Posts Tagged ‘Paul Millsap’

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

That’s probably a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

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

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

And he left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Blogtable: Worried about Hawks?

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


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



VIDEOHow the Spurs diced up the Hawks in Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Study: Missing Korver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play 1 – Iguodala helps off Bazemore

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

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


VIDEO: Play 1 – Iguodala helps

Play 2 – Holiday helps off Bazemore

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

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


VIDEO: Play 2 – Holiday helps

Now let’s rewind to February …

Play 3 – No help off Korver

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

20150319_film_3

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


VIDEO: Play 3 – No help off Korver

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

Play 4 – Setting a screen

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

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

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

Play 5 – Switch = mismatch

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

20150319_play5

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

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

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

George ‘in’ for USA Basketball camp


VIDEO: USA Basketball wins the gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Cup

For USA Basketball, preparation for the 2016 Olympics has already begun.

As a result of its gold medal victory in last year’s World Cup of Basketball, the U.S. has qualified for the Rio games and won’t be participating in this summer’s FIBA Americas tournament, where two more Olympic bids will be earned. But the U.S. will bring together staff and players in Las Vegas for a four-day mini-camp in August. Potential Olympians were notified of the camp last fall, and the USA Basketball staff has been in communication with them throughout the season.

There are currently 34 players on the National Team roster. The list includes an initial 28-man pool that was announced last January, as well as six players — DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Paul Millsap, Chandler Parsons, Mason Plumlee and John Wall — that were added last summer.

It includes MVP candidates Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, as well as reigning MVP Kevin Durant and Paul George, who broke his leg playing in a USA Basketball exhibition last summer.

This summer’s mini-camp will include another exhibition game at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, where George snapped his right leg against the bottom of the basket stanchion last Aug. 1. The stanchions at Thomas & Mack have since been replaced by ones that are further from the court.

Though George has been practicing with the Indiana Pacers for three weeks, he has yet to decide if he’ll play this season. But he told NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner on Wednesday that his summer plans won’t change whether or not he plays between now and the end of the Pacers’ season. And when asked about the mini-camp, he was clear that he intends to be there.

“I’m in,” George said. “Of course.”

“The day it happened,” George added, referencing his injury, “right after, I told them I looked forward to continuing on with USA basketball.”  (more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s 26-team extravaganza around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors whip the champs | Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors | Statement game for Cavs | Kupchak: Kobe not the Lakers’ problem

No. 1:  Warriors whip the champs — Watching the craziness of the trade deadline and refraining from diving in might have been the right call for the Golden State Warriors. The best team in the league didn’t feel the pressure to get involved on the busiest deadline day in NBA history. If Friday night’s whipping of the San Antonio Spurs is any indication, we know why. They are rock solid up and down the roster and continue to play like a team destined for big things in the postseason. Beating the champs was just business as usual for a team that has soared this season. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains:

After the 110-99 victory Friday, the Warriors collectively shrugged at the significance of defeating their nemesis in a season during which they’ve sustained excellence and focused on fine-tuning for the playoffs.

“For us, we’ve been playing so well this season that we can’t really get distracted by the opponent as much as what we’re trying to do,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re beating the Spurs.’ It was, ‘We’re back to how we’re playing.’ ”

Curry, in an MVP-caliber performance, dazzled with 25 points and 11 assists. Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Andre Iguodala scored 14 off the bench as the Warriors improved to 43-9.

The league-leading Warriors showed deference in pregame comments about the Spurs. Coach Steve Kerr, who has borrowed elements of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich‘s offense, called them “the gold standard.” Iguodala said San Antonio was Golden State’s “big brother.”

The Spurs cruised to a win at Oracle Arena in November, but the Warriors exacted a measure of revenge in dominating them this time.

The Warriors shot 17 for 33 from 3-point range. Curry and Thompson combined to hit seven 3-pointers, but the barrage didn’t end there as Iguodala was 4 for 6 from long distance and Draymond Green 3 for 6.

“We’re not going to make it like that (win) is a big deal,” Green said. “It’s not like we really made a statement to anyone that no one else didn’t know.”

On defense, the Warriors clamped down as the Spurs committed 16 turnovers playing in their second game of a back-to-back. San Antonio needed more than four minutes to score its first field goal in the second half as the Warriors added to their halftime advantage to take a 14-point lead.

By the end of the quarter, it became clear that a rout was in store for the Spurs as the Warriors bench came alive. David Lee then had a stretch where he threw down a dunk, came up with a steal and dished off an assist to Iguodala for a 3-pointer that gave the Warriors an 83-68 lead. Curry and Iguodala followed with back-to-back 3-pointers that sent the Warriors sideline and crowd into a frenzy.

“It’s pretty simple for us,” Kerr said. “Defend like crazy, take care of the ball, move the ball. When we do that, we have enough weapons where we’re going to score enough points.”

***

No. 2: Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors — No one has toppled the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks more than once this season, until Friday night. The Toronto Raptors popped them for the third time, this one an ugly home loss coming out of the All-Star break, a 1-2 matchup that made the challenger look like the kryptonite that could potentially derail the hawks’ postseason dreams. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains just how ugly it was Friday night at Philips Arena as the Hawks laid a royal egg in their stretch run opener:

Say this for the Atlanta Hawks: They don’t stink often, but when they do, they reek to high heaven. They lost Friday to Toronto by 25 points — the final was 105-80 — after trailing by 35, and full credit to the Raptors. They were primed. They became the first team to beat the Hawks three times. (Toronto was also the first to do it twice.)

And now you ask: Should Hawks fans be concerned? And the answer is: Nah.

This was almost a set-up game. The Hawks had spent the All-Star break living the All-Star life, to which few of them were accustomed. They had eight days to lose the rhythm that had carried them to 19 consecutive victories and 35 of 37, and they didn’t just lose it: They buried it at the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Speaking of oceans: As the saying goes, the Hawks couldn’t throw the ball in one. They missed 59 of 88 shots, 30 of 38 3-pointers. (It was their worst shooting night of the season.) Kyle Korver, on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons ever, had one of the worst games — and not only at shooting; he also had two egregious turnovers — in the history of the sport. When last did you see an All-Star actually throw up his hands in self-disgust?

They also missed seven of 21 free throws, including a Paul Millsap air ball. Holy moley.

The third quarter was comic. The Hawks missed 16 of 19 shots, including all eight of their treys, and made nine turnovers, off which the Raptors scored half of their 28 points. Five Hawks shots were blocked. Five Toronto shots were, too. In one screwball stretch, the visitors had three layups blocked — and still they stretched a four-point halftime lead to 19.

“They gave it to us good tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, and here we note that his team had done something similar in Toronto last month, winning 110-89 on Jan. 16. That loss sat poorly with the Raptors.

“They were really ready to play,” Al Horford said. And his team? “Some of it has to be rust,” he said. “We threw the ball all over the place.”

Budenholzer: “I don’t think we played with the energy and activity we’ve gotten accustomed to night after night.”

When last the Hawks looked this awful, it was on the night after Christmas. They lost 107-77 here to Milwaukee after a two-day break. Then they won the next 19, going undefeated in January. That streak began, as fate would have it, in Milwaukee. And where do the Hawks play Sunday?

In Milwaukee. Just sayin’.

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VIDEO: Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel provides a Chris Bosh/Heat update

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No. 3: Statement game for Cavs — Don’t let the record or their place in the Eastern Conference standings fool you, the (LeBron James-led) Cleveland Cavaliers are a legitimate championship contender. Everyone knows that by now. Don’t believe it? Just watch a few minutes from their demolition of the Washington Wizards from Friday night. It was all Jason Reid of The Washington Post needed to see to be convinced that the Cavs truly are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference:

History tells us it takes star power to win championships, and no one possesses more than the game’s best player. With the long all-star break over, James is back at work and focused on playing in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive season. It appears the Cleveland Cavaliers can help him get there.

Their slow start a distant memory, the surging Cavaliers rolled again Friday night, dismantling the listless Wizards, 127-89.

While dominating Washington and moving ahead of it in the conference standings, Cleveland won for the 15th time in 17 games. It was a familiar story, James shining as the catalyst and producing 28 points, five rebounds and six assists. The Cavaliers led by as many as 40 points, overwhelming the Wizards in another sharp performance.

Although Washington still was without injured guard Bradley Beal, you got the sense that Cleveland, which only would be seeded fourth if the playoffs began today, is the team to beat in the East. There’s much to like about the Cavaliers.

Everything revolves around James, who, in his 12th season, is as great as ever. But the four-time NBA most valuable player also was outstanding while the team struggled early in his return to Cleveland after a four-year run with the Miami Heat. What’s different now? A lot.

Increasingly, guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love — the other members of the Cavaliers’ Big Three — have become more comfortable playing alongside James. It was silly to think that the all-stars would immediately click after James and Love arrived in the offseason. This isn’t fantasy basketball. The awkwardness apparently behind them, though, the high-profile co-workers are getting it figured out.

On Friday, Irving supported James with a 25-point, seven-assist effort. Love contributed eight points, six rebounds and toughness. The Wizards could have used some of that.

“We’ve lost that edge of nastiness that we played with,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We came out and felt, again, we’re going to warm our way into this game. They had other ideas. They hit us in the mouth right from the jump ball, and we couldn’t recover from it.”

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

For Cleveland, James, Irving and Love, as expected, have provided the foundation to potentially build something great this season. Cleveland’s in-season remodeling has paid off, too.

***

No. 4: Kupchak: Lakers will begin anew, with Kobe — Even if it is for just one more season, perhaps Kobe Bryant‘s final season, the Los Angeles Lakers will start over again next season with their biggest star in the middle of the mix. So says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who made it clear that the plan is to build for the long-term future after this dismal season ends. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

As bad as the Lakers are this season, Kupchak said they aren’t going to tank the last 28 regular-season games just to be ensured of getting that top-five pick.

“I just don’t know how you send that message to a coaching staff or players,” Kupchak said. “That’s not just something that we want people to think that we would do.”

The Lakers will get Bryant, who had season-ending rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder, and rookie Randle, who is recovering from a broken right leg, back next season.

But Kupchak is not sure how much longer Bryant, 36, will play. Bryant is due to make $25 million next season.

Kupchak acknowledged the All-Star, who will be embarking on his 20th season in the NBA, is nearing the end of his career.

That means at some point the Lakers will have to start preparing for the future without Bryant.

“So at some point we have to start a new run,” Kupchak said. “That’s definitely going to include Kobe next year. Beyond that…. So to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money just to win one more year because that’s Kobe’s last year or could be his last year, I’m not sure that fits into doing things the right way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mavericks swingman Chandler Parsons injured his ankle Friday night … Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose apologized for the “travel issues” that dogged him after the All-Star break … Miami Heat star Chris Bosh is in “great spirits” but his season could be over due to blood clots in his lungs

ICYMI: Who says DeMarcus Cousins can’t thrive under George Karl? He looked just fine Friday night


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes to work in George Karl’s debut as head coach in Sacramento

Hawks well represented, except one


VIDEO: Coach Mike Budenholzer talks about the Hawks’ success

NEW YORK– The Big Apple is Atlanta North for the weekend with Hawks all over the place, competing in events on Friday, Saturday and finally Sunday when four players and the entire coaching staff will represent the East in the All-Star Game.

“It’s awesome to have everyone here,” said Hawks forward Al Horford. “When we get on the bus, almost half the bus is Hawks. I’ve been here before at the All-Star Game but never has it been to this magnitude, mainly because we have a number of players and our coaches here with me.”

Well, there is one notable absence. Somewhere in Atlanta, the person who put the Hawks together is observing from a distance, to say the least. Danny Ferry took a voluntary leave of absence after the events of this summer, when he read a scouting report that was viewed as racially if not culturally insensitive, and has been a ghost while the Hawks surprisingly soared to the top of the East.

Ferry was responsible, either directly or indirectly, in every member of the Hawks’ All-Star contingent with the exception of Horford, whom he inherited when he became GM three years ago. Ferry matched an offer sheet to keep Jeff Teague, signed Paul Millsap, traded for Kyle Korver and signed coach Mike Budenholzer. That’s one-third of the East team, plus the coach.

The question now is, will Ferry ever get to enjoy the benefits of his hard work from a point-blank range, instead of his TV set?

Well, all indications say that will be up to the next owners of the Hawks, whenever they’re sold, which might not happen until this summer or fall. If left up to the players, however, there’s a pretty clear consensus.

“He brought us all together,” said Teague. “I don’t think anyone would be against it.”

Millsap: “I would welcome him back. We still don’t know the truth as far as everything that’s going on or everything that happened. I try to stay out of it. But we had a great relationship before all of this happened. I’m not going to let one day throw that relationship down the drain. People make mistakes.”

Remember, Ferry wasn’t told to stay away by the league or even the fractured Hawks ownership. He took it upon himself. And technically, he could return on his own accord, although there probably would be some awkward moments if that happened. In any event, one of the groups trying to buy the Hawks is led by Grant Hill. They both attended Duke and remain friends, so you can guess what might happen should Hill’s team win. If another group wins, then all bets are off.

“He’s definitely a great GM,” said Millsap. “And I’m sure this must be tough for him.”

Elsewhere around All-Star Weekend:

Melo will play at least one more game:

Carmelo Anthony will play in the All-Star Game. Otherwise, that’s all he would guarantee.

There’s bait of controversy surrounding the Knicks forward. On one hand, Melo has complained about a chronic left knee problem, which forced him to miss games. But he felt fine enough to play in London in the Knicks’ game against the Bucks, and has played since, leading up to the All-Star Game.

Therefore: With the 10-43 Knicks comfortably out of the playoff hunt and three months to go, will Melo suddenly feel unfit to play once the All-Star Game is over?

It looks that way, and can you blame him? Melo felt he had a responsibility to suit up in London, if only because he was clearly a drawing card, and also serve as host of the All-Star Game since it’ll be played at the Garden.

“I really want to embrace that,” he said. “This will be a moment I’ll never forget. New York won’t forget. I want to be a part of that moment.”

Melo added: “It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Because if I said I’m not participating, I would’ve gotten backlash about it. I’m saying I’m participating, I get backlash. It’s here in New York, the fans voted me in and I’m going to play in the game.”

DeMarcus is good with Karl:

There won’t be any push-back from DeMarcus Cousins when George Karl begins coaching the Kings next week, so says DeMarcus Cousins.

“He’s a good coach,” said Cousins. “I haven’t really had a chance to talk with him, so may things were going on when they brought him in. I’m excited to see him and move forward.”

Cousins dismissed the idea that he was against the hiring of Karl and insists he has no voice in major decisions. If Karl can help the Kings return to a level of respectability they had under Mike Malone, Cousins is fine with that.

“I didn’t want them to fire Mike Malone,” he said. “That wasn’t my doing. And this hiring wasn’t my doing. But I’m fine with it. Look, everybody needs to be on the same page. That’s been the biggest issue so far. We were a team above .500 when Malone was there. Things happen for a reason and there are things beyond our control as players, beyond my control.”

Cousins did say one thing will continue: If the Kings sleep-walk through games, they will hear about it from him.

“As leader of my team, I’m supposed to voice my opinion about how we’ve been playing. I should be in that position.”

Boogie Barks Back:

Cousins also had some harsh words for Charles Barkley. The two aren’t exactly friends; Barkley has criticized Cousins on-air (although Barkley did say Cousins deserved to be on the All-Star team) and Cousins took exception to it then, and now.

“I mean, that’s Charles being Charles, man,” he said. “A lot of people don’t really know the real story about it. I never really had anything to do with it in the first place. It ain’t personal. I mean, I really respect the guy but at the same time I don’t really care what he thinks either. I don’t respect him and I don’t care what he thinks.”

Curry ready for prime time:

You come to New York expecting to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony dominating the billboards. But … Stephen Curry?

Curry is splashed on a huge neon billboard overlooking Times Square, as the spokesman for Express, the men’s casual sportswear company. And others are featuring Curry in ads. And Curry, the leading vote-getter in the West, finds it … amusing if not overwhelming.

“Two years ago I wasn’t here,” said Curry, meaning on the All-Star team. “Now, to have all of this support, from all over the world, fans of the NBA and fans of myself and how I play the game, I feel very humbled to know that we have an impact on so many people.

“There are guys here who are MVPs and who have won championships. That’s what I’m striving for. To know that along the way these kinds of acknowledgments happen, it’s encouraging to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Wade gives thumbs-up to Korver:

Dwyane Wade won’t play in the All-Star Game because of a lingering hamstring injury but he almost pulled another muscle when he was approached by his replacement, Kyle Korver.

Korver was extremely apologetic and Wade was caught off-guard.

“It’s funny,” Wade said. “He had this look on his face like, ‘I’m sorry that you’re not able to play, but really I’m not sorry.’ It was hilarious. So, I’m happy for him to get his All-Star nod.”

Wade added: “Obviously, we came in the league together. So it’s cool that he’s getting his nod. And they deserve it, man. When you play the way they’ve played all year, you deserve to be represented and showcased.”

Davis says Pelicans are all in:

The race for playoff pole position in the West is fierce, with the Suns and Thunder, separated by a half-game, largely considered the favorites for the eighth spot. But Anthony Davis believes the Pelicans are in the picture for the long haul.

“I believe so,” he said. “It’s easy to kind of count us out because of where we’re at in our development, but everyone on the team thinks the playoffs is in our reach. So, yeah, we’re going for it.”

New Orleans has lost 3 straight games and fell a game behind OKC, which is trying to recover from losing Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for a chunk of the season due to injuries. Still, the Pelicans recently managed a split with OKC and Davis is having an MVP-like season.

“We’re not going to give up,” Davis said.

As for OKC?

Durant: “Man, I’m not even thinking about that right now. I just want to enjoy this All-Star Weekend.”

Awkward media/player interview exchange:

Reporter from Europe: “Chris Bosh, you are elegant.”

Bosh: “Thank you.”

 

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron calls out Love … and it works | Clippers in a tail-spin | Karl and Kings close on a deal | Dwight Howard the big cheerleader?

No. 1: LeBron calls out Love … and it works — Even when he’s being a bit of a heel, LeBron James gets it right. He called out Kevin Love, who has admittedly struggled with his transition from focal point in Minnesota to third option in Cleveland behind James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. That he took to Twitter to do it will bother some, okay plenty of folks, with old school sensibilities about how to lead. But it’s hard to argue with the results. Love had one of his best games of the season Sunday in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James has nearly 18.7 million followers on Twitter, but a tweet he sent at 11:37 Saturday night was likely, almost certainly, directed at a single person.

His teammate, Kevin Love.

James posted to his Twitter account: “Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts.”

Those words — “fit out” and “fit in” — were the same Love used to reporters in October when discussing his adjustment to playing for the Cavaliers.

“it’s not a coincidence, man,” James told a few reporters, following the Cavaliers’ 120-105 win over the Lakers Sunday. Love scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

“I lost the Finals in 2007, 2011 and 2014 and that was the same day I came back to Cleveland. Put it together, seven, 11, 14. Coincidence” James said, proving his point.

For reference, it is indeed true that James announced his decision to return to Cleveland via free agency on July 11, 2014.

James was asked about his tweet following Sunday’s game and Love’s big night. James nearly recorded a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists — three of those assists went to Love on three-pointers.

“It wasn’t even about this team, it was more about people in general,” James said initially, to a larger group of reporters. “It was just a general thought that I had, and obviously whatever thought I had people try to encrypt it and Da Vinci Code it and all that stuff. It’s just a general thought, that’s all that is.

“And people are always trying to fit out instead of fitting in, instead of being a part of something special. And that’s all that was about.”

In October, Love told reporters that “I’m just trying not to fit in so much” and that nameless Cavs teammates had told him to “fit out and just be myself.”

“Fit in” and “fit out” of course, were written in all caps in James’ tweet.


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks after the Cavs’ win over the Lakers

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Davis delivers | Hawks are No. 1 | LeBron hurt in loss | Spurs beat Heat again | CP3 moving on
No. 1: Davis’ brow beater saves the day — We’ve all seen Anthony Davis do plenty of amazing things this season, but on Friday night he topped himself with another first. He capped off an incredible 41-point night with a stunning, 28-foot, double-clutching 3-point, buzzer-beater that delivered a win at Oklahoma City and allowed the Pelicans to gain a critical split of their back-to-back set of games against the Thunder. It was next step up in carving the growing reputation of the 21-year-old star and Davis’ first 3-pointer of the season. Maybe best of all, it wasn’t the play that coach Monty Williams drew up. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

”The play was supposed to be a lob just throw it at the rim and try to go get it,” Davis said.”’But they went under and I kind popped and I saw KD (Kevin Durant) and I think that was West (Russell Westbrook) on the other side flying in to me, so I double pumped and just threw it up there.

”I double pumped, but I tried to look to see if it came off the right finger. I was falling so I couldn’t really see the shot. But I could see that it was on line and I knew the ball was in the air before the red light came on.”

Appearing to be on a mission in his third season to get the Pelicans in playoff contention in the tough Western Conference, the ninth-seeded Pelicans (27-23) moved a game behind the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns and they have a two-game lead over Oklahoma City.  The Pelicans, who play host to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center ( 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV), won three of the four games against the Thunder. In December, Davis scored 38 points to lead the Pelicans to a 101-99 victory at Oklahoma City.

Davis said never made a 3-point under such conditions before. From his ability to take over games with his shot-blocking, mid-range shooting, inside play, there is little question about Davis’ emergence as a rising elite player.

”That’s just a superstar shot,”Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said.”You rarely see a shot like that go in and leave it to Anthony to make it. It’s just crazy, but he has the ability to make shots like that. Beyond his game-clinching 3-pointer, Davis helped carry the Pelicans beyond their own miscues late in the game.

***

No. 2: Hawks take over top spot in NBA — It’s not often that the game lives up to all of the hype and those rare occasions are usually memorable. Take the Super Bowl for instance. Take Friday night’s showdown between the top two teams in the NBA. With the Warriors in the house and Atlanta in a frenzy, the Hawks delivered in a big way with a victory that elevated them to the best record in the league. Our man Sekou Smith tells the tale of a wonderful tale that’s been a decade in the making:

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night, they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blow movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

***

No. 3: Cavs loss leaves LeBron in pain — It was one thing to see their 12-game winning streak come to an end Friday night at Indianapolis. But more painful for the Cavs were wrist and ankle injuries to LeBron James and an offensive foul call against The King that proved pivotal in enabling the Pacers to claim the win. Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer delivers the news:

James re-injured the sprained right wrist he originally hurt on Jan. 27 in Detroit that caused him to miss a game last week, when he was fouled on his way to the basket with 48.6 seconds left in the third quarter by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

He stayed in the game and scored nine of his 25 points after that, but asked out of the game with 12.4 seconds remaining and Cleveland trailing by five because of what he described later as a recurring ankle injury.

The loss snapped Cleveland’s 12-game winning streak and left the Cavs one game short of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins, set (and tied) the last time James played for Cleveland in 2009-10.

James has already missed a career-high 10 games due to injury this season, and the Cavs are 2-8 in those games. But the last one went well – a 99-94 win over Portland Jan. 28 when Kyrie Irving scored 55 points.

“It’s going to hurt a lot worse tomorrow,” James said, speaking primarily of the wrist. James had a chase-down block, a dunk, and scored six consecutive points early in the fourth quarter.

“It’s the same thing,” James continued. “I already know and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m going to start my treatment tonight and just try to stay on it so hopefully I can go on Sunday.”

James fell hard to the floor and stayed down for several seconds when he was fouled by Hibbert, reminiscent of the original injury suffered against the Pistons.

That night in Detroit, James was trying to block a shot when he fell hard on both hands. It wasn’t immediately clear which wrist he’d hurt, and he scored 10 points against the Pistons after the injury.

This time, James switched between clutching the right wrist and showing signs of frustration. Hibbert was called for a flagrant foul on the play.

“It’s been better,” James said. “It’s scary for me sometimes, you know, I’ve broke my wrist before on those type of plays. I’m thankful that I could just get up, again, and hopefully I’ll continue to do that.”

James told Cavaliers coach David Blatt to remove him from the game late in the fourth, then was seen grabbing his lower legs while the team huddled for last-ditch comeback. James later told the Northeast Ohio Media Group he’s been hobbled a bit by a sore right ankle since Jan. 21, when he tweaked the ankle against Utah.

***

No. 4:  Spurs on the rise — It didn’t have nearly the same atmosphere as the previous time the Spurs and Heat met in San Antonio last June. But with their win over Miami and the upcoming Rodeo Trip looming, it looks like the defending champs are finally healthy and ready to stake their claim as a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. Our own Fran Blinebury was on hand for the Spurs’ latest step forward:

However, the Spurs still can think ahead because of all that they’ve endured and still managed to keep themselves afloat.
“Baby steps,” said Parker.

But the challenge is all in the deep, choppy waters of the Western Conference. For while the Spurs closed out a 10-4 month in January — second-best in the West behind Golden State — have won nine of their last 11 games and just wrapped up a 5-1 homestand, they remain stuck at the No. 7 spot in the playoff race, though tied in the loss column with the Mavericks and Clippers, the two teams just ahead.

Now they head out on their annual Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs will play nine straight — broken up by All-Star Weekend — away from home that will cover 8,084 miles and won’t play their next home game until March 4. But the yearly forced evacuation by the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo has been both therapeutic and a proving ground since it began in 2003 with the move to the AT&T Center. The Spurs have never had a sub-.500 record on the rodeo trip.

This time it’s coming just as all of the sore hamstrings, wrists, shoulders and assorted achy parts are on the mend and could give the defending champions an opportunity to get back in touch with who they are and forge an identity for the stretch run and looming postseason.

“We definitely want to find a rotation where everybody knows their role and get ready for the playoffs, because it’s going to come fast after the All-Star break,” Tony Parker said. “Everybody knows, with nine games, it’s gonna go super fast. So hopefully everybody can stay healthy and Pop can make his decisions and get a rotation and we can start playing good basketball.”

***

No. 5: Paul says ref criticism not about gender — If there’s one thing Chris Paul would like to put in the past as much as the Clippers’ current three-game losing streak, it’s the self-created furor over his criticism of referee Lauren Holtkamp on Thursday night in Cleveland. Speaking prior to Friday, Paul said his blast had nothing to do with Holtkamp’s gender, according to Melissa Rohlin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“You know, last night was about a bad call,” he said, “that’s all.”

Paul is under heat for his comments about Holtkamp following a technical he received during Thursday’s 105-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was given the technical in the third quarter after the Clippers tried to quickly inbound the ball after a Cavaliers free throw.

“We’re trying to get the ball out fast every time down the court and when we did that she said, ‘Uh-uh,’ and I said, ‘Why uh-uh?’ and she gave me a tech and that’s ridiculous,” the Clippers point guard said. “If that’s the case, then this might not be for her.”

Holtkamp, 34, is in her first full season as an NBA referee and is one of two active female officials. Some questioned whether Paul’s comments were sexist.

“Like I said, last night was about a bad call, that’s it,” Paul reiterated.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t approve of Paul’s remarks, but he said there were no sexist undertones behind them.

“I just think he was upset at the technical,” Rivers said. “I don’t think the technical was warranted either, to be honest, but that’s not a gender issue. That’s an issue that you disagree with the tech.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks might be first in line if Amar’e Stoudemire is cut free by the Knicks… The Players Association is firmly in Chris Paul’s corner in Ref-Gate….Anthony Davis shows up in the Horry Scale…The Hawks have had talks with Ray Allen…Long time veteran referee Norm Drucker, the only man to toss Wilt Chamberlain out of a game, dies at 94.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Hawks’ ride a decade in the making


VIDEO: The Hawks are officially the best of the best in the NBA

ATLANTA — They didn’t need the big stage, the bright lights and noise of the building dubbed the “Highlight Factory” in another life.

The Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors could have picked any court, indoors or outdoors, anywhere in this city for a Friday night showdown pitting the two best teams in the NBA against each other for the first time this season, and the results would have been the same. The Hawks’ 124-116 win Friday night at a packed Philips Arena was an absolute masterpiece of basketball that was a decade in the making for the home team.

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low-point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 record on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blown movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late-arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

True to their DNA, seven players scored in double figures as the Hawks bested the one team in the league that can claim a first-class ticket on the rags-to-riches express of the recent past.

“We’ve both been in the playoffs the last few years,” Warriors star Steph Curry said Friday morning, hours before the two best teams in the NBA dazzled the crowd with 48 minutes of the best basketball witnessed in these parts all season. “So it’s not like we’re unknowns. But it’s not the Lakers, it’s not New York or teams that have won championships recently.”


VIDEO: The Hawks pulled away late in the battle of the best Friday night at Philips Arena

That’s what makes this so special for the Hawks — no one saw it coming.

Everybody knows exactly who these two teams are now. Curry and Thompson will be joined at All-Star Weekend in New York by Steve Kerr and his coaching staff. Budenholzer and his staff will coach Teague, Millsap, Horford and the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

They are both legitimate contenders this season, teams with the parts to play deep into the postseason under any circumstance. The similarities, from the sets they run to the style of play in general, are born out of the shared basketball experiences from both Kerr and Budenholzer during their San Antonio days. The locker room vibe and enjoy-the-moment mantra both teams share, however, comes from within.

The Hawks’ unselfish, no-nonsense approach works in a place known for celebrating the flashiest things. Budenholzer’s constant preaching of belief in the system, the process and ultimately one another, has forged a bond between this team and players like nothing we’ve seen from the crew with the second-longest playoff streak in the league behind the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs.

The fact that both teams embraced the magnitude of Friday night’s game — the first matchup between teams with winning percentages this high this late in a season since 1981 — the way they did, speaks volumes about the approach and foundation laid in both places. It was indeed a measuring stick game for both sides, a chance to prove yet again that what you are seeing is real.

Kerr pointed out the obvious and parallel path for both teams; the cosmic wave they are both riding, the fact that they are getting everyone’s best shot every night, the fun that comes with competing that way every minute of every day, and the responsibility that comes with occupying that real estate at the top of the standings.

It’s foreign territory for the majority of the players on both teams.

You couldn’t tell Friday night.

No one looked uncomfortable in that spotlight, in the moment, certainly not the Hawks.

They rode the emotional wave, battled back from an early deficit and played their game down the stretch to pull away. A lesser might have buckled under the pressure, more talented Hawks teams in the past might not have possessed the mental fortitude to win a game like this one or some of the 41 others they have during this magical season.

“We have confidence in ourselves. We’re not going to back down from any team,” Scott said. “We also want to respect teams. Just like tonight, we respect the (heck) out of Golden State. Great coaching, great players. We played a hard-fought game and came out with the win.”

And they could have done it anywhere in this city that finally has a team it can believe in.


VIDEO: Mike Scott discusses the win over the Warriors and what works for the Hawks

Blogtable: The road ahead for Atlanta

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


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



VIDEOThe Starters point out an area of concern for the Hawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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