Hawks start hot, finish cold, Wizards take Game 1 on road 104-98.

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The Atlanta Hawks scored 37 points on 64 percent shooting in the first quarter.

The Atlanta Hawks scored 35 points on 25 percent shooting in the second half.

Spin that as an improved Wizards defense or the Hawks just missing good looks (reality is it was a mix of both), it doesn’t matter. The Wizards seemed to shake off the rust from their one-week layoff in the second half, slow the pace and change the game.  The Wiz hit the shots the Hawks defense gave them — John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 46 points and 14 assists — and Washington stormed back.

The Wizards picked up a 104-98 win on the road, taking a 1-0 lead over the No. 1 seed in the East. Game 2 is Tuesday night in the ATL.

This is the fourth straight series the Wizards have won Game 1 on the road, an NBA record.

“Last year, like I think I told you guys, we were just happy to be in the playoffs, we were happy to move on, and we didn’t really have any high goals after the first round,” Beal said postgame. “But this year we expect more of ourselves, we expect to get past the second round, we have that same same desperation we had in the previous round.”

“I think they made more plays in the second half than we did,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, putting it mildly. “I think defensively we just had a couple lags, a couple of lulls, that allowed them to get back in it and get a little separation. Offensively I think we’ve got to be more aggressive, we’ve got to get to the paint, attack more, and continue to move the ball, but I think that’s got to start with us being more aggressive getting to the paint.”

Atlanta was aggressive early. The Hawks of January — the team that went undefeated for a month and showed spectacular ball movement — had been largely absent through the end of the season and into the first round of the playoffs, but they showed up for the start of Game 1.

Atlanta came out moving the ball and hitting shots, going on a 9-0 run at one point and a 17-6 run in another both in the first quarter. The Wizards couldn’t keep up and trailed 37-26 after one. Then in the second quarter Dennis Schroeder used his speed to carve up the Wizards defense at the start while DeMare Carroll was knocking down threes and had 21 points in the first half.

Hawks lead comfortably 63-53 at the half, racking up an offensive rating of 131 points per 100 possessions in the first 24.

But this game was a tale of two halfs.

Washington tightened up its defense and cut off that penetration but even when the Hawks got the ball inside they didn’t finish. Plus the Wizards contested the arc better. Some of it was just the Hawks missing shots. In the first half, the Hawks were 13-of-18 inside eight feet and 9-of-17 from three. In the second half, the Hawks were 7-of-19 inside eight feet and 4-of-21 from three.

“I think the majority of the second half (we settled too much for jump shots)” Budenholzer said. “The thing you always have to be careful with, I thought we had some good looks, but I think we’ll get better looks, more consistent scoring if we’re more aggressive driving it.”

The Wizards played through injuries beautifully. John Wall injured his wrist on a hard fall in the second quarter but never left the game. Bradley Beal rolled his ankle and had to go back to the locker room in the second but returned to the game — noticeably hobbled and slower, but he returned.

Paul Pierce was his usual self in the playoffs, putting up 19 points and hitting 5-of-8 shots when contested (according to the Sports VU cameras). The Wizards also got strong bench play. Postgame Wizards coach Randy Whittman singled out Drew Gooden (12 points) and Otto Porter (10) for their contributions.

The Hawks did not — their starting lineup was +10 in 18 minutes of action, but that means when bench players were on the floor the Hawks were -16. Budenholzer got away with it against the Nets, but he might need to tighten his rotation now.

Watch LeBron James pass Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list

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LeBron James just passed a Laker legend.

Kobe Bryant may be No. 1 in the hearts of Lakers fans, but he is now No. 4 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after LeBron James passed him with a layup with 7:23 left in the third quarter. The basket gave LeBron 33,644 points.

LeBron got a massive ovation from the Philly fans for his accomplishment.

Kobe Bryant Tweeted his congratulations.

LeBron now has Karl Malone (second) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the scoring list. Kareem was on SiriusXM NBA Radio this past week with Frank Isola and Brendan Haywood and said LeBron could pass him if he’s focused.

“I think it is up to LeBron. If he wants to do it, he’ll do it. He has the talent. He has the opportunity. So it’s just up to him as to how he wants to end his career. I certainly cannot be upset about it. The reason that they keep these records is so that we learn how we are improving. And we learn how to teach the game, taking note of the accomplishments of the great players. So, hey, it’s a natural progression. I don’t have any problem with it.”

Another report Wizards shooting down all trade talk around Davis Bertans

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Washington GM Tommy Shepard has been clear and not changed his position: he had no intention of trading Davis Bertans.

Instead, the plan is to re-sign the sharpshooting 6’10” power forward this summer. Bertans — who averages 15.3 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game — would fit well as a floor spacer on a John Wall/Bradley Beal team looking to make noise in the playoffs next season.

That has not stopped teams from looking at the Wizards situation, then calling to see if they can land Bertans in a deadline trade — a floor-spacing big could help teams such as Denver and Boston. However, those teams are still getting hung up on according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal. Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline.

Shepard and Washington are making a bet Bertans wants to stay in Washington, he is an unrestricted free agent this summer. If Washington gets the sense Bertans wants out this summer, they need to trade him now and get something in return. If they believe he wants to return, then they need to get owner Ted Leonsis to open up the checkbook. After this breakout season, and at a position of need for a lot of teams around the league, Bertans likely will get offers at or above $17 million a season, and Washington might need to overpay a little to keep him.

Washington’s plan — as evidenced by words and actions — is not to rebuild but to get healthy and make a run up the East standings next season. They have Beal (playing at an All-NBA level this season), they get Wall back (he has looked good in practice of late), and from there they re-sign Bertans, count on growth from rookie Rui Hachimura, and put together a roster of role players who can win games in the East. 

Debate amongst yourselves if that is the smart direction to go, it’s clearly the one the Wizards have chosen.

Donovan Mitchell scores 25, Rudy Gobert has 22 and key late block, Jazz rally past Mavs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rudy Gobert had 22 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks to propel the surging Utah Jazz to a 112-107 come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 for the Jazz, who have won 14 of their last 15 games.

Luka Doncic scored 25 points for the Mavericks, who have dropped two of three after winning four straight. Doncic managed only two points in the final quarter.

Seth Curry added 19 points for Dallas.

Gobert’s three-point play — a dunk and a free throw — gave the Jazz their first lead since the first half at 96-95. The Mavericks responded with a 3 by Curry and two free throws from Delon Wright.

Gobert broke a 104-all tie with a tip-in, and after Tim Hardaway Jr. and Royce O’Neale exchanged 3-pointers, Gobert blocked what looked like an easy layup for Wright.

Mitchell made a pair of free throws, and then Gobert rebounded Doncic’s missed 3-pointer and was fouled. He made one of two free throws for the final margin.

The Mavericks raced to a 32-19 lead behind Doncic’s playmaking and shooting. The Jazz later scored 12 consecutive points and took a brief 37-36 lead on Georges Niang’s 3-pointer.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 15 points and Hardaway and Wright each chipped in 11 for Dallas.

Portland’s struggles do not have Damian Lillard pushing for trade, “I can weather the storm”

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Damian Lillard isn’t going anywhere.

The Trail Blazers are 19-27, sitting as the unexpected 11 seed in the West, and there calls from some quarters of the Pacific Northwest for Portland to do something drastic to try and salvage the season. Too often, those calls are followed by “what if Lillard decides this isn’t working and pushes for a trade?”

It’s not going down that way. Not according to Lillard.

In a league where it’s become commonplace for superstars to use their leverage — either to get traded or to force the team to make bold moves they want — Lillard remains loyal and trusts the front office in Portland. He realizes what this season has become for the Trail Blazers and he wants the franchise to think about next season, not desperation moves to save this one. Here is what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“That don’t have nothing to do with my commitment to the team,” Lillard said. “I mean, it’s not like we are going to do something that is going to take us to the championship at this point. I think it’s more important for us to protect the assets we have, the guys who are going to be here and who are going to help us going forward. I don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice that just to make a desperate play.

“It’s been a tough season, but the season is not over. We can make something of this season as we are, but it’s not worth, you know, saying ‘OK, let’s force something and go do something that at the end of the day doesn’t make sense.’ But that has nothing to do with my commitment. I said it after last game (Golden State): I feel like I can find a way. I can weather the storm. I can go through hard times.”

He also has made clear he isn’t going to push GM Neil Olshay to make specific trades.

Lillard is averaging 28.3 points and 7.6 assists per game, he scored 108 points in his last two games, and he’s playing at an All-NBA level again. He remains one of the game’s top guards and a player the Trail Blazers can build a contender around. His five-year max contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

Portland’s challenge is this: Lillard is 29 and in his prime. If they are going to win a title with him that has to happen sooner rather than later. Portland should not make desperation moves to salvage this season — getting Jusuf Nurkic back in the next few weeks could turn things around without a trade — but even looking ahead: If they are fully healthy next season are they on the level of the Lakers or Clippers? To my eyes, no. Then the question becomes what needs to be done to get there? If it’s time for something bold, should they test the trade market for CJ McCollum?

The Trail Blazers have some big questions to answer after this season.

The thing they don’t need to worry about is Lillard.