Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Teague’

George adjusts, Pacers rebound and pound Hawks

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul George and the Pacers regain their composure and rout the Hawks in Game 2

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Forget the sticks and stones next time. Just go straight to the name-calling. And the bigger the name calling out the Indiana Pacers, the better.

The Eastern Conference No. 1 seed needed a wake-up call, apparently that Game 1 defeat at home to the Atlanta Hawks wasn’t quite enough. Neither was their mediocre, at best, finish to the regular season.

Getting called out by TNT’s Charles Barkley, however, seems to be just what the Pacers needed to find themselves before Tuesday night’s must-win Game 2 effort against the Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

A subtle reminder from the Chuckster that they were embarrassing themselves for the world to see (he called them “wussies”) served as inspiration for a Pacers crew that has tried a little bit of everything to get their groove back. The Pacers reacted and rebounded the way you’d expect the No. 1 seed to after being humbled in Game 1. Their 101-85 drubbing of the Hawks won’t be inconsequential if they continue to handle their business in this series, which resumes Thursday with Game 3 in Atlanta.

Paul George won’t have to answer those awkward questions about his team’s fragile psyche if he keeps working the way he did in Game 2. He’s the one who demanded Frank Vogel allow him to take the challenge of guarding Hawks point guard Jeff Teague. It was his energy, on both ends, that fueled the Pacers’ 31-13 third quarter clubbing that broke the game open.

No offense to Roy Hibbert or Lance Stephenson, but it’ll be George’s sustained play that will guide the Pacers this postseason. Yes, the Pacers will need contributions from all over, yeoman’s work like Luis Scola provided Tuesday night. But your superstars carry you in the playoffs.

George knows as much. He’s never been shy about discussing the lofty aspirations he has for himself and his team. He showed that he was more than capable during the Pacers’ run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. He showed it again Tuesday night, finishing with 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals, infusing the Pacers’ attack with just the right mix of swagger and grit (his barking session with Teague and the entire Hawks bench early set just the right tone).

“That’s why he was in the MVP conversation early,” Vogel said.

George’s 3-point dagger to punctuate the Pacers’ run didn’t hurt either.


VIDEO: PG punctuates the Pacers’ third quarter run with this buzzer-beating pull-up 3-pointer

“We put our print on this game in the third quarter, which we’ve done in November, December and January basketball,” George said. “We got back to that. I thought we did a great job of really just locking in, coming out in the second half, on what we needed to do.”

His teammates chasing him down after that 3-pointer to end the third quarter was a cathartic celebration, one that validated the Pacers’ return to the frame of mind that George mentioned they had in November, December and January.

“We’re together,” he said. “We’re together. If that’s what it took for everyone to understand how close this team is, that’s what it was. We’ve got each other’s backs. That’s what if felt like … that’s exactly what it felt like.”

That said, George and the Pacers need to be extra careful as the series shifts from their home floor to Atlanta. They still have plenty of work to repair the damage done to their brand since All-Star weekend. They haven’t even crawled completely out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves in this series.

They still have to snatch home-court advantage back from the Hawks and make good on their season-long yapping about the importance of securing that No. 1 seed in the East.

It won’t be easy. The Hawks are well aware of the matchup advantages they own in this series. Teague and Paul Millsap weren’t nearly as devastating as they were in Game 1, much of Teague’s struggles were due to George’s locking in on him on defense, but they’ll no doubt be energized by their home crowd and the huge opportunity that awaits in Game 3.

But even if his teammates are not yet up to the task, George seemed energized. Maybe that fishing trip the other day did wonders for the All-Star swingman. Perhaps getting away from the chaos in that way was just what he needed, and in turn exactly what the struggling Pacers needed.

George is the Pacers’ lone legit star, so he’ll have to carry the heaviest load the rest of the way regardless. As aware as any young star in the league of what needs to be done to become the sort of player he aspires to be, George knows better than anyone that this is a critical phase for the Pacers.

Had they gone down 0-2 to a feisty Hawks team, the “gone fishing” thing would have a completely different context. So that lack of urgency the Pacers exhibited in the first half, when the Hawks seemingly had control of the game, has to end now. There’s no room for that sort of lethargy from a team that claims to be focused on much bigger and better things.

The Pacers must finish this series and continue in these playoffs, by any means necessary, with George taking up whatever assignment needed to get his team back on track. That’s non-negotiable for a team that spent months building a bridge back to the Eastern Conference finals, a bridge that begins and ends on their home floor …

Provided, of course, George can lead them there.


VIDEO: Paul George and Luis Scola meet the media after the Pacers’ Game 2 win

Morning Shootaround — April 22



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers have changes in mind for Game 2 | Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starter | Report: New arena remains key for Bucks’ future | Thibodeau unhappy with Bulls’ defense | Jefferson vows to play in Game 2

No. 1: Pacers planning on some changes in Game 2 — Simply put, the Indiana Pacers were shellshocked after the Atlanta Hawks marched into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and beat the home team from start to finish. With that defeat on their minds, the Pacers are examining each and every thing they did in Game 1 and are open to making some pretty big changes on things from who guards the star of Game 1 (Atlanta’s Jeff Teague) to what kind of defense they’ll play as a team and more. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com has more:

Coach Frank Vogel was coy when pressed on the issue following Monday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not wishing to become the first coach in NBA history to reveal strategy to the opponent a day before a playoff game. But, winds of change were wafting through the building. Practice ran longer than was originally advertised to the media, and all doors were closed. Afterward, Lance Stephenson created a breeze when asked if strategic changes were forthcoming.

“Of course we’re going to make changes,” he said. “We’re not allowed to talk about the changes we made, (the Hawks) will figure it out when we play.”

Earlier, Vogel had only hinted at the possibility.

“I prefer not to make major changes,” he said.

Are you willing?

“Of course.”

Do you think you will?

“We’ll see.”

Any changes are most likely to come on defense. Offensively, Vogel simply wants his team to move the ball more quickly and more often, and for Roy Hibbert to establish better post position near the basket and for his teammates to toss the ball to him when he does. But given the way Hawks point guard Jeff Teague punctured the Pacers’ defense on Saturday, some sort of adjustment seems in order.

The players talked Monday about doing a better job of helping one another, filling gaps and all that, but would they go to the extreme of rolling out a zone defense for the first time this season? Vogel said during last season’s playoff series with Miami that he would implement it this season. He hasn’t, largely because the team’s trip to Taiwan and the Philippines for two preseason games sliced too large a chunk out of his practice time.

The bottom line is, something will be to be done to prevent Teague from running a layup line. He had nine of them on Saturday on his way to 28 points. A zone defense would be one way to do it.

“I wish we had used it more, because then I’d be more comfortable using it now,” Vogel said. “That is something we’re talking pretty lengthily about.”

At the very least, it’s likely that Paul George will defend Teague at some point. George isn’t as quick as Teague, but he is seven inches taller and the Pacers’ best perimeter defender.

George has said he wants to do it. But he wasn’t going to say he would do it.

“If the opportunity calls for it, I’ll enjoy the match-up,” he said, smiling.

“For all I know,” he added, “Hibbert’s guarding him.”


VIDEO: Frank Vogel talks about possible changes for the Pacers in Game 2

***

No. 2: Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starting point guardMost NBA followers know that Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon is one of the best playmakers in the league … and also one of its worst defenders at the point as well. In Game 1, though, Calderon struggled a bit, amassing seven points and two assists in 16 minutes. His primary understudy, Devin Harris, had a much better game, going for 19 points and five assists in 32 minutes. So, is there a point guard quandary in Big D. ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon reports that to star Dirk Nowitzki, there’s no question who the starter is for Game 2:

Coach Rick Carlisle refused to discuss whether he’d consider starting Devin Harris instead of Jose Calderon in Game 2, using his stock line about revealing his lineup 16 minutes before tip.

However, Dirk Nowitzki readily declared about 53 hours before Wednesday’s tip in San Antonio that no change in the Mavericks’ starting lineup was forthcoming.

“We’re rolling the way we’re set up,” Nowitzki said. “Jose has been our starter the whole year. We’ve got to start the game off a little better. I think we were a little slow and we were down eight or 10 pretty quick there in the first quarter, so we’ve got to be a little better there, but Jose is our starter. He’s the guy that puts us in our plays and we’re rolling with it.”

The Mavs’ normal starting lineup has been badly overmatched against the Spurs, having been outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes in the Dallas-San Antonio meetings this season, including Game 1. The Mavs have had a 24-point advantage in the 79 minutes that Harris has played against the Spurs, but that’s also evidence of the success the Dallas bench has had against San Antonio’s second unit, a strength that Carlisle might not want to mess with.

“We’re going to approach it the way we approach it, doing it the way we feel is best,” Carlisle said. “If we get to the point where I feel major lineup changes are in order, we’ll do it, but I’m not going to talk about it two days before the game.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks after Dallas has practice Monday in San Antonio

***

No. 3: Report: New arena critical to Bucks dealLast week, Milwaukee Bucks fans got some happy news about the future of their team as longtime owner Herb Kohl announced he was selling the team to the duo of Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry for a reported $550 million. While that ownership group is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee, they could lose the ownership rights on their team if they cannot get a new arena built for the Bucks by 2017. Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com have more: :

The NBA has the right to buy back the Milwaukee Bucks from incoming owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry if a deal to a bring a new arena to the city is not in place by November 2017, according to sources briefed on the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that the sale agreement announced last week to transfer the Bucks from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Edens and Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million includes a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if construction on a new building in Milwaukee is not underway by the deadline.

Although one source said Monday that the league would likely only take that step if it didn’t see “significant progress” toward a new arena in Milwaukee by then, this provision ensures that the NBA would control the fate of the franchise from that point as opposed to Edens and Lasry.

Edens and Lasry agreed last week to pay a league-record $550 million to Kohl for the Bucks and promised to contribute an additional $100 million toward a new arena. Kohl also pledged to gift $100 million toward construction of a new facility, but more financing will be needed to get the project going, with city officials in Milwaukee estimating that a new arena would cost in excess of $400 million.

The inclusion of this clause in the sale agreement, furthermore, is an unspoken admission that neither the league nor the new owners are convinced that construction on a modern building in Milwaukee will be underway in the space of three-plus years.

Two local task forces have been assembled to study the issue, but there has already been pushback to potential public financing by politicians and community groups. The Bucks’ lease with the antiquated Bradley Center runs through the 2016-17 season, which establishes the fall of 2017 as a natural deadline to find a solution.

***

No. 4: Thibodeau calls out Bulls’ defense In Game 1 of the Bulls-Wizards series, Chicago allowed Washington to roll up 102 points as the Wizards’ big man combo of Marcin Gortat and Nene pounded away and picked apart the Bulls’ vaunted defense. That kind of performance left a bitter taste in coach Tom Thibodeau‘s mouth and he didn’t mince words during Monday’s practice about how displeased he was with Chicago’s defense, particularly the play of point guard D.J. Augustin. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has more on what the Bulls plan to do differently in Game 2:

‘To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here,’’ Thibodeau said.

But that didn’t prevent the Wizards from finding that perceived weak link in the chain and attacking it, especially in their fourth-quarter comeback. Unfortunately for guard D.J. Augustin, he was the guy the Wizards went after in crunch time.

“Not only D.J., our defense,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if he thought Augustin had to improve on the defensive end. ‘‘I could go from start to finish. There’s an endless list of things that we didn’t do correctly. We’re capable of doing much better. And we’re going to have to.

“They’re a good team. In the playoffs, you have to play for 48 minutes and be disciplined. You have to stick to it. Some plays, they made tough plays. Give them credit. Others, we made mistakes. And we have to correct those mistakes.’’

According to one source, though, Thibodeau was concerned about Augustin’s defensive shortcomings being exposed, especially in the playoffs, when opposing coaches smell blood and attack. Sure enough, the Wizards’ guards seemed to go right after him down the stretch, whether it was John Wall, Bradley Beal or even 38-year-old Andre Miller, who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau was asked if the defensive breakdowns were more related to bad positioning or poor communication.

“It was a compilation of all those things,’’ he said. ‘‘To me, if one guy is not doing their job, it’s going to make everyone look bad. We have to be tied together. We have to have the proper amount of intensity and concentration. And we have to finish our defense. That’s one thing that we could do a lot better.”

While there will be tinkering, it didn’t sound as though Thibodeau was going to change his rotation. That means Augustin and the other players on the court at the end of games will have to find a way to deal with the Wizards’ backcourt and to slow down forward Nene, who burned the Bulls for 24 points.

***

No. 5: Jefferson: ‘I’m suiting up’ for Game 2 — Bobcats center Al Jefferson can count on one hand the number of times he’s been in the playoffs. As the big man is in the midst of just his third career playoff appearance, there’s little doubt he’s going to let anything prevent him from playing. That statement apparently applies to his bout of plantar fascia in both feet that flared up early in Charlotte’s Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat. But as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports, Jefferson is determined to play in Game 2 … and beyond:

Jefferson was in surprisingly good spirits Monday after missing practice, undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging and several hours of treatment. He said there’s no way the injury he suffered Sunday in Game 1 of this playoff series is a season-ender.

“I’m suiting up,” Jefferson said. “It’ll take more than that to make me sit down.”

The issue for Jefferson is not so much his availability, but rather his effectiveness. He will again miss practice Tuesday and his left foot is encased in a protective walking boot.

The pain he experienced in the first quarter Sunday, after he felt a “pop” in his left foot, was excruciating – he compared it to the sudden attack of appendicitis he suffered several years ago, resulting in emergency surgery.

“Like somebody shot me. A terrible feeling. I knew something was wrong,” Jefferson recalled.

Despite that, Bobcats medical staff told him and coach Steve Clifford that Jefferson is taking no special risk by playing. He was told not to anticipate needing surgery in the off-season; that this is about pain-management now and rest in the off-season.

The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibrous material that runs along the bottom of a foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes.

There doesn’t seem to be a significant risk in Jefferson playing with this injury, so long as he can handle the pain, according to Dallas-based sports orthopedist Dr. Richard Rhodes.

“If you can fight through, and they can manage the pain (with medication), you can go on it and then heal in the off-season,” said Rhodes, describing the plantar fascia as helping the foot hold its natural arch.

The issue going forward is how Jefferson can perform in the short-run. Clifford said the injury seemed to harm Jefferson’s performance more on offense than defense. In particular, Clifford noted, Jefferson struggled to pivot off his left foot, which is key to his low-post scoring moves.

Jefferson agrees with Clifford that he spent much of the second half pulling up for jump shots or floaters, rather than completing a move to the rim. He said that was more out of initial fear after the injury than the physical inability to recreate his moves.

“I stopped short. I was afraid to continue,” Jefferson described. “It was more in my head than anything, that I was afraid to do things I normally do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Hawks be gearing up for a rare No. 8-over-No. 1-seed upset?Tony Allen is doing what he normally does — frustrate Kevin Durant in the playoffs … The Clippers’ Game 2 rout of the Warriors got them back on track in several different ways … With a heavy dose of his trademark intensity, Joakim Noah took home the Kia Defensive Player of the Year award last night … These five names may be on the Utah Jazz’s short list for its new coach …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Yes, the Grizzlies won Game 2 in OKC last night. But there’s no denying that Kevin Durant was doing all he could to get the win last night, as evidenced by this wild and-one 3-pointer he nailed late in regulation …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant hits the ridiculous and-one 3-pointer

Pacers’ funk deepens in Game 1 loss

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Hawks vs. Pacers: Game 1

They got beat on it. They got booed on it. And at this point, they probably don’t even feel worthy of it.

That home court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that mattered so much to the Indiana Pacers that they staked their season on it – maybe even strained their season going after it – is gone. Gone, like those sad, bewildered fans leaving early Saturday into the Indianapolis night, their body language trudging up the stairs looking as defeated as the team on the floor.

So gone, that when the players and coaches show up tomorrow or the day after in search of answers in practice, they might find the locks have been changed.

The Pacers’ goal since the first day of training camp: Capture the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference so that, should they face the NBA’s two-time defending champions in a Game 7 with a trip to The Finals on the line, they would have it in their building, on their floor, in their comfort zone (35-6 there this season). Yet after their 101-93 loss to Atlanta, just about everything about that previous sentence – the quest and its context – is wrong.

This was Game 1. Of the first round. Against an opponent that won only 38 times in the regular season. And now the undermanned Hawks have seen to it that no one – not them, not any other postseason foe the Pacers may never actually see – has to win another game this spring at the BLFH. Three Atlanta victories at Philips Arena in the next five games and Indiana won’t make it to a Game 7, never mind the Game 7.

“It’s frustrating,” Pacers forward Paul George said in the interview room afterward. “But it’s one game. It’s a long series. That’s how we’ve got to a look at it. Take it game by game. Just got to prepare for the next one.”

Sorry, there is no “just” about this. And if the Pacers are as calm and focused on a few basketball Xs & Os as George and coach Frank Vogel made it seem in their postgame pressers, they’re going to find themselves in a most uncomfortable zone, their offseasons begun prematurely, wondering for an extra five or six weeks what went so wrong.

This has gone on too long, too unchecked to be fixed in a film session or in a walk-through. Whether the Pacers’ deepening funk started around the All-Star break (they’re an ordinary 16-15 since, counting Saturday) or a little later (12-14 since March 1), their denial of how bad it was getting – and the absence of any appropriately desperate measures to fix it – has left them no wiggle room whatsoever.

Years from now, NBA coaches could be using these 2014 Pacers to illustrate the age-old point that you can’t just flick a switch when the playoffs start: Either you go in with momentum or you go home sooner than expected.

Several key Pacers reportedly huddled up in the locker room after this one, but that’s stale at this point, too much been-there, done-that. What they needed – now, sure, but probably a month ago – was something far more drastic.

Here’s how Rick Fox, a member of the Lakers’ three-peat teams from 2000-2002, put it on NBA TV: “A little panic would look good on this team. I’m done listening to them try to convince us everything’s OK. That it’s just one game. They’ve been saying it’s one game for the last 30 games.

“There needs to be some panic here. That would create some urgency. Then they could actually accept what they’ve been doing. So they can wash it down and start to move toward something they once were. … They’re playing as if nothing is really seriously wrong.”

There were some seams showing after this latest, most glaring embarrassment. Roy Hibbert, Indiana’s 7-foot-2 rim protector who had his own shots blocked twice by 6-foot-7 Kyle Korver, sounded a little petulant when wondering if maybe he is the problem against Atlanta’s “stretch 5″ offense, with center Pero Antic pulled out to 3-point range and the floor spread for shifty point guard Jeff Teague.

Curiously, George talked about a stretch in the third quarter when he left the floor for quickie treatment on a bruised thigh. Indiana had closed to 60-58 when he subbed out, and by the time George came back from the trainers room, it was 71-58, headed eventually to 20-point ugliness.

“I checked out,” George said, when asked about the Hawks’ 30-16 edge in that quarter. “I don’t know what happened.”

So much for looking “into their souls,” as analyst Hubie Brown said from his courtside post in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder were flexing a more lively homecourt advantage over Memphis.

As disappointed as Indiana fans are with the Pacers, as much grief as that team is getting from critics both locally and nationally, the ones who really ought to be ticked at them are the Hawks. As well as Atlanta played – solid work on the boards, far more hustle for loose balls, more aggression overall – this game wound up being defined by Indiana’s failures, not their success.

And then George patronized them a little when he said, “They played as good as they can play.”

The question of the moment is, how would George know that about any team? Certainly not from looking around his own dressing room.

Proud Hawks keep playoff streak alive

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeff Teague talks about the Hawks clinching their playoff bid against the Heat

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They did it with their best player sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle since Christmas, with a parade of journeymen and supposedly over the hill stars like Elton Brand filling in and playing huge minutes, with the likes of Pero Antic and Mike Scott, Cartier Martin and DeMarre Carroll playing vital roles.

Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, fantastic basically from start to the near finish of this regular season for the now playoff bound Atlanta Hawks, can probably walk around the city without being rushed by fans for autographs. Would you even know Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap if he walked up on you in street clothes?

Perhaps … but probably not.

Reserve guard Lou Williams, in and out of the regular rotation all season, is arguably the most recognizable face on the roster for locals, and that’s mostly because he played his high school ball in the area at South Gwinnett High.

These Hawks are the poster child for the anti-tanking movement, a motley crew if ever there was one, bound for a first round playoff matchup against either the two-time defending champion Miami Heat (the team they beat Saturday to secure their Eastern Conference-best seventh straight postseason trip) or the struggling Indiana Pacers.

Instead of accepting their fate after All-Star center Al Horford saw his season end the day after Christmas due to a torn pectoral muscle, the Hawks survived and advanced to yet another trip to the playoff line.

Williams, who scored 18 of the Hawks’ 29 fourth-quarter points, including the final 12 Atlanta points of the game, admitted that the opponent Saturday night did not matter. The outcome was the sole focus.

“It doesn’t make a difference (who the opponent was),” he said. “That was our second time beating them this year. We gave them an overtime run earlier this year. It’s a team we’ve played well against this season. It was just satisfying to get a win and be in the groove that we’re in.”

As stubborn as they are fearless, Mike Budenholzer‘s Hawks finished the season series with a 2-2 record against the Heat. They had the same mark against the Indiana Pacers, the team they’d face if the playoffs began today. Whoever earns that No. 1 seed will be dealing with a No. 8 seed just crazy enough to believe they can compete with the best.

They could have packed it in and headed for the lottery, like so many others. Their fans wouldn’t have blamed them. The prospect of a higher pick in the lottery and the wistfulness that comes with it make for an easy sell. What could be is always a powerful elixir when you know there is no hope for a championship.

The hard work and dedication it takes to earn a playoff berth, even in a year when the Eastern Conference is historically weak, shows a level of perseverance that the Hawks should be applauded for showing. They knocked the dysfunctional Knicks (and former Hawks coach Mike Woodson) out of the playoff mix, ending Carmelo Anthony‘s personal playoff streak at 10 seasons.

Budenholzer is working with a much different talent base than Woodson did when he started the Hawks’ playoff streak. Horford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Mike Bibby and Zaza Pachulia comprised the core group. Hawks boss Danny Ferry hasn’t had the time to build a comparable core group, yet.

They backdoored their way into the No. 8 seed in 2008 and promptly scared the life out of the top-seed and eventual champion Boston Celtics with an epic seven-game series that was as entertaining as it was intense, considering one team finished the regular season 66 wins and the other with 37. (It was arguably the Celtics’ toughest series during their championship run, seeing as how they only saw one more Game 7 — against Cleveland — during their march to the Larry O’Brien trophy.)

“I’m happy that we get to play more games and I get to talk more about improving, and getting better each practice,” Budenholzer said after his team outlasted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat before a raucous home crowd Saturday night. “We want to build something here. Miami has been in the Finals for three years in a row. There are a lot of teams that have had a lot of success. It takes time to build your habits. (Miami’s) habits are outstanding. We want to continue to build our habits and continue to improve. Our group has really fought hard and competed hard this year. I think they got what they deserved.”

The Hawks got exactly what they earned, which is at least four more games for this bunch to show that sometimes it’s hard to break a habit of winning your way into the playoffs.


VIDEO: Jeff Teague leads the way as the Hawks earn their seventh straight playoff bid

Season On The Brink For The Hawks?

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Atlanta Hawks vs. Magic

The Atlanta Hawks have struggled to keep up their early-season success of late.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sooner or later, one way or another, you knew it was all going to catch up with the Atlanta Hawks.

The injuries.

The close losses.

The missed opportunities.

The injuries.

They weren’t going to stay above the fray in the Eastern Conference mix behind the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat forever. Not without Al Horford. Not with coach Mike Budenholzer pushing every button possible to make up for the loss of the team’s franchise player after his season-ending pectoral muscle tear the day after Christmas.

It’s amazing it took this long for the wheels to come off for the Hawks. They held on to their top-four status in the East for a good month after Horford went down. Jeff Teague played his guts out before injuries interrupted his season and he hasn’t been as consistent since. Elders like Elton Brand and Kyle Korver and pups like Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack rose up when they were needed. Paul Millsap even earned an All-Star nod, the first of his career, stepping into the void to replace what Horford gave the Hawks on a nightly basis.

But here they are now, with the smoke clearing and the mirrors smashed, facing their most grueling stretch of the calendar with their season on the brink as they cling to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Wednesday night’s game in Boston begins a season-defining road stretch that includes stops in Phoenix Sunday, Portland (March 5), Golden State (March 7), Los Angeles (the Clippers on March 8) and finishing up in Utah (March 10). Survive this stretch and there is still hope that the Hawks can get healthy enough in time to at least fend off late-season charges from issue-laden Detroit, Cleveland and even woeful New York.

If the Hawks get buried on this road trip, they’ll surely get caught (and be passed up) by one of those teams. Not that they are looking that far ahead.

“You never should look ahead that far,” forward DeMarre Carroll said. “We’re just trying to get better and trust the system and let our work do the talking.”


VIDEO:
Al Horford suffers a season-ending pectoral injury in Cleveland

The power of positive thinking might not save the Hawks this time around. They overachieved early this season and their above-.500 work through early February was fool’s gold. The Hawks are 2-9 this month and don’t exactly boast a road reputation that gives reason to think this big trip will end well.

They are 9-19 on the road with wins over the likes of Sacramento, Charlotte, New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Of that group, only the Bobcats are in the playoff mix.

The only saving grace for the Hawks is that they are not alone. Every team in the Eastern Conference not named the Pacers or Heat have to operate like their season is on the line over the course of the next four to six weeks. That’s how fluid the playoff picture is. Whoever gets hot the fastest can chew up some real estate in the standings and push their way into that No. 4-5-6-7 mix in the pecking order.

“We talked about that Monday in our meeting after the [Sunday loss to Miami],” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, taking his cue from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Thibs said it best, we cannot exhale right now. We have to push through these next couple of games and weeks because this next stretch can alter your season and what you want to do if you let the fatigue of the season get to you. We look at the loss columns for everybody and we feel like we’re right there. You have to bounce back from tough losses and get back at it. Miami and Indiana have separated themselves from the pack, so everybody else has to be fighting for that next spot, that No. 3 seed. And we’re grinding for it right now.”

The Bulls are also grinding without the face of their franchise, Derrick Rose. They’ve surely dealt with their fair share of injuries and adversity this season. But some teams handle it better than others. They are 16-8 since trading Luol Deng to Central Division rival Cleveland. While the Hawks struggle to dig out from under their February avalanche, the Bulls surge along.

Thibodeau oozes confidence when talking about his wounded group, insisting that they have more than enough to get the job done each night. The Bulls’ experience operating under duress in recent seasons certainly aids that cause. Their familiarity with one another (and Thibodeau’s hard-charging style) are assets as well.

The Hawks, with a first-year coach in Budenholzer and a largely revamped roster, have no such benefits. General manager Danny Ferry had a chance to look for some temporary roster help at the trade deadline, but didn’t come away with anything that would make a significant impact.

The fact is, the Hawks are still finding out if they are cut from that same tough fabric the Bulls are. Time will tell. And time, particularly the next 13 days or so, will tell about these Hawks. They are 10-17 without Horford and their confidence seems to be fading.

“The interesting thing about the East,” Hawks veteran guard Lou Williams said, “and I’m trying to say the politically correct thing here … a couple of wins in a row here and you’ll be right back in the fold. We recognize and understand that. So our job is just go out, take it one game at a time and see if we can put a string of wins together and get there.”

That’s much easier said than done at this juncture for the Hawks, who can hear the clock ticking on their season.


VIDEO: The Hawks fight back, but can’t finish off the Bulls in Atlanta

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Raptors interested in Rondo | Reports: Nets pursuing Jack, Hill | Report: Wolves, Grizz talking trade | Report: Knicks interested in Hawks’ Teague | Kidd went against D-Will in recent practice

No. 1: Report: Raptors showing interest in Rondo — Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, in the midst of a career-best season, has helped Toronto climb to the top of the Atlantic Division standings and has the team poised to end its lengthy playoff drought. But Lowry is also an unrestricted free agent this summer and whether or not he’ll be with Toronto in 2014-15 is very much an unknown (our David Aldridge spelled out some details on his future there a few weeks ago). Lowry remains a target of the New York Knicks (see below) and his current team appears to have eyes on another star point guard. According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, the Raptors are in multiple point guard-related trade talks, the foremost being a discussion to bring Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo to Toronto:

UPDATE, 11:43 a.m. ET: Now, it seems, the Knicks are getting in on the Rondo action, too, per this tweet from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

UPDATE, 11:08 a.m. ET: While Rondo continues to have his name tossed about in trade rumors, Sean Devaney of The Sporting News reports that it is unlikely that the All-Star guard will be dealt before Thursday’s deadline:

As has become the custom, any period of NBA trade activity features Celtics guard Rajon Rondo prominently. Also customary, though, is this: Sources told Sporting News this week that there is very little chance the Celtics find a deal involving Rondo this year.

“It really is the same thing, teams call about him but the Celtics want him and he wants to be the leader of that team,” one source said. “It has always been his intention to establish himself in that role, to be part of the rebuilding and to stay in Boston for a long time. Nothing has changed.”

The Toronto Sun reported that the Raptors also inquired about Rondo, but a source told Sporting News that, unless there is a multi-team deal, Toronto does not have the assets to land Rondo. Which has been typical of the conversations involving Rondo for the last two years — teams call and ask, the Celtics give an idea of what it will take to make a deal happen, and the conversation ends there.

Rondo can be a free agent in the summer of 2015, and while preliminary discussions on a contract extension were held, the sides were never close to agreeing to a deal. Boston’s long-term plan is to focus on the summer of ’15, when they might be able to pair Rondo with some member of that year’s free-agent class, which could include Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez and DeAndre Jordan — some of the league’s best big men.

Add the Celtics’ two picks in the stocked upcoming draft to that mix, and Boston will be ready to be a playoff team again after just a short retooling.

Of course, if the right deal comes up before that, the Celtics would make it. But it is unlikely that such a deal would include Rondo.

Here’s Wolstat’s earlier report on Rondo:

Ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, the Raptors have been involved in talks with multiple teams that would change the team’s point guard situation significantly.

With the New York Knicks continuing to aggressively pursue Kyle Lowry, who has turned in a career season, Toronto has explored complicated deals that would bring back a replacement for the soon-to-be free agent.

It’s no secret Boston has dangled four-time all-star Rajon Rondo league-wide and while the asking price is steep, he has piqued the interest of Toronto’s front office, according to multiple sources. Toronto is eager to up its “star” quotient and is also enamoured with Rondo’s resume, particularly his four all-defensive team selections (two all-NBA first team). He has many backers in the organization.

Rondo would not come cheaply. Bulls.com’s Sam Smith said the price is believed to be “two unprotected first rounders” while one source told the Sun the ask is a combination of at least one lottery pick and talented young player.

Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly nixed a deal earlier in the season and Lowry responded by playing the best basketball of his career. He’s sixth in the league in three-pointers made, eighth in assists per game and sixth in win shares. With the future of star forward Carmelo Anthony uncertain, Dolan apparently has reconsidered as New York looks to improve its roster.

Sources confirmed that Atlanta is also aggressively shopping young point guard Jeff Teague, despite matching Milwaukee’s four-year, $32-million offer sheet to Teague last summer. Teague, who had a tremendous start to the season, has struggled mightily since the Hawks lost all-star big man Al Horford to injury. Teague could be a cheaper, fallback option in either Toronto or New York, should those team’s preferred choices fall through.

On the Boston side of things, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is still mulling what to do with Rondo and the team’s many other assets:

“The public probably views us more as sellers than as buyers,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe recently. “But I do think that people around the league know that we have some good players — good veteran players, good young players — and lots of draft picks. I’ve had calls for both.

“I’ve had teams contact me with the idea of trying to acquire young players and draft picks, and I’ve had teams that have called that are looking to get some of those. And I’ve had teams that have called looking for some of our veteran players as well. I think it just depends on who you talk to, but I think everybody knows that we have a lot of young assets.”

Assets, yes. The Celtics potentially have as many as 17 draft picks over the next five years, 10 in the first round.

“Again, I think that we’ll be opportunistic. We’re just waiting for an opportunity to do something good. And I think it’s important, again — you can’t force these opportunities. You can’t just be so hungry for a deal that you try to do a deal. You’ve got to be patient. At the same time, you’ve got to be aggressive.”

In previous years, the Celtics were looking to add a piece or two that could help with a postseason push, but that isn’t the case now with the team 19-35, the sixth-worst record in the NBA.

“I think the difference between other years and this year is that there’s a lot of different directions we could go,” Ainge said. “In past years, we’re focusing on just getting better for the playoff run. And now, we’re looking for possibilities of flexibility, young assets, things of that nature, but, at the same time, [we’re] opportunistic for any deals that could come along and speed up our rebuilding process.”

Said Ainge: “If our record were reversed, I think there would clearly be a different role at this point. But we are what we are. I think that I’m more concerned with how we’re playing, how individuals approach their job, who’s developing as a player and fitting in with our new coach and our system and how that will work. There’s a lot of things to consider.”


VIDEO: The TNT crew discusses Rajon Rondo working himself back into game shape

***

No. 2: Report: Nets interested in Cavs’ Jack, Lakers’ Hill — Neither the Cleveland Cavaliers nor the Brooklyn Nets are where they’d thought they’d be in the Eastern Conference playoff race when the season began. As such, both teams are reportedly interested in making trades and may end up doing business with each other — with the Los Angeles Lakers also thrown into the mix — as the trade deadline draws closer. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has news on a potential Lakers-Nets swap while ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk has info on a Cavs-Nets trade being bandied about

Here’s Wojnarowski on a potential trade that could bring Jordan Hill to Brooklyn:

The Los Angeles Lakers have had discussions on a deal to send forward Jordan Hill to the Brooklyn Nets, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Nets have a $5.25 million disabled player exception that they can use in a trade or free-agent transaction until March 10, and could use a portion to absorb the remaining $3.5 million on Hill’s expiring contract.

Nevertheless, the luxury tax penalty on absorbing Hill’s contract would be extraordinary for Brooklyn: Nearly $17 million. Hill could give the Nets a capable power forward and center replacement for a run at the postseason, but ultimately ownership would have to be willing to sign off on expanding its record $190 million-plus combined payroll and luxury tax.

And here’s Stein and Youngmisuk on a trade between Cleveland and Brooklyn that would land Jarrett Jack in Brooklyn and Jason Terry in Cleveland:

The Brooklyn Nets are interested in acquiring Cavaliers point guard Jarrett Jack and have had discussions about a potential trade with Cleveland involving Jason Terry, according to sources briefed on the talks.

The Nets (24-27) emerged from the All-Star break sitting 3½ games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors and want to upgrade their bench and backcourt.

Jack, 30, is averaging just 8.5 points on 39.7 percent shooting in 25 minutes a game in his first season with the Cavs after a strong 2012-13 season with Golden State.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets, eager to add a proven ballhandler and backcourt scorer to their bench rotation, are willing to take on the two remaining guaranteed seasons worth in excess of $12 million left on Jack’s contract despite the luxury-tax implications.

But it’s believed that the Cavs, if they decided to go ahead with such a move, would try to find a third team to absorb Terry’s contract. Terry, 36, has one season left on his deal after this one at $5.85 million and is averaging just 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting in 16 minutes per game.

***

No. 3: Report: Wolves, Grizz talking trade –The Memphis Grizzlies bolstered their team a few weeks ago with the additions of NBA D-League standout James Johnson and by pulling a trade for Celtics guard Courtney Lee. Both players have infused energy and 3-point shooting, respectively, to Memphis’ season and have helped get the Grizzlies back into the playoff mix out West. But despite that turnaround, Memphis is exploring a trade with the Minnesota that would send veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince and fan favorite Tony Allen to the Wolves for small forward Chase Budinger and guard J.J. Barea. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has more:

The Memphis Grizzlies are discussing a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves centered on forward Chase Budinger and guard J.J. Barea, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Memphis wants to include forward Tayshaun Prince into the package and the deal could be expanded to include guard Tony Allen, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Components of a proposed deal are still fluid.

Memphis has been furiously trying to unload Prince and the remaining $7.2 million (2013-’14) and $7.7 million (2014-’15) on his contract, league sources said.

Minnesota general manager Flip Saunders is believed to want to add defensive toughness to his roster, and that would make Allen a natural to fill the Wolves’ void.

***

No. 4: Report: Knicks eye Hawks’ Teague, remain interested in Lowry– Back in mid-December, the Knicks nearly pulled off a trade for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, but that deal fell apart when New York’s brass balked at Toronto’s request for a future first-round pick. Despite that, the Knicks remain interested in trying to work a trade for the near-All-Star guard and have also shown interest in Hawks point guard Jeff Teague as well.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com has the scoop on the Teague talks:

Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague has emerged as an appealing trade target for the New York Knicks, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Knicks, leading into Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, are calling all over the league in an attempt to upgrade at point guard.

Teague’s name has surfaced as a prime target given the Knicks’ increasing fears that their longstanding top choice — Toronto’s Kyle Lowry — will not be made available before the deadline, according to sources.

The Knicks have been chasing Lowry all season, as ESPN.com first reported in November. But sources indicate that Lowry and his advisers expect to finish the season in Toronto with the playoff-bound Raptors before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Teague’s name has thus surfaced as a prime alternative, provided that the Hawks are willing to part with him.

The Hawks would have to be interested in Iman Shumpert – and eager to shed Teague’s long-term contract — to give New York any hope of assembling a package to land the point guard.

And Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com has more on the Knicks’ continued interest in Lowry:

With the NBA trade deadline three days away, the Knicks continue to try to engage the Raptors in an attempt to acquire point guard Kyle Lowry, according to league sources.

The Knicks are offering packages including Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih, sources say. They have been reluctant to include sharpshooting rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. or a future first-round draft pick in any deal. One of those two pieces is believed to be a prerequisite for Toronto to consider giving up Lowry.

“It comes down to, can they talk themselves into getting rid of a first-rounder or Hardaway Jr. for Lowry?” one league source said.

Recent reports have stated the Raptors are no longer willing to deal Lowry, content to see how the rest of the season plays out. Lowry has been one of Toronto’s best players, and dealing him would send a bad message to the fan base.

One scenario to keep an eye on, though, is the possibility of a three-team deal involving the Hawks and point guard Jeff Teague. Atlanta has all of its first-round picks in the next four drafts and could conceivably send one to Toronto to satisfy the Raptors’ demand for a draft pick.

League sources say a scenario in which Teague ends up in Toronto, Shumpert goes to Atlanta and Lowry winds up in New York has been discussed. Another scenario could have Teague ending up in New York. The conversations are believed to be preliminary.


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey talks about trade deadline day nearing

***

No. 5: Kidd squares off against D-Will at Nets practiceTry as he might, Nets point guard Deron Williams hasn’t been able to consistently recapture in Brooklyn the style of play that made him an All-Star during his days with the Utah Jazz and the Nets’ days in New Jersey. In an effort to try and spark some of those old juices in his star, Nets coach Jason Kidd reportedly took to the court at a recent practice and squared off against D-Will, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Don’t let the tight suit fool you: Jason Kidd can still ball and still has those juices flowing.

During another disappointing and injury-riddled season for Deron Williams, Kidd stepped on the court and went head-to-head with the point guard in a spirited exchange at a recent practice, a source told the Daily News.

That’s one way to get through to the underachieving star: challenge him with Hall of Fame skills.

Exactly three years ago next week, the Nets acquired Williams in the franchise-altering deal with the Jazz, giving up a top prospect and two first-round picks for what GM Billy King called “the best point guard in the NBA.” It led to a debate about who acquired the better player at the 2011 trade deadline — the Nets with Williams, or the Knicks with Anthony.

But Williams has failed to live up to any expectations while battling injuries and confidence issues. Considering the MVP talk last summer, this season is probably the 29-year-old’s most disappointing, as he is averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 assists on 45% shooting. According to ESPN, the Nets turned down an offer to trade Williams to the Rockets, who were trying to package Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“(Williams) is never going to get back to where he was in Utah,” Charles Barkley said recently. “His best days are behind him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pelicans coach Monty Williams doesn’t think Tyreke Evans or Eric Gordon will be dealt anytime soon … Sixers swingman Evan Turner is watching and waiting out the trade talks surrounding him … The Bulls still aren’t expected to do much at the trade deadline … Former Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Lamar Odom has signed with a team in Spain … The Celtics reportedly talked about trading Rajon Rondo to the Kings, but that discussion fizzled out … Portland is reportedly out of the running for the 2017 All-Star Game

ICYMI of The Night: The LeBron James All-Star Interview aired on NBA TV last night and it’s quite compelling, especially LeBron’s explanation of his early years with the Heat …


VIDEO: LeBron James opens up about his first season in Miami

Blogtable: Your Should-Be All-Star Pick?

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


MVP: KD or LeBron? | A should-be All-Star? | Player’s flaw?



VIDEO: The Beat crew makes their All-Star Game reserve picks

Give me the player you’d like to see on the All-Star team but probably won’t make it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Al Jefferson, Charlotte. Just wrote about the guy, the season he’s having, the career he’s had, his impact on an improving Bobcats team and his really unfortunate close call as an All-Star reserve in 2009, when he suffered a double-whammy after missing out on the West squad by immediately blowing out a knee. Don’t give me that “All Stars need to come from teams north of .500″ stuff, because it’s a team game and the NBA wants top players to migrate to struggling franchises, right? A roster spot in New Orleans – site of his knee blowout, coincidentally – and a few All-Star minutes would light up Big Al like a Roman candle.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Goran Dragic. He probably gets squeezed out by James Harden’s higher scoring average and Tony Parker playing for a Spurs team that is near the top of the West. But Dragic has been the offensive leader of the real surprise team in the conference and his play has only gone up in recent weeks without Eric Bledsoe in the lineup.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Mike Conley and Goran Dragic are right up there for me, but from a purely show-stopping standpoint I’d love to see Clippers center DeAndre Jordan get the chance to throw down a series of lobs from the West’s great stable of table-setters. Jordan as an All-Star isn’t such a wild notion. He’s averaging 9.5 ppg and a league-best 13.9 rpg. He’s also fourth in blocked shots (2.38) as he puts together a terrific year defensively. But, hey, defense and the All-Star Game never really went hand-in-glove. That’s not what this is about. This is about pure entertainment value, and for that, no one can go up and throw it down quite like DeAndre Jordan.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Anthony Davis. At least I think he won’t be there. It would not be a shock if he is, though, and he certainly would be worthy. It has nothing to do with the hometown angle of the Pelicans’ franchise player representing in New Orleans and everything to do with talent. He is already at an All-Star level, en route to being a superstar who will make the mid-season showcase in about every one of the next 10 years. He deserves the spotlight. He has earned the spotlight.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comAnthony Davis, of course. As the last couple of games have shown, the guy’s a monster. The festivities are in his building, and he’s one of a couple of big men (Blake Griffin obviously being the other) who would be a ton of fun to watch in the All-Star Game. I don’t think Davis really deserves to go (there are a bunch of bigs on winning teams who are more deserving), but I’d love to see him there.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’d love to see Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan on the team for so many different reasons. Mostly because I feel like he’s put together a body of work this season that clearly shows he’s earned it, but for one reason in particular — player evolution. So many times coaches run their jibbers about wanting a young player to keep his head down and just improve each and every aspect of his game, while also working for the greater good. They want young players to evolve. And so often a guy does that and never sees the reward in the way of an All-Star bid because the fans pick five of the guys and then the coaches feel obligated to hand out All-Star nods to veterans based on their reputation or status. The window for so many of these guys to make an All-Star team is tiny. So it would be nice to see everything line up for a guy like DeRozan, who has gone about his business in a way that coaches swear they love, turning himself into something much more than just the athletic, rim finisher he was branded as earlier in his career.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I’ll go with a guy who’s never been an All-Star but who is consistently one of the most exciting players in the NBA: Jamal Crawford. With the Clippers he plays largely a complementary role, which makes sense when you’re playing alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and defense has never really been something that he’s done with any sort of commitment. But he is averaging 18 points per game this season, and he’s remarkably versatile within the Clippers offense, playing the 1 and 2 and helping the Clips survive injuries to both Paul and J.J. Redick. Besides, if anyone’s game is made for an All-Star Game, it’s Jamal’s, with his ridiculous crossover dribbles and four-point plays.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: For me as a German it isn’t very difficult to make a pick: Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk plays a great season and performs again on a high level. Not everyone expected that after the way his knee injury hampered him last year. His figures are at his career level and on good days he can still dominate every power forward in the league. But with all the great bigs in the West it would be very difficult to get nominated again.

Aldo Miguel Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Jeff Teague. He’s an underrated and under-appreciated player for the Hawks. The way he is running the team is impressive. Minus Josh Smith and Al Horford, you would think that the Hawks would become bottom-feeders in the league, but Teague has been able to keep them afloat.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Goran Dragic. I can’t see him getting in with all the guards in the Western Conference but this guy has been phenomenal. He has been an integral part of Phoenix’s great start to the season and has gone to another level in Eric Bledsoe‘s absence. He and LeBron James are the only players in the league with at least 19 points and 6 assists while shooting 49 percent. What’s most impressive about his shooting percentage is that his usage rate has significantly increased since Bledsoe went down.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Trail Blazers are more than just a two-man team | Shaw relished time with Vogel | Raptors weary of injuries | Heat forced to play waiting game with Wade

No. 1: Blazers more than a two-man team — The Portland Trail Blazers are riding the wave of a MVP candidate (LaMarcus Aldridge), a Most Improved candidate (Damian Lillard) and a Coach of the Year candidate (Terry Stotts) to one of the most surprising and impressive starts we’ve seen from any team in recent years. They have already equaled their win total from a year ago, after taking care of the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday. But they are more than just a two-man team with one of the hottest coaches in the game. The Oregonian‘s Joe Freeman explains:

As the Moda Center masses gathered to watch LaMarcus Aldridge go head-to-head against Kevin Love and reignite the debate over which player is the best power forward in the NBA, a funny thing happened:
The Trail Blazers proved yet again they’re more than a one-man team.
With a difference-making outing from the bench, balanced scoring and meaningful contributions up and down the roster, the Blazers used a team effort to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 115-104 Saturday night at the Moda Center.
Oh, sure, Love and Aldridge had some sparkling moments and they provided enough highlights to satisfy a salivating sellout crowd. But their growing rivalry was more fizzle than sizzle as the Blazers (33-11) used a team-oriented approach to avenge a December defeat to the Timberwolves and equal the number of victories they had all of last season.
“One thing about LA — and we talked about it — the media and (the team) put more into it than he did,” Mo Williams said of Aldridge’s matchup with Love. “All he kept saying was, ‘Man, all I care about is the win. All I care about is the win.’ And I believe him. I thought he just came out and played basketball. He didn’t try to overdo it. He didn’t try to do too much. He wasn’t bigger than the game. I thought the game was more important than the matchup with him and Kevin Love.”
In the end, the Blazers won thanks to their bench, which outscored the Timberwolves’ second unit 34-15, and the sum of their parts rather than the talent of their All-Star. As usual, backup point guard Williams was at the heart of the Blazers’ bench, and he finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds during a flashy 25 minutes that featured behind-the-back passes, three-pointers and a relentless push-the-pace mentality.

***

No. 2: Shaw relished time with Vogel: – Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw has nothing but love for his Indiana Pacers’ counterpart Frank Vogel. When you work as closely as they did, when Shaw worked as an assistant under Vogel prior to this season, a mutual admiration society (of two) can develop. And if familiarity with one another gives your current team an edge, as it perhaps did when the Nuggets snapped a three-game skid with a win over the Pacers, so be it. But the bond between these two men remains, regardless of the outcome of games. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more:

As the story goes, Shaw would indeed listen to Frank Vogel and join his staff as an assistant head coach. Shaw became an integral part of the Pacers, influencing their play and developing lasting relationships with players. Saturday, as the head coach for the Denver Nuggets, Shaw faced his former team for the first time and recalled how his time in Indianapolis influenced his current mindset as a leader.

“I was coming from Los Angeles to Indiana,” Shaw said. “I had to learn how to do things a different way under Frank Vogel and being a part of the group that he has now, and I watched some of those players grow.

“Frank Vogel is a great coach. He comes from a video coordinating background so he believes in watching a lot of video and that was different for me. We had to come in every day and get 20 minutes every day of watching videos. Just watching how he organized practices every day and getting prepared for games, I learned from him.”

In the summer of 2011, as Vogel sought Shaw to join the Pacers, he pitched the family-friendly suburbs but mainly the opportunity for a young assistant with high aspirations.

“I told him he was crazy to go to ESPN, he should come work for us,” Vogel said. “We’re doing special things. I knew he wanted to be a head coach, and I really felt like staying in the trenches was his best way to do that and not just staying in the trenches for anyone but for a team that’s really doing some special things.

“And the first phone call, the first thing out of my mouth was, ‘Listen, we need to talk because we can really help each other.’ I was recruiting him to try and position himself but I really needed him as well.”

***

No. 3: Raptors weary of injuries, especially after big night from Ross – Terrence Ross enjoyed the finest night of his NBA career against the Los Angeles Clippers, albeit in a loss. But his 51-point explosion was directly impacted by an injury to the man who has been perhaps the Raptors’ most important player this season, DeMar DeRozan. Injuries, the great equalizer for any team, are a concern for a Raptors crew, GM Masai Ujiri in particular, that understands the greatest of plans can be derailed by the wrong player going down at the wrong time. Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star delivers the details:

A few weeks ago, GM Masai Ujiri was chatting about his short-term vision for this club. As you might expect, the short-term vision is all over the place. Everything depends on how they perform. He was certain about one thing.

“Injuries,” Ujiri said. “That’s what haunts me.”

Patrick Patterson had his nose broken by a Blake Griffin elbow. In a truly Raptor-y touch, Patterson was called for a foul on the play.

But he’ll be OK; and even if he weren’t, this team would survive.

However, without DeRozan, this is an untenable exercise. There can be no true tank now — it’s too late for that. But it would be a tank without volition. This team would get very bad, very quickly.

Nonetheless, DeRozan played 10 more game minutes. He came out before the end of the first half to get re-taped. He went for two more minutes in the second half before giving up.

“It’s a little painful right now,” DeRozan said, but didn’t seem terribly concerned. An X-ray was negative.

We’ll see in a day or two. If DeRozan plays Monday in Brooklyn, no harm. Even if he sits a game or two, no biggie.

But if this is the beginning of an extended absence, some hard questions will have to be asked about those 10 extra minutes, and putting this team’s leader in real jeopardy.

***

No. 4: Heat forced to play waiting game with Wade – Dwyane Wade isn’t the only NBA superstar whose injury issues have forced his team to adjust its long-term plans for this season. Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul have all missed significant time for their respective teams this season. But none of those other stars toil for the two-time defending NBA champs. And the Heat, with today’s Finals rematch with the San Antonio Spurs on tap, still don’t know what to expect from Wade. He might very well sit out again today. The Heat have no choice but to play the waiting game with Wade. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald sheds some light on the Heat’s plight:

If this were the postseason, then Dwyane Wade would be playing.

Wade has missed four straight games do to pain in his knee, and could miss Sunday’s game against the Spurs as well, but he indicated Saturday that he’s only missing games because, well, these games aren’t really that meaningful when weighed against protecting one of the best players in the NBA.

“The playoffs are different,” said Wade, who spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since scratching himself from the lineup last week. “If this was the playoffs, I wouldn’t have been out.”

Wade went through some of the Heat’s practice drills Saturday and worked on his conditioning in preparation for the Spurs’ first game at AmericanAirlines Arena since Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. A final decision on his playing status likely will not be made until about an hour before tipoff, which is set for 1 p.m.

“I don’t know,” Wade said when asked if he would play. “Today was a good day just being back on the court and [Sunday] we’ll see.”

Wade, who has missed 13 games this season, hasn’t played since scoring eight points in consecutive games against the Wizards and 76ers. Before that, he scored at least 20 points in 10 of 12 games. Despite the sudden drop-off in production and games on the bench, Wade wouldn’t call his latest block of rest a setback.

“At that time it was a setback,” Wade said, referring to a comment he made after playing the Sixers on Jan.17. “Now it’s not … At this point there ain’t no setbacks, it’s just what I’m dealing with.

“It’s what I’ve been dealing with all year. I don’t know how much back I can go, so it’s the same thing.” 


VIDEO: RAnother huge night around the league is captured in the Top 10 plays

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tom Thibodeau could care less about aesthetics. The Bulls coach only cares about winning games … Might Carmelo Anthony be ready for an encore performance against the Los Angeles Lakers today? Could be … Jazz rising star Trey Burke won the battle of young point guards and the game against the Wizards’ John Wall … Lakers forward Pau Gasol delivers some painful truths about his team and their season, to date …

ICYMI of The Night: You didn’t think Kevin Durant was done, did you? He earned a night off Friday and bounced back in the fashion you’d expect from a man who has been destroying the competition all season. The leading candidate for the MVP kept up his torrid pace in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers:


VIDEO: Kevin Durant makes it 10 straight games with 30 or more points while also notching a triple-double

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.

Hawks’ Teague Ready For (All-)Star Turn?




VIDEO: Jeff Teague does it all for the Hawks in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

ATLANTA – It’s a good thing Jeff Teague doesn’t have to rely on … uh, Jeff Teague to crank up the hype machine on his All-Star campaign. Because the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard would rather discuss anything but his obvious candidacy for one of those coveted spots on the Eastern Conference reserves list.

Make no mistake, Teague wants on that prestigious list. He makes that clear night after night during his fifth and finest season in the league. He’s just not willing or able to commit himself to the sideshow that is lobbying on his own behalf, which is actually pretty refreshing.

In an era when some players are busier on Twitter and other social media sites than they are on the court on a given night, Teague is decidedly frills-free in his approach to the game and everything else that comes with along with his status as the healthy face of the Hawks. Al Hoford, who was headed for his third All-Star nod before suffering a season-ending right pectoral muscle tear on Dec. 26, is physically unable to perform that duty now. That leaves the work to a committee headed by Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver.

“I honestly don’t worry about that stuff,” Teague said before leading the Hawks past the Indiana Pacers to snap a three-game losing streak Wednesday night at Philips Arena. “I just play, do my job and let everything else take care of itself.”

That shouldn’t be hard in an Eastern Conference All-Star landscape where Teague is the head of the snake of one of just three teams with a winning record (the Pacers and Miami Heat are the others). And with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams either injured or suffering through injury-plagued seasons, there is an opening for some fresh blood in the All-Star point-guard mix.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel praised Teague’s work this season and said he’s absolutely on the short list of players that Eastern Conference coaches need to consider when filling out their All-Star reserves ballots.

“The history of the league has rewarded winning teams,” Vogel said. “He’s certainly and All-Star level, an All-Star caliber player. He’s having a terrific season and carrying the load now even more that Horford is out. And I know he is the focal point of our game plan every time we play these guys. They are spread out more and they have 3-point shooting bigs, and I think that just opens up the court for him to go to work and makes it more difficult to help. And he’s just growing, he’s developing and each year he’s gotten better. Like I said, he’s a terrific young guard.”

Seven months ago the restricted free agent wasn’t even sure he’d be wearing a Hawks uniform. Teague signed an offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks, where his former coach Larry Drew landed, and was prepared to start over in the Central Division. After spending his first four seasons here in Atlanta, with the team that drafted him with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Teague was mentally prepared to start over if the Hawks didn’t match the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer.

Once the Hawks made it clear that they planned to rebuild with Teague at the controls, he was able to make peace with his situation and dive into the point-guard friendly system of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Atlanta’s new boss learned a thing or two about tutoring young point guards after helping mold San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tony Parker‘s game over the years.

“I’m happy to be here, I love Atlanta, the city … it’s perfect for me,” Teague said. “I’ve been here my whole career, so I was glad to be back. We’ve got all good guys, nobody looking for extra. Just all good guys working hard and trying to get better and trying to win. So at the end of the day, it’s a perfect environment for me.”

A perfect environment with the perfect coach. Budenholzer’s meticulous approach intrigued Teague. His collaborative approach also struck a chord with the extremely laid back Teague, whose easygoing nature should not be confused for any lack of desire or effort to try to dominate the opposition on a nightly basis.

“He pulls me aside all the time just to talk basketball,” Teague said. “I’ve never had that happen before. It’s just the perfect system for me, the perfect blend. And we’re all still trying to figure it out. As the year goes on I think we’ll get better and better at doing what we do.”

They’ll have to do it without the security blanket that Horford provided. Horford’s steady face-up game allowed the Hawks to lean on their “system” in the fourth quarter of games, to let Teague and Horford’s chemistry to shine through.

“We’re running the same stuff but it’s definitely different without Al,” Teague said. “In the fourth quarter we usually go the high pick and roll with me and Al. And that was real effective for us. I honestly didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot with Pero (Antic) and Elton (Brand), so we’re all still getting adjusted, I’m still getting comfortable with those guys and learning where they want to be and where they like to get the ball in those situations. We’re still learning each other and still learning on the fly right now.”

Teague has already put in the necessary work to garner favorable All-Star consideration. He’s averaging career highs across the board, in points (16.9), assists (8.0), rebounds (2.8) and minutes (33.5).There is still plenty of work to be done, something Teague is the first to admit. His 3-point shooting remains streaky as ever, he made just 3-for-17 from deep in the five games prior to Wednesday night’s game.

Still, the overall strides made in his game from last season to this one are glaring and should not be overlooked when All-Star bids are discussed.

“I just know how valuable he’s been to us,” Budenholzer said. “He’s kind of that engine that gets us going. And any success we’ve had this year, he’s been a huge part of that, taking on the responsibility with the ball in his hands a lot and generating shots for others and for himself. I know there are a lot of good point guards, and I’m a little bit biased, but I think he deserves to be [on that list].”

At least someone is willing to lobby for Teague, even if he won’t.