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.

Reports: Rockets try to confront Clippers, police dispatched to locker room

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The Los Angeles Clippers got the better of the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Staples Center, 113-102, but the battle between Chris Paul and his former team had apparently just begun.

According to multiple reports, members of the Rockets took to the Clippers locker room after the game to confront Austin Rivers and then Blake Griffin.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says that according to his sources, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, and Gerald Green entered the Clippers locker room looking for Austin Rivers, who was on the sideline due to an injury. LAPD were then dispatched to the scene — not just ordinary Staples Center security — and that’s somehow not the end of this story.

In true Scooby Doo fashion, Woj reports that the Rockets then sent Clint Capela to the front door of the Clippers locker room while Chris Paul went to a secret back door to the Clippers’ area as he looked to go after Blake Griffin.

Once again, I cannot stress that I am not making this story up.

Via Twitter:

Some of this may stem from the general tension between the two teams. Paul was traded to Houston in June for Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, and Sam Dekker among others after spending six seasons with Los Angeles.

There’s also the fact that Mike D’Antoni and Griffin got into it during the game, yapping at each other after Griffin made contact with the Houston coach on the sideline.

Griffin appeared to be pointing at D’Antoni for being out of the box on the sideline, making purposeful contact with him and resulting in double technical fouls.

Yet the overarching tension between the two teams was already palpable. Paul reportedly took umbrage to how Rivers was treated by his father, coach, and (at the time) GM Doc Rivers.

Then, late in the fourth quarter — after Griffin had already gotten into it with D’Antoni — some jawing from Austin Rivers led to an on-court discussion between Ariza and Griffin.

That prompted officials to eject both Griffin and Ariza with just a minute to go:

Austin Rivers said that the tension between Paul and Griffin was the thing that led to CP3 looking for a trade to Texas, just as a bit of backstory, so the bad blood and he-said, she-said is long-running.

No word yet on the details confirming how far anybody got, although it seems reasonable to expect Adam Silver and the league office should come down with some suspensions for folks. Malice in the Palace was perhaps the greatest modern disgrace for the NBA, and the league tries to keep even the whiff of violence away from their games.

It feels like there’s no way anyone here can get off light in an era where guys are getting suspended from both playoff games and preseason games for taking a teensy little step off the bench during disputes.

Meanwhile, the guys on the set of Inside the NBA had an absolute BLAST with the details (as did of Twitter, to be honest).

The Rockets and the Clippers play again next on Wednesday Feb. 28 in LA.

Check out the Chris Paul tribute video from the Clippers

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Chris Paul returned to Staples Center Monday night wearing the red of the Houston Rockets.

There was a mix of cheers and boos when CP3 was introduced against the Clippers, the team he helped make relevant and string together the best run in franchise history (even if it didn’t attain the lofty goals we had expected). He pushed his way out of town last summer, but Paul still goes down as one of the two greatest Clippers ever (he was a better player than Blake Griffin, but Griffin helped turn that franchise culture around before CP3 arrived, and Griffin is still doing work there).

The Clippers put together this tribute video.

Well done Clippers.

LeBron James does it all, still not enough for Cavaliers to beat Warriors

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers got to the Finals thanks to LeBron James leading an elite Cavaliers offense that covered up a defense which was second worst in the NBA after the All-Star break and improved to middle of the pack during the playoffs when they dialed in. That was not near good enough against the Warriors in the Finals.

New season, but we are watching the same movie.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Cleveland LeBron was nothing short of brilliant — 32 points on 18 shots, eight rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Through three quarters the Cavaliers got into the paint, hit their floaters and midrange shots, and knocked down 52.1 percent of their shots total — but they were down two because their defense was a disaster.

Isaiah Thomas tied the game 93-93 early in the fourth, but then Cleveland started a streak of missing eight shots in a row and hitting 1-of-14 (credit the Warriors playing better defense for some of that), and the Warriors just kept on scoring. And scoring.

The result was a 118-108 Warriors win to sweep the season series from the Cavaliers.

Kevin Durant had 32 points, Stephen Curry 23 and hit 4-of-8 from three.

With the trade deadline weeks away, this loss left the Cavaliers with big questions to answer:

Do they make a bold move to try to give themselves a better shot against the Warriors in the Finals? (And give themselves a cushion against Boston and Toronto.)

Is there an available player that can actually close that gap?

If they find the player, do the Cavaliers have the players and picks to get a deal done? Would they throw in the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick?

Cleveland must consider it all because this game made it clear again there is now a gap between the two teams that met in the NBA Finals the past three years.

The Cavaliers again started out hot, hitting eight of their first 10 shots. Cleveland shot 58.3 percent in the first quarter and LeBron was 6-of-8 — but they led just 37-35 because the Cavaliers could not get stops. Cleveland’s transition defense was a mess all night, and in the first quarter one-third of the Warriors points came in transition opportunities, where they were very efficient.

There were positives for Cleveland. Dwyane Wade provided a boost off the bench with eight first-half points on 4-of-7 shooting, making energy plays like the steal and alley-oop to Jeff Green just before the half.

The Cavaliers were up 64-57 at the break as they shot 61.1 percent from the midrange. But it always felt like it was not sustainable.

Cleveland had shooting issues with guys not named LeBron. IT and Wade combined to shoot 12-of-33, and as a team the Cavs shot 6-of-26 from three. You can say those number should improve, and you’d be right, but we’re back to a great offense trying to cover up a weak defense.

That’s not going to cut it in the Finals. It may not be enough to cut it before the Finals, but the Warriors are showing they are in another class right now.

Kevin Durant with angry dunk, LeBron James steps out of way

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There are times when challenging a dunk is the thing to do.

For LeBron James, this was one of those times.

Kevin Durant and Draymond Green were on a 2-1 break with LeBron back, but KD was not looking to pass, he wanted to finish.

He did. With authority.