NBA Playoffs: The one where the Bucks are hoping for a playoff miracle against the Hawks

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Thumbnail image for johnson_game.jpgThree weeks ago, Atlanta and Boston were jockeying for the three seed not so much to avoid Cleveland in the second round (although that’s part of it) but to avoid Milwaukee in the first round. Nobody wanted a piece of the Bucks, they were on fire. Brandon Jennings was playing well at the point, John Salmons was suddenly an All-Star at the two, and Andrew Bogut was playing like a number one overall pick in the paint. They were good.

Then Bogut went down with a gruesome-to-watch elbow injury, was out for the playoffs, and here we are. The Bucks were not the same team. They did not strike fear into anyone. The Bucks did manage to go 4-2 in that stretch — because they still defend as all Scott Skiles teams do — but it wasn’t the same.

One of those two losses was to the Hawks, in a game where both teams brought it trying to win. The Hawks pretty much dominated that day; they outmanned the Bucks everywhere on the floor.

I fear that is what we will see here. A game where the Bucks team was outmanned by a Hawks team that has arrived, played out four times over.

Each year for the last few the Hawks have steadily gotten better, they have been climbing the ladder until now, where they are knocking on the contenders’ door. Josh Smith has finally blended his game perfectly with all those fantastic Atlanta athletes. This is the big test playoffs for them, can they enter the elite (before Joe Johnson gets a deal that is too long from some other team this summer as a free agent).

The test for the Hawks this playoffs is not in the first round. But they do still have to get through it.

There are a couple interesting matchups to watch. First, can the young Brandon Jennings (and Like Ridnour, who plays a lot of key minutes for the Bucks late at the point) expose Mike Bibby on defense? Bibby has aged and can’t hang with the quick guards, although he still contributes on offense by finding the holes and hitting the spot-up shots.

The problem is, when the going gets tough late the Hawks close with soon-to-be Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford running the point, and he can flat out ball.

If the Bucks are to have any chance in this series, John Salmons is going to have to dominate Joe Johnson. The Bucks just can’t have a shootout here, they have to take Johnson out of the flow. Which is hard because he shows flashes of being the dominant max player he gets paid like. If his shot is falling he is wicked, and Johnson can just take over games. Salmons is going to have to do it at both ends for there to be any chance.

Josh Smith is going to have a little trouble with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (I feel like you always need to use his middle name for some reason), because Mbah a Moute brings it on defense. He hustles. But he’s a scrapper and Smith is an amazing athlete who will still get his on the court. Smith is going to dominate this matchup as the series moves along and he gets used to the defense, and that will be a key for the Hawks.

Sort of the same situation at center — Kurt Thomas gets as much out of his body as is left, he still plays smart, but Al Horford is a physical beast that will dominate this matchup inside.

The Bucks will not quit, Scott Skiles teams never do. They will defend. Skiles will try some crazy lineups looking for a spark.

But in the end, talent wins out 99 percent of the time in the NBA. And the Hawks have a lot more talent, a lot better athletes around the floor. They are going to win this, if not in a sweep then in five. And the Hawks will be looking forward, because their real test is in the next round, which is when they can open the contenders’ door and walk right through.

Watch the top 60 clutch shots from last NBA season

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It’s that time of the year when there is no basketball, so we fill the time with idle Kyrie Irving speculation and video highlights of last season.

Along those lines, above you can out the top 60 clutch shots from last season, as determined by the folks at NBA.com.

The great thing about the clutch shot list is the ball is in the hands of stars at the ends of games, so there is plenty of Russell Westbrook, John Wall, LeBron James, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and more. Personally, I would have switch No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, but it’s all fun to relive.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert: Pacers ‘could have done better’ on Paul George trade

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Kyrie Irving has requested a trade. LeBron James could leave next summer. The Cavaliers keep churning through general managers, the newest – Koby Altman – the reason for today’s press conference.

But Cavs owner Dan Gilbert looked past his own team’s turmoil and potential turmoil to take a shot at the Pacers, who traded Paul George to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

“I will say Indiana could have done better than they did,” Gilbert said after Altman refused to directly address a question about George trade talks and shifted the discussion elsewhere.

This didn’t strike me as Gilbert trying to distract from Cleveland’s troubles. He just seemed to want to take a shot at a foe, something he’s no stranger to doing. The Cavaliers are particularly salty about their trade offer for George, which included Kevin Love, not being accepted.

For what it’s worth, Gilbert is right. The Pacers should have done better. Oladipo is now on a lucrative contract extension, and Sabonis spent his rookie season showcasing the reasons people doubted him the draft. That’s a piddling return for a star, even one on an expiring contract with dreams of joining the Lakers.

Report: Kings meet with former Magic GM Otis Smith about front-office job

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The Kings lost Scott Perry to the Knicks, so Sacramento is seeking someone else to aid Vlade Divac in the front office.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Former Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith has met with Sacramento Kings officials about the franchise’s vacant vice president of basketball operations job, league sources told ESPN.

Smith has plenty of experience, which Divac lacks. But it’s not all good experience.

Running the Magic, Smith made numerous errors – including drafting Fran Vazquez (who has never played in the NBA) No. 11, overpaying Rashard Lewis and then trading Lewis for Gilbert Arenas’ even worse contract. If Smith’s Orlando tenure is predictive, he’ll indulge the Kings’ worst tendencies to mortgage the future for the present.

That said, Smith might have learned from his time with the Magic (though working under Stan Van Gundy with the Pistons the few couple years isn’t exactly the best place to hone long-term-planning skills). What amounts to an assistant general-manager role might be a better fit for him, too.

Usually, this opening wouldn’t garner so much attention. But Perry was lavished with praise for Sacramento’s offseason, raising the profile of this job – which already carried relative prominence. The No. 2 in the Kings’ front office is now perceived, somewhat fairly, as more important than the typical assistant general manager.

Lakers sign Tyler Ennis to minimum contract

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Jut before the trade deadline, the Lakers took a flier on Tyler Ennis, who had struggled in two-plus seasons with the Suns, Bucks and Rockets.

The former No. 18 pick finally looked like an NBA player in Los Angeles, so he’s returning.

Lakers release:

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed guard Tyler Ennis, it was announced today by General Manager Rob Pelinka.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

This is fantastic value for the Lakers. Ennis is probably worth a minimum salary, and if he is, they have him for two years at that price. If not, they can drop him for no cost next summer, when their cap room will be at a premium. This is the type of bet smart teams make, which bodes well for the Magic Johnson regime.

Ennis’ productivity in Los Angeles might not be sustainable. He shot well above his career marks on 3-pointers and free throws in a small sample. But he looked more comfortable on the court, showing some of the savvy he was expected to bring from Syracuse. He’s also just 22, and point guards tend to develop later than other positions.

The Lakers still have their room exception, which they could use on another point guard. So, it’s uncertain whether Ennis will back up Lonzo Ball or fall to third string. I’m not sure any remaining free-agent point guards – Ty Lawson, Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings, Ramon Sessions – will command more than the minimum or playing time over Ennis, though.