Tag:Al Horford
Posted on: April 20, 2011 12:59 am
Edited on: April 20, 2011 3:06 am

NBA Playoffs Hawks-Magic: A return of logic

Magic tie the series up with the Hawks by locking down. It's becoming clear this will be system vs. players to the death. 
Posted by Matt Moore

We told you in the Series Reset the Magic defense would likely get back on track, but the mismatches would remain in place. And, heavens to Betsy, we got one right. The Magic held the Hawks to 40 percent shooting; just 7-20 from the arc. The Magic won the rebounding battle 52-39. They gathered 43 percent of all available offensive rebounds. They earned 36 free throws compared to just 17 for the Hawks. 

They won by just six. 

Now, the important thing here is that they won. A loss would have buried them in an 0-2 hole going back to Atlanta. Even the Hawks' terrible home-court advantage couldn't keep them from a series win in that scenario. The Magic responded with a defensive firestorm in Game 2, and that, combined with a terrible shooting night for the Hawks, was enough to lift them to victory. If the Hawks' exceedingly high shooting percentages in Game 1 were an aberration, than Game 2 was one of those painful situations where everything they put up was either brilliantly defended or just rimmed off. But if you wanted a good indication of the impact the Magic's defense had... Go big and go fast. 

Go big.  The Magic obviously dominated the glass. Dwight Howard was in rare form again. Just as he did in Game 1, Howard dominated the glass, just ripping the ball out of the Hawks' paws. But more impactful was what he did to interior drive attempts. When the Hawks looped to the basket, Howard was there. Twice Joe Johnson posted Hedo Turkoglu, spun around him and had a very makeable high-glass floater. Twice he had to adjust to get it over Howard's outstretched arms, and the result was a miss. Offensively, the Magic didn't dominate the points in the paint -- it was only a 36-32 advantage for Orlando -- but the Hawks shot themselves in the foot by shooting just 50 percent from short range. A grind-it-out, tough game, where one side has a dominant performance from the best center in the league... That's good enough for a win. 

Go fast . The Magic's transition defense gets a gold star here. They cut off passing lanes, shut off driving lanes, and scummed up any chance for the Hawks to get out in transition. Not that the Hawks' really made a concerted effort. Too often the Hawks elected to settle down. You would think Larry Drew would recognize that the Hawks' biggest advantage is in getting away from Howard on the break and using their superior athleticism. You would think he'd recognize that, but you'd be wrong. Regardless, the Magic were disciplined and relentless. The Hawks had seven fast break points the entire game on 2-6 shooting. 

The Magic's offense? Still missing. The Hawks' matchup advantages? Still there (Josh Smith 17 points, Jamal Crawford 25 points). But the Magic reasserted some of their own with Jameer Nelson edging Kirk Hinrich (who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a submarine in the middle of a deep-sea trench Tuesday night). But systemically the Magic got what they needed. The Hawks got their win in Orlando and now head back to Atlanta. 

System vs. Personnel. The battle continues. We've told you again and again. This one is going to be long and tough. And even in a loss, you have to wonder if the momentum doesn't lie with Atlanta. 
Posted on: April 19, 2011 3:05 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 3:38 pm

Series Reset: Atlanta has to keep up

The Hawks took out the Magic in every phase of the game except guarding Dwight Howard. What trends are we seeing as the series moves forward Tuesday night?
Posted by Matt Moore

The Narrative:   The Magic likely assumed they would win because they're the better team and because Atlanta has been so mediocre over the past two seasons, especially down the stretch. But somewhere in there, they overlooked the matchup advantages that Atlanta enjoys in this series. Dwight Howard is not a matchup problem, he's a fact of life. The Hawks are going to lose that battle no matter what. He's the best center in the league. Atlanta's matchup advantages come in lesser known areas. Like Josh Smith versus whatever slow, perimeter-based forward the Magic want to put on him. Or how well Kirk Hinrich matches up with Jameer Nelson (despite his 27 points, a good chunk of which were not defended by Hinrich). Orlando has to figure out a way to get the entire offense involved. They didn't in Game 1, and they sunk to the bottom of the sea even as Dwight Howard demolished everything in his path. Unless they get equal contributions from the other players, the Hawks may just resign themselves to getting dunked on while keeping the perimeter in check. 

The Hook: The Atlanta Hawks took 24 shots at the rim, or within nine feet of the rim . They took 27 shots from 16-23 feet. They were efficient down low, don't get me wrong, shooting 63 percent in that area, but they took an obscene amount of shots from mid-range. And, while they made 48 percent from that distance, that's simply not something you can count on in any basketball game. I mean, look at Al Horford's shot chart for crying out loud. 

(Click on the image for more from our GameTracker, Game 1 .)

That's just not production you can count on. Or is it? Horford shot 53 percent from the field in the regular season from 16-23 feet . If the Magic keep letting him hit from space, Horford's going to eventually force them out, which opens up passing lanes. This is a pretty big concern. That's five of their 13 makes from range right there. You have to think the Hawks will try and even out their production at some point, but they may want to take their chances with what worked in Game 1.

The Adjustment: According to Synergy Sports , you know how many pick and roll plays the Magic ran? 31. You know how many wound up in the hands of the roll man? None. Zip, zero, zilch. That makes Dwight Howard's night more impressive, but it also means a few things. One, if you go back and watch, the Hawks are closing two to three defenders on Howard or whoever the roll man is. Two, that adjustment means that the Magic, had they opted to, would have had an open shooter off the second pass on the pick, drive and kick. But instead, they just launched. Nelson comes off the screen, he kicks out, catch and shoot. Except that they were rushing all those shots. They had the opportunity to spin the ball when the Hawks started to try and recover, but instead just let it fly. The result? Brick city. 

The Magic are at their best not when they're just launching threes, but when they're actually creating stupendously open shots from their ball rotation. That's how they beat the Celtics and Cavaliers in 2009, and going away from that strategy in 2010 hurt them, as it's hurting them now. They have experienced, competent passers and shooters on the perimeter. The Magic need to slow down their decision making, not their pace, and work to create the best shot possible. Do that and their perimeter game will finally start to click. 

The X-Factor: Joe Johnson. Johnson should be the focal point of Orlando's defense, right? After all, he's their All-Star (along with Horford), and as close as it gets to a star player. Johnson went ISO 13 times in Game 1. He was 6 of 10 scoring, drew two fouls and had one turnover. The degree to which Atlanta puts Johnson in ISO tends to be a source of mockery for them, but you need someone to make tough buckets in the playoffs, and Johnson can do that when he's on. Furthermore, the Magic have nobody to guard him. Jason Richardson can't stick him, neither can J.J. Redick, Turkoglu, or the other wings. He's a nightmare, and when he's on, he can cause severe damage in a series. Just ask the Celtics. 

The Sticking Point: The Magic were knocked back defensively in Game 1. But this is one of the best defenses in the league. They were knocked back offensively. And they're one of the most dangerous offensive units. At home, down 1-0, you would expect things to get back on track. But this series has already shown a series of matchup problems for the Magic. Joe Johnson said after Game 1 that this isn't the same team they faced last year at all. And that much has become apparent, when you look at the player-versus-player breakdown. But, overall team strength has to come into play at some point, and the tug-of-war between those two elements will likely end up decidiing this series. 

Posted on: April 16, 2011 10:54 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 2:47 am

NBA Playoffs Hawks-Magic: Howard not enough

Dwight Howard has a historic performance... and it wasn't enough as the Hawks take Game 1. 
Posted by Matt Moore

In 2007, Kobe Bryant scored the following point totals in the first round of the NBA playoffs against the Phoenix Suns: 39, 15, 45, 31, 34. The Lakers lost in five. They managed to push the Suns to seven games the year before, but still fell. And the strategy was more than apparent, and is what led the Lakers to become so aggressive the following year. And, it's what nearly cost them Kobe Bryant in a trade demand before Andrew Bynum developed and Pau Gasol was delivered for $1.50 and some lint. The strategy was simple: Kobe gets his, no one else does. They essentially surrendered bucket after bucket to Mamba (before he was called that) and shut down his underwhelming, unworthy teammates. It became a standard approach in the league in guarding Bryant, until he wound up with Pau Gasol, Andre Bynum at full strength, Derek Fisher came back and Lamar Odom's head got screwed on. Then everyone was just doomed (hence the two titles).

More on Hawks at Magic
Related links
On Saturday night, the Atlanta Hawks employed the same strategy on Dwight Howard, and the result was eerily similar in the Hawks' 103-93 win over Orlando . Howard scored 31 in the first half, and finished with 46. He had 19 rebounds. And the Magic lost. In the first half, the Magic went to Howard consistently. In part because the Hawks were helpless to stop him. You name the defender, we can show the highlight. Jason Collins. Zaza Pachulia. Even Etan Thomas got a turn (and a vicious block from Howard). Howard hit the whole array. Alley-oops. Offensive rebound put-backs. Hook shots. Jumpers. The works. But in part, the Magic went to Howard as consistently because the rest of the team was a bunch of popsicles. It was a truly terrible offensive performance for a team that relies on its shooting. 

So when the second half came around, the Hawks went to a different approach. They started fouling Howard more aggressively. Howard finished the first half 8-9 from the line. There was literally no way to stop him. Second half? 6-13. That's seven more points he left on the board. The Magic still would have lost, but it should be noted, because that was a subtle correction the Hawks made. Let Howard do whatever he wants for 24 minutes while you focus on getting the shooters out of rhythm. Then make him earn it at the line in the second half. Throw in some frustrating physical play that led to Howard's first technical, and it was one of the most disappointing 45-point playoff performances in NBA playoff history. Disappointing for Howard, not because of him. There wasn't much more Howard could have done. We can point out the missed free throws, but Howard still hit 64% of his shots from the stripe. But to have that kind of a performance and lose? Unheard of. 

As a matter of fact, in 20 years, no player has dropped 45 points and 19 rebounds in the playoffs. Howard was the first. And he still wound up with the L.

The loss was a complicated combination of the Magic's supporting players having an outright miserable performance, Kirk Hinrich having a better-than-expected game, and Josh Smith dominating a matchup we thought he would . The Magic have to improve on offense, defense, in transition, in the half-court and in terms of composure. Dwight Howard did everything he could, the Magic have to step up in support.

Oh, and one last thing before notes. In 2009, the Magic put themselves on the NBA map by downing the Celtics and then the best team in the East that season, the Cleveland Cavaliers. They did so by letting LeBron James go off for whatever he wanted, and shutting down all the rest of the Cavaliers. The Magic got a strong dose of that in Game 1 vs. the Hawks. 

A few other notes: 

  • Kirk Hinrich finished with a quiet 13 points on 6-10 shooting, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. But his impact was so much bigger. Even with Jameer Nelson going off for 20 points in the third quarter, Hinrich played excellent defense, knocked down shots, and prevented Nelson from dominating the matchup like he did against the Hawks in 2010. 
  • Jamal Crawford was 4-7 from the arc, including a dagger at the end of the game with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. 
  • Jason Richardson: 4 points on 2-8 shooting, 0-4 from the arc. The word there is: curtains. 
  • The Magic can survive Josh Smith abusing its forwards. They can handle Al Horford dismantling their forwards from range. They can't handle both. 

Posted on: April 14, 2011 5:11 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 12:59 am

Series Preview Hawks-Magic: Birds of pray

Our first-round series previews continue with Hawks-Magic. Will Josh Smith be the X-factor for Atlanta? 
Posted by Matt Moore

I. Intro

The forgotten series. The Magic and Hawks face off in the 4-5 matchup, traditionally nothing more than an also-ran series. It's usually one of the most competitive, but it's also usually the least sexy because of the lack of elite teams involved. That archetype certainly fits here. The Magic's window seems to have shut once and for all as the trade for Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas along with Hedo Turkoglu has failed to return the Magic to a 2009 level of perimeter lethality. Dwight Howard's put in an MVP-worthy season, even if he won't win, but still fails to make an impact that drives the word "unstoppable." 

The Hawks? The Hawks are the quietest successful disaster story, ever. They gave Joe Johnson a max contract no one thought he was worth, then extended Al Horfor which everyone thought should happen. They upgraded at point trading Mike Bibby for Kirk Hinrich, and won enough games to land in the five spot after an early season run through an easy schedule. But whenever faced with a key moment, the Hawks have been ran over and through. Except against the Magic. 

II. What happeneed: A Look at the Season Series

The Hawks topped the Magic 3-1 in the regular season. The Magic are heavy favorites based on Howard and playoff experience, but the Hawks have been in the playoffs the last three seasons prior this year's, and have made the second round twice. They are an afterthought in the playoff race. But that doesn't mean they're push overs, especially against Orlando. 

The Magic's only victory over the Hawks came when Dwight Howard dropped 27 points and 11 rebounds. Howard averaged less than 20 points per game against the Hawks this season, largely due to foul trouble. Al Horford is the most underrated All-Star in the league, a terrific defensive presence that can manage Howard as well as work with an effective double-team. Jameer Nelson averaged 19 per game against the Hawks, but bigger was Josh Smith who averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and over 2 blocks per game against the Magic. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Josh Smith is going to destroy everyone

Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass split time for the Magic at power forward, with the occasional appearance from Hedo Turkoglu. None of those three players have the skillset necessary to handle Smith, which is why he put up such strong numbers against the Magic. Bass isn't fast enough to handle Smith's explosion, Anderson doesn't possess the strength to match him in the post, and Turkoglu doesn't have either of those traits. Smith's going to be able to slice through defenders like they were made of Sriracha.

Smith doesn't take up a ton of shots, he works for easy ones and has tailed off on ill-advised jumpers in his career. He's never going to be the dominant force many hoped he would become, but he can make a huge impact. The question here will be if he can make a significant impact across a seven a game series on the glass and helping defend Howard. Smith works so much from the perimeter and swoops in on rebounds. But Howard takes up so much space, that strategy can suffer at times. Smith needs to be a focal point on both sides of the floor for the Hawks to win this series. 

IV. Secret of the Series: The Maginot 3-point Line

Did you know that the Hawks allow the fifth fewest 3-pointers made? And that they allow the fourth worst percentage from the arc? The Hawks have long, versatile wing defenders and close out hard on 3-pointers. That's going to put a huge crimp on the Magic's style. The Magic need to get their offensive flow going, and that meanes 3-pointers. But if the Hawks stay home and force the Magic to beat them with perimeter penetration off the dribble, the Hawks may have a shot at this thing. Kirk Hinrich is a significant enough upgrade over Jameer Nelson that he'll succeed where Bibby failed last season. From there it's up to Smith and Marvin Williams to close out, along with Joe Johnson. Smith once again comes in handy here against Ryan Anderson. Smith's athleticism will allow him to help defend inside on doubles and recover on Andreson effectively. It's all about spacing, and the Hawks have the length to cause problems in that area. 

For the Magic, they need to get the advantage off their bench with their shooters. Jason Richardson will get his fair share, but the rest have to step up, including J.J. Redick and Gilbert Arenas. If Arenas continues his poor play, the Magic are going to find long runs during the bench unit minutes. The Hawks are a paper tiger but they've still got claws. 

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: The Magic Rebound myth

Having the best rebounder in the playoffs doesn't assure you the best rebounding. The Magic are thought to have the edge on the glass in this series thanks to the existence of Howard along with Bass and Anderson. But the Hawks outrebounded them by 5 on averge in the season series. They tied the Magic on the offensive glass 9.3 to 9.8. Those second-hand opportunities are thanks (again) to Smith's athleticism, Horford's savvy know-how and effort, and Joe Johnson's size advantage over smaller, thinner guards. It's a fundamental part of the Magic's approach, and the Hawks are able to neutralize it. Just because Howard's massive doesn't mean the Magic have an advantage on the glass. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto: 

PG: Kirk Hinrich is still a very good defender but his reputation has suffered a bit over the last few years. Nelson is as inconsistent as they come, but he usually excels until he hits a wall, then plummets in production. Expect him to have another big series. 

SG: Joe Johnson's numbers have fallen across the board in the first year of his zillion year, zillion dollar contract. He and Jason Richardson are likely to play to a tie. The big question will in terms of usage and how many possessions Johnson racks up. 

SF: The Hawks have been using lineups with Horford at 4, moving Smith to the 3 spot. But Marvin Williams still gets the most time at the 3. He and Turkoglu are essentially a wash, with Turkoglu's play making ability giving him a slight edge, if only for his entry passing with Dwight Howard. 

PF: We've been over this. Smith, Horford, whoever is here is better than anyone Orlando's got, and Orlando's got a few good players here. 

C: Uh, yeah, I'll go with the big guy in blue, thanks. 

Bench: The Magic peel Gilbert Arenas off, along with either Anderson or Bass. J.J. Redick is banged up but very good when healthy. Chris Duhon has a pulse. . The Hawks have Zaza Pachulia, Collins at times, Jeff Teague, and, oh, yeah, Jamal Crawford. Hawks get the edge. 

Coaching: Larry Drew has not impressed in his first season. Stan Van Gundy is arguably a top three coach in the league. Gotta go with SVG. 

VII. Conclusion

This series will actually be pretty interesting.  All the matchups point towards the Hawks being able to make a run and knock off the Magic. But we've seen this kind of situation with the Celtics versus the Heat last year. You have to trust the tested playoff team that's won before. Factor in the chance that Nelson steps up and Howard's ability to take over a game every now and the Magic are still the favorites, if for no other reason than their defense. Prediction: Magic in 6. 

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic will take on Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks in round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Who will come out on top? Ken Berger joins Ian Eagle for an in-depth look at this fierce matchup.

Posted on: March 23, 2011 11:26 am

Is Larry Drew already on the hot seat?

Larry Drew might already be on the hot seat with the way the Hawks have underperformed and are now melting down. 
Posted by Matt Moore

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it's only slightly broke, you had better be sure you don't fix the wrong part because you could lose to the Bulls by 30 at home. 

After Tuesday night's pathetic performance against the Bulls, the Atlanta Journal Constitution wonders if first-year head coach Larry Drew isn't already on the hot seat. 
This is why you don’t promote the nice-guy assistant. Because the players who’ve known him only as the nice-guy assistant will quit on him. And if you think the Hawks are still playing hard for Larry Drew, how are we to explain the misdoings of the past three weeks?

The Hawks have lost six home games in 18 days. (By way of comparison, they lost seven home games all last season.) Only one of these six losses has been by fewer than 13 points. Average margin of the six losses — 17.2 points.
via Another home blowout tells us the Hawks have quit on Drew | Mark Bradley.

Hawks fans at the blog Peachtree Hoops are feeling similarly frustrated with Drew: 
This past off season, Atlanta changed directions at coach by not really changing. I think Larry Drew is a great person, a great basketball man with a great basketball mind. He is willing to try and answer anything that you ask him before games and I think has attempted to put up a good hard working front while the building is crumbling in around him. I think he is a deserving head coach but I am not positive that he is the different voice that this team needed.
via Chicago Bulls 114, Atlanta Hawks 81 Or This Is Embarrassing - Peachtree Hoops.

Firing Mike Woodson was kind of perplexing to begin with. Despite being under fire nearly every season, he helped the team improve in win totals progressively, taking them from a laughing stock full of young players to a team that swept the Celtics in the regular season last year and would have had a better time of it had it not ended up in a terrible series of matchups against first motivated and desperately emotional Milwaukee and then matchup-advantaged Orlando.  It got beat badly by Orlando... because Orlando was really good. Yes, the team had stagnated and change can be the thing that puts your team over the top. But Woodson looks pretty good after the debacle Tuesday night. Meanwhile, it was management's decision to re-sign Joe Johnson for more than he would be worth. But the fact remains that the Hawks have two All-Stars and a third very good near All-Star (Josh Smith) along with solid players like Kirk Hinrich and, well, every other game, Marvin Williams. But the Hawks have looked sporadic and confused for most of the season. What's worse, they seem to have lost their identity. 

And it may take a coach with a stronger sense of what he wants from his team to help them find it again. 
Posted on: March 12, 2011 1:55 pm
Edited on: March 12, 2011 3:24 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

Posted by Royce Young

It's kind of easy to forget, but five years ago the Atlanta Hawks were right up there in terms of futility with the Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Pirates. They were always awful.

In 2004, they finished with 28 wins. In 2005, 13 wins. In 2006, they doubled that total ... to 26 wins. The Hawks went over a decade without a quality winning season or playoff berth. Post-Dominique, post-Highlight Factory, the Hawks just weren't relevant.

Then, things started to move for them in 2008, with a 37-win season and a surprising playoff appearance. Instead of selling at the deadline, the Hawks became buyers, targeting Sacramento's Mike Bibby in a trade that said Atlanta was going to try for the postseason. It worked. They were supposed to get swept by the 66-win Celtics. Except the young Hawks squad pushed the eventual champs to seven games.

It was a start, and a far cry from the dismal sub-30-win seasons. Really, before the Oklahoma City Thunder became the poster child for using youth to rebuild, the Hawks had done it, and successfully. In 2009, the Hawks won 47 games and finished fourth in the East. Last season, third with 53 wins. A roster built around Joe Johnson, who was slickly signed from the Phoenix Suns, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford, who were drafted, and Jamal Crawford, who was also plucked in free agency, the Hawks had finally built a winner.

Except, there's a problem. They're stuck. They don't seem to be going anywhere. They're sprinting full-speed on a treadmill. They just can't seem to move the needle.

In those three playoff appearances, the Hawks' best effort was a first-round victory over the Heat in 2009, after which they were swept by the Cavs. Last season, the Magic absolutely humiliated Atlanta in one of the most lopsided series ever.

Problems seem to start for the Hawks right around this time of year. Take Friday night. The Hawks, who are fifth in the East, rolled into Chicago as losers of three straight. All three at home. With a chance to make a statement and establish new momentum heading into April, the Hawks fell asleep at the wheel and careened off a bridge. They scored 26 points in the second half -- twenty-six! -- en route to a 94-76 beating. It was just the latest setback in a season that's seen plenty.

General manager Rick Sund saw this coming. He knew the team wasn't going anywhere. They flirted all offseason trying to find an extra big man to help Horford and Smith inside. Talks with Shaquille O'Neal seemed to go on and on and on. But nothing ever happened, and Atlanta eventually settled on Etan Thomas. Big move, I know.

At the latest deadline, Sund saw the need to move Bibby, who was letting down the Hawks defensively at the point of attack. So he snagged veteran point guard Kirk Hinrich in a very good move. But that's the thing: Kirk Hinrich isn't the piece to move you over the top. He's not the one that's going to take you to the Eastern finals.

The Hawks have committed to this core long-term. Johnson got that wild $120 million extension. Horford signed a big $65 million deal. And Smith is signed through 2013. Crawford will likely walk this summer and Williams doesn't appear to be an integral part. But the Hawks have their core -- except their core is still missing the key piece. Johnson isn't capable of carrying that load. He's being paid like he is, but it's obvious the Hawks need help. Painfully obvious. Nothing said that more than the Orlando series last year.

But how do you get help when 80 percent of your payroll is tied up in three guys? The Hawks made their bed. Now they're got to sleep in it.

(Is this where I mention the Hawks whiffed on Chris Paul, taking instead Marvin Williams?)

It's funny, because in 2011, this Hawks franchise is in a far better place than it was five years ago. They have a young, quality group that's winning consistently. I'm sure everyone in Atlanta much prefers this incarnation over the miserable 13-win campaigns, but right now, this season is headed for the same place: failure.

Sure, they get to play a few more games in April and sell some playoff tickets and get people excited for two or three games, but these Hawks are stuck. They don't have the chops to make a run to where they want to be. At some point a rebuilding project has to progress to "built" and the excuse of being young isn't a good one anymore.

Posted on: February 16, 2011 11:14 pm

Game Changer: Lakers lose to... Cleveland!?!

Posted by Royce Young

Each game is made up of elements that help formulate the outcome. Monday through Friday, we'll bring you the elements from the previous night's games in our own specialized version of the game recaps. It's not everything that happened, but it's an insight into what led to the results you'll see in the box scores. This is the Game Changer.  


The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers 104-99. That's not a joke lede. That's real.

Remember the last time these two teams played? The Lakers won by a measly 55 points. Less than a week ago, the Cavs had just lost their 26th straight game, an NBA record.

And in come the Lakers to Quicken Loans Arena as the defending champions to play the lowly, nine-win Cavs. If you say you saw this coming, you're probably also telling me you totally saw Esperanza Spalding beating out Justin Bieber.

How in the world did this happen? Basically, two things: 1) The Lakers were in a coma for the first 47 minutes and 2) the Cavs played with some serious fight.

First, let's look at the Laker situation seeing as people in purple and gold are probably questioning their existence right now. Los Angeles followed up its stinker in Charlotte by dropping a game to the Cavs. That's reason to be upset for sure. Reason to panic? Not really. It was the game before the All-Star break and right in the middle of a big seven-game road trip.

Kobe Bryant went just 8-22 from the field and had seven turnovers. Ron Artest scored a single point. Andrew Bynum was 2-12 for six points. Lamar Odom had only six points. Pau Gasol was solid with 30 points, but other than that the only reason L.A. was even close was because of Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown. Think about that. Shannon Brown and Derek Fisher kept the Lakers in it.

It's been a season of freak outs for the Lakers. They lost three straight. They lost on Christmas. And now they've dropped a game to the lowly Cavaliers. Up and down, the NBA season is.

On the other hand, you've got to give credit to the Cavs, no matter how poorly the Lakers played. Remember, the Lakers beat the Cavs by 55 last time. But from the start, the Cavs were playing with a point to prove. Ramon Sessions was terrific with 32 points and eight assists (how about that, Atlanta?). Antwan Jamison had 19. Anthony Parker, 18.

Seriously, what a moment for the Cavs in a season full of disaster. For one night, they had back that old feeling.

See, who really needs LeBron James when you have Ramon Sessions?


Of course for some reason we all wanted to know what LeBron would say about the Cavs big win. LeBron, following his team's win over Toronto said, "Good for the Cavs."


It didn't have near the hype that LeBron's return to Cleveland had, but Chris Bosh returned to Toronto for the first time since leaving in free agency to Miami.

Fitting too, because Bosh went from the focus for the Raptors to the oft-forgotten third wheel for the Heat. Something he's fine with, but definitely a change.

And like LeBron, Bosh heard boos, saw signs and took some hate. But also like LeBron, he showed up big and his team walked to an easy win, beating the lowly Raps 103-95. Bosh had 25 points on 7-16 shooting and while he wasn't terrific like LeBron in Cleveland, he was solid in his role and his team won.

After the game, Bosh blew some kisses to the crowd as he left the floor. The was a splattering of cheers, but mostly boos. Bosh said of the booing, "I hope they do it the next time I come back."


Referring to Amar'e Stoudemire, Al Horford told reporters before his Hawks took on the Knicks, "Like we're supposed to be scared of him. Ain't nobody scared of him." (via Alan Hahn )

What happened next? Stoudemire led all scorers with 23 points and the Knicks beat Atlanta 102-90. New York has a bit of momentum heading into the break with back-to-back wins, this one over the Hawks who they're chasing in the Eastern standings.


Pau Gasol: 30 points and 20 rebounds, but oh yeah, his team lost to the Cavs.

Andrea Bargnani: 38 points on 15-26 shooting in a loss to the Heat.

Dwight Howard: 32 points and 10 rebounds in a blowout win over the Wizards.

Ramon Sessions: 32 points and eight assists for the Cavs.

Kevin Love: Another ho-hum night with 18 points and 18 rebounds in a loss to the Clippers.


Christian Eyenga played a part in the Cavs stunning win over Los Angeles with 10 points. But these two over Pau Gasol were definitely his two best.


The Pacers took a setback in Detroit, dropping to the Pistons 115-109 in overtime. That makes Indiana 7-3 under interim coach Frank Vogel and while it's finally a loss to a below average team, all's not lost. The Pacers were down late in the game and fought back to force overtime. And keep in mind, this is a building process for them. There's no denying that they're playing much better and despite a loss, keep an eye on this team.
Posted on: February 5, 2011 1:03 am
Edited on: February 5, 2011 10:37 am

Blake Griffin flagrant foul leads to Hawks win

Posted by Matt Moore

Allright, so let's just skip to the chase. 3.3 seconds remaining. The Clippers lead the Hawks by one. Al Horford gets the ball and goes straight for the basket past his man. Blake Griffin goes to intercept. Two high-speed, high-mass objects meeting at a high velocity. KABOOM.

A flagrant foul was called. Al Horford, beyond all reason, nailed both free throws after taking that hit, the Hawks inbounded, ran out the clock, and won the game. 

There will be two lines of thought on this. For your convenience, we'll present them both so you can blindly agree with and/or rail against them in the comments. 

Option 1: Griffin should not have been assessed a flagrant. He went straight up, made a play on the ball, and gave a good hard foul.  You can't punish a guy if he makes an honest attempt at a block and the guy lands hard. What the fans love about Griffin is his intensity and constant fearless nature. He wasn't willing to surrender the bucket like so many terrible NBA defenders, and Horford landed hard. These things happen. In the 80's that wouldn't be a flagrant foul. There was nothing excessive about it, it was just a hard play on the ball. To continue to remove the ability of players to make honest attempts to defend is to mire the league further in flopping and porous defense. Griffin clearly wasn't trying to hurt Horford, but if you want to drive in his lane, you have to be willing to pay the price. 

Option 2: Griffin was reckless in his approach, made contact, and followed through. That's what led to the flagrant and the players have to be protected.   You'll notice at the .47 mark, Horford lands, flat on his back, with his legs straight in the air, and Griffin's arms landing on top of him. It wasn't just the initial contact that warranted the foul, it was the follow through. Griffin's approach was approximately straight up and down, but in making contact and extending both arms, he was reckless in his approach. You have to manage your intensity with protecting your fellow player. This isn't Chris Bosh complaining about someone diving for a loose ball. This is Al Horford landing flat on his back from a severe height at high velocity, with Griffin pushing down on his chest on the way down. The attempt doesn't have to be intentional to be excessive . Horford could have been severely injured. Griffin can play in such a way as to make people afraid he's going to kill himself. The same can't be said for risking the health of players around him. Good call on the flagrant.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com