The conventional wisdom about Game 1 of this series misses the point.
As our own Matt Moore pointed out, what Atlanta did to the Magic was what teams used to do to Michael Jordan, what teams have tried to do to Steve Nash in recent years — let him score, make him a shooter. Don’t let him kick out for wide-open threes, don’t let his teammates get going. It worked.
Dwight Howard got 46 points (and 19 boards) against largely single coverage of Jason Collins (and it wasn’t much coverage), but the Hawks were able to stay home on every other Magic player. Jameer Nelson out up 27 points but the rest of the Magic combined shot 23 percent and score just 20.
That becomes the bottom line question for Game 2 — can the Hawks replicate that performance? Can the Magic get their other shooters going, can the Hawks keep their shooters red hot?
This series is a battle of the jump shots, and the Hawks won round one.
Atlanta is going to single cover Howard again in the post, you can be sure. But can the Magic make adjustments — like more pick and roll but this time with their spot up guys knocking down shots. Atlanta collapsed on Howard or whoever was the roll man then tried to recover on to shooters. It worked. The Magic were 2-of-11 on catch-and-shoot threes in Game 1 and were also 4-of-14 from 10 feet out to the arc. Simply put, they missed a lot, and they will lose if that happens again.
Atlanta did not miss a lot — they took a ridiculous 27 shots from 16-feet out to the arc. That’s the least efficient shot in the game but the Hawks drained 48.2 percent of them. On the season the Hawks averaged 17 shots from that distance and hit 43 percent of them (second highest in the league behind Dallas). Look for the Hawks to come back to earth on their jump shots, that or they need to get more looks inside with Howard lurking around.
The Hawks beat the Magic now 4 out of 5 meetings. What the Hawks seem to do — just letting Howard pulverize them, stop the threes and hit a lot of jumpers — is an unconventional, against the grain system. It should not be sustainable. But it has worked. And the Hawks are going to ride that train for as long as they can. It will be up to the Magic to show they can adjust and knock down shots.
Because this is a battle of the jump shots.
Myles Turner owned the paint in the first half — the Pacers’ center had five blocked shots in the first 24 minutes.
The big shut down was on Bradley Beal, this is how a big man recovers and goes after it.
Then later there was this play leading to a bucket on the other end.
Turner has had a strong defensive season in the paint so far for the Pacers, a big step for him. He’s sixth among centers in ESPN’s defensive real plus/minus stat (which has its flaws but is a good snapshot).
Washington learned that the hard way.
The Houston Rockets desperately need help on the wing (among other things, but wing is the personnel focus). The Rockets would also like to have less salary on the books next season, giving them some flexibility and lowering the tax bill.
J.R. Smith fits both of those bills, so Houston and GM Daryl Morey are at least taking a look at a potential trade, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.
While there is some logic to this, we are a long way from it being a reality. Smith does not exactly have a positive trade value, at least as a player right now.
Smith was part of the rotation that helped the LeBron-led Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals last season, but he will be best remembered for the Game 1 blunder in the Finals that deflated the Cavs. Without the playmaking of LeBron, Smith struggled to start this season, shooting 34 percent for the Cavaliers in limited minutes, before going on hiatus from the team. That said, in a better situation where he was asked to play a small and specific role, maybe he could still help.
Smith is guaranteed $18.59 million this season but only $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed.
Houston seems a logical fit. Money wise, a Brandon Knight for Smith trade works, but the Rockets will have to throw in picks or other sweeteners to get the Cavaliers interested. Cleveland also likely will be patient, hoping that as the deadline gets closer there is a little bidding war for Smith.
Still, the Rockets are active on the trade market (as always), and they need wings, so this is worth keeping an eye on.
Rajon Rondo has been out more than three weeks following surgery to repair the third metacarpal bone in his shooting hand (his right hand), and while there has been no official timeline he was expected back in the next week or two. He’s been out on the court before recent Lakers’ games getting in some work.
But he has now hit a bit of a setback, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on Wednesday. Here is what Walton said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“There’s a little bit of swelling,” Walton said at Lakers shootaround on Monday in advance of his team’s game against the Miami Heat. “We’re going to shut him down for a few days then get back out after it again.”
It’s not clear when Rondo will return. He was averaging 8.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game before the injury.
The Lakers have gone 8-4 since Rondo went to the bench with his fractured hand. Without the veteran point guard, LeBron James has had the ball in his hands more as a playmaker (to Magic Johnson’s frustration at times), paired with Lonzo Ball (who has started to show some real chemistry with LeBron). The Lakers offense hasn’t been particularly good in these past dozen games, bottom 10 in the league, but they have balanced that with a top 7 defense. The Lakers are getting wins thanks to that defense and enough LeBron shot creation to get it done.
The Lakers are going to have to keep getting it done and now without Brandon Ingram, too, who is expected to miss a few more games with a sprained ankle.
Bulls players have made clear their thoughts on new coach Jim Boylen’s abnormally frequent and lengthy practices, his harsh public critiques, his five-man substitutions:
They don’t like it.
Not every player feels the exact same way, but enough were fed up to refuse to practice yesterday – the day after a back-to-back, a time teams almost never practice. Everyone compromised on a team meeting, though players reportedly also complained to their union.
But Boylen says he isn’t backing down – and it sounds as if his superiors support him.
Boylen, via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:
“My job…is to try to push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” he said. “That’s pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what my job is. That’s what the Reinsdorfs are paying me for.
“I explained that to them – ‘Hey guys, everybody wants it comfortable, everybody wants it safe. Well, I don’t think you become great in that.’ So it’s going to be a little raw for a while, it’s going to be a little rough for a while. And maybe there’s a point where it gets not as rough but all of a sudden it’s got to be rough again.”
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
The fact Boylen cited ownership is telling. Phil Jackson praised Boylen to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after Boylen met with the Hall of Fame coach last summer. And according to team and league sources, executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman raved to ownership about Boylen’s message during Sunday’s meeting, which Paxson and Forman attended.
I wonder whether Paxson and Forman actually believe in Boylen or just feel as if they have no choice but to support him. Their last coaching hire, Fred Hoiberg, flopped to the point questions emerged about Forman’s job security. Paxson already declared a plan to keep Boylen for next season. Maybe Paxson and Forman can’t dump Boylen without bringing too much scrutiny upon themselves.
But the status quo isn’t sustainable. Boylen can’t keep belittling his players and running them into the ground without inciting a rebellion. He must ease up at least a little.
A theory that gives the Bulls the benefit of the doubt (that they don’t necessarily deserve): They already know this is a lost season, and playing for a higher draft pick is their best strategy. Boylen’s harsh practices will both help them lose and instill good long-term habits. Plus, his presence ensures players will welcome Chicago’s next coach. Even someone more demanding than Hoiberg would now suddenly be a reprieve.