Hawks run past ice cold Pacers to even series 2-2

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Suddenly, the Indiana Pacers don’t look so in control of this series anymore.

The Pacers defense that got them to the No. 3 seed in the East and helped them race out to a 2-0 series lead went missing for long stretches on Monday night — especially their transition defense. And that allowed the Hawks to get some easy buckets on the break, and for Josh Smith to remind everyone what an impressive athlete he is for a big man.

Smith had 29 points (a career playoff high), made some key plays down the stretch and the Hawks beat the Pacers 102-91. That evens the series up at 2-2 with Game 5 Wednesday night back in Indiana.

Which is good news — the Pacers were a dramatically better team at home.

On the road in Atlanta they struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm, although part of that is that once again Hawks coach Larry Drew went to his big lineup with Johan Petro at center, Al Horford at the four and Smith at the three (although in the fourth quarter Drew went back to his smaller lineup with Horford at the five and it worked).

Despite the size Indiana spent the first six minutes of the game making a point of establishing Roy Hibbert in the paint, and with that slowed-down style they were able to get back and set their defense. They were able to play their game, they were able to grind.

Then the Pacers just stopped — they settled for jump shots that they seemed to always miss, and the Hawks grabbed the boards and got out and ran. The Hawks are so much better and so much more entertaining when they get out and run, but they too often do not.

Atlanta ended the first quarter on an 8-0 run thanks to Indiana misses and the fast breaks and penetration they allowed. It was capped off by transition Devin Harris floater layup to end the quarter and Atlanta led 22-21 after one.

It didn’t end there, the Hawks extend that run to 16-1 run and eventually all the way to a 25-6 run as the Hawks knocked down 7-of-8 from three in the second quarter. Meanwhile the Pacers shot 7-of-21 in the second quarter (not that they were a whole lot better later, they shot just 38.1 percent for the game). Atlanta pulled away and it was 57-40 Hawks at the half.

Once again, Paul George had trouble getting going with Josh Smith guarding him, and he finished 6-of-16 shooting on the night (21 points).

The Pacers started to grind the lead down again in the second half and make it a game again for a couple reasons. One, they slowed the game down again. Second, both Harris (dehydration) and Horford (four fouls) were on the bench and the Hawks matchups went away. The Pacers went on 15-2 run and we had a game again as the Hawks shot 3-of-21 in the third quarter. It was a seven point game entering the fourth.

But the Pacers could get no closer than four all through the fourth quarter. It was 86-81 Hawks with 3:30 left when Smith hit a three (one where you could hear the crowd start to groan as he took it then go wild when it splashed through the net). Next Hawks possessions Horford drove across the lane but Hibbert did a good job on him, the shot missed but Smith got the offensive rebound, made a smart pass out top to Kyle Korver who drained another three. It was a nine point lead, and while the Pacers tried Smith slammed the door with a minute to go when he put away a dunk in transition off a George missed shot.

The Hawks had an offensive rating of 110 (points per 100 possessions) in this game — that is 7.7 points better than their season average and 13.4 points better than what the Pacers allowed on average this season. That is a couple games in a row the Hawks have broken the Pacers code.

Game 5 Wednesday will be interesting — can the Hawks keep up their defensive effort and get some easy buckets in transition on the road? Or do we see the Pacers from the first two games again?

We’ll see, but it likely comes down to that Josh Smith vs. Paul George battle.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry captains as All-Star starters named

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LeBron James, you are on the clock.

LeBron was the top overall vote-getter in the NBA All-Star balloting by the fans (2,638,294 votes) and that — along with votes from the media and current players to ensure he was in — has him as one of the two captains for the All-Star Game (Feb. 18 in Los Angeles). Stephen Curry was the top vote-getter in the West (2,379,494 votes) and he will be the other captain.

This year those two captains will pick the team — playground style — first from the pool of other starters selected by fans, media, and current players, then from the list of reserves selected by the coaches (which will be announced next week). With the most fan votes, LeBron gets the first pick. LeBron and Curry do not have to choose from their own conference, but here are the starters (two backcourt, three frontcourt players):

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry
James Harden
Kevin Durant
Anthony Davis
DeMarcus Cousins

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving
DeMar DeRozan
LeBron James
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Joel Embiid

This is Embiid’s first All-Star Game, it’s LeBron’s 14th (one behind Kobe Bryant’s all-time record of 15). Anthony Davis is back after dropping a record 52 points in last year’s All-Star Game, and with him and Cousins starting it’s the first time New Orleans has had two starters.

In the East, Victor Oladipo and Kristaps Porzingis both just missed the cut (the players had him as a starter over Embiid, but the fans and media did not), and in the West it was Russell Westbrook and Draymond Green who were just on the outside looking in (the fans voted Green a starter, while the media had LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting five. All of them are basically locks to be selected by the coaches for the All-Star team.

Here is the voting breakdown, where each player’s score is weighted based on 50 percent for fan vote, 25 percent for player vote, and 25 percent for media vote [if you care, the formula to get the weighted score is (Fan Rank * 2 + Player Rank + Media Rank)/4].

Eastern Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *#LeBron James (Cleveland)      1      2      1      1.25
2. *Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)      2      1      1      1.5
3. *Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)      3      4      3      3.25
4. Kristaps Porzingis (New York)      4      3      4      3.75
5. Kevin Love (Cleveland)      5      6      7      5.75
6. Al Horford (Boston)      7      8      5      6.75
7. Andre Drummond (Detroit)      9      5      6      7.25
8. Jayson Tatum (Boston)      6      12      8      8.0
9. Enes Kanter (New York)      8      9      8      8.25
10. Dwight Howard (Charlotte)      10      13      8      10.25

 

Eastern Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Kyrie Irving (Boston)      1      1      1      1.0
2. *DeMar DeRozan (Toronto)      2      2      2      2.0
3. Victor Oladipo (Indiana)      4      3      3      3.5
4. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)      3      6      6      4.5
5. John Wall (Washington)      6      4      4      5.0
6. Bradley Beal (Washington)      9      5      4      6.75
7. Isaiah Thomas (Cleveland)      7      9      6      7.25
8. Kyle Lowry (Toronto)      8      7      6      7.25
9. Dwyane Wade (Cleveland)      5      15      6      7.75
10. Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee)      12      10      6      10.0

 

*–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Western Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Kevin Durant (Golden State)      1      1      1      1.0
2. *Anthony Davis (New Orleans)      3      2      2      2.5
3. *DeMarcus Cousins (New Orleans)      4      3      4      3.75
4. Draymond Green (Golden State)      2      7      6      4.25
5. Paul George (Oklahoma City)      5      6      7      5.75
6. LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio)      8      4      3      5.75
7. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)      9      5      4      6.75
8. Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)      6      8      9      7.25
9. Carmelo Anthony (Oklahoma City)      7      9      9      8.0
10. Kyle Kuzma (L.A. Lakers)      10      12      9      10.25

    

Western Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *#Stephen Curry (Golden State)      1      1      2      1.25
2. *James Harden (Houston)      3      2      1      2.25
3. Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City)      4      3      3      3.5
4. Manu Ginobili (San Antonio)      2      8      7      4.75
5. Klay Thompson (Golden State)      5      9      5      6.0
6. Chris Paul (Houston)      7      7      5      6.5
7. Damian Lillard (Portland)      8      4      7      6.75
8. Jimmy Butler (Minnesota)      9      6      4      7.0
9. Devin Booker (Phoenix)      10      4      7      7.75
10. Lonzo Ball (L.A. Lakers)      6      13      7      8.0

 

*–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Pharrell and N.E.R.D to headline NBA All-Star halftime show

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA announced Thursday that 11-time Grammy winner Pharrell and his hip-hop-rock band N.E.R.D will headline the halftime show at the 2018 NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles next month.

Fergie, who has eight Grammys, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to tip-off. Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies will perform the national anthem of their home country.

The Feb. 18 game will air live at 8 p.m. Eastern on TNT from the Staples Center. It will be seen in more than 200 countries.

Pharrell and the band, which released its fifth studio album last month, will perform a medley of chart-topping hits. Fergie released her second full-length album, “Double Dutchess,” and a companion visual album in September. She is a host of the new Fox show “The Four: Battle for Stardom.”

Kevin Hart will open the night.

 

Magic’s Aaron Afflalo suspended two games for swing at Nemanja Bjelica

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This wasn’t two guys yelling into a locker room after a game, this was an actual fight. With an actual haymaker punch being thrown — and missing.

Aaron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica had been going back-and-forth all game Tuesday night, then it bubbled over when Jamal Crawford missed a jumper, Bjelica charged right at Afflalo while going for an offensive board, Afflalo blocked him like an offensive lineman, and then it got out of control.

The league announced Thursday that Afflalo has been suspended two games for throwing a haymaker. Both men were ejected from that game, but there is no further punishment for Bjelica (which is fair, Afflalo was the instigator here, Bjelica ended it with a headlock).

Glad to see this suspension was more than one game — if Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green get two games for an incident where there wasn’t a punch thrown, this had to be at least equal to that.

LeBron James says this season has been “most challenging” one

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Kyrie Irving is gone. His replacement, Isaiah Thomas, missed the first couple months of the season and is still trying to get into game shape and find his groove on the court with a new team. Other players have missed games, Kevin Love has moved to center, and the Cavaliers have looked older and slower — particularly on defense — and with that the cloud of LeBron James potentially leaving the team this summer gets darker and darker.

Throw in that LeBron — in his 15th NBA season — is eighth in the entire league in total minutes played, and his usage rate is 10th in the league when he is on the floor, and you can feel the burden on him.

LeBron has responded with an MVP-level season, but as the Cavaliers have struggled going 2-8 in their last 10 games, he admitted to Dave McMenamin of ESPN that this season has been very hard.

“It’s been very challenging,” James said after practice Wednesday. “Just from the simple fact of how many guys have been in and out. This is a difficult year for our team. Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging.

“With everybody who has been out and coming back in, and the rotations, and things of that nature, it’s been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out. At the end of the day, we have a game every other day or every two days just like everybody else in the NBA. We have to go out and play.”

The roster shakeup of losing Irving — and with Thomas still trying to find his spots with this team after missing so much time — along with the other injuries is hard to underestimate. This goes beyond the usual mid-season Cavaliers malaise, with this roster they don’t have the offense to cover up the glaring defensive issues that have plagued them since last season (they were 29th in the NBA in defense after the All-Star break last season).

Also, LeBron’s comment seems to be part of the Cavaliers coming to the realization that they are not good enough to win a title with this team as constructed. In past years they believed if they got it together they could compete with anyone, after Monday’s loss to the Warriors they seem to realize that is not the case. Maybe that attitude changes come the playoffs — get out of the East, which they still have to be favorites to do, and they get a shot — but reality seems to have hit this roster.