Atlanta Hawks

Around the Rim: Hawks fly high at home

1. Joe Johnson ignites late
It might sound impossible, but Atlanta has Boston’s number in the playoffs. After taking a 97-92 victory over the top-seeded Celtics, drawing the series to a 2-2 tie, the Hawks have now won five out of their previous six games against the Cs in the postseason. Joe Johnson posted 20 points in the fourth quarter for a game-high 35 points while Josh Smith played out of his mind with 28 points, six rebounds and seven blocks. Everyone and their momma figured this of all the series would end in a sweep, but after taking a 2-0 lead in Boston, the Celtics are winless on the road in the postseason. The Big Three combined for 59 points, but Boston could only muster 17 points in the final period when Johnson and the Hawks exploded for 32. Game 5 will be back in the friendly confines of Beantown on Wednesday.

2. Bust out the brooms

After busting their asses to make the postseason, the Nuggets’ hard work was for not following a four-game sweep at the hands of the Lakers. Denver didn’t roll over and die, but they died none the less, falling 107-101 in their own arena thanks to Kobe Bryant’s 31 points, including 14 in the final six minutes. Bryant’s playoff average this season is now up to 33.5 points per game after he was good for 28.3 during the regular season. LA is now waiting on the winner between Utah and Houston who play Game 5 tonight. Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony both fouled out of the game in the final minutes, allowing Bryant to do his thing without Denver’s superstars on the court. J.R. Smith was the Nuggets high-scorer with 26 points while Allen Iverson and Anthony combined for 43 points. The Lakers look primed to make their first Western Conference finals since Shaq Daddy was in town behind the big efforts of Bryant, Lamar Odom (14 pts, 12 reb) and Pau Gasol (21 pts).

3. Orlando moves on
The kid did it again. For the third time in the series, Dwight Howard recorded at least 20 points and 20 rebounds by tallying 21 of each in Orlando’s 102-92 win at home over Toronto, advancing to the second round for the first time since in 12 years. The Magic dominated 4-1 behind Superman’s super play. Following postseason career-highs of 39 points and 15 rebounds in Game 4 Saturday, Chris Bosh finished with just 16 points and nine rebounds in the Raptors’ playoff finale. Orlando is now waiting on the winner between Philadelphia and Detroit, currently tied at 2-2 following a pair of disappointing performances from the Pistons. All five starters for Orlando and sixth man Keith Bogans finished in double-digit scoring, led by Howard’s game-highs and Jameer Nelson’s 19. Rashard Lewis was impressive as well, going off for a double-double of his own with 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Monday’s Player of the Day: Josh Smith vs. Boston 37 min, 28 pts (FG: 8-16, 3FG: 0-6, FT: 12-13), 6 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl, 7 blk

Buzzer Beater: After 24 seasons, 2,186 games, 1,381 victories and five championships, Pat Riley’s coaching career appears to finally be ka-put. The Hall of Famer is coming off the worst year of his career, winning just 15 games with the heatless Heat who has replaced Riley with the now-youngest coach in the league Erik Spoelstra. It was obvious Riles was on edge all year, so it’s not surprising he wants to end the suffering. However, he will maintain his position as president, overseeing Miami’s immediate future which could include the drafting of Michael Beasley if the ping-pong balls bounce right.

Ironically enough, on the same day Riley retires, a key contributor from his Laker days was named NBA coach of the year. Byron Scott led the Hornets to the West’s second best record (56-26) and their first postseason appearance in four years.

New Orleans Hornets

Around the Rim: Putting in work

1. Double overtime
The Suns didn’t appear to miss Shawn Marion in the least on Wednesday night as they ran up and down the court at breakneck speed, scoring 130 points against the Hornets in a pair of overtimes. And Marion certainly didn’t miss being on the Suns because New Orleans managed to score 131 points, winning on a buzzer-beating Peja Stojakovic jumper. Tyson Chandler missed a doozey, sidelined with the flu, but his teammates stepped up on the road. Stojakovic finished with 26 points while David West grabbed 13 rebounds to go with 21 points and even though Peja gets credit for the win, Chris Paul gets the game ball. Paul just missed setting a new career-high with 42 points to go along with nine assists and a career-high eight steals. Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t in uniform for Phoenix yet and it’s a good thing because he probably got winded just watching. Amare Stoudemire did his best `Showtime Shaq’ impression, scoring 26, grabbing 20 and blocking four shots. Former MVP Steve Nash finished with a triple-double the ugly way – 32 points, 12 assists and 10 turnovers

2. Overtime

The Kyle Korver trade continues to pay dividends for Utah. Korver scored 27 points against Denver, nailing four big-time free throws in the final 20 seconds of overtime to give Utah a 116-115 victory. Allen Iverson had a shot at winning the game and adding to his game-high 34 points, but his shot wasn’t true. The Jazz are 16-2 since acquiring Korver from Philly, but he can’t get all the credit. Deron Williams finished with 29 points, 11 assists and six rebounds while Mehmet Okur had a double-double with 15 and 10. The Denver starters scored 104 points with A.I. (34 pts, 10 ast) and Carmelo Anthony (29 pts, 8 reb) combining for 63. Marcus Camby (17 reb) and Kenyon Martin (10 reb) yielded a ton of boards, but they also committed some boneheaded fouls down the stretch of both regulation and overtime.

3. Losin’ it
Joe Johnson scored 28 points, leading the Hawks to a 98-95 win over the Lakers, but, in the end, Kobe Bryant gave the game to Atlanta. With eight seconds on the clock, Bryant lost his handle of the ball and got hit with an over-and-back violation, turning the ball and the game over to the Hawks. A pair of clutch Johnson free throws with three seconds left sealed the deal. Josh Smith played an All-Star caliber game with 17 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, five blocks and a pair of steals. Oh, but that wasn’t it for Hotlanta. Rookie Al Horford grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds to go with 15 points. Lamar Odom led the Lakers in defeat with 19 points and 11 rebounds while Bryant struggled with more than just his handle, missing 12-of-14 shots for 11 points.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Chris Paul @ Phoenix 50 min, 42 pts (FG: 18-33, 3FG: 4-9, FT: 2-3), 5 reb, 9 ast, 8 stl

Thursday’s Game to Watch: Cleveland (27-20) @ Houston (28-20)
Get ready for a showdown of international superstars when the Cavs and the Rockets hook it up. Nobody in the NBA is currently a hotter commodity than LeBron James. What’s not to like – he’s funny, he’s got sick skillz and he drives like a bat outta hell. On a global scale, Yao Ming’s da man; more importantly, he’s playing like da man. Over his last four games he is averaging 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. Coincidentally, the Rockets are undefeated in that span. Then you got the King. Like Yao, James’ squad is a perfect 4-0 in his last four starts (DNP @ Sea), and like Yao, he’s straight ballin’! LBJ has been good for 34.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.8 steals over his last four contests.

Buzzer Beater: Speaking of James; for a guy who’s normally good for a few soundbites a day, we were really disappointed that he didn’t give us more when informed of the blockbuster deal that sent Shaq Daddy to the desert.

“Unbelievable,” James said after practice Wednesday. “That’s all I got. It’s unbelievable.”

We don’t think he was necessarily speechless because Shaq returned to the West, we’re figuring he was just realizing that he’ll be defended by Shawn Marion three or four times every year.

New Orleans Hornets

Around the Rim: Buzzzing right along

1. It’s a nice view from above
If you’re anything like us then you probably have to slap yourself every morning when you see New Orleans sitting atop the Western Conference. But the Hornets recent swarm appears to be legitimate after winning their ninth consecutive game by annihilating the Nuggets 117-93. Chris Paul came up one rebound shy of recording a triple-double with 23 points, 17 assists and the aforementioned nine boards. This game was over for Denver before the first quarter buzzer even buzzed and by halftime they were staring up from a 23 point hole. The Nuggets had a good excuse though with Carmelo Anthony riding the pine.

2. Same faces, new places

There’s about to be a few very excited real estate agents thanks to the recent decisions of several nomadic NBAers. The biggest news comes out of New Jersey where the human triple-double Jason Kidd confirmed the rumors that he wanted a trade before the Fed. 21 deadline. Dallas and Denver already inquired about obtaining the All-Star’s services. Next up is the news that Don Nelson and Chris Webber will be reuniting in Golden State 15 years after things went horribly wrong between the duo in C-Webb’s rookie campaign. Talk about a whacky, whacky world! If time has mellowed these guys then this experiment could pay off come playoff time. Last but not least, we’ve got the buyout of Damon Stoudamire’s contract with the Grizzlies. The Spurs appear to currently be atop the long list of possible new zip codes for the former Rookie of the Year.

3. Rode-oh-no road trip
The slumping Spurs began their annual extended road trip on Monday in Utah and things didn’t go according to plan for the champs. San Antonio fell behind early, trailing 27-19 after the first quarter, and spent the remainder of the game chasing the Jazz. The Spurs made it close late as they drew within three points with a minute remaining in regulation, but Utah got a timely 3-pointer from Kyle Korver to help secure a 97-91 victory. Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer scored 23 apiece and Deron Williams finished with 11 points and 14 assists. Utah made an astonishing one-day leap from not being in the playoffs to owning a home court, first round seed (No. 4)! For the Spurs, it’s one down and eight to go. D’oh!

Monday’s Player of the Day: Chris Paul vs. Denver 38 min, 23 pts (FG: 7-20, 3FG: 1-2, FT: 8-8), 9 reb, 17 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk

Tuesday’s Game to Watch: Atlanta (18-22) @ Phoenix (32-13)
Phoenix hasn’t lost to an Eastern Conference foe since Dec. 10 when the Heat somehow grabbed a road win in the desert. Yea, the Suns are still scratching their heads over that one too. Their only other loss to the East came in Atlanta when former Sun Joe Johnson was horrid from the field (3-17 FG), but Marvin Williams and Josh Smith both recorded double-doubles, leading the Hawks to victory. Last time Johnson visited Phoenix, he racked up 17 of his 32 points in the fourth and the result was a nine point Hotlanta victory. The Hawks have lost five of their last six, but they have way too much talent to be counted out.

Buzzer Beater: Hedo Turkoglu and Al Jefferson’s time in the spotlight has finally arrived. The duo became perhaps the oddest duo to ever combine for the NBA Players of the Week awards. Jefferson deservedly won the award for the West while playing on the worst squad in the league and Turkoglu won the East honor by somehow becoming the biggest offensive threat on a team with Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis. Anyways, nobody shined brighter so, congratulations fellas, you’re having the Best Week Ever!!

Turkoglu guided Orlando to a 3-1 week, including wins over Eastern Conference leaders Detroit and Boston. Leading the Magic in scoring in all four games, Turkoglu averaged 25.5 points on .492 shooting from the field and .500 shooting from three-point range. Turkoglu tallied a game-high 27 points, including the game-winning three-pointer as time expired in Orlando’s 96-93 win over Boston on Jan. 27.

Jefferson led the Timberwolves to a 3-1 week, averaging 28.8 points and 12.8 rebounds. Minnesota defeated three playoff teams from a year ago and its lone loss came by one point at Boston, owner of the NBA’s best record. Jefferson posted three point-rebound double-doubles, including a 40-point, 19-rebound effort in Minnesota’s 98-95 win over New Jersey on Jan. 27.

Atlanta Hawks

Around the Rim: Birds of a different feather

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.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Hawks High-Flier Gets Grounded

Which is more gruesome?

1. Another Guard Goes Down
Thanks to a nagging bruise in his right calf, Joe Johnson is going to be benched for at least the next three to four weeks and it’s possible that Johnson could be done for the year. So, if you thought that the Hawks were pitiful before, just wait til you get a load of this lineup. Atlanta was the league’s worst offense (92.9 ppg) before losing Johnson’s 25 points per game which equals to missing 27 percent of their total offense. But so far, it’s worked out all right for Atlanta. The Hawks hit the century mark in a win over the Wizards in Hotlanta on Wednesday in the first game without their superstar, and they have a series of creampuffs waiting for them. Games against Memphis, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Boston should help ease the transition.

2. Going Under The Knife
It’s been a week and a half since Shaun Livingston suffered one of the ugliest injuries that has ever occurred on the pro hardwood, now he’ll have to wait four days until he will undergo major reconstructive surgery on his left knee on Tuesday. Then the fun starts; Livingston will have between nine months and year’s worth of rehab before he can even hope of suiting up with the Clips. If it’s not bad enough that LA has lost their future at the point guard position, they’re also going it without their point guard of the present. Sam Cassell, a.k.a. Gollum, a.k.a. ET, a.k.a. the ugliest man alive, has missed the last three games with a groin injury. The situation has gotten so dire that the Clippers are forced to play Dukie Daniel Ewing at the point as they quickly slide out of the playoff picture. Probably a good thing; the world would most likely implode should the Clippers make the postseason in consecutive seasons.

3. Do Not Adjust Your Television
OK, the league could be getting carried away with this one. With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, the Sonics will honor the drunken holiday by wearing their green road uniform at home while the Celtics will also be in green, as always. But two other teams will also be donning alternate green uniforms for the occasion: Chicago and New York. Yup, the Bulls and Knicks are going to be wearing green! How strange is that going to look? Why not just have the Spurs were neon-orange uniforms on Halloween? And the Magic can were camouflage on Memorial Day. The NBA will do anything for a buck; they’ll even desecrate two of the most traditional uniforms in the history of the game. At least go and screw up some ugly uniforms like Atlanta’s or Memphis’.

Thursday’s Player of the Day: Manu Ginobili @ Sacramento 29 min, 31 pts (FG: 9-16, 3FG: 5-9, FT: 8-10), 5 reb, 3 ast, 4 stl

Friday’s Game to Watch: New Jersey (28-33) @ Houston (37-24) It’s going to be a family reunion in Houston as cousins Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady get together for what could be a highlight filled affair. New Jersey has lost three straight but still remains just behind the eighth place Magic in the East, but if they could ever could get their act together they could make a run at the division leading Raptors and grab one of the top four seeds. Houston, on the other hand, won’t be able to improve on their fifth seed so they are simply looking to finish the season strong and remain healthy for the post season. The team’s biggest concern at the moment is simply implementing Yao Ming back into the game plan.

Buzzer Beater: Stephon Marbury is already planning for his life after basketball and the first step toward his post retirement career begins today. That’s because his show, “Stars on Stars” will debut today at 4:30 on Fox SportsNet. His first guest will be Kobe Bryant, but don’t expect Marbury to bring up Bryant’s recent suspension for whacking Marko Jaric in the head because the show was actually taped before training camp. This should be interesting; Marbury is the only active NBA player to have his own TV show. But as long as he can form complete sentences and not fall off the set, he will have already hurdled the bar set by Magic Johnson.