NBA Playoffs: Maybe the Hawks can use more Horford in Game 3

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Now the Orlando/Atlanta series moves on to Game 3 on a neutral court… wait, it’s in Atlanta? Interesting. We’ll see if anyone notices.

Seriously, the Hawks fans will be into it if the Hawks are into it. And in it.

Whether the Hawks are in it may depend in part on how much run Al Horford gets, which became one of the big stories out of Game 2. Horford — the Hawks best player in the regular season — picked up two fouls in 2:10 of the first quarter and got yanked by coach Larry Drew. And never put back in for the entire first half. Stat heads are down on the idea of yanking a guy with two fouls in the first place, go ahead and debate that if you wish. Nobody was down with Horford not getting back in until the second half. Or with sitting Jason Collins — the guy who bangs with Dwight Howard and allows the Hawks to single cover on the perimeter — when he picked up a second foul with 8:44 in the second quarter. Both sat the rest of the half.

The result was Orlando made a 12-2 run and a separate 14-3 run in the second quarter while the two bigs sat. The Magic grabbed a lead they never relinquished. Collins was saved for a fourth quarter he almost never played in because the Hawks needed guys who can score.

It’s not rocket science. You’ve got to play your best players to win. Horford is as good as the Hawks have inside. Give the man his run.

The Hawks best player so far this series has been Jamal Crawford, who is averaging 24 points a game and is shooting 58.4 percent from three. In general the Hawks have had stretches where their shooters — Joe Johnson, Josh Smith — have been nailing the jumpers they too easily settle for, and they have held the lead. The Hawks expect that to last, the Magic think they can close out and shut that down.

The Hawks have a real shot here — they played poorly and had bad coaching decisions in Game 2 on the road and still were in it late. They create matchup problems that Orlando struggles to solve. The Magic have nobody who can hang with Josh Smith if Mr. Smith wishes to take over. Atlanta should open up the Mike Woodson playbook and isolate the guy.

At some point, Orlando fans and players expect their shots to start falling. Atlanta thinks that they, too, can shoot a lot better against the Magic defense.

One of them will be right. And one of them will be up 2-1 in this series come Saturday morning.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.