Posts Tagged ‘Pero Antic’

Hawks snag Sefolosha on 3-year deal


VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive wiz and the ultimate system guy for the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Some of Danny Ferry‘s best work as general manager of the Hawks has come during these summer months, when many of his colleagues are spending lavishly for players Ferry is busy bargain hunting for players who perfectly fit the Atlanta Hawks’ system.

Ferry might have found his latest gem in defensive wiz Thabo Sefolosha, who agreed to terms on a 3-year, $12 million deal earlier today, as first reported by RealGM.

Sefolosha, a starter in Oklahoma City the last five seasons, fills the void on the wings for the Hawks, who traded veteran reserve guard Lou Williams to Toronto earlier this week.  Sefolosha averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 61 starts last season and served as Thunder’s defensive ace on opposing team’s best perimeter player.

The Hawks proved last year, their first under coach Mike Budenholzer, that they could plug different players into their system and get fantastic results. Paul Millsap earned his first All-Star nod in his first season with the Hawks while guys like DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Pero Antic and Shelvin Mack had standout seasons. 

Sefolosha was a mainstay in that Thunder lineup during that franchise’s rise from lottery outfit to legitimate contender, working alongside the reigning KIA MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

The Hawks have an offensive specialist on the perimeter in veteran shooter Kyle Korver. Sefolosha gives them kindred spirit on the defensive side and a player versatile enough to fit into whatever small-ball, Spurs-lite scheme Budenholzer has in mind for the future.

Once again, Ferry is loading the cupboard with great fits at reasonable prices, the same as he did last summer when the Hawks were flush with cap space and spent wisely (if at all).

Hawks set up well to add a star


VIDEO: East Draft Review: Atlanta Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The big free agent destinations for this summer are Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami.

But what about Atlanta?

Few teams are set up to sign a star better than the Atlanta Hawks, who created more cap space with a trade reportedly agreed to on Sunday.

John Salmons is under contract for $7 million next season, but the Hawks only have to pay him $1 million if they waive him by Tuesday. That’s exactly what they’re expected to do, so by trading Lou Williams‘ $5.45 million deal (Lucas Nogueira doesn’t have a contract), the Hawks have created an additional $4.45 million of cap space.

As it stands, that gives the Hawks more than $13 million of cap space total. Assuming they extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents Shelvin Mack (more important now that Williams is gone) and Mike Scott and don’t extend one to Gustavo Ayon (who played just 26 games last season), they have a little more than $15 million in cap space.

That’s not enough to offer a max contract to LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but it’s enough to make a serious upgrade on the wing, where DeMarre Carroll started 73 games last season.

It’s just not cap space that makes a star player a good fit in Atlanta. It’s the supporting cast.

The best way to complement a star who draws the attention of extra defenders is with shooting. And starting with Kyle Korver, the Hawks have an abundance of that. They ranked fifth in 3-pointers last season and fifth in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint. It was their ability to space the floor with all five guys that gave the Indiana Pacers a world of trouble in the first round of the playoffs.

Bigs Paul Millsap and Pero Antic can step out beyond the 3-point line and Al Horford — expected to make a full recovery after December surgery on a torn pectoral muscle — has been one of the league’s best mid-range shooters over the last few years.

Those bigs are also good rebounders, and Jeff Teague is a solid point guard who can make defenses scramble on the pick-and-roll. That takes pressure off a star to carry the offense by himself.

Of course, beyond James and Anthony, there’s not a real offensive star (on the wing) to be had in free agency. Lance Stephenson might be the closest thing, but he doesn’t quite fit into the Spurs East model that Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer are trying to build in Atlanta (neither does Anthony, really).

And so, while Ferry did well in clearing contracts to get to this point, his tenure with the Hawks can’t be ruled a success until he actually gets the team back where they were — making three straight trips to the conference semifinals — before he got there.

Joe Johnson‘s contract is kind of ridiculous, but the Joe Johnson that we saw in the playoffs this year is exactly the kind of the player that would fit in well with the Hawks right now. Ferry has done well to set up a strong supporting cast, but there’s one more big step to take.

Pacers backed Hibbert out of loyalty, need big man’s reset now

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Relive the first-round series between the Pacers and Hawks

INDIANAPOLIS – Nene, the one-name Wizard, is playing at the moment like an All-Star. Marcin Gortat was invaluable to Washington’s rise to the postseason and push past the Chicago Bulls in the first round.

And the Indiana Pacers almost couldn’t be happier to face them.

It’s rare when any NBA team welcomes an opponent that has formidable big men on its roster, but in the Pacers’ case, that means center Roy Hibbert gets to come out and play. Indiana’s league-leading defense was built around its 7-foot-2 tower in the middle. Its offense hums best when Hibbert is available for putbacks, short jump shots and his toy box of little flips and hooks. So the matchup with the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1, and the mismatch it brought for Hibbert, was a problem that became an issue and nearly festered into a situation.

The Hawks spread the floor and hoist 3-pointers more than any other team in the playoffs – actually, that should be hoisted since Indiana did put them down in seven games. But that series went to the max in part because Hibbert was so ineffective chasing Atlanta’s Pero Antic or Paul Millsap out to 3-point range. It took the bigger man out of his comfort zone defensively and often left him harmlessly in the DMZ between the restricted area and the arc. He doesn’t have the game or the role in Indiana’s attack to punish the Hawks at the other end in a heavy dose of post-ups. Ultimately, he wound up on the bench, his confidence seemingly bottomed out.

Hibbert’s effectiveness had waned late in the regular season, too, so the criticism already coming his way intensified. There rarely is anywhere for a guy his size to hide, but this was way worse, his struggles played out and picked at in the glare of network TV coverage.

Throughout, though, the Pacers had his back.

“They never felt like I was in any sort of danger of not playing,” Hibbert said Sunday, a little agitated as a small group of reporters asked him about his struggles. “We didn’t really listen to or cater to any of the stuff that was being said on the outside. So as far as all that goes, that was whatever people wanted to say.”

Hibbert’s teammates and coaches knew all about the Xs & Os that meant he would be less effective against Atlanta. They also know his sensitive nature and how it might hurt him, not contributing and then taking heat publicly for that.

And they view Hibbert as a friend and a brother. That meant staying loyal and supportive was vital well beyond self-interest in their playoff ambitions.

“All of it was loyalty,” All-Star wing Paul George said. “We’re loyal to each and every one of our guys here. Roy Hibbert is a big brother, someone who’s been in my corner when things weren’t going well for me. I was always in his ear, always in his corner, telling him to stay confidence and ‘Don’t allow anything to creep into your mind.’

“He’s been an All-Star two times now. It’s not like he’s some average player – he’s a big-time player for us. It was just a tough moment. You’re not making shots and … Roy’s a guy who likes to be active on social media. So I think a lot of it got to him. But he’s got to just be above that.”

Forward David West said: “More than anything, we’re a better basketball team when he’s engaged and he’s playing well and he’s being productive, and when he’s on the floor. It was about making sure he didn’t get too low – we knew he was down on himself and disappointed he couldn’t contribute the way he wanted to.”

West knows how fragile any player’s confidence can be, especially someone like Hibbert who isn’t gifted with the sort of superior athletic ability to which he can turn to create, on talent alone, some positive moments for himself. Hibbert without confidence might as well be sitting in the stands.

“It’s hard to recover [confidence],” West said. “I think that’s human nature. But with him, everybody was encouraging. He was just trying to work hisself out of what he was in, and before Game 5, before Game 6, it was just the same message [from teammates]. ‘You’re going to have the best game of the series for us.’ And then he came through [in Game 7].”

Hibbert took five shots in the first quarter and made four of them. He blocked two shots in the second and, as the misfiring Hawks scrambled for offense wherever they could find it, had three more swats after halftime. He finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds and five blocks in 31 minutes, after averaging 4.0 points, 3.2 boards, 0.7 blocks and 20.3 minutes in the first six games, while shooting 30.3 percent.

Now Hibbert gets to battle with Nene, a terrific athlete with a mid-range game that keeps him five or six feet inside the 3-point line. Gortat is a traditional center who is at his best inside.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Sunday he saw no extra spring in Hibbert’s step, either from the Game 7 performance or the sense now of being more needed. But now at least, any frustration the center feels likely will come on the court, not from being the fork at a soup kitchen.

“I’ve seen him go through struggles in the past,” Vogel said, “and he usually comes out of it at some point, usually quicker than he did this time. I’m not saying he’s out of it, but … when you see a guy play well, you know he’s capable of doing it. He’s doing the right things, he’s putting in the work. Usually that sort of thing turns around.”

When Hibbert turns around, he’ll see a bunch of Pacers behind him. They have his back.

Pacers get their game 7 at home

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

VIDEO: Mike Scott’s dunk over Ian Mahinmi was a show-stopper but not enough win Game 6

ATLANTA — So this is what all the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference fuss was about.

The Indiana Pacers freaked out about it, obsessed over it all summer, from the moment they walked off the floor on the losing end of things last summer in Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.

They stalked from the day training camp opened and still fretted over it as their season careened from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

It was their mission this season to earn it, knowing full well they might need to use the home-court advantage that comes with it to get out of a jam at some point during these playoffs.

But so soon?

In the first round?

Against the Atlanta Hawks?

Of course not.

But it doesn’t matter now. None of the minutiae matters with their entire season down to this one, winner-take-all Game 7 Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Whatever missteps have been made along the way become background music to their playoff soundtrack if they can string together back-to-back wins against that 38-win Hawks team that has had their number the past month, both in Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Thursday night’s dramatic come-from-behind 95-88 win before a sellout crowd at Philips Arena was the season saver.

History, and more importantly infamy, will have to wait.

“This was a gutsy win for our guys,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.

Saturday night’s Game 7 is a must-win … to save face, the future and the Pacers from the humiliation of one of the greatest collapses of a so-called contender in league history.

“It’s zero-zero. One game. It’s tournament time,” Pacers All-Star Paul George said after he and his teammates avoided becoming just the fifth No. 1 seed in NBA history to fall to a No. 8 seed. “It’s win or go home time. So we’ve got to play a great game, because we know as well as they know that they’re capable of beating us on our home floor.”

The Pacers haven’t played one of those great games in forever. They’ve managed to just get by up to this point in this series. They outlasted the Hawks in Game 6 more than anything, staying in it long enough for George, who was in foul trouble early and throughout the game, and David West to take turns playing hero down the stretch.

It was the execution of a delicate two-man dance the Pacers have not been able to rely upon throughout this series.

Faced with a choice between survival and surrender, the Pacers’ two best and most reliable players snatched away a game the Hawks simply gave away. They scored 24 points each, West scored 12 of his in the fourth quarter on 5-for-6 shooting from the floor after making just 5-for-14 before halftime.

The Hawks were up 84-79 after a Jeff Teague 17-footer with 3:16 to play sent the crowd into a frenzy. Three disastrous offensive possessions later — Hawks center Pero Antic turned the ball over, then missed a wild 26-footer followed by a missed 17-footer from Paul Millsap —  and West finished things off on a clear out with a driving runner with 1:07 to play that put the Pacers up 87-85 and ahead for good.

Lance Stephenson added 21 points and 9 rebounds and the Pacers got quality minutes and production from Ian Mahinmi, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson on a night when Vogel decided regulars Roy Hibbert (12 minutes), Luis Scola (12 seconds) and Even Turner (DNP — coach’s decision) weren’t a part of the solution.

“We tried some different lineups,” said West, who added 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals to his statistical tally in Game 6. “Coach just rolled the dice. Down the stretch I was talking to Paul down the stretch and I told him it would be just me and him down the stretch. I thought our team did a great job closing the show. We got enough stops. Ian was great on Millsap, and it paid off for us.”

We won’t know for sure until Saturday if it was a temporary fix or not.

What’s clear, however, is that these Hawks have no fear in them where the Pacers are concerned. Never mind that 0-8 record all-time in road Game 7s.

They bounced back from a Game 4 loss and stroked the Pacers in Game 5, leading by as many as 30 points as they turned the home crowd against George, West, Stephenson and a frantic bunch that didn’t handle the business at hand. The Hawks shot the cover off the ball that night, knocking down 15 of their 27 shots from deep compared to just nine of 35 in Game 6.

“They’ve burned us a couple of times,” West said. “We’ve had some stretches where we didn’t put the ball in the basket. We just can’t allow those stretches where we allow 20 points to our three or four. We’ve got to make sure we get a shot on goal on every possession, because they are so explosive, especially from the three-point line. We’ve played all year for this, to get Game 7s in our building. The energy is going to be great. We just have to handle our business.”

If only it were that simple for the crew that has courted this moment and this stage for so long!


VIDEO: The Pacers stayed calm down the streetch to force a Game 7 against the Hawks

 

Pacers survive, save season … for at least another day

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul George talks to Rachel Nichols about the Pacers’ season-saving Game 4 effort in the win over the Hawks

ATLANTA — Survive and advance.

It’s a no-drills edict for each and every team in the NBA playoff field, but one that resonates in a particular way for a crew  built on the bedrock the Indiana Pacers have been crafted upon. An ugly win somewhere else is viewed differently in a locker room where David West rules the roost and a self-made, homegrown All-Star like Paul George reigns as the biggest talent.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting end to the Pacers’ physical Game 4 altercation with the Atlanta Hawks, a potentially series- and season-saving 91-88 slugfest that saw the No. 1 seed Pacers even things up with the No. 8 seed Hawks at 2-2 heading back for Game 5 Monday in Indianapolis.

George and West, with their back-to-back game-saving 3-pointers in a 21-second span with just two minutes to play, lifted the Pacers, at least temporarily, out of a funk that threatened their entire season.

It was twilight zone time when West sank his 25-footer, if for no other reason than he’s the last person on the Pacers’ roster anyone would expect to be in a position to take and make that shot. Roy Hibbert, who sat out the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game, was going wild as the Pacers rallied for a 89-85 lead with 1:33 to play. Meanwhile, Lance Stephenson, whose been known to lose his cool a time or two in the heat of the moment, is preaching for everyone to stay calm, reminding his teammates that there was plenty of game still to be played.

“We needed that moment,” Stephenson said. “we needed this game. We turned it around, it’s 2-2 and I feel like it’s 0-0 now. The whole game I felt like we played hard, but those last three minutes of the game I saw that will to win that had been missing. It was good to see it come back.”

The immediate effect was obvious. The music was on in the Pacers’ locker room after the game. There weren’t any questions about what’s ailing them and why they can’t seem to get right, on and off the floor. There was a reprieve from the inquisition that they’ve had to endure for weeks. An off-day roasting during a film session with Frank Vogel and his staff helped clear the air and refocus this beleaguered group as they hunkered down for what, until Monday, was their biggest game of the season.

“It’s the difference between a win and a loss,” Vogel said. “With playoff wins and playoff losses, there’s a great elation when you win and a great disappointment when you lose. There’s a big difference.”

For all of the grief they’ve taken since the All-Star break, it should be noted that the Pacers responded to their season being minutes away from being on the brink in the only way they know how, with a guts-to-the-floor second-half effort that had become their trademark early on this season.

They had to lock down on defense with 6.9 seconds to play as the Hawks attempted to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Hawks had to settle for a 27-footer from Pero Antic — not Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap or Jeff Teague, all of whom had shredded the Pacers in one way or another at times in the previous 47 minutes and 53 seconds — that bounced off the rim as time expired.

“We’re a half-court defensive team. We take pride in guarding guys half court,” a weary George said after playing a game-high 44 minutes and collecting team highs in points (24) and rebounds (10) to go along with 5 assists. “We knew Kyle Korver was the main option. George Hill did a great job fighting him over the screen and not letting him come back off. From that point, David West was locked in on his guy and we just forced them to take a tough shot.”

The Pacers know they don’t have to play Mozart to survive the Hawks in the first round of these playoffs. They can get by with chopsticks, provided they play like the No. 1 seed and not some shell of that team.

There are matchups that will cause problems. The Hawks, perhaps more than any other team in the Eastern Conference playoff field, present many. But this series is back on track, a best-of-three with the Pacers once again holding the home court advantage.

That’s what made Game 4, and those final 12 minutes, so unbelievably critical to the Pacers’ season-long cause.

“This game could have gotten away from us and we’d be down 3-1,” said George, who missed two free throws with 7.5 seconds to play that could have made that final defensive stand unnecessary. “It’s going to be a long series. This team is not going away. We just have to build some consistency.”

It has to come one game and one step at a time as the Pacers frantically rebuild their collective confidence, starting with Hibbert, Hill and Stephenson and on down the line.

“We know that this series may go to seven [games], you never know,” Hill said. “When Boston put together their Big 3, just about every series they had went to seven. Listen, we’re up for the challenge. And no matter what happens throughout the course of a game or a series, we’re built for this. We’re built to be physical, to be tough and to grind it out.”


VIDEO: The Pacers held on for a Game 4 win over the Hawks in Atlanta

Hawks ignore drama, focus within

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 3 tonight at Philips Arena is critical for both the Hawks and Pacers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — His responses sound like something you’d get from RoboCop, layered but brief and all about his team. Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer knows how this game is played.

You don’t spend as much time in the playoff mix, as he did for nearly two decades as an assistant in San Antonio learning from longtime Spurs boss and recently minted Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich, and not understand how the game between games is played.

The Indiana Pacers are a team mired in turmoil just hours before Game 3 of this first round series against the Hawks tips off at Philips Arena tonight. A Yahoo! Sports report detailing a practice “fist-fight” between Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner prior to the Hawks’ Game 1 win in Indianapolis is the latest item to catch fire.

“Every team goes through that,” said Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who has struggled mightily in this series. “Sometimes, you’ve got to get things off your chest instead of letting things fester.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel is reportedly fighting for his job with every game swinging the momentum one way or the other, so much so that Pacers All-Star Paul George acknowledged that he’s feeling the pressure to save Vogel from the unemployment line.

“It’s the NBA, we’re all coaching for our jobs,” Vogel said. “All I know is that I’ve got incredible support from Larry [Bird]. We all have high expectations and we’re trying to win the next game.”

While the Pacers grapple with their own internal, chemistry issues, Budenholzer has his Hawks focused on the opportunity knocking with the series tied at 1-1. There’s no sense in peeking across the way to see how fragile the Pacers are right now. It’s something Budenholzer neither either cares about nor can control.

All he can do is focus within, make sure his team is prepared to rebound from that Game 2 whipping and seize control of the series by handling their business at home. From the start, Budenholzer has set a certain tone in Atlanta. It’s one that has been devoid of the emotional roller coaster many teams experience throughout the course of a season, and one that should serve his team well now.

“Our emotions are in a good place,” Budenholzer said. “I can’t really comment on or reference them [the Pacers]. Our group is resilient and competitive. I like our team’s personality. We have a challenge in Game 3 and we have to step up mentally and emotionally. But our group has been very resilient and tough-minded all year. We’ve felt good about them all year and that hasn’t changed.”

Budenholzer, wisely, is content with his team sticking strictly to the game and how they can take advantage of whatever mismatches they have in this series, rather than getting caught up in the media swirl surrounding their opponents. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap aren’t answering questions about the crumbling foundation of their team. Budenholzer doesn’t have to defend the work he’s done this season to anyone.

The Hawks are the only team in the playoff field that had a losing record during the regular season. But if we’ve learned anything through these first few days of the playoffs it’s that the seeding, in almost every series, has proved to be meaningless. The Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls, considered by many to be dark-horse title contenders, are both down 0-2 in their respective series after hosting the opening games.

A team as complete as the Spurs have been stung by the playoff chaos. They got thumped in Game 2 by Dallas and now have to scrap to regain their home-court advantage. With upheaval all over the playoff bracket, Budenholzer is playing it smart by sticking strictly to basketball.

“For our group and coaching staff, the seeds and who does what and all of those things that are discussed externally, we don’t really spend any time energy or thoughts on that,” Budenholzer said. “We’re more focused on what’s between the lines. We have high standards and we stick to those. We’ll compete and see where we are.”

Where they are is sitting in a prime position to continue a playoff trend of surprise teams upending the favorites and potentially pulling off the unthinkable.

“If you look at the overall picture, we’ve done our job,” Millsap said. “We came up [to Indianapolis] and got one. Now we have to hold it down at home.”

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.

Taking A Crack at Rising Stars Draft

Do they pick Anthony Davis, who will have his chance to shine in front of the hometown crowd in New Orleans? Or jump at the chance to get reigning Rookie of the year Damian Lillard?

BBVA Compass Rising Stars ChallengeDo they go with point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who’s dazzled in his first year in the Eastern Conference, or Trey Burke, who’s lived up to the advance billing in the West?

Those are just a few of the questions confronting Grant Hill and Chris Webber when they act as “general managers” and pick the teams for the 2014 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge (tonight on TNT at 7  ET). The choices will be part of a special one-hour addition of TNT NBA Tip-Off.

Al the participants in State Farm All-Star Saturday Night (featuring the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk) will also be revealed, along with a revamped format.

But the heavy lifting will be done by Turner Sports analysts Hill and Webber in assembling their teams. So NBA.com colleague Steve Aschburner and I thought we’d lend a hand by providing a few tips in advance.

Here’s the way we stocked the teams, alternating picks, with me going first:

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

1 — Anthony Davis, F/C, Pelicans (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “One brow, one choice. It’s got to be the obvious hometown favorite who was snubbed for the big show.”

2 — Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Could dominate if he uses Friday as dress rehearsal for Sunday.”

3 — Michael Carter-Williams, G, Sixers (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Foundation to Philly future, a steal at No. 11, probably should have gone here in 2013 draft.”

4 — Jonas Valanciunas, C, Raptors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “On a roll lately: stats 16.7 ppt, 10.2. rpg, 58 percent last six games.”

5 — Tim Hardaway, G, Knicks (Rookie) — Blinebury: “From the D-League to NBA, baskets the same size and he can fill them.”

6 — Brady Beal, G, Wizards (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Mature beyond years, will be comfortable in second Rising Stars Game.”

7 — Steven Adams, C, Thunder (Rookie) — Blinebury: “You can’t teach height, or sharp elbows.”

8 — Giannis Antetokounmpo, G/F, Bucks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Re-draft the class of ’13 and this guy’s in the top three.”

9 — Andre Drummond, C, Pistons (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Young, tall and knows how to get me the ball.”

10 — Victor Oladipo, G, Magic (Rookie) — Aschburner: “East Rookie of Month in December, guards can thrive in this game.”

11 — Trey Burke, G, Jazz (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Comes off the injured list to be the everything the Jazz hoped.”

12 — Jared Sullinger, F/C, Celtics (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Stepping up as soph starter, he brings toughness.”

13 — Terrence Jones, F, Rockets (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “He’s filled the Rockets’ void at the 4, maybe making a trade unnecessary.”

14 — Harrison Barnes, F, Warriors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Coming off bench has been a challenge, he’s ready for reset button.”

15 — Dion Waiters, G, Cavaliers (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Since he doesn’t have to rely on Kyrie Irving to get him the ball, should get plenty of shots.”

16 — Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Celtics (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Averages half this, but per-36-minute numbers are: 13.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.”

17 — Mason Plumlee, F/C, Nets (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Up and down with limited playing time, but has a true shooting percentage of 64.8.”

18 — Pero Antic, C, Hawks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Lock as All-Star Weekend’s Macedonian MVP.”

G.M. Steve Aschburner: Since Team Fran cheated on the coin flip – funny how that can happen over the phone! – I picked second and lost out on host-city favorite Anthony Davis, who probably has the game’s MVP award half in the bag on sentiment alone. But that’s OK, because I managed to round up enough bigs to occupy Davis – Jonas Valanciunas with his size and skills inside 15 feet, Jared Sullinger with his burly game and Kelly Olynyk with pick-and-pop proclivities.

Besides, games of this All-Star ilk tend to be dominated by the guards, who have the ball in their hands and initiate plays. My backcourt of Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo is superior, and those three will spend a lot of time on the floor together to run his crew ragged in small ball. I’m counting on Lillard, who will participate Sunday in the big game, to take this one seriously and not save himself. Surely the 2013 Rookie of the Year doesn’t want any half-season wonders like Carter-Williams, Hardaway or Burke getting over on him.

My squad also has the game’s X factor: the Greek Freak. Given Milwaukee’s dreary season, this will serve as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s coming-out party on a national – wait, international – stage. As the youngest rookie, whose coltish skills and breathtaking moments inspire all sorts of enticing, five-years-from-now dreams, Antetokounmpo conceivably could challenge Davis in wowing the crowd and ride that adrenaline high to a special night.

Prediction: Team Asch 138, Team Fran 127.

G.M. Fran Blinebury: Maybe it was the good fortune that came with wearing my Broadway Joe Namath lucky coyote fur coat. Or maybe it was because when Team Asch, acting like wide-eyed rubes on their first trip to Bourbon Street, asked about having a coin flip, I quickly agreed and bounced a quarter off the coffee table. It was legit and I’d give you a link to the video, but we seem to have had some technical problems. Anyway, it was a no-brainer to make the Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick in the draft (again). With the hometown support he’ll have from the crowd, A.D. should pile up enough dunks and rejections to have the MVP award tucked safely inside his Pelican pouch by halftime.

Asch only thinks he’s got the most physical a lineup up front. I’ve got Andre Drummond and Terrence Jones, who like to mix it up on the inside and can get the ball off the backboard. And don’t forget those sharp elbows of Steve Adams that occasionally (oops!) deliver a message.

In a game where point guards control the ball and set the tone, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke will push the pace and take turns setting up A.D. for highlight reel dunks (and they’ll finish some themselves). If you want a dark horse contender to steal the spotlight, Tim Hardaway Jr. could carry the banner for the NBA D-League.

Prediction: Team Fran 152, Team Asch 131


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried was the MVP of the 2013 version of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in Houston

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.

Hang Time One-On-One … With Al Horford

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Al Horford‘s season came to an abrupt end on Dec. 26 when he reached for the ball and tore his right pectoral muscle, the second such injury in three seasons for the Atlanta Hawks’ two-time All-Star center.

Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in 2012 and missed four months recovering from that injury, coming back in the playoffs that season but missing all but 11 regular season games during the 2011-12 season. But the heat and soul of the Hawks’ franchise will not let this latest injury setback deter him. He’s vowed to return better than ever while continuing to serve as an influential voice and presence for his team during his recovery.

Just so we’re clear on the impact Horford had on the Hawks this season, his first playing alongside someone other than Josh Smith (now in Detroit) in the frontcourt, you need to consider what sort of company he was in as the Hawks’ leading scorer and rebounder.

At the time of his injury Horford was one of just six players — LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings were the others — leading his team in points and rebounds.

Now Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and guys like Elton Brand and Pero Antic are left to help fill the massive void left by Horford’s absence for a Hawks team that has overachieved this season.

Interestingly enough, those are the same guys Horford expressed extreme confidence in when I sat down with him before his injury for the latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series …



VIDEO: Al Horford opens up about his Hawks, his city, his journey and much more in this HT One-On-One