NBA Playoffs: Atlanta Hawks survive night of the living Bucks

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Bucks_hawks.jpgThe Bucks will not die, like the Night of the Living Dead zombies they just keep coming and coming and coming. They are relentless. Intellectually you know it, they do exactly what you expect them to, but they don’t roll over, they will keep defending and keep trying.

The Hawks are the better team, they have the mismatches all over the floor, they are longer and more athletic. That’s what won them this game, 102-92. But like they will all series, the Bucks are going to make them work hard for it.

Early on, this one was ugly to watch, unless you were a Hawks fan in Phillips Arena. In the first half, the Atlanta executed their game plan perfectly. It was 6-6 early when the Bucks made a couple turnovers and no team converts turnovers into spectacular points like the Hawks. One was Bibby stealing a lazy outlet pass and draining the three, he had 19 for the day on 8 of 9 shooting. The Hawks feed off that stuff, and suddenly the lead was 10 and growing.

The Hawks are killing it because they are recognizing their mismatches and exploiting them. Marvin Williams being guarded by Luke Ridnour? The Hawks get him the ball and clear out for Williams, allowing him to back it down and get the good shot in the paint. No Buck could deny Josh Smith or Al Horford position on the block, and they got the ball where they wanted it. Like a great jazz band, for the Hawks it was just variations on the theme all game. They were getting the shots they wanted in the paint (34 points in the paint in the first half). The Bucks try a zone for a while, that fails, Jamal Crawford just shoots bombs over the top of it.

The Hawks had an offensive rating of 161 (points per 100 possessions) at the end of the first quarter, 141 at the half. Crazy good numbers.

But Brandon Jennings would not die. He was the Buck that kept held the Hawks lead to “just” 24 — he was 8 of 14 for 20 in the first half. However, like his teammates he was not really getting into the paint, he was 5 of 7 on jumpers (that means 3 of 7 in close, trying to deal with the length of the Hawks). The problem was the rest of the team had 20 points and shot 28.6 percent in the first half. It was all missed Jumpers.

Then in the third quarter, the Hawks relaxed, the Bucks were zombie relentless. They kept coming in waves.

The Bucks took 17 shots in the third quarter, and just seven were jumpers. They attacked the paint, even if it meant Horford swatted a couple. The Bucks were the aggressors. The result was they scored 30 points, and a suddenly on their heels Hawks team had just 19 in the quarter.

And we had a game. But the Bucks could never get closer than six.

With the game in single digits and just 6 minutes left things reverted to form: The Hawks dominated the paint because they have the physical matchups to do it. In the halfcourt offense in the last six minutes, the Bucks took eight jumpers (five of them threes) to just three shots near the rim. They became a jump shooting team again. Jennings had one layup and four jumpers (two these). The Bucks defense masked these problems.

This game went largely to form. We knew the Hawks had the physical advantage, we knew that the Bucks would scrap and defend. And we expected that over time, the Hawks would win out. Despite all we saw from Jennings, from the Bucks, doesn’t sound like we’ve deviated from the script in any way.

New Orleans Saints fire Pelicans’ team physician

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The Pelicans have been crushed by injuries the last few years.

Why? That’s an incredibly complex question.

But the New Orleans Saints – who share an owner (Tom Benson), a front-office leader (Mickey Loomis) and other staff with the Pelicans – have found culprits for their own injury woes.

Mike Triplett of ESPN:

The Saints have fired team orthopedists Deryk Jones and Misty Suri, per source, after it was discovered that CB Delvin Breaux has a fractured fibula and will require surgery expected to sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. Breaux was originally diagnosed with a contusion

Suri is a Pelicans team physician.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Fairly or not, Suri – after the Saints deemed him unacceptable – will be in the crosshairs if he keeps his job with the the Pelicans and their injury woes continue.

Rumor: LeBron James ‘100 percent’ leaving Cavaliers next summer

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Chris Sheridan was ahead of the crowd in 2014, reporting LeBron James would likely leave the Heat for the Cavaliers – which obviously happened.

But Sheridan called it a “90 percent chance,” a small – but large enough – hedge. He also said LeBron would announce the decision on LeBron’s personal website. Of course, LeBron revealed his choice in a Sports Illustrated essay.

So, maybe Sheridan knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he doesn’t.

But the longtime NBA writer just fanned the flames of the already hot LeBron-leaving-Cleveland rumors.

Sheridan:

Of course, the denials came quickly.

There have already been plenty of warning signs about LeBron’s relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, which didn’t restart in a great place.

It’s entirely believable LeBron would leave Cleveland, in large part due to Gilbert.

But it’s also fun to speculate about that salacious storyline.

Maybe Sheridan or his source got carried away for that very reason. Or maybe they know something.

Neither possibility should be discounted.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant betting odds favorites to win MVP

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Unlike the early projections for the NBA title next season, the MVP race seems wide open.

Russell Westbrook put up ridiculous numbers on his way to the award last season, but now he is going to share the rock with Paul George. James Harden made a legitimate case and would have won most seasons, but now he will have the ball in his hands less with Chris Paul running the show.

Who is going to win? Westbrook and Golden State’s Kevin Durant are the early betting line favorites, with these odds courtesy of online gaming site Bovada.

Russell Westbrook (OKC) 7/2
Kevin Durant (GS) 9/2
Kawhi Leonard (SAN) 13/2
LeBron James (CLE) 15/2
James Harden (HOU) 8/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 17/2
Steph Curry (GS) 11/1
Anthony Davis (NOP) 16/1
Paul George (OKC) 25/1
Chris Paul (HOU) 25/1
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 25/1
DeMarcus Cousins (NOP) 33/1
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 33/1
John Wall (WAS) 33/1
Blake Griffin (LAC) 40/1
Nikola Jokic (DEN) 40/1
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 50/1
Joel Embiid (PHI) 50/1
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 50/1
Damian Lillard (POR) 50/1
Draymond Green (GS) 60/1
Ben Simmons (PHI) 66/1
Gordon Hayward (BOS) 70/1
Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 75/1
Jimmy Butler (MIN) 75/1
Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 75/1
Kevin Love (CLE) 100/1
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 100/1
Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 100/1

Yes, it is far too early to discuss this. As a voter, I don’t even start to make a list of serious candidates until midway through the season (then that list evolves as the season wears on). But it’s fun to speculate about.

To me, the smartest bet on the board seems to be Kawhi Leonard — he could have won last year, and if anything the Spurs are going to ask more of him this season. I think Harden has a chance to win it this season even with CP3, same with Westbrook, but it feels less likely. It’s hard to imagine one Warrior being picked above the others for the award. If Giannis Antetokounmpo finds his jumper it could happen, but that feels more like something a couple seasons away. Same with Karl-Anthony Towns being in consideration.

If you’re going to bet on Kevin Love, just donate that money to charity where it will do some good.

If Jeff Hornacek doesn’t work out with Knicks, is David Blatt next in line?

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It’s not fair to judge Jeff Hornacek of his first season as coach of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson made some poor roster decisions — don’t hire a coach that likes to play fast then go sign Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — and then there was the on again, off again, on again triangle offense looming over everything.

This season Hornacek will sink or swim on his own terms, and his ability to develop Kristaps Porzingis into a true franchise cornerstone and put Tim Hardaway Jr. and other young players in good positions around them.

If not, is former Cavaliers coach David Blatt lurking? Frank Isola of the New York Daily News says it’s something to watch.

Blatt, who has enjoyed tremendous success abroad, owns an impressive resume. No question about it. But you know the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And Blatt has connections with people in high places inside the Knicks front office, namely team president Steve Mills and newly hired front office executive Craig Robinson…

Mills is going to give Hornacek every opportunity to succeed in New York but Mills, who is said to have strong opinions about how the team should be coached, also wants to see results. That begins with Hornacek repairing his relationship with Kristaps Porzingis, who did not connect with the head coach last season and ultimately skipped his exit meeting with Jackson, Hornacek and Mills in April.

Repairing that relationship with Porzingis is crucial. We’ll see if Hornacek can do that and get this team moving in the right direction.

Blatt wants to return to the NBA, but his he the guy to connect with Porzingis? Blatt’s problems in Cleveland had far less to do with Xs and Os than it did relationships with players — Blatt was saying he wanted to team to play faster long before Tyronn Lue said that when he took over, but Lue could get players to buy in and listen. Blatt couldn’t. Blatt came in expecting to be handed respect, touting his European resume (that NBA players shrugged at), and demanding deference rather than building partnerships with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Blatt came off as needing to be the smartest guy in the room, always. Basically, Blatt could not handle the player/power dynamic in the NBA (coming out of Europe, where coaches have absolute power, like an American college coach). Has he learned how to deal with it?

Before we get to that question, Hornaced gets his shot. The real test for the Knicks comes after Christmas, when they spend most of a couple of weeks on the road (due to the Grammys coming to Madison Square Garden), it’s a tough couple of weeks, and the team could struggle in that stretch and not recover. Hornacek has to have the team playing well enough, and buying in enough by then, to survive that trip. Do that and he will stick around. If not, the sharks are circling.