the No. 4 seed.
  • After that, it gets pretty complicated. If the Heat and Hornets lose and the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), the Hawks will be the 3 seed. The Heat and Celtics would then have the same record, with Boston holding the tie-breaker, meaning the Celtics would get the 4 seed, and the Heat would finish 5th, leaving the Hornets 6th. If the Heat win or the Hawks lose, the Hawks finish 4. If Miami loses and the Hawks and the Hornets win, the Hawks would finish 3, while Boston would be 4, Charlotte in 5, and the Heat would finish in the 6 spot.
  • The highest the Celtics can finish is the No. 4 seed, if they beat Miami and Atlanta beats Washington. If Boston loses and Charlotte wins, the Celtics will finish 6.
  • The best the Charlotte Hornets can achieve is a No. 5 seed. If the Hornets beat the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and Miami wins, the Hornets will finish No. 5 and the Celtics will finish No. 6. The Hornets also clinch the 5 spot if the Hornets, Hawks and Celtics all win. If the Hornets lose to the Magic, they are guaranteed the No. 6 seed. Same if the Hornets and Celtics win and the Hawks lose.
  • In the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are all still jockeying for the 5, 6 and 7 positions. The Blazers enter Wednesday’s games 43-38, while the Grizzlies and Mavericks are 42-39.
  • Dallas can finish No. 5 if it wins and Portland loses. Dallas will finish No. 6 if it wins and Portland wins, or if Dallas and Memphis both lose.
  • Memphis has one game left, and it’s a big one: at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the Warriors trying to go to 73-9, breaking the 72-10 regular season mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. If Memphis wins and Dallas loses, the Grizzlies will finish in the No. 6 spot. If the Grizz lose, or if they win and Dallas wins, Memphis lands in 7th.
  • For the final Western Conference playoff spot, Houston and Utah are both still alive, although the Rockets hold the tiebreaker edge thanks to their 2-1 record against the Jazz this season. The Rockets host the Sacramento Kings (8 p.m., ET, NBA League Pass), and if the Rockets win, they’re in. For Utah, the Jazz have to not only hope for a Rockets loss, but also find themselves needing to win what will be an emotionally-charged game in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant will play his final regular season game as the Lakers host the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

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 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pippen: ’96 Bulls would sweep Warriors | Kobe takes final Celtics matchup seriously | Griffin just glad to be back in mix | Wizards’ playoff hopes fading fast

No. 1: Pippen: ’96 Bulls would sweep Warriors — As the Golden State Warriors have gotten closer and closer to a 73-win season — which would break the 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls — retired NBA players far and wide have chimed in on the looming accomplishment. Some of them have been not too supportive of the Warriors or their style of play, but few members of that ’95-96 Bulls team have had much to say about it … until now. Scottie Pippen, the second fiddle to Michael Jordan on that 72-win team, didn’t hold back when asked about the Warriors during an interview event in Houston. ESPN.com has more on what Pippen said:

The Golden State Warriors are closing in on the NBA record for most victories in a single season, set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

But Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen evidently doesn’t think Golden State would match up well with his record-setting Chicago squad. In a recent interview, he said the 1995-96 Bulls would sweep the Warriors in a hypothetical series between the teams.

“Bulls in four [games],” Pippen said during an interview at an AT&T event in Houston.

Pippen was then offered a chance to clarify his prediction and was asked whether he thought the Bulls would have an off-night against Golden State.

“I don’t think we’d take a night off,” he said.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was a reserve point guard on that Bulls team. Asked about the comparison before Sunday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers, a 136-111 win, Kerr said it didn’t bother him.

“First of all, it’s a really hard question to answer,” Kerr said. “Not just because you’re comparing eras, but literally it’s tough for me to answer, grammatically, because I don’t know who ‘we’ is and who ‘they’ are. I’ll just say if the two teams play each other, there’s no question we can beat us and they can beat them.”

Kerr said it was tough to compare the teams because of their differing eras.

“For example, if you actually put the teams in a hypothetical game, my guess is the Bulls would be called for a million hand-check fouls, and we would be called for a million illegal defenses when we overloaded the strong side,” Kerr said. “So the game would take, like, six hours because the refs would be calling stuff all game. It’s kind of hard to get past that. Now, they wouldn’t call traveling in either era.”

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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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Morning shootaround — March 29


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook nearing stats history | Scott blasts Lakers’ youngsters | Pierce suffers knee, ankle injuries | Warriors aim to tighten up defense

No. 1: Westbrook on brink of NBA history — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook picked up his 16th triple-double last night and OKC improved to 16-0 in those games. What’s more amazing than that perfect mark? How about this: that’s Westbrook’s seventh triple-double in March, the most in a single month since Michael Jordan in 1989. The 16 triple-doubles is two off the all-time mark (held by Magic Johnson) for the most in a season over the last 30 years … and Westbrook still has eight games to play. Oh, and entering this season, Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com was on hand for Westbrook’s amazing performance in Toronto and has more on his play this season:

Kevin Durant is asked about Russell Westbrook a lot — about the triple-doubles, about the absurd athletic displays and about the punishing dunks. He sticks to pretty much the same line: He’s not surprised. He has seen that for the past seven years.

After Westbrook followed his own missed free throw in the fourth quarter Monday with a one-handed putback layup in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 119-100 win over the Toronto Raptors, Durant put both hands on his head. Even he was stunned this time.

“That was unreal,” Durant said. “You’ve got to time that right, and you’ve just got to be as athletic as him. There’s only a few … ”

Durant stopped himself.

“Well, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that can do that,” he said. “You’ve got to make the free throw, but I’ll take the two points and the acrobatic play instead. But yeah, he’s a freak of nature, man.”

There aren’t many ways to describe Westbrook anymore. “Freak of nature” seems to do just fine, but that might not be adequate.

The putback was the standout play for Westbrook in what has become a nightly crescendo of highlights for the supernova point guard. He notched his 16th triple-double of the season — 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — which ties him with Fat Lever for second most in a season over the past 30 years. With eight games to go, Westbrook is just one off Magic Johnson’s record of 17.

It’s an amazing thing for a triple-double to seem routine, but that’s what Westbrook has done. For some guys, it’s a career accomplishment to get one — remember Andray Blatche running all over the court chasing rebounds a few years ago? — so is it even meaningful to Westbrook anymore?

“It’s something I never take for granted,” he said, “but I like winning.”

That’s what the Thunder do when Westbrook notches a triple-double. They’re now 16-0 in such games this season. They have also ripped off eight straight wins by an average margin of 17.1 points, with seven of those wins coming against playoff teams. The Thunder are hitting their stride as they gear up for the playoffs and are peaking with eight games left in the regular season. It has been the goal all season under coach Billy Donovan to work toward a bigger picture, a “better brand of basketball,” as everyone in the organization likes to say.

Just a few weeks ago, the Thunder hit rock bottom when they lost eight of 12 coming out of the All-Star break. That streak was punctuated by blown fourth-quarter leads and head-shaking losses to bad teams. The message internally was to stick with it, to believe they were playing well, despite the results, and trust it would pay off. It appears that it has.

“I tried to tell you guys that when we were going through it, but it was kind of blinded with the fourth-quarter losses and back-to-back losses. But I tried to tell you guys,” Durant said. “Glad you see it now. It was good to kind of figure ourselves out and what we need to do. It was kind of like a splash of water on your face — just knowing you’ve got to wake up and know the second half of the season is important.”

Donovan also offered his take.

“I think sometimes you’ve got to go through some wounds and some scars and some hurt,” the coach said. “You’ve got to get calloused a little bit. I think as you go through a season, you’ve got to get calloused. Sometimes, the harder and the more difficult the struggle, the more calloused you get, the more hardened you get. I think the more you have a chance to learn and grow — I’ve said this about this team — I don’t think it ever needs to be easy for them. It’s got to be hard.”

Confidence is dripping off the Thunder right now, as evidenced by the 48 minutes of swagger they dropped on the Raptors on Monday.


VIDEO: Best plays from Russell Westbrook’s 16th triple-double this season

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Morning shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade at another career crossroads | Crowder’s absence costing Celtics | Portland avoids “sickening” loss | Frye shows value, quietly and from distance

No. 1: Wade at another career crossroads — You can find plenty of advance coverage on this site to whet your appetite for Saturday night’s Big Game. But there’s another big game that starts an hour earlier pitting two rivals from the other conference – Cleveland at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – and the Miami Herald’s Ethan Skolnick provides a window into that one with his column on Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and his team’s need for a Wade resurgence during this March Madness portion of their schedule:

“I haven’t been into the best rhythm since the All-Star break that I want to be in,” said Wade, who shot 45.8 percent before the break, and 39.4 percent since. “I’ve had some good games scoring, but I haven’t been into a great rhythm.”

He cited some initial rust, and the need to adapt to all of the team’s iterations. He noted how this is the fourth incarnation of the Heat this season. First, Wade and Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic were the primary ball-handlers. Then Dragic got hurt, and it was Wade and Bosh.

“Chris goes out, now it’s a different kind of team,” Wade said. “Joe [Johnson] comes in, and Chris is out, and Goran is in, and now it’s a different kind of team. These are all the different kind of adjustments you’ve got to make.”

He doesn’t intend these as excuses, but explanations. “Just got to figure it out,” Wade said. “Me and Coach [Erik Spoelstra] talked about some things and areas on the floor that I can get to, that can put me in a better rhythm. The biggest thing is early.”

As in him attacking earlier in possessions.

However he finds his rhythm this late in the season, it’s a requirement that he does.

No matter how many other options have emerged on this revamped roster, the Heat won’t be winning anything of significance this postseason (whether games or rounds) if its most battle-tested playoff performer is off.

It certainly wouldn’t be capable of seriously challenging Saturday’s opponent, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, without an efficient, dynamic Wade, not when Bosh will likely be watching, and not even as the Cavaliers continue to constantly challenge themselves, with a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies.

It has seemed like the Heat’s stealth strategy has been to wait in the weeds, steel itself amid adversity and position itself to steal the conference crown if the Cavaliers — through ball-hogging, eye-rolling and sub-tweeting — start coming apart.

Certainly, that could still occur, with James seeming at a career crossroads of sorts himself, if more as a leader than a player. Through photos and comments on social media, the four-time MVP has come off as forlorn and frustrated, making no secret that he misses sharing the court and the locker room with a peer of Wade’s status and strength.

Miami probably won’t get Wade from early in James’ time here either, not at age 34. But the one from before the All-Star break will suffice. Wade has already proven plenty this season, starting with his increased availability; he will play his 63rd game Saturday, one more than last season. He insisted his thigh, recently bruised, isn’t bothering him.

“Just got to play the game, man, and continue to do what you’ve always done,” Wade said. “And eventually it will turn.”

***

 No. 2: Crowder’s absence costing Celtics — It’s not likely to earn Celtics forward Jae Crowder many votes on NBA Most Valuable Player ballots, but Boston’s 0-3 slump since the Marquette product suffered a high ankle sprain last week has highlighted Crowder’s individual value within his team’s ensemble approach. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com examined that after the Celtics’ loss to Eastern Conference rival Toronto:

The Celtics, who held a comfy lead on the third seed two weeks ago, have slipped all the way to No. 6 in the East, a half-game behind both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat and a game back of the Atlanta Hawks. What Stevens said two weeks ago is actually true now: Boston is four games away from ninth place.

With only 13 games left in the regular season, it remains highly unlikely that the Celtics could fall much further, but given the injuries they’re battling and the poor brand of basketball they are playing, it’s understandable why some might be leery.

“We have to change something up,” Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas told reporters in Toronto. “We got ourselves back into [Friday’s] game, so we showed signs of playing like we know how, but a good team like the Raptors you can’t just play one good quarter.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics are in the midst of a brutally tough stretch, exacerbated by the fact that they lost Jae Crowder to a high ankle sprain last Friday, and one of the players expected to help fill his shoes, Jonas Jerebko, missed the past two games with a left foot injury

Despite visiting a Raptors team that was playing its fourth game in five nights and was coming off an overtime win in Indiana on Thursday, the Celtics let Toronto build a big first-half lead, then didn’t have enough energy themselves to sustain a second-half rally.

The Celtics miss Crowder more than most expected, in part because Boston’s depth at the swingman spot is so thin. What’s more, with Crowder starting the first 66 games of the season, it was not obvious just how much of a drop-off there would be without him.

And while Crowder might be Boston’s best two-way player, the team really seems to miss his swagger and intensity. Boston simply looks tentative, and that may be why there’s an uneasiness in playing with a makeshift rotation in which players called upon to fill larger roles have struggled to rise to the challenge.

Second-year guard Marcus Smart initially elevated to Crowder’s starting small forward role, but with Smart stuck in a bit of a shooting slump, Stevens elected to shake things up a bit on Friday by moving Evan Turner into the starting lineup.

The Raptors — and Luis Scola in particular — shot so well at the start of the game that Boston’s starters were minus-13 in six minutes of floor time. The Celtics, tied for the fourth-best defensive rating in the league while allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions, saw their first unit allow an offensive rating of 210 over the first six minutes of the first quarter.

***

No. 3:  Portland avoids “sickening” loss — Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers understandably were upset about Kendrick Perkins‘ dangerous clotheslining foul on guard Damian Lillard early in the fourth quarter Friday, a play that got Perkins ejected and put Lillard down hard in New Orleans. But Lillard himself and his teammates were grateful afterward to escape with a victory that, had the Pelicans completed their comeback, might have left the Blazers feeling like they’d left the French Quarter having had way too much to drink and eat. Mike Richman of The Oregonian was there:

As Damian Lillard walked back out on to the court with 1:23 left in the game he glanced up at the scoreboard and started to feel an uneasiness deep in his gut.

“I remember walking out of a timeout and thinking, ‘Man if we lose this game, I am going to be sick. I’m going to be sick about this,'” Lillard said. “After I had that thought, I decided we wasn’t going to lose this game.”

The Blazers flirted with a devastating collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, blowing a 20-point lead and falling behind late in the fourth quarter, before pulling out a crucial, 117-112, win at Smoothie King Center.

It wasn’t just that the Blazers almost coughed up a huge lead. The Pelicans played the entire second half without All-Star forward Anthony Davis and the Blazers were in danger of losing three straight games to open a four-game trip. With all that in the background, dropping this game would have rightfully made Lillard ill

“It was truly a test,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best word to describe it. Coming off two tough losses against OKC and San Antonio and then coming out tonight we played with urgency for most of the game. We were locked in.”

Portland’s offense struggled in the fourth quarter and New Orleans first took the lead on back-to-back three-pointers from guard Jrue Holiday, putting the Pelicans up 105-102 with just over three minutes remaining.

Then after the Blazers knocked down three free throws to go back up one, former Blazer Tim Frazier hit a pull-up jumper to give New Orleans a 107-106 edge with 2:13 left.

“They started really believing and playing with a lot of pace and confidence,” Lillard said. “I think we were down by two with under a minute and it was like, ‘It’s really gut check time'”

After the teams traded empty possessions, the Blazers took a timeout with just under 90 seconds left. Lillard told himself in the huddle he wouldn’t let the Blazers lose and then the star point guard made good on his declaration.

***

No. 4: Frye shows value, quietly and from distance — Might as well lick your index finger and hold it up to the sky to know which way the wind is blowing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who change directions and shift moods as if with the weather. But in the wake of their victory over Orlando, veteran forward Channing Frye – Cleveland’s notable trade-deadline acquisition – looked to have found a helpful role, whether it lasts or not. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com chronicled Frye’s satisfying performance (14 points) against his former team in the Magic Kingdom and its meaning for Cleveland:

The Frye acquisition has been fruitful for the Cavs, who gave up two future second-round picks for Frye, and also took on the $15 million left on his contract. After drilling 4-for-6 3-pointers Friday, Frye is 25-for-50 from 3-point range in 12 games with the Cavs. It’s the sort of catch-and-shoot big man play that is extremely effective with the team’s other personnel.

“I know he feels good about that,” said LeBron James, who scored 18 points and didn’t keep up the ruse either. “This was definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he’s a valuable part to our team now.”

Frye’s reputation defensively is not strong, but the numbers don’t totally bear that out. Frye ranks No. 4 among all power forwards in real plus-minus, just behind teammate Kevin Love. And Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with Frye over Love in the fourth quarter as the Cavs executed a comeback.

Truth be told, the Cavs sort of acted as if they knew they could beat a ragtag Magic team with just a half effort, [Victor] Oladipo‘s performance notwithstanding, and move on to a more appetizing game in Miami on Saturday night. This essentially played out as they had dominant shifts during the second quarter and the fourth and it was all that was needed to beat the Magic, who are 10-26 since Jan. 1.

It’s equally a mystery as to whether Fyre’s growing role is real and lasting or just a blip. It was just a few weeks ago that Lue played Frye only 10 minutes over the course of four games. Making a proclamation on anything with this Cavs team is a path to folly, at least to this point.

But Frye will always have this one. The team that signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 — and started looking to trade him just a year into it — had to watch him play the role they once envisioned for him.

“When I came [to Orlando], I thought we could kind of resemble the Phoenix style, not necessarily score 120 points, but fast-paced, spread you out and move the rock around. It just didn’t work out like that,” Frye said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis, despite suffering significant blowouts (2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more), has managed to stay afloat in the grueling West. How? Our John Schuhmann breaks down numbers that reveal the Grizzlies’ resiliency in close games. … ICYMI: Scott Howard-Cooper from right here at NBA.com, in advance of the big Warriors-Spurs game, analyzed Golden State’s end game and how getting whole might conflict with the pursuit of 73 victories. … Carmelo Anthony says he has no idea yet what will happen this summer with his New York Knicks and, naturally, that generates headlines for a tabloid. … If you’re going to feel sorry for Melo in his current Knicks plight, save a little sympathy for Brooklyn’s Thaddeus Young, who has endured more than his share of losing in nine NBA seasons. … John Wall is turning over the ball too often and the Wizards point guard knows it. … Lakers coach Byron Scott would love to see Brandon Bass stick with the team next season for his veteran influence and timely contributions, but the ball most definitely will be in Bass’ court. … Russell Westbrook, in one fell swoop, has done something that surpasses both Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. … Trey Schwab spent six years working with the Minnesota Timberwolves and, before that, grew tight with former NBA coaches Flip Saunders and Eric Musselman during their time together in the CBA. Those NBA roots are enough to merit inclusion here of a story, long on NCAA tournament flavor, about Schwab’s special relationship with Indiana University coach Tom Crean. Get well, Trey. … And finally, this shout-out to the NBA’s senior “Professor” …

OKC’s Durant oblivious to Celtics fans’ ‘Come to Boston’ chants

VIDEO: Celtics fans chants to Kevin Durant

If only it were so easy. Fill an arena with enthusiastic fans of the home team who nonetheless appreciate the value of a talented and lethal opponent, then pitch woo en masse in an orchestrated thundering chant.

That does it every time, right?

Wrong.

Kevin Durant‘s reaction to Celtics fans’ “Come to Boston!” chants Wednesday night were the equivalent of a homecoming queen’s “Who?” when asked about a classmate’s crush on her.

“I didn’t even hear that, man,” the Oklahoma City All-Star forward said after scoring 28 points with nine assists and seven rebounds in the Thunder’s 130-109 beatdown of the Celtics. “Promise.”

Durant had thrown a few niceties Boston’s way after shootaround Wednesday morning, telling reporters at TD Garden “I like the city a lot.” It was the usual stuff a high-profile free-agent-to-be says when visiting a road city, regardless of his actual interest in relocating there. But because the Celtics are one of the league’s legacy franchises, will have sufficient funds to spend this summer and appear to be long on supporting cast but short on cornerstone superstar, Durant’s comments generated more buzz than usual.

In Boston, anyway.

Thunder fans might feel a little skittish or even aggravated after a long season of speculation, rumors conjecture and guessing. Coach Billy Donovan has dealt with it everywhere OKC has played and chalked up Durant’s response Wednesday as the expected words of a friendly fellow.

“I think Kevin has always been respectful,” Donovan told reporters before the game. “He’s a great guy. I don’t think Kevin would ever say anything derogatory about another team or player or things like that. That’s just not who he is. And I think when he gets put into those situations, he’s only going to say positive things because that’s who he is.”

The Garden loyalists doing the chanting at the game, however, need to understand that Durant gets that stuff everywhere he goes. Imagine the question in the postgame video getting dubbed with one of those obviously-different, deeper dubbed voices saying “New York” or “Washington” or “Miami” rather than “Boston.”

And no, the game operations staff couldn’t help by playing that Dave Loggins song on the videoboard in place of dancing Gino for the night. Tampering rules, y’know.

Boston’s Crowder out ‘couple of weeks’

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The Boston Celtics’ efforts to hang on to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race may have just encountered a bump in the road. Speaking to the media Sunday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said starting forward Jae Crowder will likely miss time due to a right ankle injury…

Crowder suffered the injury in the second half of Boston’s 102-98 loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday. Crowder had played in all of Boston’s 66 games this season, averaging a career high 14.4 points and 5.1 rebounds. The Celtics have 16 games remaining, and are currently one loss ahead of Miami and Charlotte for third place in the Eastern Conference.

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


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins runs wild in a win over Brooklyn

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

The dog days of the NBA season are upon us. With just over a month remaining in the regular season, the mileage on players’ legs is piling up, and coaches are trying to give their starters a bit more rest as the playoffs near.

Of PointAfter’s three hottest shooters of the week, the two who suit up for teams currently in postseason position come off the bench. Those guys will become more important as the season winds down and playoff rotations tighten up, leaving little time for the indispensable starters to catch their breath.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between March 4-10.

Guard: Evan Turner, Boston Celtics

Evan Turner is slogging through his worst shooting season from 3-point range in 2015-16, which has caused him to rely more heavily on the mid-range game. In fact, Turner has taken more shots from within four feet than he has from beyond the arc, an incredibly rare happening for a guard.

That uncommon strategy means Turner is bound to streaks of sweet shooting and equally poor slumps. This week marked one of the good runs for Boston’s bench guard.

He sank at least half his attempts in all three of the Celtics’ contests, including a 21-point outburst on 10-of-19 shooting in a 105-104 nailbiter over the Knicks. Overall, he was 21-of-38 (55.3 percent) from the floor on the week.

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

Turner might not adhere to the preferred style of contemporary NBA offenses that favor long-distance shots, but he’s mostly making it work for the Celtics.

Wing: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell criticized his starters after Friday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, with one statement that seemed pointed in Andrew Wiggins‘ direction: “Every single night you’ve got to earn it, you don’t get to sleepwalk your way through 20, 25 minutes of the game and then decide you’ve got to play.”

(Wiggins was held to 21 minutes that night, a season low.)

The former No. 1 overall pick showed his mettle the next night against Brooklyn by logging his most efficient shooting performance of the season. Wiggins canned 10-of-14 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts, to total 26 points and six assists, which tied a season high and helped Minnesota score a season-best 132 points in the reassuring triumph.

The Wolves couldn’t nab victories in the team’s other two contests against Charlotte and San Antonio this week, but Wiggins was 20-for-38 overall to complete an encouraging seven-day stretch that didn’t start off that way.

Forward/Center: Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder

Enes Kanter did his part on offense this week, acting as a center who can spread the floor and open up the lane for Oklahoma City’s stars. He knocked down the shots that needed to be made in wins over the Bucks and Clippers, posting a hyper-efficient conversion rate of 70.8 percent on 14-of-19 shooting.

This is his role, and everyone knows it — he just fulfilled it better this week.

Problem is, his infamous defensive shortcomings negate whatever spacing he provides Oklahoma City on offense. The Thunder’s defensive rating worsens by more than six points per 100 possessions with Kanter on the floor, which explains why Steven Adams has taken over the lion’s share of court time in their center platoon. Kanter played just 37 minutes in OKC’s two games this week, and has averaged 16.3 minutes in four March matchups.

The Thunder have uncharacteristically struggled in the fourth quarter this season, often blowing leads when Kanter’s out there ole’ing big men like a matador. He’ll have to keep shooting the lights out to justify more minutes in crunch time.

This story was published by PointAfter, 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.

 


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