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NBA Playoffs: Atlanta bigs feast on Bogutless, answerless Bucks

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JSmith_Slam.jpgWithout Andrew Bogut, the Hawks front line was supposed to dominate the series, but that was not really the story in game one.

It was in game two.

The Bucks had no answer for the combination of Al Horford and Josh Smith — together the pair scored 41 points on 70.8 percent shooting and pulled down 24 rebounds. Or there’s this stat: In the 30 minutes they were on the floor together Atlanta outscored Milwaukee by 22 points, the rest of the time the Bucks won by 12 (that stat via Hoopinion).

The Hawks won 96-86 and now have a 2-0 lead in the series. And you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks the Bucks can win four of the next five.

It was another case of both teams really playing good team defense, but the Hawks just having far more weapons they could turn to. Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford go cold, just get it to the two athletic big men. The Bucks need to get some easy baskets, like some in transition, but the Hawks barely turn the ball over (just 11 percent of their possessions in this game).

Early on (just like game one) this looked like an Atlanta route. In the first quarter the Hawks got the shots they wanted, while their defense forced the big guns of Milwaukee to take shots they didn’t love … and it was still close because Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was a force on the glass and was making his shots. He’s not a scorer, and he and Kurt Thomas were taking the early shots, but they were making them. Nothing Atlanta can do but a tip o’ the hat.

Then the Bucks bench started to outplay the Hawks, a 12-2 run led by Ersan Ilyasova (good chance he will not pass up playing the FIBA World Championships in Turkey this summer). It took the Hawks starters to stop the run, but the game remained closer than it looked on the stat sheet for the first half.

In the third quarter, nothing could save the Bucks, as they scored just 16 points. In game one Brandon Jennings kept Milwaukee in it, but as we suggested might happen he went cold — 3 of 15 shooting on the night. Carlos Delfino was no better at 4 of 12 and was making questionable decisions all night, like trying to post up Al Horford. The Bucks won the fourth quarter, but it was far too little, far too late.

Two games into the series, and there really are no surprises. Both teams are playing good defense. The Bucks are scrappy and will not go down easy. Jennings is capable of a gun game, but at the end of the day — or 48 minutes in this case — the Hawks have more talent, they can exploit the weaknesses of Milwaukee.

The series shifts now to Wisconsin, where the Bucks will try to change that. It’s pretty hard to see how, though.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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