Hawks unimpressive, but pull away late for Game 2 win over Wizards

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The Hawks were in desperation mode entering Game 2 against the Wizards, and with John Wall being a late scratch for Washington due to a wrist injury he suffered in Game 1, that combination should have been deadly enough for Atlanta to deliver an early knockout punch.

The Wizards remained difficult, however, even with their best player sidelined. The Hawks eventually pulled away for the 106-90 victory to even the series at a game apiece, but were unimpressive in the process, which will no doubt give their opponents all kinds of confidence as the series shifts to Washington for its next two games.

Ramon Sessions got the start in Wall’s absence, and finished with a team-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, to go along with four assists. He didn’t impact the game the way Wall would have, but he was a more-than-serviceable replacement, and 10 of his points came in the third quarter, where the Wizards quickly cut the Hawks’ halftime lead of seven to a single point less than two minutes in. This was a theme throughout — Atlanta would build a lead of eight or 10 points, but could never fully close the door until very late in the contest.

Washington had a top-five defense during the regular season, and was second in defensive efficiency among the teams remaining after the first round of the playoffs. That effort was evident in Game 2, and the defense (along with shooting 12-of-22 from three-point distance) is what kept the Wizards continuously competitive in this one.

Atlanta did get plenty of open looks, however, and several shots simply did not fall. Kyle Korver finished 4-of-11 from three-point distance, Jeff Teague finished just 3-of-12 from the field for nine points, and Atlanta as a team made just 10 of its 29 attempts from beyond the arc.

The Wizards lost this game at the free throw line, where the Hawks finished the night with a 14-point advantage. Credit Atlanta’s signature ball movement for putting Washington in difficult situations time and again, but one of the league’s better remaining defensive units needs to play smarter at the same time.

It’s tough to take much from this individual contest, primarily thanks to Wall’s absence. But the Wizards were consistent in their ability to compete with the top-seeded Hawks for extended stretches on the road, and it’s worth wondering if things might have turned out differently had Wall not been sidelined due to injury, which was at least partly to blame for Washington’s sloppy first-quarter start.

Wall’s status moving forward will be the biggest deciding factor in the series. The Wizards catch a break in the schedule, and Wall will get five full days off before Game 3 in Washington on Saturday. They’ve now shown they can compete with or without him, and it feels like Atlanta will be in trouble if Washington can get back to full strength.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Wizards (shoulder)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is on track to repeat as Most Valuable Player.

So, any game he misses is notable.

Bucks:

Expect to see more Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson. With the trade deadline approaching, this could even be a showcase game for Wilson.

Milwaukee is still favored over the Wizards. The Bucks have outscored opponents by 7.8 points per possession without Antetokounmpo this season. They’re deep.

Of course, anything can happen. It’s only one game in a long NBA regular season.

Which might something to do with Antetokounmpo sitting. Even if he plays in Milwaukee’s next game, vs. the Nuggets on Friday, he’ll get six straight days off. That’s a nice break.