NBA Playoffs, Bucks Hawks game 4: Fear the deer, pity the Hawks defense

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Delfino_game.jpgYou know what the Hawks are going to do on every pick and roll. I know it. Every hoops fan knows it — the Hawks switch. They think their bigs — Al Horford, Josh Smith — are quick enough and long enough to bother point guards into bad shots.

Not Brandon Jennings. All night in game four (and through large parts of game three) he abused the Hawks bigs. Half of his 16 shots came as layups, four more came right on the edge of the key. On those he was 9 of 12. He was killing the Hawks because the Bucks got the matchup they wanted, and they isolated it.

Atlanta tried some traditional pick-and-roll defense, but the guards showed no passion to fight through the pick. Even if he did fight through it, Jennings blows by Bibby faster than Smith or Horford. The Hawks live and die with their athletic bigs partially for that reason.

For one more night, they died. Now a series where the Hawks were huge favorites is 2-2 heading back to Atlanta after a 111-104 Milwaukee win. It’s a best of three and the Bucks look good.

The Bucks have made their adjustments and they are playing with Scott Skiles coached energy — they are just fun to watch because of the passion. The Hawks have not matched the adjustments or intensity. The Bucks have exposed the three seed in the east — even if they get out of this series, what do you think the Magic will do to Atlanta in the next round?

The Hawks problems start on defense — they have all season. This is a team that needs to get out and run, needs those easy transition baskets. But despite all the athletes, they are average on defense (14th in the league in defensive efficiency at 104 points per 100 possessions). They don’t create the turnovers. They don’t get the stops. They don’t get the rebounds. Especially on the road.

Can’t run when you’re taking the ball out of the basket. And the Bucks shot 55 percent as a team. Carlos Delfino was 6 of 8 from three. John Salmons was 6 of 9 and got to the free throw line 10 times. My god, Dan Gadzuric was 3 for 3. The Bucks hit buckets.

Forced into their halfcourt routine it’s pretty much the Joe Johnson show for the Hawks, he had 29 on 50 percent shooting. Josh Smith was better, 20 points on 7 of 11. Bibby was 5 of 7 from three. Crawford had 21 on 50 percent shooting. They didn’t really have bad numbers, but it wasn’t pretty.

The Hawks want the quick strike, and if they can’t run they want a three. They pas up more decent inside shots for kick-out threes than any team not in the Bay Area. Without Bogut the Hawks need to attack inside, but Kurt Thomas stopped them tonight. Thomas should not stop them.

Thomas flopped a couple times and got calls (no way, no how Bibby knocks Thomas over like Mike is suddenly Earl Campbell). Some borderline calls went to the Bucks, but the Hawks got caught up in that. They stopped playing their game. They stopped attacking.

It all may change in a few days back in Atlanta. But there will be a game six. And the Bucks are hungry, they have tasted the blood in the water and they are in a feeding frenzy. The Hawks are going to have to find themselves and some defensive energy again to win this series.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.