Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers

Hawks’ Al Horford tore pectoral muscle, out indefinitely

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One of only three teams in the Eastern Conference over .500 is now without its star player for a significant amount of time.

The Atlanta Hawks confirmed that Al Horford completely tore his right pectoral muscle on the play above, a simple defensive effort trying to deny an inbounds pass during the overtime of the Hawks/Cavs game Thursday. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com first reported this was potentially the case.

Horford was clearly in a lot of pain when the injury happened and it didn’t look like a minor tweak. Berger reminds us Horford has been down this road before.

He suffered a torn left pectoral muscle in January 2012, only 11 games into the lockout-shortened season. He returned for three playoff games in May, almost four months later.

Horford has been playing the best ball of his career this season, leading the Hawks averaging 18.6 points a game on 56.7 percent of his shots (he has a true shooting percentage of 58.8 percent) and pulling down 8.4 rebounds a game. He has paired well with Paul Millsap up front in an undersized but strong front line.

With Horford out for a while, the Hawks will lean on Elton Brand and Pero Antic — but that is a steep drop off in talent, particularly at the offensive end, which may have them looking to make a trade.

What have we done to anger the basketball gods to have this rash of injuries to elite players this season?

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.