Toronto has been playing solid basketball of late — if you don’t bring a genuine effort against them you are in trouble.
Like getting blown out 113-96 kind of trouble, which is what happened to the Hawks on Tuesday night. The loss drops the Hawks to the six seed in the East, tied with the Bulls for the five seed but Chicago has the tiebreaker. If the Bulls win or the Hawks lose on Wednesday night, Chicago will finish in the five spot and face the Nets in the first round, the Hawks at six would get the Indiana Pacers.
Tuesday the Hawks looked like a team trying to avoid being on the Heat’s side of the playoff bracket (which they do as the six seed). Al Horford didn’t play and Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and Devin Harris played limited minutes.
The Hawks also looked like a team that shouldn’t worry about going deep enough in the playoffs to meet the Heat — the physical, defensive-minded Pacers are going to overwhelm the Hawks easily if Atlanta doesn’t bring a radically level of effort. Particularly on defense.
The question about the Raptors is just how efficient their offense will be on any given night with Rudy Gay leading the way, but against the lazy Hawks rotations they looked good.
Toronto took and early lead in this game and generally maintained a small lead through the first part of the second quarter, were able to stretch that out a little, sparked by a ridiculous Harris flagrant foul.
Toronto stretched that lead out to 68-51 at the half as Rudy Gay shot 7-of-10 while DeMar DeRozan hit 8-of-11. As a team they shot 66.7 percent in the first half (they went 5-of-9 from three). The Hawks came out playing with better energy in the third quarter but they couldn’t dig out of the big hole they were in. Then in the fourth the Raptors blew the lead out again.
DeRozan finished the game with 30 and DeRozan had 22.
We’ll see if the Hawks bring a different kind of effort on Wednesday, or if they like the idea of the Pacers and the six seed.
James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.
When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.
“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….
“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”
Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.
This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.
In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.
However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).
Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.
That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.
Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.
Is he petty? Yes.
Is he harsh? Yes.
But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.
Sean Highkin of The Athletic:
For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).
The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.
“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”
Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.
The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.
It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.
Did you know Master P had two NBA contracts?
Percy Miller was with the Hornets before the 1999 season and the Raptors before the 1999-00 season. But he was cut in the preseason both times.
These were mostly publicity stunts. Still, the rapper could actually play a bit. NBA quality? He long insisted yes, though his music career provided a convenient and lucrative excuse for sidetracking his basketball ambitions.
Yet, now, the New Orleans native says he wants back in the NBA with the Pelicans — in a different role.
Master P, via TMZ:
I think they need me to be an assistant coach.
I’m serious about coaching.
I don’t think he’s actually serious.
But if he is, would it be a good idea? Probably not. The Pelicans have real issues integrating Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and they need devoted coaches, not passing entertainers, to solve this.
Would it be fun? Heck yeah.