TrueHoop: Joe Johnson

Noah backs up talk, puts up historic line

May, 5, 2013
5/05/13
12:31
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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AP Photo/Julio CortezJoakim Noah came up huge for the Bulls as they eliminate the Nets in Game 7
For the first time since Michael Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round, the Chicago Bulls won a “winner-take-all” game on the road. It is the first time the Bulls won a Game 7 on the road in franchise history going 0-6 previously.

The Brooklyn Nets failed in their attempt to become the ninth team in NBA history to win a series after falling behind three games to one. The Nets fall to 0-2 all-time in Game 7s and have not won a playoff series since 2007.

What went right for Bulls?
Joakim Noah talked the talk and then walked the walk. After Chicago’s Game 6 loss Noah said, “We're going to go into a hostile environment in Brooklyn and we're going to win."

Noah made certain of that with 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. Considering his foot injury, it was a heroic and historic performance. Read on for more on where that stat line stands among the all-time greats below.

Noah had a series high 1.33 points per play and shot 71 percent from the field Saturday.

With Kirk Hinrich out, Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler came up big. Belinelli poured in a playoff career-high 24 points. Butler played the entire game and was stellar defensively – holding Deron Williams to 4-11 FG and Joe Johnson to 0-5 FG when they were matched up.

What went wrong for Nets?
Miguel Cabrera
Johnson
Johnson – who had several clutch moments during the regular season – went ice cold. Johnson scored just six points, missing 12 of his 14 shots.

The Nets never led in the game - trailing by as many as 17 points, but they were able to cut the deficit to single-digits for most of the last quarter-and-a-half.

Johnson’s struggles were part of the reason Brooklyn couldn’t complete the comeback. After an alley-oop dunk at the 6:37 mark in third, he missed his last seven shots of the game, six of them coming from beyond the arc.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Game
Noah became the first player with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a Game 7 win since Kevin Garnett in 2004. In fact since blocks became official in 1973-74 the only ones to reach those numbers in a Game 7 win besides Noah and Garnett are Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing and Elvin Hayes.

Thursday Bullets

January, 17, 2013
1/17/13
12:10
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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  • Joe Johnson made his return to Atlanta last night for the first time since the Hawks shipped him to Brooklyn. Bo Churney of HawksHoop writes that however outsized Johnson's second contract with the Hawks might have been, if you zoom out and look at the landscape from afar, you'll see the impact Johnson made in Atlanta: "Joe Johnson isn’t LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Chris Paul. You can easily argue that he was never a top ten player in the league, and point out that he only garnered two total MVP votes in his career. But what you have to acknowledge is that Joe Johnson revitalized a franchise that had fallen into the fiery pits of NBA hell. In the six years before Johnson arrived, the Hawks only won more than 30 games twice, and were in a certain type of futility that resulted in a 13-69 record in the 2004-05 season."
  • Many gifted transition players are guys who phone it in during a defensive possession just waiting for the moment they can take off and run the break. They're basketball's equivalent to people who aren't listening so much as waiting for an opportunity to talk again. As Zach Harper of CBS Sports writes and illustrates, Corey Brewer isn't one of those guys. Brewer is an elite base defender in the half court who can leak out in transition as well as anyone.
  • Carmelo Anthony had a cameo on "Nurse Jackie" a while back. Here's his audition still from London for "Downton Abbey."
  • Orlando's Arron Afflalo is a solid NBA player, but he's not exceptional enough to subsist on his midrange game.
  • Garbage in, garbage out -- true in information technology and on the basketball floor. Ian Levy takes a studied look at how shot selection correlates with offensive efficiency, and why the Mavericks struggled offensively prior to their current winning streak.
  • Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell after the Spurs' drubbing of the Grizzlies on Wednesday night: "It’s games like these that make me think that it would take a hell of a haul to trade Stephen Jackson. Jack thrives in games like these where the game gets physical and the Spurs are looking for someone to stick their chin out and challenge someone. San Antonio needs his toughness in these games. Jack had eight points and five assists against the Grizz, hitting 2-of-5 3-pointers."
  • Adam Koscielak of Gothic Ginobili on Shannon Brown's dribble fetish: "Even the folks at the weekly pickup game I wrote about last week have more awareness than [Brown], and there's no shot-clock to respect, nothing to stop them from doing them but the purity of the game. They seem to embrace it. In a way, it's impressive that Brown -- despite all the pro experience, despite his two championship rings -- still manages to dribble the shot-clock out like that. It's impressive that his teammates and coaches still trust him enough to give him the ball. But the most magical fact of all is watching what exactly Shannon Brown does with that ball. Puts it between his legs, plays around with it, throws it behind his back, dazzles with it -- ... and ends up going absolutely nowhere. He rarely gets layups. If anything, he'll hit a lucky pull-up jumper that he'll follow with a brick or five."
  • Stephen Curry re-aggravated his ankle injury, Jarrett Jack is gimpy -- and now the feel-good Warriors and their depth are being tested.
  • The Lakers haven't been very animated this season, something this video from Michael Smith seeks to correct. Smith also explains why the Lakers' road to the postseason is so rocky.
  • Marquis Daniels' GMC Savana has party lights, a cutting-edge A/V system, seats that can accommodate the Bucks' platoon of young 7-footers and a lot of loose change lying about.
  • On egraphs, Reggie Evans wishes a fan a happy 27th birthday with a personalized audio message, in which he also asks for some dental advice.
  • From this day forward, Jamaal Tinsley would like to be known as "The Listener."
  • Wages of Wins is helping to raise money for cancer research, which increasingly relies on quantitative analysis not entirely unlike what we're seeing in basketball, one reason the fundraiser are asking donors to offer a "guess for which player will have the largest Points over Par game and which game" on Thursday or Friday's NBA schedule. The winner will have his contribution upgraded to the next donation tier.

Nets core issues cost Johnson

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
5:24
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Avery Johnson, Deron Williams and the Nets were just .500 when Johnson was fired as head coach.
A promising November gave way to a disastrous December for the Brooklyn Nets, as not only did the team go 3-10, but its three wins all came against teams with losing records. The net result was Avery Johnson losing his job, but the underlying statistical reasons for the Nets disappointing start are many and encompass all facets of the game -- offense, defense and personnel.

The recent narrative for the Nets has been a lack of offensive execution, as both Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace have voiced concerns with the offense. The team does rank second-to-last in the NBA in pace but its true shooting percentage stayed consistent -- 52.5 percent in November, 52.6 percent in December.

The biggest change has come on the defensive end -- the team was ninth in opponents points per 100 possessions in November (100.0) and 28th in December (108.6).

The offense isn’t completely off the hook, though. Under Johnson, the Nets experienced the biggest drop-off in offensive efficiency, field goal percentage and rebound percentage between the first and second half of any team in the NBA this season. They've lost a league-leading six games this season in which they led by at least 13 points.

But the real issue with this team might not be coaching or offensive philosophy, but rather the personnel on the court. The Nets invested heavily in the Williams-Joe Johnson-Brook Lopez-Wallace core, and it simply has not lived up to its billing this season.

Williams, the franchise cornerstone, is putting up his lowest Player Efficiency Rating (17.1) and lowest assist-per-40-minutes marks (8.7) since his rookie season of 2005-06, and his field goal percentage (39.8) would be the lowest of his career.

Of the 151 players who are averaging at least 25 minutes per game this season, Williams (52nd), Lopez (74th), Johnson (83rd) and Wallace (87th) all rank outside the top 50 in Win Shares. Lopez has missed seven of the team’s 28 games, including six in December during which the Nets went 1-5. Meanwhile, Wallace has scored in single digits more times (10) than he’s scored 20 or more (2).

Is it possible this isn’t just a bad system fit or small sample size, but rather players in decline? Joe Johnson’s current PER of 13.6 is nearly five points lower than his mark last season and would be his lowest since 2002-03. Wallace’s PER is on a much more sustained nosedive, going from 18.6 to 18.3 to 16.2 to 15.9 to 14.6 since the 2008-09 season.

But perhaps most alarming of all is the multi-season shooting decline from Williams, who has seen his true shooting percentage drop from 59.5 in 2007-08 – which ranked tied for 29th in the NBA that season – to 51.6 this season, good for T-188th.

Avery Johnson and the expectations game

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
3:28
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn 28 games this season, Avery Johnson couldn't point the Nets in the right direction.

The buzzards had been circling in Brooklyn over Avery Johnson for the better part of two weeks. After finishing November at 11-4, the team has dropped to 14-14 and sits at .500 in an Eastern Conference where any team worth its salt should be winning more than it's losing. Not satisfied with their level of saltiness and with the losses piling up, the Nets dismissed head coach Avery Johnson on Thursday, with P.J. Carlesimo serving as head coach in an interim capacity.

Public expressions of discontent are among the surest signs of trouble for a head coach, and those voices had grown increasingly audible in recent days. Less than half an hour after the Nets' dispiriting loss to Boston on Christmas Day, Brett Yormark tweeted, "Nets fans deserved better today. The entire organization needs to work harder to find the solution. We will get there."

Late Wednesday night in Milwaukee, where Brooklyn, without Deron Williams, looked terrible in a 108-93 loss to the Bucks, Gerald Wallace let loose: "It seems like guys are content with the situation that we are in, and I'm f------ pissed off about us losing, especially losing the way we are losing."

While Yormack's remarks were general, and Wallace's were targeted at teammates, point guard Deron Williams was more explicit 10 days ago when he cited what he saw as flaws in the Nets' offensive schemes as the major symptom. Williams waxed nostalgic for Jerry Sloan's flex system, praising the constant motion that facilitated an easy offensive flow, a direct jab at Johnson (and one laced with irony given Williams' grouchiness in Salt Lake City). Meanwhile, Knicks guard Jason Kidd -- not exactly Avery Johnson's biggest champion in Dallas -- challenged Williams' premise: "I don’t think it has anything to do with the coach ... I think it’s just a matter of getting comfortable making shots."

Almost every NBA team has a degree of internal rivalries and grumbling. But the Nets aren't your average NBA team in your average NBA market with an average set of expectations. In New York, the light bulbs flash brighter, the microphones are larger, the media pricklier and the fans are always restless.

That's all true whether or not a franchise is coasting or, in the case of the Nets, has drawn up some of the most aggressive designs for organizational renovation the NBA has ever seen. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has no qualms about the Nets sitting in tax territory for the immediate future. They handed both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez the max, absorbed Joe Johnson's enormous contract and shelled out big money for Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries.

Big payroll aside, the optics -- and Oculus -- loom large. The Nets play in the most ambitious arena built in North America in decades, a building into which Prokhorov invested heavily. And they also have a formidable measuring stick across the East River in Manhattan. Although the Nets weren't exactly looking to take a large bite of the Knicks' market share so much as expand the base of NBA fanhood in the city, the Knicks' rosy success so far has cast an imposing shadow. Had the Knicks fallen flat, both teams could've bunked together in New York Fan and Media Jail. Instead, the Nets have the entire joint to themselves (though they share a wall with New York's pro football teams).

How much of this is Avery Johnson's fault? That depends on how much you believe player performance is dependent on coaching. If you're Avery Johnson's son, an admittedly partial source, the onus falls on the players. Soon after the firing was announced Thursday, the younger Johnson tweeted, "I'm sorry are best players couldn't make open shots. Yeah that's my dads fault totally..."

The kid has a point. Is it Johnson's fault Deron Williams has missed 166 shots outside the paint this season for a ghastly effective field goal percentage of 41 percent from that range? Is it on Johnson that Williams, while not altogether wrong about the contours of the offense, couldn't do what max point guards do -- wield his exceptional individual talent to make the system work?

In recent days, Johnson has ripped several pages from the Utah playbook, installing some tried-and-true flex actions -- baseline screens for cutters who move directly into the next off-ball screen. The results were mixed, but for all the talk about an underachieving offense -- and the Nets have most certainly failed to maximize their assets on that end of the floor -- the team has lost a lot of basketball games in December because it fields the NBA's 10th-worst defense.

When Johnson was in Dallas coaching the elite Mavericks teams of the mid-2000s, "42" was one of his mantras, as in success for his team would be measured in large part by the defense's ability to hold the opposition to a field goal percentage of less than 42 percent. Only a handful of teams are able to accomplish that more times than not, but the Nets are rarely one of them.

It's difficult to assess to what extent Johnson's coverages are at fault. Lopez's skills as a pick-and-roll defender are remedial (his Synergy stats indicate proficiency, but they don't account for demands Lopez places on baseline and top-side rotators). Johnson's menu of options at power forward don't leave him much to work with. Wallace is active, while Johnson has size, but Williams has never demonstrated the instincts or commitment of a quality defender on the ball (though he'll body up in the post).

Schemes and strategies aside, the assignment of blame is one of the trickier exercises in pro sports, because everyone orders the list of NBA coaching responsibilities. Some NBA players want a guy who they can trust, others don't care so long as they get minutes, while others simply just want a friendly workplace where the boss isn't up in their face all day long.

For management and ownership, those aforementioned expectations are everything, especially this season in Brooklyn. Putting an inferior product on the floor, getting embarrassed on national television, crossfire in the tabloids -- it just can't happen. And from the perspective of most owners and managers, maintaining morale ranks just behind winning as the top deliverable for an NBA coach.

Intelligent people can disagree about whether the Nets spent their money well, or whether general manager Billy King has good taste in basketball players, or whether Williams is a coach-killer, or whether it's the coach's job to horse-whisper a temperamental floor general just as the player has the responsibility to do what he can with the coach's system.

But Prokhorov isn't going anywhere, and King has furnished the roster with enough paper tigers to deflect blame (for the time being) and the contracts on the team's books aren't very movable.

That left one remaining party, the guy sitting in the first chair on the bench -- the loneliest seat in basketball.

 

Christmas primer: 10 questions for 10 teams

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
12:22
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Getty ImagesWorking on Christmas: Deron Williams, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

A third of the NBA will be in action on Christmas Day, as fans will be treated to 14 consecutive hours of basketball featuring the league's top four teams and seven leading scorers. For those who make the Christmas quintupleheader their first real look at the NBA season, here's a handy guide to some of the league's more compelling storylines:

Can Deron Williams lead Brooklyn where it wants to go?
Deron Williams isn’t wrong when he says that the Brooklyn Nets run nothing as fluid as the flex offense he guided as the Jazz’s point guard. But Brooklyn’s roster isn’t endowed with the collective skill set those Utah teams had, and the absence of an orderly system doesn’t explain why Williams has taken 241 shots outside the paint, for a terrible 40.7 effective field goal percentage.

Williams might argue that a good number of those attempts are hand grenades he finds himself with at the end of wayward possessions, but if he truly wants the Nets to improve upon their 11th-ranked offense, Williams will have to create his own flow. With some prompting from Williams, Gerald Wallace could make some devastating flex cuts, and Joe Johnson can space, post and pass better than any wing Williams ever had in Salt Lake City.

Williams has real assets in Brooklyn, and a point guard with his talent shouldn’t need an orthodox system to play systematic basketball.

Can the Boston Celtics re-establish their defensive bite?
Boston hasn’t had a top-10 offense since 2008-09, but its elite defense has kept it in the conversation every spring. The Celtics are still loading up on the ball handler while zoning up the weak side. And they’re still stymieing high ball screens at the point of attack while asking rotating defenders to take away everything but sketchy corner passes and long 2-pointers for guys who have no business shooting them.

This season, offenses are having an easier time generating open looks. When you watch the film, the incriminating evidence isn’t glaring. This is still a comparatively efficient defense (11th overall) practicing those same principles, and the familiar cycle of movements is there, but point guards whom the Celtics used to send to remote outposts on the floor are finding their way to the middle. That old Celtics swarm doesn’t cause the same disruption it once did, which means offenses have more available options on the floor.

Defensive systems take time to master, and it’s possible everyone will achieve the level of fluency necessary. The Celtics should hope so, because the team’s margin for improvement probably lies on that end of the floor.

Are the New York Knicks for real?
This is the single biggest conversation starter heading into Christmas Day for casual NBA fans, League Pass junkies, NBA players, coaches and execs alike -- and trying to solve the mystery will trigger a whole series of associated questions:

Has Anthony’s game undergone a profound evolution at the power forward slot, or is the uptick in production largely attributable to eight weeks of hot, but unsustainable shooting? How do you integrate Amar’e Stoudemire back into the rotation after the team forged a strong identity without him? And if your plan is to confine him to a much smaller role, how exactly do you break that to him without the risk of killing the good vibe around the team? Is the defense (ranked 17th) strong enough around Tyson Chandler for the Knicks to have championship expectations?

When the Knicks were horrendous, there was a school of opinion that said the NBA would be much more interesting if New York had a relevant NBA team. Those in that camp were correct.

How close are the Los Angeles Lakers to a breakthrough?
The Lakers now have their four stars on the floor together for the first time since October. Let's say they hold their home court against the Knicks on Tuesday. And let’s say Dwight Howard continues to build strength, as does the defense. And the offense, already ranked fifth in efficiency, starts operating as the lethal machine it was designed to be. And the wins start to pile up.

That’s an entirely conceivable chain of events, but it’s no lock, either. The Lakers still feature a core of players who like to work with the basketball operating in a system that prefers they pass or shoot instantly. Success will require some compromise, but any offensive philosophical differences will likely resolve themselves -- there’s too much talent. The Lakers’ prospects hinge primarily on a willingness to play defense. Howard didn’t have any perimeter stoppers in front of him in Orlando, but anchored a top defensive unit. The Lakers can play that brand of defense if Howard is up to the task, the other starters and the coaching staff apply their wits, and the second unit makes guarding opponents its mission.

If those scenarios shake out and the Lakers are playing some of the best basketball in the league headed into the All-Star break, does the early-season turmoil get summarily dismissed as old news?

How many different ways can Kevin Durant score?
It’s unlikely this Oklahoma City Thunder team will ever develop a brand-name offense, but when Kevin Durant is as dialed in as he has been this season, structure seems almost quaint.

High-usage wing players like Durant are not supposed to post true shooting percentages in the 65 range. Michael Jordan exceeded 60 percent four times and Larry Bird topped the 60 percent mark twice, but both maxed out around 61 percent. And LeBron James’ career-high mark of 60.5 percent came last season.

Durant this season? 65.4 percent.

He quietly has become one of the most brutal post assignments in the game from either side of the floor. He’s getting more separation than ever on curls and pin-downs, working in some sneaky misdirection like a wide receiver running a route. When he’s off the ball, he’s looking more than ever to slip beneath the defense for easy feeds at the rim. And he’s drawing more contact than ever off the dribble.

Durant has never displayed anything but maximum effort on the floor, but did close proximity to a title this past June ignite something more visceral in his game?

Do the Miami Heat have anything serious to be concerned about?
Size up front? As NBA worries go, that’s so retrograde. Nobody cares anymore if the heaviest guy in the rotation is 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, least of all the Heat, who won a title in June flouting convention.

The defense was another story as recently as a few weeks ago, when narcolepsy was the Heat’s preferred defensive strategy in the half court. Were the issues systemic or did Erik Spoelstra just need to shuffle the rotation?

Shane Battier returned from injury and Joel Anthony returned from exile just as the Heat were being embarrassed on their home floor by the Knicks. In the seven games since -- the only seven games both Battier and Anthony logged double-digit minutes -- the Heat have posted a defensive efficiency rating of 96.0. Only Indiana’s top-ranked defense has been better over the course of the season (95.7).

There are other factors at work, of course. The Heat are a high-risk, high-reward defensive outfit with a license to gamble, but guys were abusing the privilege and calculating risk without care. Now, James and Dwyane Wade are locked in, and that string the Heat are so fond of referencing as the connective tissue of their defense is taut once again.

Are the Houston Rockets figuring things out?
So this is what it’s like to have a pure playmaker at the top of the floor who can get a shot off against constant pressure anywhere between the rim and 26 feet?

How strong has James Harden been in this regard? Of the Rockets’ top eight in minutes played, he’s the only one whose player efficiency rating is above league average, yet the Rockets come into Christmas Day with the league’s seventh-ranked offense.

There’s little magic to the Rockets’ offensive formula. The priorities, in descending order, are as follows: (1-2-3) transition; (4) quick-hitters for Harden if he can find a modicum of space off a drag screen, or for others if Harden can leverage the attention of the defense; (5) a more deliberate high pick-and-roll for Jeremy Lin, and by deliberate we mean with 15 seconds on the shot clock rather than 19; (6) fast, easy ways to free up shooters -- flare screens courtesy of Omer Asik, or pin-downs set by little guys for big guys who can shoot.

Next item on the agenda: Protecting the basket area and picking up shooters early -- two hazards of playing at a breakneck pace the Rockets haven’t yet figured out.

Can the Chicago Bulls manufacture enough offense?
When discussing how the Bulls try to score without Derrick Rose, manufacture is more descriptive than metaphoric. It’s a laborious process being managed by diligent guys with limited skills but strong work ethics. But as a viewer, it’s like watching the factory floor at a cannery.

Try as Tom Thibodeau might to create open space in the half court with cuts and constant motion, he simply has nobody on the floor who can find an easy shot in isolation or pressure a defense by bursting off a screen (let alone, driving away from one the way Rose does more artfully than anyone). Defenses never have to make any tough decisions when the ball is in the hands of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli or Jimmy Butler, and that makes every possession a grind.

On the bright side, the Bulls make life similarly difficult for everyone else, which is how a team wins nine out of 13 with the parking break on. That’s the beautiful thing about an air-tight defensive system: The principles work irrespective of personnel. So if the Bulls can hang on in the meantime, and Rose can return as Rose, Chicago is going to be a nightmarish spring matchup for an Eastern Conference foe.

Will the Denver Nuggets ever have a homestand?
The most consecutive games they’ve played at home this season is two -- and the Nuggets have done that only once through 28 games. Are their white jerseys on back order? Is the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver undergoing chemical fumigation? Are they finally installing reliable Internet in that building, a process that requires a complete rewiring of the place?

Whatever the case, the Nuggets find themselves on someone else’s floor on Christmas night. Their 15-13 record might suggest the league made a programming error, but when you consider the home-road split, the Nuggets just might be the sleeping giants in the West. When the calendar turns on New Year’s Day, the Nuggets will play 15 of their next 18 games at home, where they’re 8-1.

With the defense showing signs of life, Andre Iguodala gradually adapting to his more open living space and the Nuggets gobbling up their own misses at unseemly rates, this team could quietly vault itself into the upper ranks of the West simply by playing quality basketball at home.

Is Vinny Del Negro smarter than everyone?
Junkies will continue to scratch their heads when Willie Green is announced as the Clippers’ starting shooting guard, and the playbook might never be put behind a glass display in Springfield, Mass., but you think the 21-6 Los Angeles Clippers care?

Del Negro’s approach has been simple: a few very basic offensive precepts, plenty of freedom for Chris Paul, trust in a second unit that could probably win 48 games as a starting five and a few tried-and-true sets that maximize Blake Griffin on the left block and Paul as a prober. Most of all: manage expectations and let Paul be the guy. If that means letting him sculpt the offense or playing Green to start the first and third because Paul wants it that way, so be it. Del Negro believes that leading is often a task in deference, and he isn’t about to muck things up with a heavy hand when a light touch will do.

If the defense were mushy and the Clippers were still dropping games they shouldn’t, the discussion might be different. But the Clippers have established some simple coverages the young bigs have mastered, and they’re rarely finding themselves in the sort of end-of-game chess matches that challenge a team’s tactical prowess. The day will come when a Gregg Popovich is strolling the opposing sideline, and that will be the true test. In the interim, keep things light.

Atlanta's O after Iso-Joe

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
2:03
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
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Jeff Teague
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesJeff Teague will be the driving force in Atlanta's new offense.
Months before dramatically re-shuffling their roster, the Atlanta Hawks had a real shot at the Eastern Conference finals. But in their tight, injury-riddled opening-round series against the Boston Celtics, the Hawks' offense seemed a team of two minds.

Ever since Joe Johnson arrived in Atlanta in 2005, the big scoring guard defined the Hawks’ tempo and style of play. Though Johnson himself was a reasonably efficient scorer in Atlanta’s isolation-heavy attack, the Hawks’ offense was usually in the middle of the pack during his tenure. In the Hawks' series with Boston, a team whose defense is specifically designed to counter isolation scorers, he managed just 37 percent shooting and was unable to get into the paint off the dribble -- he hoisted six 3-pointers per game.

Then there was the other side of the Hawks’ playoff offense, one fueled by high pick-and-rolls between Jeff Teague and Josh Smith. While Teague was, at times, sloppy with the ball, the explosive point guard routinely raced around the edges of the Celtics’ help defense, carving tunnels into the center of Boston’s second-ranked defense.

The two styles weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but certainly Teague’s fantastic athleticism would lend itself to a faster pace than the more controlled, measured isolation-focused offense.

But after trading Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, it appears the Hawks have decided to give Teague the keys to the offense. Instead of wing isolations, the new Hawks roster is well-equipped to adopt an up-tempo, spread pick-and-roll attack more along the lines of Steve Nash’s old Suns than anything we’ve seen from Atlanta in the last five years. Expect the Hawks to incur some dings and scratches early on, but this offense has the potential to be one of the most efficient and prolific in the East.

Here’s how it could work:

The system
The fundamental purpose of a spread pick-and-roll offense is to open up the middle of the court. That’s the space that is the most difficult for help defenses to account for, which partly explains why Dirk Nowitzki’s high-post game was so devastating in Dallas’ 2011 championship run.

Typically, two or three shooters align themselves along the 3-point line (often in the corners, to make helping off even harder) while the point guard and big man run a pick-and-roll in the middle of the court. As the screener rolls to the rim, the other big man (assuming he isn’t a Ryan Anderson-type that can camp out on the perimeter) flashes up from the baseline to the top of the key.

While there are countless permutations, the essential goal is to create a 2-on-1 in the middle of the court between the point guard and the big man rolling to the rim. When a defender rotates off a shooter to help down low, the point guard must find the open man.

The engine
Though he doesn’t have to be Atlanta’s best offensive player, Teague, who is 24 years old and coming into his fourth NBA season, would be the most important piece in a pick-and-roll based offense. A passable 3-point shooter, Teague has a burst to the bucket that rivals elite athletes like John Wall and Derrick Rose. Because it takes only a sliver of daylight for Teague to end up with two points at the rim, his explosiveness puts real pressure on the entire defense. When defenses play soft, he can counter with a nice little floater. For a guard still considered somewhat raw, Teague is an adroit pick-and-roll scorer.

That helps, because though Teague reads the floor well, he isn’t an especially creative passer like Rajon Rondo. Still, Teague seems to regard himself as a more traditional point guard than a super-scorer like Russell Westbrook. Teague's 4.9 assists per game in 2011-12 are a bit underwhelming, but it’s not bad considering how much Johnson and even Smith dominated the ball in the half court. But even in his hybrid role last year, Teague showed good feel for knowing how to occupy the defense’s attention then pass off the dribble.

That’s going to come in handy this season, when he’s surrounded by a full stable of shooters.

The second (and third) gunman
A spread pick-and-roll is only as effective if the shooters pose a real threat to the defense. Enter lights-out gunners Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and rookie John Jenkins. Heck, even Devin Harris, who will likely share the backcourt with Teague in a two point-guard lineup along the lines of the Andre Miller-Ty Lawson pairing in Denver, shot 39 percent on spot-up 3-pointers last season.

HoopSpeak's Brett Koremenos has a theory I really like called “The Rule of Three,” which boils down to the idea that it’s much easier to have a really efficient NBA offense if at least three shooters are on the court at once. That doesn’t mean 3-point shooters, necessarily, which means Al Horford’s reliable long-2 game counts. Zaza Pachulia is decent from there, as well. After general manager Danny Ferry’s run on 3-point bombers, the Hawks have enough shooting depth to keep the corner-3 battlements manned at all times.

High on the High-Low
Al Horford and Josh Smith might be a little undersized for a starting front court, but they complement each other wonderfully in a pick-and-roll offense. Criticisms about Smith’s shot selection are deserved, but there’s no doubt he is one of the elite finishers in the NBA. Even though he’s listed at 6-foot-9, Smith stretches the floor vertically in a manner similar to 7-footers like Tyson Chandler. The threat of Smith catching on the move, whether it’s a lob or a bounce pass en route to the rim, can cause defenses to sink into the paint even before the ball is passed his way.

Meanwhile, Horford (a skilled finisher himself) is a deadly pick-and-pop player who can command attention even 18 feet from the rim, not unlike what Chris Bosh often does for Miami in secondary pick-and-roll actions. What’s more, both bigs are good passers and ball handlers that can be trusted to find cutters and shooters as the defense scrambles.

Filling the void
Stat guru Bradford Doolittle projects Atlanta to come in second in the East next year in large part because Johnson’s long jump shots will be replaced by more efficient shots like free throws and 3-pointers. Of course, Doolittle also expects Atlanta to win fewer games than they did last year (by percentage), perhaps because, despite getting Horford back, there are serious questions about whether this team can again be a top-10 defensive outfit.

But the departure of Joe Johnson is also a fresh opportunity for Atlanta’s team offense -- and especially Jeff Teague. If Atlanta’s personnel moves are an indication of the team’s on-court philosophy, we will see the 2012-13 Hawks evolve toward a more exciting and efficient style of offense.

The treadmill of the very good

July, 27, 2012
7/27/12
7:52
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Atlanta Hawks
Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images
After five seasons in Atlanta, the band broke up.

Some people back home in Atlanta want to know what this upheaval with the Hawks is all about. They’re not angry or suspicious or euphoric or charged -- just ambivalent about what they’ve witnessed since the arrival of Danny Ferry as the Hawks' new general manager. There’s a collective awareness that Ferry’s aggressiveness is regarded as positive by those who follow this stuff closely, but the implications of these big decisions are still cloudy.

For years, the Hawks maintained a dogged consistency. By and large, they deployed the same collection of talent, with a little turnover on the periphery. The quality of the basketball was reliable to the point of predictable. Fans, as well as those inside the organization and around the league, became accustomed to certainty.

It’s the same feeling patrons of a city’s symphony or philharmonic experience when a music director or conductor moves on after many years. Supporters grow to expect continuity at the hall. The music should sound a certain way and the performances should achieve an honest standard. When that all ends, it can be jarring.

For 20 years, Robert Shaw was city’s maestro at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He was a choral guy, and that was never my bag. But even though Shaw was no Bernstein, he gave a Southern arts community that was trying to get on the map a long, successful run. When Shaw stepped aside in the late '80s, Atlanta was a far cry from the artistic backwater it was when he started.

Hawks fans have lived with the same reality for several years. As a class, they never had championship ambitions, but after years in the wilderness, the serious fans among them were generally satisfied with the Joe Johnson-Josh Smith-Al Horford Hawks.

Johnson wasn’t transcendent and definitely wasn’t worth the money, but he gave the team a chance to win every night -- and more times than not, it did. Fans who went to a home game from the moment Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford came together in 2007 to the end of the past season had a 70 percent chance of watching a home victory.

The product wasn’t all that spectacular stylistically -- though Smith had his moments -- but in an era when there are fewer constants in sports than ever, the Hawks’ firm place in the NBA’s upper middle class provided a decent life for fans in Atlanta.

With Johnson gone, they don’t know what to expect in 2012-13. Has Ferry officially blown up the enterprise, or is there a chance the team can craft a decent pick-and-roll offense with Jeff Teague at the helm, newcomer Lou Williams on the wing and the familiar, versatile front line of Smith and Horford?

So when the old Omni gang asks me what’s going on, I tell them to expect even more uncertainty and to embrace it. Of course, telling sports fans to embrace uncertainty is like telling a goldfish to recite verse, especially when those fans have concluded that steadiness and a .600 win percentage are ends unto themselves. They aren’t all that hospitable to the idea that resigning yourself to 45-50 wins and a middling playoff seed annually doesn’t make a lot of sense, even while they acknowledge the logic behind the argument.

I recently made the case to a friend that the more forcefully Ferry swings that wrecking ball in Atlanta, the better. This friend then reminded me that, growing up in Atlanta during the Wilkins era, we never bitched about the futility of pulling for a 50-win team. Those were blissful times. Every season, our team was in the conversation. The Hawks had a recognizable core -- ‘Nique, Doc, Willis, Tree, Randy, Spud, ‘toine, Cliff. Even Koncak -- and the Hawks had a puncher’s chance against the Celtics and Pistons in a seven-game series.

Looking back, there was definitely some lingering disappointment that the team didn't fulfill its full potential, but we still saw a lot of compelling basketball. The Hawks won a ton of games during our formative years as fans, so why on earth would we have wanted anyone to upset that security for the sake of getting worse … for the sake of getting better?! Can you imagine how we would’ve reacted had the team been ripped apart during a period of sustained success because of … payroll flexibility?! In fact, you know when things started turning sour? When management tried to get cute and signed Reggie Theus and Moses Malone, both on the other side of 30, in an attempt to push all in.

It would be uncharitable to classify this kind of thinking as Stockholm syndrome, even if it’s rooted in defeatism. Ferry’s strategy is the right tack at the right time because the Hawks desperately needed to get out from under Johnson’s contract if they ever want to play an Eastern Conference finals game, something they've never done.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t costs to efficient team-building. Forty-five or 50 wins a season would nourish a lot of fans in places like Oakland, Washington, Milwaukee and even New York. That might not be a recipe for a title, but we all need to be fed.

An inside look at the 2012-13 schedule

July, 26, 2012
7/26/12
10:55
PM ET
By Micah Adams & Gregg Found
ESPN Stats & Info
No lockout means a return to normalcy in this year's schedule, where each team visits each city at least once and no team has to play a back-to-back-to-back. Last season, there were 40 back-to-back-to-backs.

Also this year, the regular season will start almost two months earlier (October 30) and will end nine days earlier (April 17) than last season.

SCHEDULE TIDBITS
• NBA Finals rematches: Christmas Day in Miami, Valentine's Day in Oklahoma City.

• Eastern Conference Finals rematches: October 30 in Miami, January 27 in Boston, March 18 in Boston, April 12 in Miami.

• Western Conference Finals rematches: November 1 in San Antonio, December 17 in Oklahoma City, March 11 in San Antonio, April 4 in Oklahoma City.

• Check out the notable "return" games this season in the chart at right, including Carmelo Anthony making his first trip to Denver this year. Because of the lockout-adjusted schedule, the Knicks did not play at the Nuggets last season.

• Teams appearing the most frequently on ESPN networks: Los Angeles Lakers (16), Miami Heat (15), Oklahoma City Thunder (15), New York Knicks (15), Los Angeles Clippers (14), Chicago Bulls (12), Boston Celtics (11).

DEFENDING THEIR TITLE
• The Heat and Celtics will play each other on Opening Night, October 30 in Miami. Not only will it be Ray Allen's first game against his most mates, LeBron James is 0-3 vs Celtics in season-openers (0-1 with the Heat in 2010, 0-2 with the Cavaliers in 2008 and 2009).

• Based on last season’s records, the toughest months of the season schedule-wise for the Heat will be the start of their season in October-November. But they'll follow that with their easiest month in December. And that includes a Christmas Day showdown with the Thunder.

• It hasn’t been easy for teams to defend their title recently. There’s been only one repeat champion in the last 10 years (Lakers 2009 and 2010). The last two teams defending their titles were bounced in the 1st Round (2012 Mavericks) and Conference Semifinals (2011 Lakers). The last time the Heat defended their title, in the 2006-07 season, they were dealt injuries to Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal and knocked out in the 1st Round.

Joe Johnson back to his old self

February, 1, 2012
2/01/12
2:01
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
The Joe Johnson with which we’re most familiar starred in the Atlanta Hawks win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.

Johnson earned the spotlight in our nightly statistical recap, scoring 30 points on 13-for-18 shooting, the second time in three games that he’s hit that points mark.
Joe Johnson
Johnson
Johnson excelled in isolation. Though he entered shooting 39 percent from the field in isolation plays, Johnson made all four of his shots when he was in such a situation against Toronto, netting nine points and committing just one turnover.

Remember the start of the season when Johnson wasn’t playing up to his usual level?

He’s now scored at least 24 points in seven of his last 10 games, after not doing so in his first dozen games this season. The Hawks are 11-1 this season when Johnson scores 20 or more points.

Kobe watch
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looked like he was on his way to one of those magical kind of games, after scoring 18 points in the first quarter of an easy win over the Charlotte Bobcats. But Bryant wound up with just 24 points, resting for much of the latter part of the Lakers blowout.
Kobe Bryant
Bryant
The Lakers did clear 100 points for the second straight game, the first time this season they’ve been able to do that.

Bryant's 18 first-quarter total was his most in any quarter this season and the second-most by a player this season in a single quarter (LeBron James had 22 points in the 1st quarter at the Nets on January 7).

Knicks finally exceed their norms
The New York Knicks entered Tuesday’s game with the Detroit Pistons shooting just 41.4 percent from the field this season, seconnd-worst in the NBA.

But New York turned things around in its rout, posting season highs in points in the paint (52, 16 more than their season average), field goal percentage (60 percent), and 3-point field goal percentage (50 percent, after averaging 31 percent through 20 games).

The Pistons lost their 16th game in January, the most they've had in any month since March, 1980.

Varejao’s career night
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost a tough one to the Boston Celtics, but Anderson Varaejo finished with his first career 20-point, 20-rebound game.
Anderson Varejao
Varejao
Varejao is only the fifth Cavalier in the last 20 seasons to have a 20-20 game, along with Brad Daugherty (1993), Michael Cage (1996), Shawn Kemp (1998), and Carlos Boozer (2004). Note that LeBron James did not have one in his Cavaliers career.

Varejao is the fifth player with a 20-20 game this season, joining Dwight Howard (who has five), LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bynum, and Kevin Love.

Plus-Minus Note of the Night
Golden State Warriors reserve Brandon Rush had a season-high 20 points and was a plus-8 in a win over the Sacramento Kings.
Brandon Rush
Rush
Rush, who has finished minus-200 or worse in each of the past two seasons, is plus-17 through 19 games this season.

In his last eight games, Rush is a plus-37.

Wednesday Bullets

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
1:58
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Kyle Weidie of Truth About It offers up a multimedia presentation of how Deron Williams tied the Wizards in knots with ball screens.
  • The Heat posted unsightly numbers against the Celtics' zone on Tuesday night but, as Zach Lowe of The Point Forward writes, the Heat had a coherent strategy to combat it: "A great example came with about 3:30 left in the game, when the Heat flashed a key potential zone antidote they used a lot: starting a possession with one of their wing stars (Dwyane Wade on this one) as the only person on one entire side of the floor (the left side in this case). That forced the Boston defense to tilt heavily to the right, where James handled the ball on the outside, near all his teammates except Wade. As LeBron dribbled, Chris Bosh flashed from the top of the three-point arc to below the foul line, drawing the man closest to Wade (Dooling) down into the paint, and forcing him to temporarily turn his back to Wade. At that exact moment, LeBron tossed a pass to Wade, who caught it on the move toward the middle of the floor, his momentum taking him the opposite direction as Boston’s defenders, including Dooling, now tilting madly from James’ side of the floor to Wade’s. Wade did not hestitate: With Dooling wrong-footed, Wade drove into the paint, where Dooling fouled him. Without a shot, the play almost vanishes from game logs everywhere, but it represents one key way the Heat can combat a zone; both James and Wade got layups against it out of action just like this."
  • Historiographers have identified the origins of sports panic -- the phenomenon dates back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th Century. Is it time to panic in Boston?
  • Tony Allen kindly asks that you set up your voicemail already.
  • You should buy the full 2011-12 PDF from Basketball Prospectus, but if you want the crib notes from Kevin Pelton -- a single paragraph and projected record for each of the 30 teams -- click here.
  • An interview with Clippers vice president of basketball operations Neil Olshey at Yahoo! Radio.
  • Be Milwaukee!
  • The Trail Blazers are 2-0 and when you take inventory of LaMarcus Aldridge's versatility as a big man and the smart pieces around them, they look primed for a pretty decent season. Tom Ziller of SB Nation: "[T]he way in which the Blazers have played, mixing the tough defense you know Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews will bring with the smooth scoring ability of LaMarcus Aldridge and deft shooting of Matthews and Nicolas Batum, mixed with able playmaking from Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby -- despite the caveats and despite the great misfortune of losing Brandon Roy forever and Greg Oden for a while longer, Portland looks like a real contender in the West."
  • The Bucks led the Timberwolves 94-84 with under 4:00 remaining. Then Minnesota ripped off an 8-0 run to close the deficit to two points. The lineup on the floor for the Timberwolves? Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Anthony Tolliver. Zach Harper describes the final play call of a frustrating night for Minnesota: "Finding themselves down three with seven seconds left, they devised a play without much action away from the ball to free up Kevin Love for the game-tying attempt. Love set a down screen for Luke which enabled Luke to catch the ball roughly 35 feet from the basket. Love then set a screen for Wes near the top of the arc and then ran to the other win. Luke took two dribbles passed it to Love and he took a contested 3-pointer with four seconds left. It was one of the most basic plays you would ever find coming out of a timeout and it resulted in Love taking a contested 26-footer to try to tie the game."
  • Bret LaGree of Hoopinion on Joe Johnson: "Can still get anywhere he wants on the floor, presuming where he wants to get isn't within 15 feet of the basket."
  • Want to talk Pacers-Raps after tonight's game? Visit with Jared Wade and Tim Donahue on Pacers Talk Live at Eight Points, Nine Seconds.
  • Ricky Davis will start his NBA comeback as a Red Claw.
  • NBA commentators put Google+ hangout to use.

Bulls closing in on conference finals

May, 12, 2011
5/12/11
12:05
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The Chicago Bulls travel to Atlanta with a chance to close out the Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night.

When a team leads a seven-game series 3-2, it goes on to win the series 85.5 percent of the time.

The Bulls are 12-1 in a best-of-seven series when leading 3-2, with their only loss coming in the 1975 Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

As for the Hawks, they're 3-13 when trailing 3-2 in a best-of-seven series. Their three comebacks were: 1960 Division Finals against the Minneapolis Lakers; 1961 Division Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers; and 2010 First Round against the Milwaukee Bucks. (The Hawks haven't won two series in the same postseason since moving to Atlanta in 1968.)

One of the keys to the Bulls’ postseason success has been the performance of Derrick Rose. In Game 5, Rose was able to get to the basket at will, scoring 18 points on 9-of-16 shooting inside 5 feet.

Rose has scored 96 points inside 5 feet during the postseason, and has 32 assists in the same range -- both numbers lead this year's playoffs.

While Rose has had his way in the paint, the Hawks have struggled mightily outside of it.

On field goal attempts outside of 10 feet, Joe Johnson is Atlanta's only perimeter player who has been productive (27-for-51, 52.9 percent).
Josh Smith
Smith

Of the five other Hawks in this series who have taken at least 15 shots beyond 10 feet, none has shot better than 36.4 percent from the floor. The biggest culprit has been Josh Smith, who has missed 26 of 29 shots outside of 10 feet. Jamal Crawford hasn’t been much better, shooting 31.6 percent (12-38) from that distance.

However, within 5 feet of the basket, Smith is 21-for-35 (60.0 percent) in the series.

Unlikely combo leads Bulls in fourth

May, 11, 2011
5/11/11
12:38
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
It must have seemed like déjà vu for the Chicago Bulls, with 69 points through three quarters and entering the fourth with a slim lead. But, after being outscored by 14 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4, Chicago bounced back to defeat the Atlanta Hawks with a strong finish in Game 5.

In the fourth quarter of Game 4, the Bulls allowed the Hawks to shoot 65 percent from the field and got sloppy, committing five turnovers. On Tuesday night, Chicago held Atlanta to 31.3 percent field goal shooting in the final frame thanks to an unlikely combination of players.

At 1:58 of the third, Carlos Boozer joined Joakim Noah on the bench, where the two would remain the rest of the game. The Bulls trotted out a five-man unit of Derrick Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. They played the next 12 minutes and 53 seconds together, turning a one-point lead into a 12-point lead. Prior to Game 5, that unit played just four minutes together in the playoffs.

Gibson scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, while Asik grabbed three rebounds and added a blocked shot. They led a bench that contributed 13 fourth-quarter points in Game 5 after scoring just four points in the last quarter of Game 4.

Rose (33 points) continued his strong postseason play, notching his third consecutive 30-point performance. He really turned it on to begin the fourth, scoring or assisting on eight of the Bulls' first nine baskets. He finished with 11 points and three assists in the fourth.

For the Hawks, their struggles shooting from distance hurt them in Game 5, particularly the duo of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford.

In order for Atlanta to have success against Chicago, the Hawks need Crawford and Johnson to make jump shots. The two were just 3-for-14 from 15-plus feet on Tuesday.

In the Hawks two wins this series, the pair have shot over 53 percent from 15 feet and beyond. In the three losses, they have shot only 30 percent from that range, scoring less than 10 points per game from that distance.

The Hawks struggled from deep, going just 1-for-12 from 3-point range, with Johnson and Crawford combining to go 1-for-9. Atlanta is just 10-for-40 from 3-point range in its three losses during the series, while 11-for-24 in its two wins.

Hawks start and finish strong to beat Bulls

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
12:59
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The Atlanta Hawks never led the Chicago Bulls by more than four points in their three regular season meetings and had just one win to show for it. Monday night, the Hawks jumped out to a 10-point first-quarter lead and won their first Conference Semifinal game since 1997.

After that strong start, they closed the game well, taking control of the first and fourth quarters. Atlanta shot 59 percent from the field, outrebounded the Bulls and outscored them in the paint.

Atlanta had lost 15 straight games in the Conference Semifinals, dating to Game 2 in 1997 when they beat Chicago. That 15-game losing streak was the longest by any team in any round of the playoffs since the league switched to a conference format in 1970-71.

Joe Johnson scored 34 points, one shy of his playoff career high, and is the only Hawks player with a 30-point playoff game since Steve Smith in 1998.

He’s one of just three players in the past 20 postseasons to score 30 points and go 5-for-5 from three-point range. It’s the first time in his career that Johnson was perfect from three-point land in a playoff game.

Johnson’s five three-pointers are three more than he made in three regular season games against the Bulls. All five threes came in the half-court set. For the game, Johnson hit nine half-court jump shots for 23 points. Against Chicago in the regular season, Johnson hit a total of eight half-court jump shots totaling just 18 points.

The Bulls got a different Derrick Rose in this game, as the MVP failed to attempt a single free throw. Entering Game 1 he was averaging 12 free-throw attempts per game in the postseason, trailing only Dwight Howard.

Throughout this season there’s been a direct correlation between Rose’s aggressiveness and the Bulls’ winning percentage.

Chicago’s only loss in the first round came when Rose attempted just four free throws, his only game in the series with fewer than seven.

Perhaps it was Kirk Hinrich being out that changed things for Rose. With Hinrich injured, Jeff Teague drew the primary defensive assignment on Rose. Teague, who played a combined nine minutes against the Magic in the first round, played 45 minutes Monday and limited Derrick Rose to 2-for-9 shooting while defending him.

In the fourth quarter, Rose got nine touches with Teague defending and didn’t attempt a single field goal.

Magic, Hornets and Blazers say goodbye

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
3:21
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
On Thursday the phrase “win or go home” truly meant something for the Orlando Magic, New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers. All three faced elimination, and after Thursday’s action, all three are going home.

Atlanta Hawks 84, Orlando Magic 81 (Hawks win series 4-2)
For the first time in franchise history, the Hawks beat the Magic in a playoff series. Atlanta has not lost a home playoff game in which it had a chance to clinch the series in the last 15 years. The last team to beat the Hawks in such a situation was the 1995-96 Indiana Pacers led by Rik Smits and ESPN analyst Mark Jackson. The Hawks will look to win two playoff series in the same postseason for the first time since moving to Atlanta in 1968.

The stars of the game were Jamal Crawford, who once again outscored the entire Magic bench 19-17, and Joe Johnson, who grabbed a playoff career-high 10 rebounds en route to his first career 20-10 playoff game.

The Magic finished 0-5 this season in Atlanta, regular season and playoffs combined. Their 3-point shooting was a huge issue as the Magic shot 26.3 percent in this game and 26.2 percent in the series. That's more than 10 percentage points below their regular-season average (36.6 percent).

Dwight Howard averaged 27 points and 15.5 rebounds per game, while making 63 percent of his field-goal attempts. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that over the last 30 years, only one other player had a playoff series in which he averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds per game, while making at least 60 percent of his field-goal attempts. That was Shaquille O'Neal (38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 61.1 percent) for the Lakers against the Pacers in the 2000 Finals. In earlier playoffs, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reached those levels in four series, and Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Lanier each did it once.

This was the earliest the Magic were bounced from the playoffs in the Stan Van Gundy era. In each of his previous three seasons, they won at least one series.

The Hawks move on to face the top-seeded Chicago Bulls. Chicago took two of the three meetings this season, with the lone Hawks win coming in Atlanta after the Bulls blew a 17-point halftime lead.

Los Angeles Lakers 98, New Orleans Hornets 80 (Lakers win series, 4-2)
The Lakers led by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter and won their first-round series for the fourth straight year. Phil Jackson improves to 56-21 (.727 win percent) in potential series-clinching games, which is the second-best mark in NBA history to Gregg Popovich (minimum 15 games). Kobe Bryant finished with 24 points including 22 in the first three quarters. Bryant had a string of eight straight 30-plus point games in road potential series-clinchers snapped. The Lakers, however, are 8-1 in their last nine potential road clinchers with Bryant averaging 38.7 points per game. Overall he is 32-14 in potential series-clinching games.

The Hornets fall to 0-5 in playoff series that go six games or more. Chris Paul finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double, which would have been his second of the series.
Paul was less aggressive on the offensive end in Game 6 compared to the earlier games in the series. In the four losses to the Lakers, Paul averaged 18 points and 10 assists, which is very respectable. Unfortunately for the Hornets, they couldn't win without their point guard playing nearly flawless basketball. In the two wins, Paul averaged 30 points and including assists, was responsible for more than 60 points per game.

So who will the Lakers take on in the Western Conference semifinals?

Dallas Mavericks 103, Portland Trail Blazers 96 (Mavericks win series 4-2)
The Mavericks advance past the first round for just the second time in the last five postseasons. Dirk Nowitzki led the way with 33 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the series. Nowitzki improves to 10-7 in potential series-clinching games, averaging 26.2 points per game in those games. It's the second-highest scoring average in potential series clinchers among active players.

Gerald Wallace led the Blazers with a playoff career-high 32 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Brandon Roy added nine points off the bench. In Portland's two wins he averaged 20.0 points per game, while he averaged 4.0 points per game in the four losses.

The Mavericks will now face the Lakers in their first playoff meeting since 1988, which means Bryant and Nowitzki will be playing their first-ever playoff series against each other. The last time the Mavericks and Lakers met in the playoffs it was a Mark Aguirre-led Mavericks team against a Byron-Worthy-Magic-Kareem-led Lakers team. The Lakers won the Conference Finals in seven games and went on to win the NBA Finals.

Howard wins battle, Hawks win game

April, 16, 2011
4/16/11
11:30
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Dwight Howard
Howard
Dwight Howard tied the Orlando Magic playoff record for points with 46 while also grabbing 19 rebounds, but it still wasn’t enough as the Atlanta Hawks pulled out the road win.

The Hawks got some early redemption after getting swept by the Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year. In Game 1 of last year’s series, the Hawks lost by 43 to the Magic while being held to just 71 points.

On Saturday, the Hawks put up 103 points in the 10-point win, while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor. Despite the win, the Hawks were overshadowed again by Howard’s monster performance.

He joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as the only players in the last 20 seasons with 45 points and 15 rebounds in a playoff game.

You have to go all the way back to Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1987 playoffs for the last time a player had 45 points and 15 rebounds in a game that his team lost.

In fact it’s happened only six times in NBA history, with three such games in losses by Wilt Chamberlain.

31 of Howard's 46 points came in the first half, the most by any player in a postseason game in franchise history.

He fell eight points shy of the NBA record for most points in a half of a playoff game. That was 39, done by Sleepy Floyd in May of 1987 against the Lakers.

The box score may look rough for Atlanta, but this may actually be part of the team’s strategy to defeat Orlando.

Including the regular season, the Magic are now just 10-13 in games in which Howard takes at least 16 shots from the field (took 23 against Atlanta).

When he attempts 10 or fewer field goals, the Magic are 17-3.

While Howard went off, only one other Magic player scored in double-figures, and that was Jameer Nelson with 27.

The rest of the team combined for just 20 points, while making only 8-of-34 field goal attempts.

The Hawks had a much more balanced attack with five different players reaching double-figures, led by Joe Johnson with 25 points.

That’s especially encouraging since Johnson was held to only 12.8 points per game in the teams sweep at the hands of the Magic last season.

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