Tag:Joe Johnson
Posted on: April 19, 2010 11:12 pm
 

Bulls will be scary ... next year

As I watched the Bulls force LeBron James to score 40 points to beat them in Cleveland Monday night, they reminded me of the team that kept playing and kept pushing the Celtics in the first round last spring – all the way to a nail-biting defeat in seven games. 

This year’s Cavs are not last year’s Celtics, but this year’s Bulls aren’t last year’s Bulls, either. Every time Jamario Moon hit a 3-pointer or LeBron did whatever he wanted to do, the Bulls’ answer in Game 2 was, increasingly, nothing. A year ago, it was Ben Gordon

Next year at this time, it’ll be _____. 

The Bulls will be scary next year. That will be little consolation when they eventually lose this series to the Cavs – whether they win one or two games in Chicago or not. There was nothing to be ashamed of in their 112-102 loss to the LeBrons in Game 2, nor is there anything wrong with heading back to Chicago down 0-2 in the best-of-7 series. That was to be expected. This is what LeBron does, and it’s what the best team in the NBA is supposed to do. 

But a year from now? With news Friday from David Stern that the salary cap could be $56.1 million next season – anywhere from $3 million to $6 million more than projected last summer – the Bulls will be able to bring this same team back to the playoffs with one exception. They’ll have someone to go shot-for-shot with LeBron. 

That is, assuming it’s not LeBron; there’s no reason to believe it will be, and I hope it isn’t. Remember a few weeks ago, when LeBron lamented the lack of rivalries in today’s NBA? He’d go a long way toward bringing rivalries back by staying in Cleveland and standing toe-to-toe with whoever receives Chicago’s max money. Dwyane Wade, the ideal rival to LeBron, would be perfect – except he handles the ball too much to play with Derrick Rose and will have a hard time turning his back on South Beach once the Heat flex their salary-cap muscles to put more talent around him. Joe Johnson? Possible; he’d be a good complement to Rose and would’ve had something to say Monday night when LeBron started doing to the Bulls what Michael Jordan used to do to the Cavs in the playoffs.

However it works out, the Bulls will have an answer to LeBron next spring. They won’t need to resort to Joakim Noah’s made-for-headline quotes. With a lineup of Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Rose, a max player to be named later, Kirk Hinrich off the bench, and a moderately priced big man who can block shots, the Bulls won’t be facing the Cavs in the first round. They’ll be squaring off in the conference semifinals or finals. 

That’ll be a rivalry – one worthy of a bigger, later playoff stage.
Posted on: March 24, 2010 10:57 pm
 

Hawks' Smith flushes doubts at buzzer

ATLANTA – As much as they wanted to downplay it, this meant something. The Atlanta Hawks didn’t want to go into the playoffs with a Can’t-Beat-The-Elite albatross following them every step of the way. 

“We know we can play with anybody,” said Josh Smith, who flushed a lot more than a game-winning putback dunk at the buzzer Wednesday night in an 86-84 victory over the Orlando Magic

It all came together for a team that no longer has to search so hard for respect. In front of a solid midweek crowd in attendance-challenged Philips Arena, the Hawks clinched a playoff berth and carried star-crossed teammate Jamal Crawford to the postseason for the first time in his nine-year career. 

They also took an important step, however reluctant they were to admit it. Despite a 4-0 season sweep of the Celtics, the Hawks’ resume was stained by an 0-6 record against the other elites – 0-1 against the Lakers, 0-2 against Cleveland, 0-3 against Orlando, with those three losses coming by an average of 22.3 points. That streak ended Wednesday night, when Joe Johnson’s jumper caromed off the rim and into the left hand of Smith, who soared through the lane and beat the buzzer with a dunk that sent a lot of doubts down with it. 

It was important, Smith was saying at his locker, “Just for our confidence, to know we can beat this team.” 

The deciding sequence came after Vince Carter’s 3-pointer tied it at 84-84 with 9.9 seconds left. As it turns out, it was better that the Hawks didn’t have any timeouts, because Smith said the matchup confusion resulted in nobody putting a body on him as Johnson’s 16-footer floated toward the rim. 

“Vince hit a great shot at the end, and Vince played great defense at the end to get the stop,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “On the weak side, we just stood and watched. We absolutely spectated. All we needed was one boxout and we’d be in overtime. But we didn’t get the boxout and we’re not in overtime. How you stand there and watch that play, I don’t know. The guys on the court were doing the same thing the guys on the bench were doing – standing there watching.” 

Down the hall, in the Hawks’ locker room, they were doing something else. Crawford, who’d spent his entire career on pathetic non-playoff teams in Chicago, New York and briefly in Golden State, proudly flashed a black T-shirt that read, “Clinched!” He hung it in his locker, saying he figured he’d let it stay there for a while. It’s been a long wait. 

“When you first come into the league, you think you’re supposed to be in the playoffs in year one or two,” Crawford said. “I don’t take it for granted. I’ve seen some tough situations, the worst of the worst.” 

And if the Hawks had lost to another elite team, they’d be wondering if they were ever going to take the next step. 

“It feels good,” Al Horford said. “There’s a lot of people that have been talking and questioning us against the bigger teams.” 

As the locker room was clearing out, the party was just starting in coach Mike Woodson’s office. Earlier in the day, after shootaround, roses and balloons had adorned his office signifying his 52nd birthday. Now, family and friends and adult beverages had joined them.

“That was a great game, a playoff game,” Woodson said. 

They will be playing those in Atlanta again this spring, the third straight year Woodson will lead the Hawks to the postseason. For five straight years, he’s won more games than he did the last. By beating Orlando, the Hawks clinched their ninth consecutive winning month – the third-longest streak in franchise history and second-longest since the team has been in Atlanta. 

Woodson is on the last year of his contract, Johnson is poised to join the star-studded free agent class, and all bets are off as to how that shakes out. For now, they should all take Crawford’s advice. 

“You have to appreciate it,” Crawford said, “because you never know when it’s going to happen again.”
Posted on: January 28, 2010 11:53 am
Edited on: January 28, 2010 7:45 pm
 

All-Star Reserves (UPDATE)

First of all, as Charles Barkley would say, I love the seven first-time selections. All-Star weekend is badly in need of some juice, and I think there's a good chance that some of these first-timers -- Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo -- will provide some of the weekend's most memorable moments.

I know this is a knee-jerk sports world and we're supposed to fight about everything, but I don't have enormous problems with the coaches' selections. In the East, they picked Rose and Al Horford over my picks -- David Lee and Josh Smith. I disagree on Horford; Smith is the Hawks' most important player after Joe Johnson, and Horford doesn't play enough minutes to be an All-Star. Lee deserves to be there, too. Being based in New York, I have more than my share of chances to watch him bust his behind on a talent-less team. Rose? I don't have any problem with him being an All-Star. He'll be great to watch in an All-Star Game. Guys like Rose understand the moment and know how to rise to it.

In the West, I only differed with the coaches on one selection: They chose Zach Randolph; I chose Chauncey Billups. If I met with every coach who chose Randolph and we debated outside some NBA locker room, I don't think anybody would win. Z-Bo is having a great year on a surprisingly competitive team. Billups remains the glue that keeps the Nuggets together. I'll take the No. 2 pick in that draft and be happy.

In making my picks, I used the same criteria the coaches are instructed to use: select seven reserves, ranked 1-7 for weighting purposes, according to the following positional breakdown: center, two forwards, two guards, and two wild cards.


Here were my picks -- with the coaches' alternative in parentheses, where applicable:

East

1. Chris Bosh, F, Toronto: The "other" 2010 free agent went into the season determined to put up huge numbers, which he is. Bosh's steady play also is a big reason for the Raptors' recent resurgence.

2. Rajon Rondo, G, Boston: Nothing against Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen, but Rondo may have surpassed both of them as the most important Celtic after Paul Pierce.

3. Josh Smith, F, Atlanta (Coaches picked Derrick Rose): Defense, shot-blocking, scoring -- J-Smoove does it all, except take too many 3-pointers. He's eliminated that annoying aspect of his game and deserves to be rewarded.

4. Gerald Wallace, F (wild card), Charlotte: This is a tough call between Wallace and Danny Granger. I'll give the nod to Wallace because of defense and team success.

5. David Lee, C, Knicks (Coaches picked Al Horford): It's time to stop attributing Lee's machine-like double-double production to Mike D'Antoni's system and recognize that there's nothing wrong with being one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league.

6. Joe Johnson, G, Atlanta: Johnson should send a thank-you gift to Jamal Crawford, whose ability to absorb some of the end-of-quarter/end-of-game scoring load has kept Johnson fresh.

7. Paul Pierce, F (wild card), Boston: Rondo makes the Celtics' engine go, but Pierce is still the closer -- one of the best in the league at both ends of the floor.


West


1. Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas: Still playing at an MVP level and never gets the recognition he deserves.

2. Chris Paul, G, New Orleans: In terms of statistics and overall talent, the best point guard in the league.

3. Brandon Roy, G, Portland: With all of Portland's injuries -- including Roy's own balky hamstring of late -- this budding superstar deserves credit for keeping the Blazers afloat.

4. Chauncey Billups, G (wild card), Denver (Coaches picked Zach Randolph): We take Mr. Big Shot for granted because he's so consistent, but remember: He's consistently great. Monta Ellis deserves serious consideration here or for one of the wild-card spots, but there are simply too many great guards in the West for him to break through.

5. Pau Gasol, C, Lakers: Despite missing a big chunk of the season, Gasol has played enough to warrant an All-Star nod. When he's on the floor, he's among the most gifted and impactful big men in the league. Gasol or Randolph? I'll take Gasol.

6. Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City: We knew he could score, but now KD is emerging as a much improved defender and leader.

7. Deron Williams, G (wild card), Utah: This is why there's no room for Randolph on my squad, despite his solid 20-point, 11-rebound averages on a much improved Memphis team. D-Will is too good -- and the Jazz's recent resurgence too notable to overlook -- for one of the top point guards in the NBA to continue to get overlooked.

 
 
 
 
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