NBA Playoffs: The one where the Bucks are hoping for a playoff miracle against the Hawks

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Thumbnail image for johnson_game.jpgThree weeks ago, Atlanta and Boston were jockeying for the three seed not so much to avoid Cleveland in the second round (although that’s part of it) but to avoid Milwaukee in the first round. Nobody wanted a piece of the Bucks, they were on fire. Brandon Jennings was playing well at the point, John Salmons was suddenly an All-Star at the two, and Andrew Bogut was playing like a number one overall pick in the paint. They were good.

Then Bogut went down with a gruesome-to-watch elbow injury, was out for the playoffs, and here we are. The Bucks were not the same team. They did not strike fear into anyone. The Bucks did manage to go 4-2 in that stretch — because they still defend as all Scott Skiles teams do — but it wasn’t the same.

One of those two losses was to the Hawks, in a game where both teams brought it trying to win. The Hawks pretty much dominated that day; they outmanned the Bucks everywhere on the floor.

I fear that is what we will see here. A game where the Bucks team was outmanned by a Hawks team that has arrived, played out four times over.

Each year for the last few the Hawks have steadily gotten better, they have been climbing the ladder until now, where they are knocking on the contenders’ door. Josh Smith has finally blended his game perfectly with all those fantastic Atlanta athletes. This is the big test playoffs for them, can they enter the elite (before Joe Johnson gets a deal that is too long from some other team this summer as a free agent).

The test for the Hawks this playoffs is not in the first round. But they do still have to get through it.

There are a couple interesting matchups to watch. First, can the young Brandon Jennings (and Like Ridnour, who plays a lot of key minutes for the Bucks late at the point) expose Mike Bibby on defense? Bibby has aged and can’t hang with the quick guards, although he still contributes on offense by finding the holes and hitting the spot-up shots.

The problem is, when the going gets tough late the Hawks close with soon-to-be Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford running the point, and he can flat out ball.

If the Bucks are to have any chance in this series, John Salmons is going to have to dominate Joe Johnson. The Bucks just can’t have a shootout here, they have to take Johnson out of the flow. Which is hard because he shows flashes of being the dominant max player he gets paid like. If his shot is falling he is wicked, and Johnson can just take over games. Salmons is going to have to do it at both ends for there to be any chance.

Josh Smith is going to have a little trouble with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (I feel like you always need to use his middle name for some reason), because Mbah a Moute brings it on defense. He hustles. But he’s a scrapper and Smith is an amazing athlete who will still get his on the court. Smith is going to dominate this matchup as the series moves along and he gets used to the defense, and that will be a key for the Hawks.

Sort of the same situation at center — Kurt Thomas gets as much out of his body as is left, he still plays smart, but Al Horford is a physical beast that will dominate this matchup inside.

The Bucks will not quit, Scott Skiles teams never do. They will defend. Skiles will try some crazy lineups looking for a spark.

But in the end, talent wins out 99 percent of the time in the NBA. And the Hawks have a lot more talent, a lot better athletes around the floor. They are going to win this, if not in a sweep then in five. And the Hawks will be looking forward, because their real test is in the next round, which is when they can open the contenders’ door and walk right through.

James Harden broke one of his youth camper’s ankles (VIDEO)

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It’s around the time of summer when NBA players (and coaches, and college coaches, and a whole lot of other people) are holding youth basketball camps.

I went to them as a kid (John Wooden’s was the best) and like me, these youth will have the memories of a lifetime, even if they move away from playing hoops someday. Especially this boy, who will forever be able to look back at this video from camp of James Harden breaking his ankles. (Via Houston Rockets Instagram)

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Meanwhile at @jharden13’s camp…😅

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Meanwhile, over at Dwyane Wade‘s camp, he was reminding some young children he is the best shot blocking guard of all time.

 

Could Anthony Davis someday play for hometown Bulls? ‘I’d definitely consider it’

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Not every player wants to go home.

LeBron James returned to Cleveland (for a while). Kawhi Leonard and Paul George pushed to get back to Southern California. However, plenty of players see the return to their home town as more curse than blessing — it takes a maturity to be the face of the city, to not let hanging with your old buddies get in the way of off-season workouts, to handle everyone you went to high school with asking you for tickets to the game. A player has to be ready for a lot to go home.

Would Anthony Davis consider a return to Chicago to lead the Bulls?

He wouldn’t rule it out. Someday. Here’s what Davis said to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

“I mean, (this is) definitely hometown,” he said. “If the opportunity ever presents itself and when that time comes, I’d definitely consider it.”

That does not mean next summer. Technically Davis is a free agent next summer, however, he is all but certain to re-sign with the Lakers (it’s possible things go Dwight Howard/Steve Nash bad in Los Angeles and Davis wants out, but it’s highly unlikely). Davis pushed his way to Los Angeles to win and lead the biggest brand in basketball down the line, to have his name in the rafters with legendary big men (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq). He’s not bolting that after one season.

Could he finish his career in Chicago? Maybe. I’d say the same thing about Stephen Curry with Charlotte, but we are too many years from that to make any kind of prediction.

However, Davis didn’t slam the door shut. Maybe someday that will be good news for Bulls fans.

Newly minted Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard quickly faces Bradley Beal questions

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While ownership danced with Tim Connley in Denver and Masai Ujiri in Toronto, Tommy Sheppard spent the past few months trying to clean up a mess of a Washington Wizards roster and, more importantly, their messed up salary cap situation.

There was only so much Sheppard could do considering John Wall‘s supermax extension kicks in next season (and runs four seasons) and the team will pay Ian Mahinmi $15.5 million. However, Sheppard got Washington below the tax number by trading Dwight Howard and letting three players — Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, and Jabari Parker — just walk. He then tried to add inexpensive and interesting talent to the roster, such as Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans, and Moritz Wagner. It was all those moves that ultimately got the “interim” tag taken off his GM job title, reports Chase Hughes at NBC Sports Washington.

How Sheppard navigated the Wizards through the draft and free agency was central in why managing partner Ted Leonsis decided to elevate him to the long-term post. The last several weeks were treated as a “trial run,” according to a person familiar with the process.

However, the biggest test comes next Friday, and how Sheppard and Wizards ownership handle it will define the course of the franchise for years.

On July 26 (Friday), the Wizards can — and by all indications will — offer Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million contract extension.

Beal likely turns it down.

That’s the growing sense around the league. While part of his motivation may be questions about the future direction in Washington, there are also cold financial reasons to say no — Beal makes more money if he waits. Maybe even to the point of becoming a free agent in 2021. Our own Dan Feldman broke it down this way (future estimates based on salary cap projections by the NBA):

• Sign this 2019 extension: $111.8 over three years ($35.1 million per year)
• Make All-NBA next season and sign a super-max extension in 2020: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
• Become a free agent and re-sign with Wizards on regular-max in 2021: $214 million over five years ($43 million per year)
• Become a free agent and re-sign with Wizards on super-max in 2021: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
• Leave Wizards in 2021: $159 million over four years ($40 million per year)

Beal can afford to bet on himself and wait, he just turned 26 and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games each of the last two seasons).

How do Sheppard — and Wizards’ management — react when Beal says no is the question. That is the real test Sheppard faces.

Part of that reaction will be based on what Beal and his representatives say: Do they turn down the offer and say Beal wants to be traded?

Or, do they turn down the offer and say, “Beal wants to stay but will wait because he wants a super-max contract?” (Beal finished seventh in All-NBA guard voting, with the top six making the All-NBA, he is right on the cusp.) This may be the most likely option, Beal cannot get the super-max contract if traded.

If/when Beal turns the Wizards down, Sheppard’s phone will start ringing again with teams testing the trade market waters for Beal. There is tremendous interest in him from across the league.

How Sheppard handles those calls will start to set the tone for what is next in Washington. What the Wizards do with Beal — and John Wall, out for the season with a torn Achilles and already on his super-max — will define Wizards’ basketball for years to come.

Kosta Koufos heading to Europe, agrees to terms with CSKA Moscow

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After spending 11 seasons in the NBA, the last four years in Sacramento, Kosta Koufos has found a new home for next season.

In Moscow. With EuroLeague powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

Koufos struggled to fit in his big-man game with the new up-tempo Kings last season. Add to that the NBA moving toward “small ball” — which is more about skill and mobility than size — Koufos has decided to head overseason. He’s making more than the NBA veteran minimum, which is likely what he would have gotten from an NBA squad.

All but the elite big men in the NBA are finding reduced demand and with that reduced pay scale, so good on Koufos for doing what is best for himself.