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.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.

Matt Barnes: ‘We Believe’ Warriors celebrated by smoking weed with Woody Allen at Don Nelson’s place

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The No. 8-seeded Warriors upset the 67-win Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs. That Golden State team had some characters, including coach Don Nelson and forward Matt Barnes.

Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times:

Woody Allen! Jessica Alba! Kate Hudson! Owen Wilson! Snoop Dogg!

(Just a hunch, that was Woody Harrelson, not Allen. But it’s Barnes’ story.)

This story is incredible!