DeMar DeRozan; Kyle Lowry

Raptors storm from 11 back in fourth quarter to knock off Hawks

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Atlanta has been playing with a little fire of late, ever since the hot Knicks (winners of eight in a row heading into Sunday night) put pressure on them for the final playoff spot in the East.

This was the kind of loss the Hawks can’t afford if they want to make the postseason.

Atlanta was in charge for the first three quarters of this game — the Hawks shot 50 percent as a team while holding the Raptors to 36.7 percent shooting. The Hawks were up 11 and in charge. DeMarre Carroll was 7-of-12 for 17 points — it was that kind of game.

Then the fourth quarter happened.

The Hawks shot 6-of-22 overall and 1-of-10 from three in the fourth, plus they had four turnovers, a couple of them key. Meanwhile the Raptors shot 60 percent in the final frame, got 13 points from Kyle Lowry and 10 from DeMar DeRozan and stormed back for a comfortable 96-86 win.

The win keeps the Raptors two games ahead of Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division lead, plus the Raptors remain half a game up on the Bulls for the three seed (although I expect they fall behind the Bulls before the season ends).

Atlanta is now 2.5 games up on the Knicks, a gap the Knicks can close to 2 games with a win over Cleveland Sunday night. The Hawks do have a three game advantage over the Knicks in the loss column. The Hawks still control their own destiny, but they can’t afford letdown losses like this.

What let Atlanta down at the end of this game. Check out the Hawks possessions down the stretch after a pretty Paul Millsap a pick-and-pop three that had the Hawks up 3 with 3:50 left:

• Jeff Teague misses floater going one-on-three in transition.
• Teague misses a spinner in the lane.
• Millsap misses a spinner in the lane.
• Good ball movement got Millsap a wide open corner three, he missed it.
• In transition Hawks don’t attack but kick back to Teague for three, he misses.
• Shelvin Mack hits a floater in the lane to end 8-0 Raptors run.
• Coming out of timeout Lowry steals inbound pass right out of Millsap’s hands breakaway layup.

That was the ballgame.

Give the Raptors credit here — Lowry had 25 points on the night and made tough shots (like a floater across his body) late in the game, DeRozan hit some key midrange pull-ups in the final minutes on his way to 21 on the night. The Raptors played well and earned the win.

A win that gives the Knicks hope.

Report: Bucks preparing for Greg Monroe to opt in next summer

Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe, center, drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca, left, and guard Tyreke Evans, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman
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The Bucks got a rude awakening about Greg Monroe‘s value when they tried to sell low on him this offseason – and still got no takers.

Now, Milwaukee seems to have gotten the picture. Monroe – whose agent claimed the center could name his contract terms from multiple teams last year – might opt into the final year of his deal, which would pay $17,884,176.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Milwaukee is already preparing for the possibility Monroe opts into his deal for 2017-18, league sources say.

The Bucks indicated this thinking when they extended Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s contract, putting a large 2017-18 salary rather than a relatively low cap hold on the books to begin next offseason. If Monroe opts in, the difference in Antetokounmpo’s initial cap number is far less likely to matter. (Though Antetokounmpo’s extension wasn’t a complete giveaway into Milwaukee’s Monroe expectation, because the Bucks saved over the life of the extension.)

Don’t put it past Monroe to opt out if he believes he can find a better situation. After all, he signed the small qualifying offer to leave a tough basketball fit with Andre Drummond in Detroit. Monroe also took the risk of a shorter detail in Milwaukee. He’s secure enough in himself to at least consider moving on if he’s unhappy.

It’s also possible he finds a satisfying role with the Bucks. They’ll bring him off the bench, which could hide his defensive shortcomings and give him a chance to mash backup bigs. Heck, he could even play well enough to justify opting out.

There’s still a full season before Monroe must decide on his option, and a lot can change by then. But it seems Milwaukee now has a realistic expectation.

Report: NBA increases 2017-18 salary-cap projection to $103 million

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The NBA is reportedly closing in on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the new deal will still call for owners and players to split Basketball Related Income about 50-50.

So, July’s projection of a $102 million salary cap in 2017-18 still carries weight – except it’s been updated.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Why the change?

Perhaps, the shortfall adjustment – which increases the cap when teams don’t spend enough the previous year – is being revised in the new CBA.

More likely, the league anticipates more revenue. These projections tend to start conservative then rise as July nears.

Rip Hamilton says 2004 Pistons would beat 2016 Warriors

CLEVELAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Richard Hamilton #32 of the Detroit Pistons looks up during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 22, 2009 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Cavaliers won 99-78.  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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Add Rip Hamilton to team #getoffmylawn.

The long list of veteran players who somehow feel their legacy is threatened by this era’s Golden State Warriors and their freestyling system has now added one of the key players from the 2004 Pistons title team to their ranks. CBS’ NBA Crossover asked the masked man Rip Hamilton about it, and he thought the vaunted Pistons defense was well designed for dealing with the Warriors.

“It would be no comparison.” Hamilton said on CBS Sports’ NBA Crossover. “We can guard every position. Every guy from our point guard to our five, can guard any position. We were big. We were long.”

Hamilton is right that it would be an interesting defensive matchup. The book on the Warriors — especially when facing the smaller “death lineup” — is to switch everything, and those Pistons would have been well suited to that task. Of course, there are two ends of the court and the Warriors are also a good defensive team going against a Pistons team that had limited offensive options (people underestimate how great Chauncey Billups was playing during that 2004 playoff run, he was elite, but that was not a deep offensive team). The real issue would have been pace — the Warriors want to play fast, the Pistons wanted to grind it out, who won that battle would be huge?

But that last graph talking strategy doesn’t address the biggest question: Whose rules are the games played under? 2016 or 2004?

Those 2004 Pistons were the height of the grabbing/hand-checking on the perimeter era that would be an automatic foul today. (There was a lot more hand checking uncalled in the NBA last season, but not the level of grabbing and holding that was allowed in 2004 and before back into the Jordan era.)

Tayshaun Prince said it well.

“It depends on what the rules are.” Prince said. “Because back when we played, we could play hands-on, physical. As you can see from the Pacers rivalries and all of the rivalries we had back in the day, we were scoring in the high 70s, low 80s. We were physical. So now if you play this style of play, where they’re running and gunning and touch fouls and things like that, all of sudden we would start getting in foul trouble because back when we played, we were very, very aggressive on defense.”

He gets it.

The Warriors are built for this era of basketball, one where the rules encourage space so players to have freedom and can be more creative with their playmaking. The Pistons were built for the 2004 physical games of that era. (And most of you who remember that era fondly do so through rose-colored glasses, there’s a reason ratings were down for those 84-78 slugfests.) It’s possible to have great teams built differently for different eras and say that’s okay.

But it’s the nature of sports fandom to compare things that can’t actually be compared apples to apples. So have at it in the comments (and I expect one person to tell us how Jordan was better than all of them, because somehow people always feel the need to defend his legacy in these debates).

51 Questions: Does Al Horford change perception of Celtics?

al horford

We are in the final days PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past month we’ve tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today:

Does Al Horford change the perception of the Celtics?

This summer, Al Horford shattered the myth that Boston couldn’t attract elite free agents.

It was always a perception that lived more in the heads of frustrated Celtics fans than it did NBA reality. The Larry Bird-era Celtics didn’t attract free agents because there wasn’t free agency until that dynasty was starting to slide (and free agency didn’t fully take hold for a few years after that). Then the Celtics struggled for a long stretch, and we know it’s hard to get players to go to a team that’s not winning. During the most-recent big three era, the Celtics did land name free agents — Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Terry — that helped round out a roster already loaded with stars.

The past couple of summers, Celtics fans saw the potential, but the reality was the team was not yet ready to win on the big market — even as much as players raved about Brad Stevens as coach. It took the Celtics getting to 48 wins and showing real promise to get the attention of top free agents. Last summer the Celtics finally in position, and they got their man in Horford.

Now Horford should put that perception to rest.

For one thing, he will throw open the door to more wins — just through the preseason the spacing of the Celtics’ offense looks better than last season. Watching them through these games, the early high dribble-hand-off move the Celtics often use between Horford and Isaiah Thomas to initiate the offense has defenses spread out. Follow that with good ball movement off the multiple actions from that early set and defenses scramble with help coverages. Celtics are getting open looks. The Celtics pretty-good-but-defendable-in-the-playoffs offense of last season already looks far more dangerous, plus we know Horford will help on defense, too.

Horford puts the Celtics on the brink of contention, either the second or third best team in the East (depending on what you think of Toronto). If you’re worried about perception, know that other players (and their agents) notice that. They notice the ball movement, they notice the players like the coach. Another strong season will cement Boston as a team where other stars will want to go because of that coach, because of the system, because they can win, and most importantly because they can get paid (it’s always about the money).

In that sense, Horford does change the perceptions of the Celtics. Although Stevens had already started that process, opening the door for Horford.

It remains more likely that the next star the Celtics land is via trade. They have the picks, they have the young players a team losing a star and considering a rebuild likely wants, plus they have a couple interesting veterans whose contracts only have a couple of years left — Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. It’s the worst-kept secret in the NBA — right up there with Rudy Gay is not loving Sacramento — that Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge is working the phones for any star player who becomes available. What’s holding those deals up is not a perception of the Celtics, it’s that trading for a star is difficult. Very difficult.

Celtics fans, enjoy what should be a very special season. Boston had the point differential of a 50-win team last season, and Horford makes them better on a number of levels. This is a team poised for a strong regular season and a deep playoff run. They are still a player away from challenging the team LeBron James is on, but so is everyone else east of Oakland. That shouldn’t diminish the joy of the ride this season.

And know the perception around the league of the Celtics is very good.