Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: Atlanta’s not invincible but it is contender

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while rewatching the Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell lip synch battle….

The Hawks are not invincible, but they are legit contenders. There was bound to be a night the Atlanta Hawks’ defensive rotations were a step slow, when the shots just wouldn’t fall, when things would just not go their way for once. That night was Monday in New Orleans. The Pelicans went on a 14-3 run to take the lead midway through the first and were in control the rest of the way, the Hawks 19-game win streak was over.

For some reason this led to people coming out on twitter (and other sites) saying the Hawks aren’t really as good as everyone says. Those people are just wrong. Like Pete Carroll on the one-yard-line wrong. Title contenders are teams that are top 10 in offense and defense, well the Hawks are fifth in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating. They outscore their opponents by an average of 7.3 points per 100 possessions, tied for second best in the NBA (behind the Warriors, tied with the Clippers). The Hawks rolled through the best of the West last month, beating the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Grizzlies and Thunder. If you say they have no stars you really don’t watch enough Al Horford. Plus, they play that selfless, ball-moving game that seemed to work out pretty well for the Spurs last playoffs, as I recall. Can the Hawks beat a peak Bulls or even peak Cavaliers team in a seven-game playoff series? I think they can, it may be tight (and maybe they fall), but I guarantee you it would be a seven-game bloodbath. The Hawks are a legit threat to come out of the East and will be no pushover in the Finals.

We should never forget Anthony Davis is a flat-out stud. Consider this your weekly reminder that Anthony Davis is still very good at basketball. The Pelicans guards were knocking down shots but that team only works when Davis is being one of the best players on the planet. He did just that on Monday, scoring 29 points on 2-of-23 shooting, 13 rebounds, a couple of blocks… and frankly that doesn’t do his performance justice. He plays such a smart game and impacts it in so many ways. This day it was too much for the Hawks.

Ricky Rubio is back and that means highlights with Andrew Wiggins.

Grizzlies help out Pelicans, Thunder. Memphis trailed Phoenix on the road by seven points with less than two minutes to go, when the Grizzlies went off on an 8-0 run to win the game. A win sealed with Marc Gasol’s block of a Markeiff Morris shot as time expired. That was a painful loss for the eight-seed Suns because it comes on a night the Pelicans surprised the Hawks and Oklahoma City picked up a win with Kevin Durant out. The Suns are now just one game up on the Pelicans and three up on the Thunder. This race is going to go down to the wire (both the Suns and Thunder have heavy home schedules). OKC and New Orleans play a home-and-home Wednesday and those games will be huge for teams trying to make the playoffs.

Dion Waiters is no Kevin Durant — but he can do a pretty good impression for a night. Durant missed a couple games with that sprained big toe but returned to action Saturday night against Memphis, then promptly shot 5-of-16. Monday night they decided it still wasn’t right, and he needed more time off, so Waiters got the start. He performed well, scoring 24 on 9-of-15 shooting. This was his best game in a Thunder uniform, he was attacking the rim early on that got him confidence, which meant his jumpshots were falling later.  This Waiters, who shows up on random nights, is the guy who could really help the Thunder make the playoffs.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

Brooklyn Nets
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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?

LeBron James says Lakers have off-court issues, out vs. Rockets (groin)

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers’ offense has stumbled so far in the bubble.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

LeBron gave a weird answer about this. He agreed that he and the Lakers were looking for a rhythm on offense. And then he said: “It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the floor.”

Mike Trudell of the Lakers:

Was LeBron referring to his groin injury? I wouldn’t call that an off-court issue, but maybe he would.

LeBron knows how to work the media. This subtle comment will draw attention and sets up LeBron to look better if he leads the Lakers through this mysterious issue.

Without more context, it’s easy for imaginations to wander – especially about a team with Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. The Lakers could be facing a major hurdle. Or a minor nuisance. Who knows? But the unknown is scary.

It’ll be difficult to detect the Lakers’ progress during remaining seeding games. The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and without a home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, there’s no reason to chase the NBA’s best overall record. That’s why LeBron missing tonight’s game against the Rockets could be mostly precautionary.

76ers: Ben Simmons suffered subluxation of knee cap, considering treatment options

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Ben Simmons injured his knee during the 76ers’ win over the Wizards yesterday.

The diagnosis is in, and the prognosis sounds worrisome.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

How quickly will Simmons recover? Once he recovers, will he face elevated risk of re-injury?

These questions now haunt Simmons and Philadelphia.

Simmons is a young star who’ll begin a max contract extension next season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons opened Philadelphia’s championship window, and now rain is drizzling through. Philadelphia can’t reach it ceiling without Simmons healthy and providing value.

Even more modest goals in a disjointed season will be more difficult to reach.

The 76ers were just adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward. Now, they must again re-configure their plan – maybe for a significant chunk of the remainder of the season.

Even more burden falls onto Embiid, who has been shouldering so much with this mismatched roster. Simmons plays across the positional spectrum, so any number of 76ers could fill in while he’s out. Many of those lesser players will complement Embiid more smoothly than Simmons did. But the talent deficit without Simmons can’t be offset.

That’s the scary issue for now – and maybe a while.

Kelly Loeffler calls WNBA players supporting her opponent for senate ‘out of control cancel culture’

Sue Bird wears shirt supporting Raphael Warnock in senate race against Kelly Loeffler
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WNBA players and Kelly Loeffler hit a stalemate.

Players want to oust Loeffler as Atlanta Dream co-owner because Loeffler – a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia – holds political stances they disagree with and is advocating against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler said she won’t sell, and the league won’t force her out.

So, players have turned to Loeffler’s senate race, wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” shirts in support of Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock.

Holly Rowe of ESPN:

Loeffler statement:

ATLANTA—Today, political outsider and conservative businesswoman Kelly Loeffler issued the following statement in response to WNBA players wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” t-shirts. The shirts endorse Kelly’s Democrat opponent, Raphael Warnock, following her criticism of the league’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter political organization.

“This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June:

“We come together around sports, but promoting a political agenda divides us rather than unites us. The lives of every African American matter, and there’s no place for racism in our country. But I oppose the BLM political organization due to its radical ideas and Marxist foundations, which include defunding the police and eroding the nuclear family. On the other hand, our flag represents our values of freedom and equality for all. If we can’t unite behind our flag, much less the national anthem during this struggle, then what keeps us together? It’s sad to see that there’s more interest in tearing our country apart than in solutions that bring us together. I’ll continue to defend American values and our flag, because this is not a game – it’s the future of our country. “

“Cancel culture” is a vague term with shifting definitions. But people supporting voting for one political candidate over another? That comes nowhere near any reasonable definition of cancel culture.

WNBA players are not just basketball players. They’re human beings with varied interests – including politics. That should come perfectly naturally to a self-described “political outsider” who’s a sitting senator and running for re-election. If it’s reasonable for Loeffler to be interested in politics (it is), it reasonable for WNBA players to be interested in politics.

As far as Loeffler restating her previous points, she remains errant.