NBA Playoffs, Hawks Bucks game 4: The return of Josh Smith? Atlanta better hope so.

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Thumbnail image for JSmith_Slam.jpgIn game three, the Milwaukee Bucks gave the Atlanta Hawks what I’ve long called “the Steve Nash treatment.” It worked, too.

The best way to beat the Suns is to make Steve Nash a scorer. It seems somewhat counterintuitive, because Nash can score, and well. But the theory is you’d rather have him score 30 and keep his assists down, not let his teammates get involved, because when everyone is involved is when the Suns are most dangerous. Phil Jackson has used this with success as Lakers coach.

In game three, the Bucks switched Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and his stifling defense off Joe Johnson and on to Josh Smith. Then they gave the Hawks the Nash treatment — let Johnson get what he gets, but don’t let his teammates get involved.

It worked. Mbah a Moute didn’t let Smith even get the ball in places he liked — almost all Smith’s touches came off offensive rebounds (he had nine). Smith was taken totally out of the flow of the offense, and that effected his shot. Even when Mbah a Moute was out Smith was missing. The only time he was his aggressive self is when Carlos Defino had switched back onto him for a play. It didn’t last.

The Bucks won. They made the move, now the Hawks have to counter.

First, after rewatching Smith’s plays (thank you mysynergysports) he missed a lot of shots he normally makes. Chalk that up to Mbah a Moute bothering him and getting in his head, or just to an off night, it doesn’t matter. Smith can’t, and is not likely to, have another night like that. If he does, this series could be 2-2 heading back to the ATL.

The other thing the Hawks need to do is get points in transition, they had their lowest number of fast break points in the series in game three. But more than just traditional fast breaks, the Hawks need to just push the ball and get Smith and Horford and Crawford the ball before the defense is set. Get some easy buckets that get the team going.

For the Bucks, they need more of the same. That includes big nights from Brandon Jennings, John Salmons and Jerry Stackhouse. They need to get out early, and reinforce on Atlanta how poorly they play on the road.

Tonight is make or break for the Bucks. Let Atlanta do their thing, this will be over in five. But tie them up and an Atlanta team that tends to underachieve in the playoffs will have a lot to think about.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.