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.

Kevin Garnett used Beyonce, singing as part of his NBA conditioning regimen

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Future NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett was known during his playing days for his exceptional conditioning. The athletic power forward was in a full sweat by tip-off, and constantly talking on both offense and defense.

So how did he do it?

According to JJ Redick, Garnett used to sing while running as a method of normalizing talking during a game. The practice was apparently modeled after Beyonce’s ability to dance and sing at the same time.

Via Time.com:

“One time I saw her working out, and she was doing her dances and she was singing while she was doing her dancing,” Garnett said to Redick. “So then I’m thinking to myself, maybe I should run and sing at the same time. So in the offseason, I would go to Malibu and I would go down to the beach, and when I run on the beach I would be like ‘Lalala lalala lalala,’ while I’m running. So then, when I get on the court and I’m getting back on defense and I’m talking on defense, I don’t get tired.”

That’s ingenious, and the kind of clever tactics you’d expect to come from a HOFer like Garnett.

Emotional Rip Hamilton back at Palace as Pistons retire No. 32

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) By the time Richard Hamilton’s tenure with the Detroit Pistons was over, the franchise was far removed from its days among the NBA’s elite. His final season with the team was a tumultuous one, and his exit seemed like the best move for everyone involved.

Once he was away, however, Hamilton realized what he’d left behind.

“I didn’t leave here on good terms,” Hamilton said before Detroit’s game Sunday night against Boston. “Every day I was in that locker room with that Bulls uniform on, it’s like, `This ain’t me. I’m a Piston.”‘

Hamilton was back at The Palace on Sunday, when the Pistons retired his No. 32 jersey at halftime of the game against the Celtics. It was an emotional honor for Hamilton and the Detroit fans, not just because of his contributions to the team over the years, but because it reflected a healing of sorts between him and the organization.

Hamilton last played with the Pistons in an acrimonious 2010-11 season. He had a falling out with coach John Kuester and was benched for most of a seven-week stretch, and Detroit eventually agreed with Hamilton on a buyout before the following season.

He ended up with Chicago, but the memories he left behind in Detroit were proud ones. Hamilton teamed up with Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace as the core of Detroit’s 2004 team that won the NBA title.

Those four former teammates were on hand for Sunday’s celebration, and so was Larry Brown, their coach on that championship team.

“I already cried three times, so I’m trying not to cry again today,” Hamilton said at a pregame media session.

Hamilton indeed was wiping away tears on the court at halftime after the ceremony began, especially when Billups stood to speak.

“You made me better every day,” Billups said. “Not only did you make me better, you made our team better.”

Hamilton spoke at length to the crowd – in fact, after thanking so many people close to him, he appeared a bit rushed at the end, with the game needing to resume.

“Detroit, the fans, I love you,” he said moments before his number went to the rafters. “Thanks a lot.”

Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Father of UCLA star Lonzo Ball says son will only play for Lakers, then backtracks

UCLA guard Lonzo Ball (2) signals after making a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Freshman sensation Lonzo Ball is slated to be a Top 5 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The UCLA guard can shoot the lights out, and he’s on the big board of just about every team expecting a lottery selection this year.

However, Ball’s father LaVar recently made a statement that the UCLA sensation would only play for one team: The Los Angeles Lakers.

Via Twitter:

As worrying as that kind of statement is, just a day later LaVar Ball tried to clarify his intentions for his son to ESPN. Instead of a requirement, it was meant more as an open intention of desire.

Here’s what LaVar had to say to ESPN:

“All I said was that my boy is going to play for the Lakers, and I’m going to speak it into existence,” LaVar told ESPN on Saturday night. “I want him to be a Laker, but I wasn’t saying he’s only going to play for the Lakers. I’m not trying to say he won’t play for a different team. But I’d like him to play for the Lakers because it’s home and I’d love him to learn from Magic (Johnson) He’s the best guard ever to me, and nobody better for Lonzo to learn from than Magic Johnson.”

Interesting stuff from a guy who said his son was better than 2-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

It appears that LaVar is doing a bit of ham-fisted positioning for the upcoming draft through the media. That’s not to say there’s an expectation it’s going to work, but it certainly could push the needle for some NBA teams to explore Ball’s intentions further.

Mavericks sign Ben Bentil to fill spot following roster shuffle

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Ben Bentil #0 of the Providence Friars passes in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 85-66.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) The Dallas Mavericks have signed rookie forward Ben Bentil to a 10-day contract to fill one of the two spots from a roster shake-up that came at the trading deadline.

The addition of Bentil on Sunday puts the Ghana native in position to make his NBA debut. The former Providence player was drafted in the second round by Boston but was waived during the preseason.

Bentil has played in the NBA Development League and in China since the Celtics let him go. He played 13 games in two stints with Fort Wayne in the D-League, interrupted by an 11-game stint with Xinjiang in China.

The Mavericks had two roster spots after sending Andrew Bogut and Justin Anderson to Philadelphia in a deal for Nerlens Noel and waiving guard Deron Williams.