1. The Hawks are flying high
Portland is currently running away with the “Overachievers of the Year” award, but the Hawks are quietly still in the race. Joe Johnson poured in 26 points and handed out 11 assists to give Atlanta a 107-95 home victory over Indiana, but, perhaps even more importantly, it gave the Hawks their first five-game winning streak since 1999. Atlanta is now 15-12 on the year, good for the Eastern Conference’s fourth best record, giving the Hawks a legitimate chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 1998-99. In addition to Johnson’s offensive firepower, Josh Smith is having an awesome year, averaging 17.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.92 steals and 3.12 blocks per game. The Hawks can now sit back and somewhat enjoy the fruits of their labor; they don’t play again until Saturday when they travel to Dallas and after that, Atlanta is off until next Wednesday when they head to Cleveland for a contest against King James and the Cavs.
2. Boston looks mean in green
The Celtics headed West for the first time this year on Wednesday when they traveled to Sacramento for a contest against a struggling Kings team. The result for Boston was the same on the west coast as it was on the east coast, an easy victory. The Cs cruised to an 89-69 win behind 47 points from the big three and 13 from the trio’s sidekick Rajon Rondo. Boston is now 23-3, marking the fourth time in franchise history that the Celtics have started with a 23-3 record. Two of the previous three times it was done Boston went on to win the NBA title (1963-64 and 1961-62). After playing in only their 11th road game of the year, the Celtics continue their road test when they head to Seattle tonight, followed by back-to-back road games against the Jazz and Lakers on Saturday and Sunday.
3. Jazz build a lead, blow a lead and get a win
Utah managed to take a 16-0 lead against Dallas on Wednesday and then gave it all right back as they went into halftime up just a single point. Luckily, the Jazz finished like they started, outscoring the Mavs 52-44 in the second half and held on for a 99-90 victory at home. Dirk Nowitzki kept his squad in the game down the stretch, but Carlos Boozer came up big for the Jazz in the closing minutes, scoring six of the team’s final seven points, giving him 21 for the night. Deron Williams finished with 17 points and 12 assists to match Andrei Kirilenko’s offensive output. With the loss, Dallas falls to 6-8 on the road while Utah improves to 10-2 at home. The Jazz desperately needed the win after losing nine of their previous 11 games and falling behind Portland in the Northwest Division standings.
Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Chris Paul @ Memphis 36 min, 40 pts (FG: 17-25, 3FG: 5-8, FT: 1-1), 5 reb, 9 ast, 5 stl
Thursday’s Game to Watch: Cleveland (13-16) @ Dallas (19-10)
Dallas still hasn’t regained the form that earned them their top seed in the playoffs last season; at least not on the road. But inside the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center in Dallas, it’s a whole other story. The Mavs are 13-2 at home despite Dirk Nowitzki’s sub par performances of late. On the other side of the court, there is nothing sub par about LeBron James this year. James is averaging a league-best 29.3 points to go along with 7.2 rebounds and 7.7 assist per contest, but the King’s court has been extremely inconsistent. For the past six games Cleveland has alternated wins and losses, their most recent contest being a 96-82 Christmas day beating of the Heat. The up and down trend could continue tonight as Cleveland is a pathetic 5-10 away from home.
Buzzer Beater: Jason Kidd tallied 13 assists in a loss to Detroit on Wednesday, moving him into sixth place on the all-time list with 8,972 career dimes. Kidd passed the Glove who now sits at seventh with 8,966. 14 years into his career, the passing machine should be pretty close to the NBA’s greatest assist men in history, right? Wrong. Kidd is still 6,834 assists short of reaching John Stockton’s mark of 15,806. With a career-average of 9.2 assists per game, it will take Kidd about 743 more games to set a new milestone. In other words, Kidd needs another nine seasons at that pace to accomplish what Stockton did in his 19 years with Utah.