Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks will soon be a playoff lock

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With a win tonight, the Atlanta Hawks have a chance to lock up a spot in the playoffs. As we know, merely making an appearance in the postseason cures all ills; no malady can withstand the tide of good feelings that comes from playing in bonus basketball games, and the Hawks will be reborn again as Phoenixes once Game 82 is in the books. Right?

Cue Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Normally [securing a playoff spot] would be a footnote considering that a postseason berth has been a formality for a while. But with the way things are going for the Hawks, making it official would give them something to feel good about. “For the psyche, it would be great,” coach Larry Drew said Friday, “having gone through what we have gone through this month.”

It actually has been longer than that: Starting with a 117-83 loss to Philadelphia on Feb. 8, the Hawks have lost 14 of 21 games. They are 4-8 this month despite playing 10 home games. That loss to Philadelphia is one of three at home by at least 30 points this season. If the Hawks (40-32) earn 42 victories they would become the only winning team in NBA history to suffer that many lopsided home losses, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

…After an initial improvement in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession) following the trade for guard Kirk Hinrich last month, the Hawks are struggling to slow opponents. Four of their past five opponents have scored more than 100 points, including middling offensive teams Chicago and Philadelphia. The Hawks’ offense has regressed, too. Last season the Hawks were No. 3 in the NBA in offensive efficiency. After ranking in the top third of the 30-team league for most of this season, they’ve slipped to 20th.

As bad as the numbers look, the Hawks’ intangibles have been worse. Drew said the team is “fragile” and gives in to adversity. Forward Josh Smith said the Hawks don’t back up each other. Horford said they need to be mentally tougher. Guard Joe Johnson has seemed most despondent, lamenting after the past two losses that all the players’ talk hasn’t resulted in action.

Playing the playoffs is, in itself, an accomplishment. But for a team as troubled as this year’s Hawks, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. Securing a postseason berth not only fails to solve those items in Cunningham’s laundry list in his final paragraph, but it also won’t repair Atlanta’s broken rotations, magically put the ball in Al Horford’s hands, or prevent the Hawks from settling into poor isolation possessions. This is a playoff team and nothing more, and considering the same could be said of the Hawks of the last three seasons, it seems safe to say that the franchise has settled into a comfortable mediocrity.

The Hawks need work. From Larry Drew’s rotation to Josh Smith’s body language, this team is in need of change in a big way, and that’s not going to come overnight or even over a few weeks. It will require superficial adjustments, sure, but also substantive ones; a subtle re-allocation of shots or minutes won’t solve the Hawks’ problems or make them contenders. It’s going to take creative financing and actual player movement for Atlanta to make any kind of legitimate step forward, and unfortunately for Drew, it might possibly require a new head coach. It’s not Drew’s fault that his perimeter defenders can’t stay in front of their defensive assignments, but it’s on him that some of Atlanta’s more effective players stay glued to the bench while regulars do things I can only hope he didn’t ask them to do. There’s no system of accountability in Atlanta, and that’s a damning problem.

The Hawks may make the playoffs today, but as Cunningham noted, it should only be a formality. Atlanta’s entire campaign is something of a formality these days, and the same will be said of every subsequent one until this roster undergoes significant changes.

Wizards defend final possession horribly, beat Knicks anyway (video)

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The Wizards – one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams this season – showed why it’s so difficult to believe in them.

They built a 10-point lead over the Knicks with 1:51 left and steadily blew it. New York got within one and trailed by three with 4.3 seconds left.

And Washington went to sleep.

The Wizards – four of whom hung out near the halfcourt line – allowed the Knicks to push the ball and find a wide-open Langston Galloway behind the 3-point arc. Galloway is one of New York’s best 3-point shooters, and he makes 47% of his wide open 3s, per NBA.com

This is horrific focus by Washington.

But if there’s a team less inspiring than the Wizards, it’s the Kurt Rambis-coached Knicks, and Galloway missed to give his new coach a loss in his first game as New York’s head coach.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Watch out for the Utah Jazz

<> at American Airlines Center on February 9, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby.PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. Just wanted to freak you out. Here is what you need to know from an NBA Tuesday.

1) Gordon Hayward game winner makes it seven in a row for Utah. This team is hitting it’s stride again. The reason Utah was everyone’s favorite pick to leap up into the Western Conference playoffs this season was they were one of the best teams in the NBA after the All-Star break last season — they went 19-10, played lock-down defense allowing just 89 points a game, and got just enough offense to win.

The Jazz are hitting that stride earlier this season. After a dramatic win over the Mavericks on Tuesday, the Jazz have won seven in a row and moved past Houston into the seven seed in the West. Utah is hitting its stride and is not only going to make the playoffs but also be a tough out in them. They are playing great defense again, allowing 87.3 points per game during the win streak (95.8 points allowed per 100 possessions), plus are getting offense when they need it. Like during the dramatic end of the win over Dallas on the road Tuesday. First Rodney Hood hit a three to force overtime:

Then Gordon Hayward hit the step-back game winner.

2) Kurt Rambis drops first game as Knicks coach. Meet the new Knicks: They got off to a terrible start, had no offensive flow, were constantly putting up contested shots late in the shot clock, and didn’t slow the other team down in transition. And they lost (111-108 to Washington). If that sounds a lot like the old Derek Fisher Knicks, well, what did you expect? Kurt Rambis — whatever you think of him as a coach — was not going to be able to make many changes on the fly, and while Carmelo Anthony dropped 33, the reasons this team has struggled of late have not gone away. This roster is not as good as Phil Jackson apparently thinks it is, and people running the show at Madison Square Garden may have been blinded by a better than expected start. This is not a good team, if anything the emergence of Kristaps Porzingis has them playing above expectations. There are some pieces to build on for the future, but there is still a lot of building to do. This coaching change doesn’t change much of anything in the short term.

3) Setback Tuesday: Bulls’ Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with knee strain; Grizzlies Marc Gasol out indefinitely with a broken foot; Pelicans Tyreke Evans to miss rest of season after knee surgery. The basketball gods were handing out injuries Tuesday like Oprah handed out cars.

The Bulls will be without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler for a month due to the knee strain he suffered a couple of games back. The Bulls are already 5-12 in their last 17 and struggling on defense; this is another big step back along those lines. Chicago is just 1.5 games from falling out of the playoffs, and that is suddenly a concern. The Bulls’ Pau Gasol will replace Butler in the All-Star Game (which means the Bulls keep a representative, and Gasol is there for the Kobe sendoff game, which is nice).

Marc Gasol is the hub of what Memphis likes to do on both ends, but he has a broken foot and will be out indefinitely. Gasol’s game has taken a step back this season, but the team is still 3.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and the Grizzlies don’t have anyone who can replace what he does at both ends. The Grizzlies have a 4.5 game cushion from falling out of the playoffs, but wins are going to be much tougher to come by now.

This has been a lost season in New Orleans, Tyreke Evans going under the knife because of his knee is just piling on. It does kill the Pelicans’ efforts to trade him at the deadline in nine days.

4) Khris Middleton’s free throw gives Bucks win over Celtics. Wild ending in Boston. First, a Jerryd Bayless foul gives Kelly Olynyk the chance to tie the game with one second left.

Just one second left, so it’s going to overtime, right? Wrong. Avery Bradley with the stupid foul and the Bucks get the win.

5) Miami’s Hassan Whiteside was ejected for elbowing Spurs Boban Marjanovic in the face. It was a made free throw in the fourth quarter of a double-digit game — there wasn’t anything to be battling over. But Marjanovic was working to get his big body in a rebounding position, Whiteside was trying to fight him off and got his elbows up. It was the move of an immature player, which Whiteside can still be at times. Elbow a guy in the face and you’re gone.

Stephen Curry starts ridiculous Warriors fast break (VIDEO)

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Golden State is such a thing of beauty to watch in transition.

This play starts when Stephen Curry slides down to help on post defense on Clint Capela, steals the ball, saves it to a teammate and then gets it back when they start the break. James Harden tries to slow Curry down, cutting him off in the backcourt, Curry just whips a 20-foot behind-the-back pass to Andre Iguodala, who lobs it to Leandro Barbosa for the finish.

Houston fought back from 16 down early to make it interesting for a while, but Golden State pulled away late for the 123-110 win. Curry finished with 35 on the night.

Report: Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans out for season due to planned knee surgery

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 19: Tyreke Evans #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots the ball during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 19, 2016 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Pelicans’ just can’t get and stay healthy. Tyreke Evans just can’t stay healthy this season.

Evans — who has averaged 15.2 points and a team-high 6.6 assists per game this season — will be done for the season following planned knee surgery, reports Shams Charania of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Pelicans had been looking at potential trades for Evans, all of that is dead now. (New Orleans would like to move Eric Gordon, but most other teams are more interested in Ryan Anderson.)

The Pelicans have been 3.2 points per 100 possessions better this season with Evans on the court. However, in recent weeks coach Alvin Gentry has given increasing minutes and increasing responsibilities to Jrue Holiday.

It is possible Gentry keeps Bryce Dejean-Jones starting and bringing Holiday off the bench (as he did last game), just to keep the bench rotations where he wants them. Also, expect Norris Cole to get more run.

None of this matters much, this has been a lost season for the 19-32 Pelicans. They are the current 12 seed, 6.5 games out of the last playoff spot, they are not catching anyone. Don’t be shocked if Anthony Davis is shut down early for the season as well.