Kurt Helin

Kelly Olynyk, Luis Scola

Breaking down Eastern Conference playoff chase with nine days left in season

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With just nine days left in the NBA season, the Eastern Conference playoff race still has a lot to shake out.

Not at the top, where the Hawks and Cavaliers are in. But the bottom of the conference races are fascinating.

No. 1 seed: The Atlanta Hawks have officially locked up the top spot. They have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

No. 2 seed: The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Chicago Bulls essentially locked the Cavs in there. Cleveland’s magic number is one to secure the two seed.

No. 3-5 seeds: As it has looked for a while, most likely ends up with the Chicago Bulls in the three seed, the Toronto Raptors fourth and the Washington Wizards fifth. The current three seed Bulls are one game ahead of Toronto, which is one game ahead of Washington. What could lead to movement is Toronto does not face another team over .500 the rest of the season. The Bulls schedule isn’t much tougher, but Toronto might get on a run and push Chicago for the three spot. Washington has a tougher schedule and is going to need some help to get past Toronto and get home court in the first round.

No. 6 seed: The Milwaukee Bucks are two games up on seven seed Brooklyn and likely finish here. That said, the Bucks have a bit of a tough schedule the rest of the way and if they stumble much they could slip down the standings.

No. 7-8 seeds: This could go just about any direction. Here is where things stand now:

7. Brooklyn —
8. Boston (-1 game)
9. Indiana (-2 games)
10. Miami (-2 games)
11. Charlotte (-2.5 games)

The Nets picked up a nice win Monday night over Portland and are now two games clear of falling out of the playoffs, with a magic number of just three to clinch a playoff spot.

Boston has the eight seed but also a looming home-and-home series with Cleveland. If the Cavs rest key guys (say, LeBron James) it would be a big boost because Boston could use a split.

Indiana got the boost from Paul George’s return and has a couple easy games before a tougher stretch to close out the season.

Miami has been struggling of late and now have lost Luol Deng and Michael Beasley for the rest of the regular season. Charlotte is not out of it but they are going to need some help.

Damian Lillard awarded three for top of key jumper (VIDEO)

Brooklyn Nets V Portland Trail Blazers
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Brooklyn beat Portland 106-96 in the lone NBA game Monday night, and it shouldn’t have been that close.

I mean literally. It should not have been that close.

Above you see a shot Damian Lillard took officially with 8:41 left in the third quarter, for which he was awarded three points — the referee raises his hands and awards it. This wouldn’t have even been a three for Duke or Wisconsin Monday night, it was about 18 feet. Lillard was behind the arc for the top of the key, not the three-point line, but the official apparently got confused. Then this was not reviewed at the next stoppage in play, so it stood.

Lillard finished with 36 (not 35) but it didn’t matter because Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez dropped 32 on his brother Robin and the Nets got a win that seriously boosts their chance of getting into the playoffs.

 

Arizona forward Brandon Ashley to enter draft, potential second round pick

Ohio State v Arizona
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Guys decide to enter the NBA draft for different reasons. There are the guys who know they will be lottery picks, or even guaranteed first rounders, who should make the move. Get paid, plus you develop faster when hoops is your job full time, without the NCAA trying to limit your time.

Then there are guys who may be good with just playing in the D-League or overseas, making money that they or their family need.

Arizona forward Brandon Ashley has declared for the NBA draft, but he falls more into the second category. Hopefully. He’s a borderline late first round pick at best.

PBT’s go-to man  Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and NBADraftBlog broke down Ashley’s game for us.

Ashley bounced back well this season from a foot injury that ended his season in the beginning of February last year. He’s a skilled player, especially as a perimeter shooter, though he prefers the mid-range jumper to the three-point shot. Ashley has the ability to post up similar size or smaller players, and he is an efficient scorer around the basket, though he can have trouble finishing around long defenders. Other than that, the rest of his game is basically average. Nothing really stands out, and it’s hard to imagine him playing at the 3 or 4 at the NBA level right now. He has improved as a defender, though at just 6’8, he isn’t quick enough to guard on the wing, and not big or strong enough to guard most 4’s.

Ashley could be a decent pick in the mid to late 2nd round, especially for a team with a strong developmental plan in place with their D-League affiliate, but even if he does eventually reach the NBA, it’s hard to see where exactly he could contribute unless, at minimum, he was to become a knockdown long-range shooter at his size. 

Report: Two groups are frontrunners to buy Hawks, final bids due Friday

Indiana Pacers v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
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More often than not, when an NBA team goes up for sale, said team has been stripped of expensive assets and is in need of a rebuild on and off the court.

The Atlanta Hawks are the exception. The team is locked in as the top seed in the East and is a legitimate title contender, one with better attendance and television ratings than in years. And the team just happens to be on the market.

There are a couple frontrunners as bidders, according to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Other reports estimate the final bidding price is expected to be $900 million or more.

One leading group is led by Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan, who is joined by Indonesian billionaires Erick Thohir and Handy Poernomo and former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien. Braves great Hank Aaron also has been associated with the group.

The other leading group is led by Lionsgate Entertainment’s Mark Rachesky, who is joined by New York investment banker Steve Starker. Jesse Itzler, who has done consulting work for the Hawks and attends many games, is also associated with the group.

The process doesn’t end Friday. Whoever wins the bidding has to go through the NBA’s vetting process then be approved by a vote of the other owners. This likely takes until June.

The new ownership group will have to deal with the Danny Ferry situation. On a conference call with owners, Ferry read words from a scouting report  saying of free agent Luol Deng “he’s got some African in him” — that led to Ferry being on leave from the team and in danger of losing his job. And apologizing. Twice. Coach Mike Budenholzer has been pulling double duty in Ferry’s absence.

But in general you’d be hard pressed to find a team in a better situation on the court up for sale. Hopefully whichever group wins the bidding doesn’t blow that.

Likely first round pick, UCLA’s Kevon Looney, declares for NBA draft

Gonzaga v UCLA
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UCLA’s Kevon Looney — an athletic 6’9″ player, projected as a small/stretch power forward at the NBA level — has decided to declare for the NBA draft.

Looney is a likely mid- to late first round pick. DraftExpress.com currently has him at No. 20.

Looney was named to the second-team all-Pac 12 this season, averaging 11.6 points and 9.2 boards, shooting 41.5 percent from three, for a UCLA team that was a surprise Sweet 16 team. (Heck, they were a surprise tournament team.)

Going later in the first round could be good for him because he might land with a good team who will take the time to develop him. Our man, Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and NBADraftBlog, broke down Looney’s game for PBT.

Looney had an up and down season, but still finished the year almost averaging a double-double (11.6 pts, 9.2 rebs). He is much more of a prospect than player right now, but at 6’9 with at least a 7’3 wingspan, he uses his length well, especially on the boards. Right now, his best offense is a put back off an offensive rebound though he did hit 41% of his 53 three-point attempts. Looney has shown some flashes in everything from ballhandling to passing to scoring off the dribble; he just hasn’t figured out how to put it all together yet. There were quite a few offensive possessions, even late in the season, where he just didn’t know where he was supposed to be, and that lack of awareness has hindered him defensively as well. Looney has the tools to be a pretty good defender, especially his length and athleticism, but he still needs to develop a better understanding of how to defend, whether he is in the post or on the perimeter. As I mentioned, he is a good rebounder, and though there isn’t a lot of technique involved, he just goes hard after missed shots, and his length gave him some advantage at the college level. As a pro, getting stronger will be necessary, as well as learning how to play a bit more physical. It’s not really a negative, but with his tools, he probably should be a better shot-blocker than he is now, and hopefully that comes to him with some coaching. Taking Looney would be an acceptable risk somewhere in the mid-first round, though a situation where not much is expected of him quickly would probably be best. He’s going to need time to let his understanding of the game develop and catch up to his physical tools.