NBA Playoffs, Bucks Hawks game 5: Mike Woodson, it's your move to save your defense

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Thumbnail image for Jennings_celebrate.jpgNBA playoff matchups are really a chess match. Every once in a while there is a queen with limitless powers on the board — your LeBron James, Dwyane Wade guys — but for the most part a coach’s pieces have limits. Can only move in an L-shape, can only move diagonally, can’t shoot from the outside, can’t defend the pick-and-roll.

The coach’s job — hide your players limitations while setting up situations to exploit your opponent’s.

Four games in, Scott Skiles is the better chess player. He has exposed Mike Woodson’s pieces. If Woodson can’t answer, the superior talent of the Hawks is in trouble.

Atlanta’s defense is really all about two big, long athletes defending the paint — Al Horford and Josh Smith. They come flying in from the weakside and send balls four rows deep. They embarrass guys. They cover up for the fact that the actual perimeter defenders for the Hawks — Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford, in particular — are not good. At all.

But for the last couple games, Skiles has pick-and-rolled the Hawks into submission. The Bucks bring one of their bigs — say Kurt Thomas — out to set a screen for Salmons. Joe Johnson can’t fight through it, so the Hawks almost always switch, and now Smith is on Salmons. Smith is long and pretty quick for a power forward, but he can’t get in front of Salmons 20 feet from the basket, so Salmons attacks and the Hawks defense breaks down because one of the only good defenders they have has been beat. Salmons gets the shot he wants or a good pass to someone else wide open.

The Bucks have done basically the same thing with Brandon Jennings on Bibby and Crawford. It’s why Jennings is playing like it’s November again.

The Bucks have been draining their shots, which is part of it, but they have been getting shots they like. It might be time to have Smith and Horford stay back, take away the drive and make the Bucks hit jumpshots. On the road. Salmons can do that, Jennings can be streaky but it happens. However, it beats the parade of layups and floaters from those two Bucks.

It’s a problem Atlanta needs to solve if they are serious about being serious contenders, because in the next round (if they make it) Orlando will do the same thing. And they are way better at it.

The Hawks come home to the friendly confines, where they play more aggressively. But with that has to come some smart plays, and a smart chess move by Woodson.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.