Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: The Hawks clinched playoff spot in front of Josh Smith

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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 going down the rabbit hole on conspiracy theories on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

1) The Hawks are officially in the playoffs. The first of the 16 NBA playoff slots have been filled — the Atlanta Hawks are in. They locked it down by coming from behind to beat the Houston Rockets in what was the most fun game of the night. With James Harden out for the night after going Bruce Lee on LeBron James, the Rockets had guys step up, such as Terrence Jones (18 points on 11 shots, plus eight rebounds) and Jason Terry (21 points). The Rockets also took advantage of a sloppy and defensively disinterested Hawks team in the first half. But while everyone was watching Josh Smith play games with the Hawks crowd, the Hawks players woke up. Atlanta went on a 21-3 run in the third quarter to take the lead, sparked by the guard play of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. The Hawks are going to finish the top seed in the East, and as well as Cleveland is playing Atlanta is still a legitimate threat to come out of the conference.

2) The Denver Nuggets are undefeated in the Melvin Hunt era. When a coach gets fired — particularly one that completely lost the locker room — the players often come out with a more energy. That’s what happened with the Nuggets on Tuesday, they got 26 points from Danilo Gallinari and beat the Bucks 105-96. Ty Lawson had his best game in a while, and Kenneth Faried was doing this.

3) LeBron James moved past former teammate Ray Allen on the all-time scoring list. LeBron dropped 27 points on the Celtics in a blowout win (he was +35 on the night), and that was enough to move LeBron past his former teammate Ray Allen for 21st on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. When it’s all said and done, LeBron is going to be a lot higher on the list, but this was a nice milestone. And LeBron was putting up points with flair on Tuesday.

4) Rudy Gobert has arrived in Utah and the Jazz are far more interesting. I don’t know that the Most Improved Player award can go to a second-year guy — players are supposed to make a leap between their rookie and sophomore campaigns — but Utah’s Rudy Gobert is making his case. He has become a defensive force in the paint and on Tuesday, against a depleted Memphis team (no Zach Randolph) Gobert had 15 points (on 10 shots) and 24 rebounds. He was central to the Jazz knocking off the Grizzlies. Utah will lose more game than it wins the rest of the way, but this team has become a tough out nightly. They are building something.

5) Jeffery Taylor was dunking, and the Hornets could be a playoff team. The fine folks at NumberFire ran the numbers and figured out of the six teams battling for the two final playoffs spots in the East, the Hornets had the second best chance of getting in (behind the Pacers). With their win over the hapless Lakers, the Hornets moved into a tie for the eight seed in the East. Plus, they had Jeffery Taylor doing this:

Tacko Fall’s agent confident if Celtics don’t keep him on roster another team will

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Tacko Fall was arguably the most popular player at Las Vegas Summer League (especially since Zion Williamson only played nine minutes). Fans chanted for him to get in games and then chanted “M-V-P” once he was in. Fall averaged 7.2 points a game on 77 percent shooting at Summer League and every play he made became a viral highlight.

But that was Summer League.

Now things are getting real and Fall is trying to make the Celtics’ roster. Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics, which is essentially a training camp invite.

It’s a longshot Fall makes the Celtics’ regular season roster for two reasons. First, Fall needs a lot more development to be NBA ready, both physically and in terms of understanding and reacting to the game and how fast it moves. That was evident in Las Vegas. Second, the Celtics have Enes Kanter starting at center with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams behind him, it’s unlikely they keep a fourth traditional center on the roster. Both of Boston’s two-way contracts are already filled.

If the Celtics cut Fall and he signs with Boston’s G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, Fall gets a $50,000 bonus.

However, Fall’s agent Justin Haynes says if Boston cuts Fall he believes another team will sign him, something Haynes told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.

“If the Celtics release him, I don’t think he goes unclaimed,” said Haynes, Fall’s agent. “I think somebody will take a shot on him because he’s done enough to show he can find a place in the NBA. I’m really hopeful that it’s Boston. I hope they find a way, and they do have a vision for him.”

I could see another team giving Fall one of their two-way contracts, but he needs a lot more development and time on the court. He needs time in the G-League. Maybe a team gives him a roster spot and develops him there, but that seems unlikely. Fall has the potential to be an NBA player, but it’s going to take a lot of work for him to get there.

Work that this year likely will take place in the G-League.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.

NBA’s Steph Curry helps Howard U. start Division I golf team

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WASHINGTON (AP) Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is helping Howard University launch a Division I golf program.

The Golden State Warriors star guard and the school announced the six-year partnership Monday.

The specifics of his contribution were not disclosed.

Howard officials say they plan to have women’s and men’s golf teams for the 2020-21 academic year.

The school had a Division II golf program in the past, along with intercollegiate and intramural club teams.

The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Warriors, says he decided to get involved after meeting a Howard student who had been trying to get the university to have a golf team.

Curry says “it’s tough” to hear about students “who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game.”