NBA Playoffs: Atlanta Hawks survive night of the living Bucks

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Bucks_hawks.jpgThe Bucks will not die, like the Night of the Living Dead zombies they just keep coming and coming and coming. They are relentless. Intellectually you know it, they do exactly what you expect them to, but they don’t roll over, they will keep defending and keep trying.

The Hawks are the better team, they have the mismatches all over the floor, they are longer and more athletic. That’s what won them this game, 102-92. But like they will all series, the Bucks are going to make them work hard for it.

Early on, this one was ugly to watch, unless you were a Hawks fan in Phillips Arena. In the first half, the Atlanta executed their game plan perfectly. It was 6-6 early when the Bucks made a couple turnovers and no team converts turnovers into spectacular points like the Hawks. One was Bibby stealing a lazy outlet pass and draining the three, he had 19 for the day on 8 of 9 shooting. The Hawks feed off that stuff, and suddenly the lead was 10 and growing.

The Hawks are killing it because they are recognizing their mismatches and exploiting them. Marvin Williams being guarded by Luke Ridnour? The Hawks get him the ball and clear out for Williams, allowing him to back it down and get the good shot in the paint. No Buck could deny Josh Smith or Al Horford position on the block, and they got the ball where they wanted it. Like a great jazz band, for the Hawks it was just variations on the theme all game. They were getting the shots they wanted in the paint (34 points in the paint in the first half). The Bucks try a zone for a while, that fails, Jamal Crawford just shoots bombs over the top of it.

The Hawks had an offensive rating of 161 (points per 100 possessions) at the end of the first quarter, 141 at the half. Crazy good numbers.

But Brandon Jennings would not die. He was the Buck that kept held the Hawks lead to “just” 24 — he was 8 of 14 for 20 in the first half. However, like his teammates he was not really getting into the paint, he was 5 of 7 on jumpers (that means 3 of 7 in close, trying to deal with the length of the Hawks). The problem was the rest of the team had 20 points and shot 28.6 percent in the first half. It was all missed Jumpers.

Then in the third quarter, the Hawks relaxed, the Bucks were zombie relentless. They kept coming in waves.

The Bucks took 17 shots in the third quarter, and just seven were jumpers. They attacked the paint, even if it meant Horford swatted a couple. The Bucks were the aggressors. The result was they scored 30 points, and a suddenly on their heels Hawks team had just 19 in the quarter.

And we had a game. But the Bucks could never get closer than six.

With the game in single digits and just 6 minutes left things reverted to form: The Hawks dominated the paint because they have the physical matchups to do it. In the halfcourt offense in the last six minutes, the Bucks took eight jumpers (five of them threes) to just three shots near the rim. They became a jump shooting team again. Jennings had one layup and four jumpers (two these). The Bucks defense masked these problems.

This game went largely to form. We knew the Hawks had the physical advantage, we knew that the Bucks would scrap and defend. And we expected that over time, the Hawks would win out. Despite all we saw from Jennings, from the Bucks, doesn’t sound like we’ve deviated from the script in any way.

Rockets sign Ben McLemore

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The Kings couldn’t figure out what to do with Ben McLemore, the No. 7 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

Now, the Rockets will try.

Rockets:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The link in the Rockets tweet leads to an inaccessible page, which is pretty fitting.

McLemore has talent, athleticism and size. He probably doesn’t have as much talent and athleticism as it seemed when he became a lottery pick. But he still has some. He also plays shooting guard, a common position of need throughout the league. Maybe Houston can find a way for the 26-year-old to become productive for the first time in his career.

It’s a low-risk bet considering the cheap cost, and the upside probably isn’t that high. But it’s still an interesting attempt considering McLemore’s stature when he entered the league.

Report: Clippers tried to trade for James Harden before landing Paul George

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Kawhi Leonard tried to recruit Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Leonard eventually got Paul George to join him on the Clippers.

Two other stars the Clippers tried to land? Bradley Beal and James Harden.

Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Clippers inquired about Washington’s Bradley Beal and Houston’s James Harden, according to league sources, but neither star was available.

Beal fits the most obvious parameter of an available star: He’s on a bad team. But the Wizards aren’t interested in trading him. For most of the summer, they didn’t even have a general manager to negotiate a potential deal.

Harden is the far more interesting target. The Rockets have built around him, but they reached a rough spot with Harden and Chris Paul. Houston could have viewed that as the end of the road. The Clippers parted with an elite package for George – five first-round picks, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. That’s the kind of offer that can open many doors. Instead, the Rockets went the other way by acquiring Russell Westbrook.

Still, a Leonard-Harden pairing would’ve been quite interesting. Both work best as offensive focal points, not contributing much off the ball. Harden’s defensive deficiencies would’ve put more pressure on Leonard. But the talent level would’ve been astronomical.

I think the Clippers are just happy with Leonard and George, who fit better together and still carry elite talent.

Report: NBA opens investigation into tampering following ‘tense’ owners meeting

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Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) appeared to have their next teams lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford. Several other players agreed to terms so quickly after free agency began 6 p.m. June 30, it’s impossible to believe the deals weren’t pre-arranged.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said free-agency rules should be revised and enforced.

The league will also investigate.

Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN.

In the midst of it, Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s longtime general counsel, issued an evenhanded but sobering message to the room, multiple sources said.

Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later.

It’s unclear whether this investigation will be punitive, exploratory or both.

Teams and players are absolutely violating the written rules. Some teams occasionally get punished. The rules are arbitrarily enforced, which is unfair. This investigation could lead to widespread punishment, though proving which teams did and didn’t tamper would be difficult. If it goes this route, expect uneven enforcement.

I’m with Silver: The rules should be enforced. An easy way to do that is writing the rules to match what currently occurs. As much griping as everyone does, the system mostly works. It’d work even better if everyone were on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed. So, this investigation could uncover details of how free agency actually happens. Then, the rules could be tailored around that.

This is clearly trending toward allowing contact with free agents sooner. That’s already happening, anyway. And billionaire team owners sure don’t want their privacy invaded for strict enforcement of a more-prohibitive system.

Tricky questions remain, though.

How will the NBA handle players tampering with each other? That’s forbidden by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Silver has practically said he’ll allow it. And it happens plenty. I’d prefer it becomes officially allowed. Having unenforced rules can lead to selective enforcement.

When will teams and free agents be permitted to contact each other? Seasons end at different times, depending how far teams advance. Even with the starting period moved up, some teams will still seek an edge.

So, there’s no perfect solution.

But there are obvious problems with conditions now. It sounds like the NBA might finally be addressing them.

Report: Damian Lillard out, Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown in for Team USA consideration

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Team USA is losing its best player.

Again.

After Anthony Davis then James Harden withdrew from consideration for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Damian Lillard is also pulling out.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a major drop in star power for the Americans. Their best player on the World Cup roster could be Kemba Walker? Kyle Lowry? Khris Middleton? This is no Dream Team.

The United States also went from stacked to thin at point guard in a hurry. Walker and Lowry remain – if Lowry is healthy. Donovan Mitchell and Marcus Smart are combo guards. But that’s a big drop from an expected 1-2 punch of Harden and Lillard.

Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown won’t help there.

Brown is a solid addition to the roster pool. He’s a versatile wing who can fit into many lineups and styles. That malleability will be important as Team USA can longer rely on a huge talent disparity.

Randle probably makes less sense. He’s an impressive individual scorer with passing ability. But his ball-stopping tendencies and woeful defense as a big leave major questions about his ability to contribute with other top players. He’s more of a floor-raiser. If the Americans need a floor-raiser, they’re in trouble.

DeMar DeRozan apparently withdrew from the training-camp roster before anyone knew he was even added, which is pretty fitting for this team.