Mike Woodson may be done in Atlanta. It's probably time.

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woodson.jpgEmbarrassing.

What has happened to the Atlanta Hawks in the last three games is embarrassing. Not so much the game three loss — Milwaukee had the energy of the home crowd, made some adjustments, shot well and got the win. The Bucks are a solid, well coached team. It happens. But three straight losses?

In game four, Atlanta made no countermoves, the Bucks just kept doing what they wanted, getting the matchups they wanted. Atlanta lost. In game five, few changes again. The Hawks can’t seem to recognize and exploit their mismatches, and even when they do they don’t stick with it. Wednesday night that was combined by the Hawks ability to choke away leads and become predictable — and defensible — at the end of games. And there you have another loss.

And it’s got to fall on coach Mike Woodson. The adjustments. The end of game problems that have been there all season. The team that doesn’t execute under pressure. Some of it — most of it? — falls on Mike Woodson.

After five year’s on the job in the ATL Woodson’s contract is up this summer. Tim Potvak at FanHouse suggested this might be the end of the line for him. It is time for the Hawks — if they really want to be contenders — to make changes, including on the bench. Some personnel changes are needed as well (getting a good perimeter defender, for one) but this team needs a shakeup in attitude.

Woodson has been good on the franchise on the whole over five years. This is not some Eddie Jordan unmitigated disaster, the Hawks have consistently won more games each year than the year before for all five of his seasons. He has tried to let the athletic Hawks players be themselves. He has helped build a foundation in Atlanta.

But what happened at the end of game five was a microcosm of what has been holding the Hawks back. In the final five minutes, they stop executing. Their offense becomes a stagnant series of isolation plays with no ball or player movement to speak of. The Hawks have great athletes, but in crunch time they become a bunch of individual athletes rather than a team of athletes. The isolations are easier to defend, the shots don’t fall.

The Hawks are a team whose defense should create turnovers, should have the Hawks out and running and finishing on the break. They don’t — they were 16th in the league in creating turnovers. This is an average defensive team that does not play to its strengths often enough.

On defense, they hide the lack of a good perimeter defender by switching all picks, and letting Josh Smith and Al Horford show how athletic they are on the wings. The Bucks have taken advantage of this, getting the switch then clearing out an isolation because Horford and Smith can’t hang with Brandon Jennings or John Salmons 20 feet from the hoop. They have been doing it since game three. And the Hawks have done…. nothing about it. They keep getting burned, the Bucks keep winning.

When the game got tight late in game five, both teams hustled, to use the cliche both teams played hard. But only one team understood how to execute under pressure. The Scott Skiles coached team.

Woodson is not a bad coach. He’s not. But it’s time for a change. The Hawks have dreams of being listed in the class of Cleveland and Orlando. If that’s going to happen there need to be some changes.

Among them is at coach.

Steven Adams says Thunder late-game struggles on him, not Westbrook/George/Anthony

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In the first half of games this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 91.7 points per 100 possessions. In those first 24 minutes, the Thunder are outscoring teams by 12.7 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA (Houston is first).

However, in the fourth quarter, the Thunder defense is 18.1 points per 100 possessions worse. Their offense stagnates late in games with a lot of “you take a turn and then it’s my turn” isolation between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.

The Thunder have nine losses this season, and OKC lost double-digit leads in six of those. Monday night it was a 19-point lead against New Orleans where the Pelicans — without DeMarcus Cousins — came back to win 114-107.

There’s a lot of blame and finger-pointing going on in Oklahoma City, but Steven Adams said less of that should be at the three stars and more of it should be at him. Via Royce Young at ESPN:

“Mainly me, to be honest (should be blamed). Because the play itself you have to execute it properly and it has to be legit down to the t. I screwed up my feet on a couple of them in terms of spacing. … Everyone plays a part in the plight so you can say yeah the shot doesn’t go in which sucks. But to get them that shot I didn’t help them.”

Adams can take on a little of the blame, but this is a team thing right now — everyone has earned some blame. Billy Donovan as coach, role players like Andre Roberson or Patrick Patterson who have not lived up to expectations this season, and yes Westbrook/George/Anthony have earned some blame, too. It’s a little bit of everything.

There’s also time for the Thunder to figure it out, but they are on the clock as this is a one-year experiment in Oklahoma City (no way they pay the whopping tax coming next season to keep all three stars and Adams, no matter what ownership says publicly).

C.J. McCollum: I told Evan Fournier during altercation ‘ you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat’

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C.J. McCollum blew kisses at Evan Fournier when they got into a confrontation during the Trail Blazers’ win over the Magic last week:

But apparently the incident was even better than that!

McCollum on The Flagrant Two podcast, as transcribed by Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com:

“I just felt like he disrespected me by putting his hands on me,” McCollum said. “Obviously, I’m not trying to get any fines or anything of that nature and I told him he was sweet. He’s French, and I said that, ‘you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat.’ “

Did McCollum actually say that in the moment, or did he come up with the line after the fact? I want the former to be true, so I choose to believe it.

Report: Nuggets Paul Millsap out three months due to wrist surgery

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There were big sighs of relief in Denver when Paul Millsaps’ X-rays on his injured wrist came back negative. There were fears of a fracture suffered against the Lakers last weekend, but word from the team is it was just a sprain. He sat out the game against the Kings, but the timeline for his return was not expected to be long.

Except it has turned out to be a little more than a simple sprain. From Sham Charania of Yahoo and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Millsap — who signed a three-year, $90 million contract with Denver over the summer, after spending seven seasons with the Jazz and Hawks — is averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. More importantly, he has been key to Denver’s defense going from one of the NBA’s worst to the middle of the pack this season. He’s started the season getting a handful fewer shots a game then he did in Atlanta last season, and Millsap was slightly less efficient, but like the team as a whole he seemed to be finding a groove and looked better during the recent streak when Denver won 4-of-5. He and the Nuggets were figuring out how to play together.

The Nuggets have been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when Millsap has been on the court this season, and that will not be easy to replace.

While Kenneth Faried got the start with Millsap out last game, it was Trey Lyles who stepped up — and who Denver needs to step up with Millsap out. Others will have to step up with some defense while he is out.

LaVar Ball on Luke Walton: “They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son.”

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Luke Walton is trying to create a professional environment around his young Lakers’ core. One where they expect the players to put in extra work without being told they have to, one where the coaches guide the development, but it’s ultimately the player in charge of his own course. Basically, Walton is treating his young players like adults and is asking them to respond to it like professional adults. It’s what he’s seen Steve Kerr do in Golden State and it works. It’s how Gregg Popovich has created a dynasty in San Antonio.

LaVar Ball sees the world very differently. He’s old school, from the “do as I say” mold.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that after the Lakers’ ugly loss last Friday to the Suns, the Lakers media spoke to LaVar Ball about his son’s play and Ball took a shot at the Lakers’ coach. Here are the quotes, via Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.

“They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him,” LaVar Ball said. “I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around.”

Does he have a problem with coach Luke Walton?

“No, I have a problem with losing,” Ball responded.

I have multiple thoughts here, which means bullet points.

• I am breaking my own rule with this post, which is “don’t cover LaVar Ball, he’s just meaningless click bait.” I debated the point, but I think there is a legitimate basketball reason to cover this post (keep reading).

• Things Luke Walton cares more about than what LaVar Ball thinks of his coaching style: How much extra guacamole costs at Chipotle; if Netflix has “Golden Girls” to stream; what shoes Lakers’ sideline reporter Mike Trudell is wearing during postgame interviews; which Van Halen album “Dance the Night Away” is on; which show won the 1974 Tony for Best Musical.

Lonzo Ball‘s struggles with his shot this season — 31.3 percent overall, and he is struggling from three and around the rim — are well documented. It’s clear he is in his own head about it at this point. What can keep him there longer is conflicting advice from his father and his coach. So far, Lonzo seems to be siding with the coaching staff, for example, he credited assistant coach Brian Shaw for telling him to rebound more aggressively, then push the ball himself. LaVar will want to take credit for that, too. Lonzo needs to listen to his coaches, take his father’s advice for what it’s worth, and find his path.

• LaVar is lucky that the level-headed, mature-for-his-age, hard-working Lonzo was his oldest son. Just from what I see on the outside, not sure either of the other two Ball children could have handled this scrutiny nearly as well.

• Luke Walton is working to create something sustainable with the Lakers, they are not going to let anything (or anyone) bump them off that path.