NBA Playoffs: Atlanta wins ugly, but moves on to the second round

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In all honesty, I would never wish repeat viewing of the Atlanta Hawks’ series-clinching victory over the Orlando Magic on my worst enemy. The on-court product was brutal. Neither team could convert any of their shots, the turnovers were many, and the execution on the whole was fairly awful. Atlanta’s 39.2 percent shooting from the field wasn’t acceptable by any conventional standard, but this wasn’t exactly a conventional game, nor a conventional series. In this bizarro dimension, 39.2 percent is apparently passable, and as the playoff trope often goes: Atlanta’s shooting wasn’t good, but it was good enough.

The Hawks certainly won’t complain with winning Game 6 to close out the series and move on to the second round, regardless of the quality of their competitive display. All of the ugly possessions in the world can’t change the verdict already in the books, and can’t make the Hawks anything lest than Eastern Conference semifinalists.

Orlando’s peripheral players extended their well-memed inability to hit shots, but their shooting problems were exacerbated by a team-wide disinterest in hitting the glass. Dwight Howard did his job — as has been the case all series — to grab 15 boards, but the rest of his team totaled just 16 of their own. 16. Meanwhile, the Hawks collected 36.8 percent of their own misses, and Joe Johnson (of all players) grabbed a game-high seven offensive boards. That’s not superior size, strength, or athleticism, but merely an active guard finding the right spots to create extra possessions. Any Magic player could have done the same, but instead they failed to keep Johnson (and Al Horford) boxed out and didn’t seek out loose balls with the same fervor as their opponents. Orlando played hard, they didn’t apply themselves in this one particularly problematic area — and it cost them.

Still, even with the underwhelming performance on the glass, the Magic had two shots at sending this game into overtime, and failed to convert. The first set produced a wide open three for J.J. Redick, which fittingly found nothing but rim. The second — a gifted opportunity after Horford landed out of bounds while collecting the rebound off of Redick’s attempt — was heavily pressured. Hedo Turkoglu had a five-second count breathing down his neck as he attempted to inbound the ball, and his passing angles were already limited due to his location near the right corner along the baseline. Jason Richardson ultimately received the pass, but was pressured to shoot immediately, and then contested by Josh Smith. It wasn’t to be, as the Hawks dodged both bullets and won Game 6 in regulation.

Maybe Atlanta — a team that had its three leaders in field goal attempts shoot a combined 13-of-55 from the field — isn’t the most worthy second round club, but they successfully managed to not play worse than Orlando. They forced the Magic to play them on uncomfortable, difficult terms, and gutted out an ugly series with an ugly win. Johnson got his (and got his shot attempts), Crawford dropped 19 points, the defense held strong, and the game was won, however unglamorously.

Such a performance may not bode well for the Hawks’ chances against the Bulls in the second round (anything more than a single Atlanta win in that series will be a huge surprise), but it’s good enough for now. Tonight, the Hawks are victors. Victors who couldn’t make a shot, mind you, but victors nonetheless.

Raptors drop Kawhi Leonard tribute video

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Wednesday night, Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto for the first time since leaving the team last summer to head to Los Angeles.

Unlike most returns in recent years, there will not be boos — Toronto will welcome Leonard back with open arms. He won them a ring, there are no hard feelings.

The Raptors already dropped a tribute video on Twitter.

Well done, Raptors.

It’s going to be fun to see his return, which will be a celebration — and should be a good game.

Ja Morant admits he was thinking about cameras on baseline during return to court

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Monday night, Grizzlies star rookie Ja Morant returned to the court after missing four games with what was officially called “back spasms,” but in reality was him recovering from his back hitting a courtside cameraman after a fall.

Morant scored 26 to lead the Warriors to a win in Golden State, but he admitted to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that when he drove the lane and went up he thought about his landing spot and those cameramen.

Following the contest, Morant acknowledged that instead of solely focusing on being the best version of himself, he occasionally found himself thinking about the proximity of camera operators while driving in the paint.

“It’s tough because I know I just have to do more controlled jumps now,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “But at the same time, I’m just trying not to think about it and still try to play my game. It’s just a tough situation all the way around, honestly….

“I just think player safety should be first and foremost. How I play and where I end up, [cameramen] are right there. Personally, I like to attack the rack, and I feel like that injury came from me attacking the rack and it was just nowhere to land for me.”

Morant echoes the concern of a lot of players and coaches.

The NBA is aware of the issue, back in 2014 they reduced the number of cameramen on the baseline by half (down to 10 per side) and created a four-foot-wide “runway” on either side of the stanchion that players can run up if they have a full head of steam.

That’s not close to eliminating the problem. The NBA is not going to remove those cameras — the NBA is in the entertainment business, and those cameras provide some of the best video angles and still shots to show fans — but expect it to take another look and review its process here.

What we don’t want to happen is the game loses a promising young player like Morant for a lot more than four games after a run-in with a cameraman.

Bulls’ Otto Porter out at least one more month with fractured foot

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The Chicago Bulls miss Otto Porter. He was a starter on the wing for nine games, scoring 11.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent of his threes, playing solid defense, and the Bulls offense was 8.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he was on the court. He’s a steadying influence as a veteran.

However, he has been out the last 16 games with a foot injury, and he’s going to miss at least another month, the Bulls announced Tuesday. The Bulls said Porter saw a specialist and he “confirmed the bone injury and healing response in Porter’s left foot consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

What that means for Porter is another month in a boot.

Chandler Hutchison‘s bruised shoulder has him in street clothes, too, which means Kris Dunn will remain the starter for now. Denzel Valentine has used a bump in minutes to show some growth in his game, play fairly well, and make a push for even more run of late.

But without Porter, the Bulls are not the same.

 

 

Report: Kevin Love would prefer to play for Portland if traded

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are listening to trade offers for Kevin Love.

Love’s reaction to this is essentially “whatevs.” He’s been in the middle of trade rumors for four years now, it’s as constant and annoying in his life as taxes.

However, if he is going to get traded, he’d prefer to go home to Oregon and play for Portland, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries….

The Blazers have the salaries to make a deal work with the expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) or Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million).

There were previous reports Love just wants to go to a contender. That said, there is logic to him wanting to go home, and there is a good fit in Portland, a team that needed help at the four before injuries rocked the roster. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game.

Making a trade work is trickier. Bazemore has to play a much larger role after Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, his availability is up for debate.

Hassan Whiteside can make the trade numbers work with his expiring contract, and Whiteside won’t be missed once Jusuf Nurkic (and even Zach Collins) returns from injury. However, the Cavaliers are going to want draft picks or young players to help with their rebuild to make this trade. Would the Blazers throw in a protected first to make this happen?

There also is this question any team trading for Love has to ask itself: Do we want to take on the three-plus years remaining on his four-year, $120 million contract? That’s a lot of money and years for an All-Star player who is productive but aging, and also has a lengthy injury history.

Portland can also try to trade for Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract with the Thunder, which has a lot less risk involved.

Love, however, would be popular in Portland, and he would help the team.