Posts Tagged ‘Hawks’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 200): Cinco De Playoffs!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s a holiday.

Pick one.

Cinco De Mayo … Taco Tuesday … the NBA’s conference semifinals on both sides of the playoff conference divide are upon us.

Whatever you do tonight and for the foreseeable future, you’ve got the playoffs to enjoy. And so far, there have been no disappointments.

The newly minted KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, are making sure of it. Same goes for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and (soon to show up) J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers; Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls; John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce of the Washington Wizards; Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul (as soon as he returns from resting that hamstring) of the Los Angeles Clippers; Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks, James Harden, Dwight Howard and … ah, you get the point.

Instead of focusing on who is not coming to our Cinco De Playoffs party, we’re focusing on those who are present on Episode 200 of The Hang Time Podcast. And despite a tremendous marketing campaign to the contrary, there are plenty of guys interested in playing hero this time of year. In fact, it’s a right of passage.

So whoever you root for, wherever you are, pull up a seat and join us for Episode 200 of The Hang Time Podcast: Cinco De Playoffs?

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: Stephen Curry is your new KIA MVP

Wizards focused on here and now


VIDEO: Bradley Beal and the Wizards toppled the Hawks in Game 1

ATLANTA — John Wall‘s wrist and hand were wrapped tight, making sure to protect the offhand he fell hard on Sunday.

Bradley Beal‘s ankle looked fine. There didn’t appear to be any complications from the twist that looked much worse at the time than it ultimately turned out to be.

Whatever the issues were Sunday, both claimed Monday afternoon that the trials and tribulations endured during that Game 1 win over the Atlanta Hawks can officially be classified as the past. For the young stars of the Washington Wizards and the rest of their teammates, anything that is not on the to-do-list qualifies as the past. And these Wizards waste no time on what happened yesterday, last month or even last year.

Their focus is on what’s next, the here and now and that certainly includes Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Hawks. The Wizards are hungry for the opportunity to snatch another playoff road win and crank up the pressure on the No. 1-seeded Hawks when the series shifts locales from Philips Arena to Washington’s Verizon Center.

Being greedy is on the minds of the Wizards. Being hungry enough to take control of this series, blocking out whatever adversity there is and rising the magnitude of the moment is the focus. They did learn that from experience, from last year’s playoff run, the highs and lows.

The inconvenience of a sprained ankle or a swollen wrist … they are minor issues when you are focused on taking that next step the way the Wizards’ young guns are right now.

“I’ve sprained this ankle 30 times,” Beal said. “The swelling is never going away. It wasn’t that bad. I actually have to thank our trainers because I feel a lot better today.”

Grinding through Game 1 and the adversity that came with it shows the Wizards’ true colors, Beal said. Rallying from a 12-point deficit and holding the Hawks off to the end, it speaks volumes about the fabric of this group.

“Heat and passion,” Beal said, “that’s all it was. We didn’t give up. We know Atlanta’s a great team. They’ve given us trouble all year during the regular season, we expected them to go on runs and make big plays, but we stayed poised. And that’s a growing thing for us over the past couple of seasons. It shows how mature we are and how we can handle pressure situations down the stretch.”

From the mouth of the Wizards’ 21-year-old leading scorer to the ears of many of his more experienced teammates. The Wizards might not admit to focusing on the past, but they have no doubt learned from it. The opportunity that slipped through their fingers during the 2014 East semifinals won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

“The main thing is you try to get one, you really try to get two on the road,” Wall said. “Most important is you try to get the first game, I feel like that’s the key game. You try to put yourself in a good position and now we have an opportunity to try and get another one and go home up 2-0. We know it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be tougher than what it was (in Game 1). Those guys are probably not going to miss as many shots as they did in the fourth quarter. But I feel like we can play better, we didn’t play our best game.”

The learning curve, real and recognized or not, has been steep.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman acknowledged as much Monday, praising his team for their continued focus. That’s a trait the Wizards haven’t been noted for in the past but one that is rapidly becoming a part of them.

“Focus, we don’t lose focus, through good times and bad,” Wittman said of what has sustained his team. “Just stay focused and fight through it, that’s the resiliency they’ve shown. I think they see it. You always say it, it’s a long game. You look up at the clock and say ‘how many minutes are left in this game.’ And just stay with it and work ourselves back to a point where we are still in it. that’s what it all is, if you’re not focused now, something’s wrong.”

The Wizards had plenty of time to focus on the Hawks. Sweeping the higher seed Toronto Raptors lit a fire for them. The Wizards’ appetite for more grew as they waited for the Hawks to finish off the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round series.

There are no secrets between the Wizards and Hawks. They’ve seen more than enough of each other to know that this is a fair fight, that this will be a challenge, even with home court advantage in their favor now, than what they faced against the Raptors.

“It’s huge, huge,” Beal said of Game 2. “We always say it, each game gets tougher and tougher. But we’re ready for it. We’re expecting for them to come out and hit us, but we’re going to hit them first. And we’re going to continue to do the same things we did last game, and improve in some areas because it wasn’t perfect. So we’ve got a lot to improve upon. But we like where we’re at right now.”

Bumps and bruises included.

Morning Shootaround — May 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s playoff action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets | Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason | Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? | Parade plans being made in Golden State

No. 1: The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets — Even with Chris Paul “questionable” for Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Western Conference semifinal against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers are confident. They have an edge, of sorts, over the Rockets, according to Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times:

After edging the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round, the Clippers have advanced to face a team with a lesser recent playoff pedigree than themselves.

The Houston Rockets have won two playoff series since 1997, one fewer than the Clippers have won since Chris Paul arrived in December 2011.

It’s true that Rockets guard Jason Terry won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and stars James Harden and Dwight Howard each advanced to the Finals with other teams, but the group has done little collectively besides getting past the Mavericks in a relatively breezy first-round series this season.

The Rockets and Clippers each won 56 games in the regular season, finishing tied for the league’s third-best record. The Rockets were awarded the second seeding in the Western Conference and the accompanying homecourt advantage in this conference semifinal series against the third-seeded Clippers by virtue of winning the Southwest Division.

The Clippers have dominated Houston in recent seasons, winning 11 of the last 14 games. But the Rockets won the final two games between the teams this season and Howard did not play in any of the four games in the series this season.

“Obviously, they have a good thing going,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “James has had an unbelievable year, Dwight had a huge series against Dallas and really all the way down the line. They’re a great team.”

***

No. 2: Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason — The standard for toughness and determination in this postseason, at least in the Eastern Conference, is the Washington Wizards. Playing on the road to start both their first round series and the conference semifinals, the Wizards remain unblemished, perfect after five games. They are the embodiment of toughness, says Mike Lee of The Washington Post:

Bradley Beal and John Wall showed up at the postgame podium looking as if they had just been sparring for 12 rounds instead of playing basketball for four quarters. Beal had petroleum jelly covering two scratches under his right eye that came after Atlanta Hawks reserve guard Kent Bazemore inexplicably kicked him in the face while chasing down a loose ball. Wall had his left wrist and hand heavily taped after an awkward landing that was exacerbated by Beal tripping and falling on him.

At different times during the Washington Wizards’ 104-98 victory over the Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Beal and Wall provided moments of spectacular play and trepidation for a team that suddenly doesn’t know how to lose. Beal matched his playoff career high with 28 points, his third 20-point game this postseason. Wall added 18 points and a game-high 13 assists , extending a string of four consecutive double-doubles that has seen him dish out 55 assists over those games. Beal and Wall have been a representation of the mental and physical toughness required to win at this time of year, having already led the Wizards to more postseason wins in the past two seasons than the previous 27 seasons combined.

“We two guys that’s going to fight until the end,” Wall said after winning at Philips Arena for just the second time in his career and first time this season. “If it ain’t broke, you can’t get us off the court.”

The win almost felt bittersweet after Beal sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter when he landed awkwardly on Hawks center Al Horford. Beal returned to hobble around for a few minutes but finally got benched, pulled a towel over his head and sobbed uncontrollably as the final seconds ticked off. He continued to weep through a postgame television interview and on his way for X-rays , which turned out negative. With a protective sleeve on his right leg, Beal walked with a slight limp after the game, and Coach Randy Wittman was uncertain about Beal’s availability for Game 2.

***

No. 3: Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? — No Kevin Love. No J.R. Smith (for the first two games). Some think that’s a “no go” for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they open their Eastern Conference semifinal series tonight against the Chicago Bulls. But LeBron James and Kyrie Irving might have something to say about that. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer raises some questions and provides some answers as this long awaited series gets ready for tip off:

1. It’s impossible to know how the Cavs will play in the first two games. Once General Manager David Griffin made his two deals in January, J.R. Smith sat out only one game with the Cavs. That was a 117-78 loss to Boston when the Cavs rested most of their key players, a game meaning nothing. So it’s only this game where we’ll see what the Cavs look like without Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and Smith (two-game suspension).

2. That’s why it’s so hard to know how the Cavs will perform against the Bulls. It’s great to have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, they give your team a chance in nearly every game. But the Bulls are a tall team, and they also have some skilled scorers. I’m very, very worried about this matchup.

3. The 6-foot-10 Love would have been a big deal in the Bulls series. He probably would have been defended by Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol — pulling one of the Bulls big men away from the basket. Coach David Blatt loves a power forward — “a Stretch-4″ — who can shoot. That’s Love. Without him, James Jones will be the best option for some parts in the game when the Cavs want a power forward who can shoot. But Jones won’t demand the defensive attention of Love.

4. When the Cavs start Smith and Love, the have two guys capable of making jump shots from long range. That helps keep the middle open for James and Irving to drive to the rim. Of course, Irving and James also can shoot from the outside. But they are even more dangerous when they drive to the rim.

5. When Smith returns from his suspension, the Cavs can play three guards — Iman Shumpert, Smith and Irving — with James at power forward and a big man (Timofey Mozgov or Tristan Thompson) at center. Not sure what they will do in the first two games with no Smith, other than Shawn Marion will see some action at forward — and Mike Miller at guard.

***

No. 4: Parade plans being made in Golden State — Five down and 11 more to go for the Golden State Warriors, who have looked every bit of the championship caliber team many assumed they would after an epic regular season. Sure, there is a long way to go, but the path is there for them to grind all the way to a championship. Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News has done the math and is convinced that there will be parade through the streets of Oakland this summer:

There was one moment among the many, one move among the multitudes, one particularly providential part of Game 1 at Oracle Arena on Sunday.

It was presumptive MVP Stephen Curry casually dribbling into a high screen-and-roll, luring Zach Randolph to the perimeter … and then a sudden Curry fake that sent Randolph lunging to the right, a Curry sublime flash to the left, and a 3-point splash.

It was poetry. It shook the walls of the old building.

What opponent can stop that? Who can beat the Warriors when they have everything going at full throttle?

Nobody. That’s sort of important to know and point out, 11 victories from a title.

And though it was just a single play on the way to the Warriors’ commanding 101-86 victory over Memphis, it communicated everything important about this team and that player.

This is why the Warriors are already in total control of this series, this is why Curry will win the MVP on Monday (reported first by CSN Bay Area, with a 1 p.m. news conference as reported by this newspaper’s Marcus Thompson II).

And this is why the Warriors are in such a special place, time and mood.

Curry and his teammates know they can’t look too far ahead — not even to potentially winning the MVP, Curry said Sunday.

They realize that any little stumble or loss of focus could put them in jeopardy at any time.

But if they play like this for the rest of the playoffs, the Warriors are going to win the championship, there just isn’t much doubt anymore.

“It’s a fun time,” Curry said after his 22-point, seven-assist, four-steal performance. “The pressure is on.

“The vibe around the league is at a high, and I think we’re ready for the moment, just trying to stay in the moment.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks have dug themselves a hole and must grind their way out of it, with the starting unit on the floor more, in the Eastern Conference semifinals … Grizzles look ordinary without Mike Conley in their first blush against the Warriors … Spurs still dancing around questions about the future of Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and the crewIman Shumpert is the X-factor for the Cavaliers against his hometown Chicago Bulls …  Tom Thibodeau still has the blueprint for defeating a LeBron James led team …

Hawks are true believers … in the film


VIDEO: Is the pressure on the Hawks elevating as the games go by in their series with the Nets?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For a team as married to their methodical process this season as the Hawks have been, it’s no surprise that they are as measured as they are heading into what is easily their biggest game of the season.

Game 5 on Wednesday night at Philips Arena, with their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets all tied up at 2-2, is the Hawks’ Super Bowl. And yet they are not at all unnerved by the pressure that comes with a No. 1 seed needing at least six games to finish off the No. 8 Nets.

Because when you study your own film as diligently as these Hawks have all year, you’re a — to borrow a Hawks’ marketing slogan — true believer in the power to rectify things after back-to-back losses in this series.

The initial emotion after their Game 4 overtime loss Monday in Brooklyn was anger. But after Tuesday’s film session, Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap spoke of the excitement he and his teammates felt after studying what went on during their trip to Brooklyn. “Watching film puts everything in perspective,” he said. “They played a good game and made tough shots. We played a good game and didn’t make plays.”

If only it were that simple.

The Hawks couldn’t put the Nets away while operating with a 12-point cushion in Game 4 and Deron Williams went wild, matching his playoff career-high with 35 points, as the Nets exploited the situation to their benefit. You don’t have to watch the film to figure out that the Hawks, 4-0 against the Nets during the regular season by a double-digit average victory margin, are locked into something other than a runaway first round series against an overmatched No. 8 seed.

On a night the Hawks won the rebounding battle by 15 (55-40), they turned the ball over 18 times and did not handle themselves like a championship team in the final seconds of regulation. They didn’t even get a shot off with a chance to win the game with 6.2 seconds to play.

“I feel like we may have settled for too many jump shots,” Millsap said. “We’re a better team when we’re in attack mode, especially myself and Jeff [Teague], collapsing the defense. Our mindset is still, we feel like we can do it, especially after watching film seeing some of the missed ques. We felt like we played good enough to win the game. We’re still pretty confident.”

The Nets might not have the track record of playing above and beyond their 38 regular season wins, but their confidence is soaring as well. In Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack and others, they are showing themselves to be every bit up to the challenge of the moment.

“Definitely, the guys rallying around me means a lot,” said Williams, who scored a total of 18 points through the first three games of the series. “It just shows that we’re coming together as a unit.”

If the Hawks didn’t take the Nets seriously as a threat before the series began, they certainly do now. The pressure mounts on the home team in each and every game left to be played.

“I feel like, hopefully, our group and has given Brooklyn their due credit,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.  “They played well down the stretch of the (regular) season. It’s been a hell of a four games so far. They have talented players as we do. They deserve credit for the way they are playing and our group does, too. It’s a series. It’s 2-2.”

And when you get shoved back into this position, the first place the Hawks turn is to the film and their internal examination of what’s gone wrong. The Hawks certainly are not playing like the machine that won 19 straight games during the regular season, the crew that blew away the Eastern Conference en route to a 60-win season.

“I think it’s always great to go back and watch the film and learn from it,” Budenholzer said. “You see where we can be better and improve and take that, together as a group, and go from there. It’s exciting to go into playing and taking what we saw from film and taking it onto the court. If you are a competitor, you’re unhappy if things don’t go your way. If you can turn that anger into the appropriate focus and attention [in Game 5] … that’s a positive with the group we have.”

Emotional Budenholzer praises Pop after Coach of the Year win


VIDEO: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer thanks Gregg Popovich for taking a chance on him

ATLANTA — He did everything he could to keep his emotions from getting the best of him.

Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is notorious for wanting to do any and everything he can to avoid the spotlight. Guiding his team to a franchise-record 60 wins and the top spot in the Eastern Conference is the worst way to accomplish that goal.

With the eyes of the basketball world on him Tuesday afternoon, Budenholzer stepped to the podium to accept the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2014-15 season, and from the minute he leaned into the microphone he had to fight back the tears. With praise for all of his mentors — most notably his own father, Vince Budenholzer, a legendary high school coach in Arizona, and San Antonio Spurs coach and his longtime boss and friend, Gregg Popovich — Budenholzer had to fight back the tears when speaking about what both men have meant to him throughout a lifetime immersed in the game that he loves.

He thanked his father for instilling in him a passion for the game that Popovich helped him hone as a longtime assistant, first as an intern with the Golden State Warriors and for 18 years after that with the Spurs.

“It seems only appropriate to finish with the real Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich,” Budenholzer said as he wrapped up his acceptance speech at Philips Arena. “This award has a permanent spot on his desk in San Antonio. He just takes it out every couple of years and shares it around with the rest of us. I might be able to sneak back into his office and put it back down.”

Appropriately enough, it was Popovich, at the urging of the Hawks after they found out Budenholzer had beaten out Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd for the top spot this season, who called and informed his former protegé that he’d won the award. Boston’s Brad Stevens was fourth and Popovich fifth.


VIDEO: Popovich explains how he told Budenholzer about the award

“There are some things better kept between Pop and myself,” a smiling Budenholzer said later how Popovich broke the news. “And I’ll go so far as to say … He was nice, really nice, and he assured me that he was not pulling my leg.”

Budenholzer’s surprising resuscitation of the Hawks’ brand after just two seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. A perfect January and a 19-0 stretch overall led to four All-Stars, Budenholzer and his staff coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars in New York in February. The Hawks’ 60-win season and dominance all season led to Budenholzer posing for pictures with Pop’s trophy.

From a 38-win team and No. 8 seed in the playoffs after his first campaign to their current status as the No. 1 seed is not something anyone forecasted this team in the summer as they were reeling from the drama caused by derogatory comments in emails from part-owner Bruce Levenson and insensitive comments from general manager Danny Ferry that led to Ferry’s indefinite leave of absence.

“There is a certain degree of satisfaction that adds to it,” Budenholzer said. “We feel like this is a group that they believe in what they are doing and we obviously believe in them as players. And we’re trying to build something together. A lot of us were put together, but there were some pretty important people that we joined in Jeff Teague and Al Horford and Kyle Korver and even John (Jenkins). This group has really come together and it does mean something extra.”

Budenholzer praised Ferry, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who introduced him Tuesday, ownership and the entire organization for giving him the opportunity. He’s stayed in contact with Ferry, who was not in attendance, and did not shy away from handing out credit where he felt it was deserved.

“He’s been incredibly supportive of me from Day 1,” Budenholzer said of Ferry. “He’s very happy for me and continues to be. So it was good. But it’s been a tough year for everybody and hopefully, everybody has handled it to the best of all of our abilities.”

On a team with balanced scoring and devoid of one individual superstar to garner MVP mention or first-team All-NBA mention, the one individual award the Hawks had the best chance of winning was Coach of the Year.

Horford called it an honor extremely well-deserved, knowing his coach would want nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance that comes along with NBA postseason awards.

“He is the type of person that is all about the team,” Horford said. “So he is not going to want to take any credit for it. But it’s because of him. He really deserves that award, so I’m very, very happy for him. I just think that the whole mindset of working as a team. That goes a long way. One through 15 all the guys here believe in what we’re doing and what he’s preaching.”

Budenholzer’s approach — each man as responsible as the next for not only his own individual improvement, but also the collective improvement of the entire group — is what resonates with his players.

He showed up with the sparkling credentials, but he didn’t get a free pass, particularly from the veterans. Sure, they saw the tremendous gains in player development from veteran guys like Teague, Korver, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll as well as youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala. Still, there was a connection that had to be made in order for the Hawks to take that next step as a group. And Budenholzer and his staff clearly put in all the necessary work to make that happen, following that Pop/Spurs blueprint as best they could.

“I’ve played for a lot of coaches, so I’ve seen plenty of situations and it wasn’t an instant thing,” Elton Brand said. “We didn’t get the head coach from San Antonio who won all the championships with the Spurs. It still took time. What’s his system about? Do we have the personnel to get it done? We had all the usual questions. And then we had a little success, started winning, made the playoffs and it takes off from there. But he still had to work for it. He had to earn the trust, just like any coach, even one from that background and that Spurs family tree. He didn’t just walk in the door and it was instant. He had to come in and earn everyone’s respect and show us his character. He did that, and that’s what makes this even more special.”

Nets want no part of Horford, Hawks’ injury speculation


VIDEO: Al Horford dislocated his his finger in the fourth quarter of the Hawks’ Game 1 win over the Nets

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brook Lopez knows better than to step into the mess.

It doesn’t matter whether or not he has to face Hawks All-Star center Al Horford in Game 2 Wednesday night, he can’t win in the speculation-filled hours between then and now.

“You’re trying to trick me right now,” Lopez said Monday afternoon after the Nets finished up practice at Georgia Tech. “I’m not trying to say anything right now. I don’t want him (Horford) to go 10-for-10 on those pop shots. We’re going to play it the same way.”

Horford said Monday that there is still “some question” as to whether or not he’ll able to play with the right pinkie finger he dislocated in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Game 1 win. He didn’t say he was not going to play or that he definitely would. He finished the final six minutes of Game 1 with the finger taped up. But he was clearly uncomfortable and admitted to as much.

“It’s just sore,” Horford said. “They told me it would more sore today and I’ve just been doing more treatment on it since (Sunday night). I went out and shot some today and it felt good, so I was encouraged by that. Last night it didn’t feel good at all. You just have to get used to it. There is discomfort with it, though.”

Horford’s injury combined with Paul Millsap‘s ineffectiveness in Game 1, he was 2-for-11 from the floor and scored just 6 points in his second game back in uniform after missing five straight with a sprained shoulder, makes the Hawks vulnerable in the post. Lopez had his way with the Hawks in Game 1 with limited opportunities, he took just seven shots but made six to finish with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds..

“That’s not our problem,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “That’s [Hawks coach Mike] Budehnolzer‘s problem. All we can be concerned with is who and what we put on the floor.”

Millsap said his shoulder is fine and that he will try to improve his range of motion by maybe not playing with the padded compression sleeve he wore in Game 1.

“We played around with the pad and cut it in areas and tried to do different things to protect it,” Millsap said. “But you know, I might try and go without it the next game and see it how it goes. I guess I just upgraded it to might. I’m trying to balance it out, pain to mobility and I don’t know. We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

The Nets know better than to believe any doomsday scenarios that will keep the Hawks’ All-Star duo off the floor or in any kind of diminished capacity for Game 2. There is too much at stake for both teams. And Millsap even admitted that he couldn’t see any way that the Hawks aren’t ready to go.

“No, not at all,” Millsap said when asked if the Hawks had health concerns going forward. “With the depth that we have and the injuries, where they are. Al cane back and played. And he’s a tough guy. Myself, I’m a tough guy. With that, we still have depth and guys capable of coming and contributing.”

Morning Shootaround — April 20


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Sunday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way | Green downplays ‘scrimmage’ comments about Pelicans | Clippers rough up Spurs | Bulls expecting different Bucks in Game 2

No. 1: Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way — The man with all of the playoff experience in Cleveland set the tone for the home team Sunday. Yes, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shined in their playoff debut. But wise old head LeBron James is the man who lit the path for his teammates and put the Cavaliers in control in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer provides the details:

Fatherhood has been a theme for LeBron James throughout the course of this season.

James’ wife, Savannah, gave birth to the couple’s third child, daughter Zhuri, in October. So, naturally, that was a reason for James to talk about being a dad.

The topic came up again for more philosophical reasons; deep, philosophical issues like when to talk to his two sons about racism or whether or not it’s safe to let them play football.

Once, after a November win over Boston, James, 30, said his teammates were “like my kids” — a reference to the Cavaliers’ younger players learning the finer points of basketball the way his sons learn their school material.

Really, James has played the role of teacher all season, with varying degrees of success.

The thing about being a parent, though, is sometimes the lesson is taught by example. The Cavs’ 113-100 win over the Celtics in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday was that time for James.

When the ball went in the air Sunday, James became the franchise’s all-time leader with 72 playoff games. It was his 159th career playoff game, counting his four years and two titles with Miami, and during the game he surpassed Michael Jordan (1,022 assists) for the ninth-most playoff assists in league history.

By contrast, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova – four players James relies on in some form — were playing their first-career playoff games.

James spoke to the team before the game about his first playoff game (more on that game later), but he needed to show them. Matched up defensively against former Ohio State standout Evan Turner, James hounded him over the game’s first five minutes. Once, the ball landed in Turner’s hands behind halfcourt, and James was so close to him that Turner could barely turn around.

Turner was trying to move along the perimeter, both with and without the ball, and James was stuck on his every step. Offensively, James scored on a layup in transition and got to the foul line twice. He registered two assists before his hand shot up with 6:45 to go – not even halfway through the first quarter – for coach David Blatt to give him a breather.

“LeBron really pushed himself early, almost to the point of forcing himself to hit that limit, come out, catch his second wind, and then play,” Blatt said. “I think he even did it on purpose.”

*** (more…)

Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage


VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

*** (more…)

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.