Larry Drew’s Hawks are off to an unfortunate start

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The Atlanta Hawks seem destined to repeat their successes and failures of a year ago, and that perception should persist until Larry Drew is able to show us something about the Hawks that Mike Woodson never could. Given how little we know about Drew as a head coach, I can’t give you a compelling reason why he’s doomed to fail, but to assume that the roster and performance will remain more or less the same until they prove otherwise is a reasonable burden for Drew to bear.

It doesn’t help that the universe is clearly working against Drew. As he tries to break his team of their old ways and show them the light, it only makes sense that the very fabric of our existence would fold and contort to injure as many Hawks as possible. Atlanta just wasn’t meant to play good perimeter defense, and with a string of injuries to ATL’s core players through training camp and the preseason, the cosmos has ensured that the Hawks of old will also be the Hawks of new. From Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The Hawks finally started to shorten their injury list at practice Thursday. Jamal Crawford (back), Mo Evans (knee), Jason Collins (leg) and Williams (ill) all returned. Injuries to those players, plus starting center Al Horford, have made it tough to evaluate the Hawks. They’ve also hindered Drew’s efforts to install his new offense and alter his team’s approach to defense. “That part of it is tough,” Drew said. “But that’s just the way it is. You have to deal with it. When [the injured players] get back we will spend more teaching them to try to get them caught up.”

The Hawks haven’t had their full group of regulars for three preseason games. The closest they came was in the opener, when all of the expected rotation players except Crawford played much of the first half. Otherwise, Drew has had to make do. Drew had planned to let Horford play significant minutes at power forward. But that became less feasible with Horford limited by a balky ankle injured early in camp and also Collins’ injury. With Crawford and Teague both out, Drew had to play rookie Jordan Crawford at point guard at Detroit and Washington. Crawford, a shooting guard, hadn’t practiced at point guard.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Horford; he’s far too intelligent of a player for a little make-up work to derail him, and he wasn’t even part of the problem to begin with. I’m also going to pretend that Collins’ name is included for purely comedic reasons, or to indicate that Atlanta had one fewer practice big than they’d like.

But to have Crawford and Teague miss minutes at this critical juncture, given both players’ inability to defend on the perimeter (or in the paint, or in a house, or with a mouse, etc.) is potentially damning. Expecting Drew to immediately make effective defenders out of Crawford and Teague would be asking a bit much, but even an attempt to curb some of their poor habits by way of proper adjustment within the Hawks’ new defensive system could have ended with real, substantive progress. Additionally, even if those two were healthy, Horford’s presence completely changes how Atlanta would react to certain sequences defensively, leaving the whole preseason process half-empty in its potential benefit.

Maybe none of this will matter in the long run, but I fail to see how the Hawks’ recent string of minor injuries could be anything but negative. Best of luck, Larry Drew. Your task of improving Atlanta’s effectiveness on both ends of the court has been undercut from the start, and one can only hope that the team starts November better than they did October.

Damian Lillard defends Blazers’ coach Terry Stotts on Instagram

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It’s far too early for panic in Portland. This is a team most outside Portland thought would finish a little above .500 and maybe grab one of the back-end playoff spots in the West, and at 9-7 they are on that pace.

But after an ugly Portland loss to Sacramento (just a few games after a loss to Brooklyn where coach Terry Stotts benched center Jusuf Nurkick for most of the fourth), Trail Blazers fans were restless and started to slam coach Stotts on the Trail Blazers’ Instagram page.

I doubt Stotts noticed, but Damian Lillard did and jumped in to defend his coach.

Lillard added this (hat tip Mike Richman at the Oregonian).

“Because people think they know more about what it takes to get things done at this level … For our team than they actually do,” he said. “We’re in this position for a reason. And coach Stotts had two 50-win seasons here and four straight years in the playoffs for a reason –because he knows what he’s doing. They mention … our record is 8-7 and we’re having breakdowns late in games. Well those breakdowns are a missed shot here, a turnover there, a defensive breakdown here, giving up extra possessions, missed free throws. It’s things that players control. If we were down 30 every game, that’s different. But we’re in position to win games. And when it’s time to win games, that’s the players’ job. “

Lillard is loyal to those around him and has had the back of teammates and his coach before.

Lillard and his teammates went out Saturday night and got some revenge on the Kings, winning 102-90.

Portland’s defense has been surprisingly good this season, second best in the NBA. It should have been better with Nurkic in the paint, but this has been a radical turnaround for a team where that end of the floor held them back in recent years. While that lofty ranking may not stick all season, the Blazers are defending.

Now the Blazers are just having trouble scoring efficiently (18th in the NBA), which is a little about a less-efficient Lillard and a rough start on that end for Nurkic.  That end of the court should come around, Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too good for it not to.

 

Teammate spoke to Lonzo Ball about walking away from “fight”

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We see these posturing/shoving matches all the time in the NBA, and they’re pointless. Late in Friday night’s Phoenix win in Los Angeles the Suns called a timeout, then Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one a shoving match. As happens, players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up… except for Lonzo Ball, who looked at it and kept moving along.

I have defended Ball’s actions as mature (he’s right, nothing was going to happen), while others (fans and media) have questioned his leadership for not rushing to stand by teammates, pull guys out of the pile, and having a “band of brothers” attitude.

None of that matters, the only opinions that carry any weight are the ones in the Lakers’ locker room. What did his teammates think? Lakers coach Luke Walton said a teammate did talk to Ball, quote via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Someone on our team talked with him,” Walton said after the Lakers’ practice Saturday, without disclosing who it was. “It’s all part of the learning process.”

If his teammates were bothered, then there’s an issue. It’s more about perception than anything, again nothing was happening in that “fight,” but perception matters. It’s a small issue, but an issue. With young players this gets discussed, and everyone moves on.

Ball’s passing and energy on the court are things teammates love. As his game matures — and he eventually finishes better around the rim and, hopefully for him, finds his jumper — and he grows as a bigger threat on the court, his teammates will forget this ever happened. As will fans. But when you play for the rabid (and not always rational) fan base of the Lakers, and when your father invites publicity and with it scrutiny, things get blown out of proportion. Welcome to Lonzo’s world.

Marc Gasol kicks away Clint Capela’s shoe, earns technical

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Midway through the first quarter, Clint Capela literally came out of his shoe trying to move up to set a pick for James Harden. Just stepped right out of it. J.R. Smith wasn’t there to untie the laces or anything.

Capela turned around to go get his shoe, and Memphis’ Marc Gasol showed his soccer skills kicking the shoe away. That earned him a technical foul. Gasol could argue he just wanted to get something he could trip over off the court, but Capela was clearly coming back for it at that point. Gasol earned this one.

Capela retied his shoes and went on to have 17 points and 13 boards in Houston’s 105-83 win over shorthanded Memphis.

Stephen Curry scores 35, Warriors rally to beat 76ers 124-116

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 35 points, Kevin Durant had 27 and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors overcame a 22-point halftime deficit in a 124-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

Joel Embiid scored 21 points and Ben Simmons had 23 points and 12 assists for Philadelphia, which led 47-28 after one quarter and 74-52 at the half.

But the Warriors erased that large deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter. Curry’s 3-pointer got them within one point. He then made a pair of free throws to give Golden State a 90-89 lead.

The two-time NBA MVP hit another 3 and Draymond Green blew past a defender for a dunk to make it 99-89 going into the fourth.

A raucous, sellout crowd that chanted “Trust the Process” most of the night went silent while the Warriors put on a shooting clinic in the second half.

Even veteran David West came off the bench and made big shots in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors distance. He finished with 14 points. Klay Thompson had 16.

Embiid was coming off a career-best performance – 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks, seven assists – in a 115-109 win at the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

He seemed on his way to another monster game in the first quarter. Embiid embraced the frenzied fans and slapped hands with a guy sitting courtside after a dunk.

But the Warriors showed why they’re the best by stifling Philadelphia in the second half to improve to 12-4.

The Sixers, who lost 135-114 at Golden State one week ago, fell to 8-7.

Playing his first game since receiving a lucrative contract extension, Robert Covington had 20 points for Philly.

Back home for the first time following a five-game road trip to the West Coast, the Sixers showed no jet lag in the first half.

They jumped ahead 15-4 following a 3-pointer by Embiid. Covington stripped Durant and hit a 3 to make it 37-18, electrifying the crowd.

Durant’s dunk off Green’s alley-oop pass got the Warriors within 70-51 late in the second. But Embiid finished off the half with a dunk that sent the Sixers into the locker room up 74-52.