There's a logjam in Atlanta and something's got to give

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Thumbnail image for hawks_logo.gifAl Horford is often talked about as undersized at center. He’s 6-10, but built like a power-forward, with long arms, great athleticism, and not so wide of a base like so many 5’s. The Hawks have made a ton of noise about adding a legit center this offseason, or at least aiming for some depth in order to elevate Zaza Pachulia (ZAZA!) to starter. Their efforts towards Shaquille O’Neal were indicative of that approach.

And yet, if the Hawks do decide to make a move to a bigger lineup, they face a rather profound logjam in the front court. Horford was an All-Star last year. But because of his size, the Hawks are thinking of shifting him to power forward. Which is fine, except for their second biggest star behind Joe Johnson is power forward Josh Smith, who is not great at small forward.

It’s like Tetris, only with guys that can’t guard Dwight Howard. (Who can?)

The Atlanta Journal Constitution approaches the question this morning of how all this would work out and what exactly Horford thinks about it. The results are mixed, and Horford, as usual, plays it smart in the media, rarely commenting on the positional quandary.

Thing is, the numbers bear out that this approach could work out great. Horford has better numbers at power forward in net +/- at power forward and Smith has better numbers at small forward. But those were in limited minutes. In 2008-2009, the results were the exact opposite. Such is what happens in a small sample size. Smith’s evolution as a player has taken him more and more to a power forward. In fact, his significant improvement last season was in large part attributed to him stopping with the nonsense perimeter shooting and doing what he should, attack the basket as mercilessly and unrelentingly as possible.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, having two terrific players (both of whom should have been All-Stars-as opposed to just Horford, had the world not spontaneously lost its mind with David Lee) at the same position. But it feels more like the Hawks are headed away from the trend in the NBA towards versatility.

After all, the Thunder have acquired (or kept) several players at overlapping positions with slight variations in skill (Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich) in the approach of being able to counter different opponents with different defenders.

However, the Hawks seem centered on specifically trying to counter Dwight Howard (who destroyed them in the playoffs). This could wind up being a mistake if they interrupt both their chemistry and rotation flow in an attempt to counter a specific player who they may not even see in the playoffs. But putting Horford at the more natural position of power forward could work out really well if the Hawks are able to utilize this mega-big lineup.

Until then, they’ll be trying to solve a Rubix cube of redundant positionality.

And they still can’t guard Dwight Howard.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.

Bulls’ Paul Zipser has surgery to repair broken left foot

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser has had surgery to repair a broken left foot.

The team said Friday the operation was performed in his native Germany. The Bulls gave no timetable for his recovery.

Zipser averaged 4.0 points in 54 appearances before sitting out the final nine games last season.