Josh Smith plays like an All-Star in Hawks’ win over the Suns

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After the reserves for the 2012 NBA All-Star game were announced last week, and after Josh Smith was once again left off of the Eastern Conference squad for the eighth consecutive season, he sounded off. Smith said politics were to blame for him not being named to the team, and that he apparently “didn’t know the right people” in order for him to get selected.

If the coaches in the East had seen the performance Smith delivered in the Hawks’ 101-99 win over the Suns on Wednesday, they wouldn’t have had a choice.

Smith put up a line of 30 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and three blocked shots, on a night when Atlanta’s actual All-Star, Joe Johnson, was virtually invisible. Johnson managed just six points on 2-of-10 shooting in over 36 minutes of action. But despite his poor performance, he may have had the most important impact on the game’s final outcome with his words.

“I was going to pull Josh out early in the 4th,” Hawks head coach Larry Drew said afterward.  “And right when I subbed Joe in, Joe said ‘Leave him out there, he’s young.’ I thought he was tired, I mean we played last night and he played quite a few minutes, so I just wanted to give him a quick blow. But he wanted to stay in, and I’m glad he did because he just played a phenomenal game.”

Early in the fourth, when Drew was contemplating giving Smith that rest, the Suns were still in control, but just barely. Phoenix had seen a 15-point third-quarter lead reduced down to one when the fateful conversation took place, just two minutes into the final period. From that point on, Smith scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds as the Hawks were able to run their lead to as many as eight, before holding off Phoenix to close it out.

“Joe saw where I was having a pretty good night and he was able to get in [coach’s] ear a little bit,” Smith noted afterward. “And he listened.”

Johnson was a little more direct in detailing what he presented to his head coach.

“He was going to take him out, but you got a guy rolling like that, man, he’s 24 or 25,” Johnson said. “He can handle it. He’s got some mileage he can put on that body, so ride him ’til the wheels fall off. We’ve got two days off, he can rest tomorrow.”

The Hawks have no games over the next two days for the first time in this lockout-shortened season. Rest is definitely on the agenda — for both players and coaches.

“I told the guys I don’t even want to see them tomorrow,” Drew said.

“I don’t want to see him either,” Smith said later, with a laugh. “I want to see the bed, the pillow, the covers. All that good stuff.”

This rest is well-deserved for Smith, especially after he put the team on his back to get this win by playing the entire second half, and almost 45 of the game’s 48 minutes in total. But next weekend, when the All-Star festivities are taking place in Orlando, he’ll get some additional rest — some that, many would be able to argue, he didn’t deserve at all.

Notes

– Joe Johnson was named as a participant in the three-point contest over All-Star weekend on Wednesday, despite his percentage from beyond the arc of just .356 which currently ranks him at 65th on the season. So, how did this happen?

“It was kind of something I’ve been wanting to do since I was here in Phoenix,” Johnson told NBCSports.com. “I did it when I was in Phoenix and didn’t have a good outing, so I thought if they needed a fill-in or what-not, I’d be that guy. I just kind of threw it out there, and they went for it. So here I am.”

– Steve Nash was whistled for somewhat of a phantom technical foul at a critical moment in this one, and the Hawks took their first lead since the first quarter on the technical free throw with 7:38 to play in the game. Both Nash and Alvin Gentry had reactions of complete shock and disbelief when it was called, which leads you to believe the refs may have misinterpreted something they heard or saw. Nash explained his side of the story afterward.

“It was tough, it really changed the momentum of the game,” Nash said. “Hinrich called ‘double fists’ which was their zone defense, so I went to the sideline and I really just mouthed to Alvin, ‘they’re in double fists,’ like asking him what offense he wanted us to run. And [the ref] thought I said, ‘They’re horrible.’ I don’t want to make any comment about the referees. I’ll just say it’s unfortunate he misinterpreted what was said.”

PBT Predictions: Who makes playoffs, who makes Finals, who wins it all

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Tuesday night the NBA season tips-off and the race for the playoffs begins, the first steps of a race that runs through June with some team lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. We’ve already made our predictions for who will win MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and more.

Now it’s on to the team predictions: Who’s getting in the playoffs? Who will have home-court advantage? And which team will win it all?

Here are our picks:

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Helin: A little odd Dan and I agree up and down the line here. Putting the Raptors second is a bet that both Kawhi Leonard is his old self and new coach Nick Nurse can diversify the offense. The Pacers could finish fourth, but I’m very high on the Bucks with Mike Budenholzer so I’ll go with them getting home court. Also, Charlotte easily could best Miami or Detroit for one of those lower playoff seeds, and I’m not counting the Cavaliers out completely.

Dan Feldman: The Bucks are rising, to the point I thought about putting them over the 76ers. The bottom of the East playoff picture is ugly (and also includes the Hornets a small step behind Detroit).

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Helin: Much like last season, I expect Golden State and Houston to be in and after that a razor-thin margin (five games or less) separating the three seed and the 10 seed. I’d have the Thunder higher but I think missing Andre Roberson the first couple months of the season is a big blow. I have the Timberwolves and Spurs missing the playoffs, but either could make it. I have Minnesota out on the assumption they trade Jimmy Butler. With the Spurs, I think the Dejounte Murray injury is a bigger blow than people realize.

Dan Feldman: The Spurs’ injuries and the Timberwolves’ [gestures at every Jimmy Butler link in the sidebar) made it easier to exclude them, but they still have a chance. So do the Clippers, Mavericks and Grizzlies. Too bad they’re all stuck in the West.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:

Kurt Helin
ECF: Celtics over Raptors
WCF: Warriors over Rockets>
FINALS: Warriors over Celtics

I don’t think the Warriors are a title lock, both Houston in the West and Boston in the East have a legitimate shot to dethrone them. However, assuming health, I just can’t pick someone else.

Dan Feldman
ECF: Celtics over 76ers
WCF: Warriors over Rockets
FINALS: Warriors over Celtics
Golden State isn’t guaranteed another title by any means, but there’s no way I’m picking someone else.

Report: Jimmy Butler and Glen Taylor come to agreement about playing, future trade

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Jimmy Butler is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. For now.

The team confirmed on Sunday that Butler had practiced with the squad and is expected to play in Wednesday night’s opener against the San Antonio Spurs. However, according to a report from The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski, the team will continue to search for a trade partner for Butler moving forward.

This came as a revelation of a Sunday meeting between Butler and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

Via The Athletic:

Three days before the start of the regular season, Taylor met with his disgruntled All-Star before practice, searching for some sort of understanding to calm the noise that has drowned out any sense of excitement for the upcoming season. In the meeting, Taylor and Butler came to an agreement, sources said: Taylor will continue to work diligently to find a trade as soon as possible. Until that happens, Butler will be a good teammate and play as hard as he always does.

With trade talks whisper-quiet at this point, neither side has much of a choice.

“They want me to go out here and hoop to the best of my abilities,” Butler said after practice on Sunday, his second workout with the team since he returned from an absence created by his trade request. “Make sure I’m healthy. Compete, ‘cause that’s what I love to do. Go up against the best, ‘cause that’s what I love to do. And do it for the guys that’s in the same jerseys as me.”

It’s not clear where Butler is most likely to go at this juncture. The reported deal with the Miami Heat seemed to be best deal available, but there has been mixed reporting about why things fell apart between the two teams.

It’s also not certain, at least from a distance, that the Wolves will try their hardest to move Butler. When Taylor decided to take over the trade negotiations and have teams bypass Tom Thibodeau, that seemed like the decisive move. However, Thibodeau is still involved in talks around Butler and he appears reticent to let his star go.

The Timberwolves were always going to be in trouble this season, and the drama surrounding Butler has only added to speculation about where Minnesota could end up this year. The team finally broke their playoff drought, but I would be hard-pressed to bet on them to make the postseason in 2018-19.

Dwyane Wade gave Kevin Hart a toddler-sized Heat jersey (VIDEO)

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Kevin Hart and Dwyane Wade are friends, although the two have hammed it up for cameras over the years as purported enemies from time-to-time. The relationship between the two has always been jocular, and the recent joke Wade played on Hart was no different.

As Hart saw his way to Miami this past week to play a show in American Airlines Arena, Wade showed up to his team’s home building to give Hart a special gift.

Via Twitter:

Hart tried to play it off like the jersey was a gift for his son, Kenzo, who will turn 1 in November.

Looks like Kevin is the comedian but Dwyane’s the one who got jokes.

Ben Wallace says he battled depression in years following retirement

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Ben Wallace was a four-time All-Star, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA champion with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons. Wallace’s final season in the NBA was in 2011-12 during his second stint with Detroit, and since then he’s not been in the eye of the general public.

Wallace made nearly $90 million during his time in the NBA, and his retirement at age 37 should have set him up to find new challenges and enjoy the rest of his life. But according to Wallace, life without basketball was extremely difficult in the two years following his final NBA game.

In a recent article in The Undefeated, Wallace detailed his trip into depression in the years following his retirement. Wallace said that he lost weight, and felt as though he had no purpose.

Via The Undefeated:

“Basketball is sort of mind-controlling,” said Wallace. “It takes you on a journey of extreme highs and extreme lows. It almost makes you need it. One day I can go out and get 20 rebounds and tomorrow I can come out and get seven or eight. Now, you’re sort of waiting for the next time to prove yourself. When you retire, you start feeling left out, no one’s really checking on you, you ain’t getting no phone calls that you used to get. Then you start to get low, but there’s no game tomorrow to lift you up, so you just keep sinking and sinking.”

Wallace has since rebounded from his darkest days, seeking out help through friends and re-involving himself with basketball. Wallace reached out to the likes of Rick Carlisle, Mike Woodson, and Doc Rivers, all of whom helped him dip his toes back into organized basketball.
Wallace is now part-owner and chairman of a G-League team, the Grand Rapids Drive, and stays busy as the owner of an RC car company.

The stigma around mental health discussions in the NBA has slowly started to fade with the help of several current stars. It’s great to see Wallace speak about his problems openly, and that he’s been able to find new purpose in his life.