Hawks face uphill climb after DeMarre Carroll injury

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The Eastern Conference Finals may have just been decided in the worst possible way.

Nobody knows yet how bad DeMarre Carroll’s leg injury is yet. The Hawks are calling it a knee sprain for now, but it looks bad. Even if it isn’t as bad as it seemed at the time, Carroll couldn’t put weight on it after the Hawks’ Game 1 home loss to the Cavs, and it’s highly unlikely he plays in at least the next game, if not longer.

Which is an awful prospect, both for Carroll (coming up on free agency) and the Hawks, who now face the task of beating the best player in the world without the guy on their roster most equipped to guard him. Carroll has been the least talked-about member of the Hawks starting five, the only one that wasn’t named an All-Star. But he’s their best perimeter defender, and it’s not really close.

The most logical choice to guard LeBron James with Carroll out is Paul Millsap, who handled most of those duties after Carroll went down on Wednesday. Millsap can handle him in small stretches, but as the Hawks’ primary game plan (which he is now by default), he’s not nearly as well equipped as Carroll to do that heavy lifting.

In addition to creating a much greater defensive burden on the rest of the Hawks, Carroll’s injury is going to force their bench — which has been problematic for much of the playoffs — into a larger role. Kent Bazemore will probably get the starting nod at small forward, and he was solid in 16 minutes in Game 1, scoring 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He’ll bring energy on offense, but he isn’t nearly the defender Carroll is. What the Hawks got out of Dennis Schroder, Pero Antic and Mike Muscala off the bench on Wednesday is not encouraging. Maybe Mike Budenholzer will dust off Mike Scott, who’s fallen out of the rotation for most of the playoffs.

The Cavs won Game 1, but they’re still hobbled by injuries. They were carried on Wednesday night by J.R. Smith setting a playoff career high and hitting eight three-pointers. For the most part, this is still a series that James will have to do the heavy lifting for. The Hawks’ best hope was to make that workload as heavy as possible, and at least for the short term, they will have to find a way to do that without their defensive ace.

Carroll will get an MRI on Thursday, and he and the Hawks will have to hope that it’s “only” a strain or a hyperextension, not something much worse. Either way, they’ll probably be without him for at least the rest of this series, and that makes their road to the Finals much more difficult.

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.