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:

Jaren Jackson Jr. out for at least two weeks for Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gordon Hayward
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The Memphis Grizzlies announced that Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a sprained left knee late during the second quarter of Friday’s game vs the Los Angeles Lakers:

Memphis says Jackson will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

In his second year, Jackson has been a big part of the Grizzlies surprising success. Memphis is currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a record of 28-28. Jackson has proven to be an ideal running mate for rookie point guard Ja Morant, as the Grizzlies have rebuilt quicker than anyone expected.

With Jackson out, Memphis will need to replace 16.9 points and 1.6 blocks per game. Jackson also regularly functions as the Grizzlies backup center, sliding over to play the pivot when starter Jonas Valanciunas is out.

With Jackson out for at least two weeks, and potentially longer, Memphis will lean on Kyle Anderson and rookie Brandon Clarke at the four. The trickle-down impact may be more minutes for backup center Gorgui Dieng, who was acquired at the trade deadline, up front behind Valanciunas. In addition, Josh Jackson, who spent the first few months of the season in the G-League, has had a bit of resurgence in recent weeks. With Anderson likely to play more at power forward, Jackson may see even more minutes on the wing.

Ben Simmons out at least through Monday

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Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons‘ troublesome back will keep him out at least through Monday reports NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters. Winters reports that Simmons went through testing upon the Sixers return to Philadelphia on Sunday and will have further testing done on Monday:

Simmons missed the first game back from the All-Star break on Thursday due to back soreness. He then exited Saturday night’s game at the Milwaukee Bucks after playing less than five minutes.

Simmons went to his second-straight All-Star game last week. He’s averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game through 54 games this season.

An up-and-down season sees Philadelphia currently fifth in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers are an equal 1.5 games behind Miami for fourth and ahead of Indiana in sixth. The Sixers would love to climb to fourth for homecourt advantage in the postseason, as they’ve been dominant at home with a 26-2 record, while underwhelming on the road at just 9-20.

With Joel Embiid continuing to suffer from injuries, while also having his minutes managed, Philadelphia can’t afford to be without Simmons for long. The 76ers added depth on the wing at the trade deadline with Alec Bucks and Glenn Robinson III, but have little behind Simmons at point guard. Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place on Thursday, but did not play on Saturday until the game was well in-hand for Milwaukee.

Lance Stephenson hopes strong season in China springboards him back to NBA

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The Chinese Basketball Association season is up in the air because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The season is postponed and, while there is talk of restarting it on April 1, there are more questions than answers about that plan right now.

Lance Stephenson was in China playing for the Liaoning Flying Leopards and — as many American scorers can do against the soft defenses in the CBA — put up impressive numbers. Stephenson is hoping to use that as a springboard back to the NBA, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Will it work for Stephenson? Maybe. It only takes one GM looking for a little scoring punch down the stretch to buy-in.

However, GMs also know the numbers are inflated in China and it doesn’t translate to being able to do the same thing in the NBA. Jimmer Fredette is example 1A. Or, here are the top five scorers in the Chinese league so far this season:

1. Dominique Jones (Jilin Northeast Tigers) 37.8
2. Joe Young (Nanjing Monkey Kings) 35.9
3. Darius Adams (Qingdao Eagles) 34.9
4. Tyler Hansbrough (Sichuan Blue Whales) 32.3
5. Jonathan Gibson (Jiangsu Dragons) 31.2

All of those guys, and a lot more, would like to use China as a springboard back to the NBA. That, however, is proving to be a long leap.

Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen unapologetic about late-game timeouts in decided games

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Saturday night, Chicago was about to lose its eighth straight game, down 112-102 to Phoenix with 30.2 seconds remaining, when Bulls coach Jim Boylen called a timeout. Boylen extended a decided game, and the Bulls’ embarrassment at home, and it apparently did not sit well with Zach LaVine.

Why call the timeout? Here is what Boylen said postgame, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

“We were just trying to get a 3, execute an action we’ve been working on,” Boylen said. “I think their pressure on our inbounds hurt us all night. We had a hard time getting the ball into actions.”

Boylen sees a teaching moment. Whether the players are tuned into him and he can effectively teach anything at that point in the game is another question entirely, one Boylen does not care about. LaVine was asked about it postgame but just laughed it off as Boylen being Boylen, but noted that’s not a good time to make a point.

“That’s what he do, man,” LaVine said, laughing. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not the coach. He told me he likes working on things we do in practice and things like that. He’s the coach. He can call timeout if he wants to.

“I just wish we were in the game. We played a really good game throughout the game and then we lose control. It’s just frustrating. Obviously, you never know what can happen type thing. But you’re down by 10 with 30 seconds left, it’s tough to stay locked in at the end of that.”

This is far from the first time Boylen has called a late-game timeout in a decided game. Darnell Mayberry counted four times he has done it — in February.

This speaks to the tension within the Bulls organization, something that will make a rebuild even more challenging. Boylen has never been popular with the players — something that can be overcome to a degree if the team is winning, but the Bulls are 19-38 and have lost eight in a row. Evidence shows the players are not responding to the coach, but team president John Paxson LOVES Boylen’s old-school attitude and has his back.

Right now, any free agent of note is going to look at the team, its coach, and if they have good options, take a pass. The team needs to be built up internally, and it’s fair to question if the GarPax front office (which is far more Pax than Gar right now) and Boylen are up to that task. Especially if the players are tuning out the coach.