Bullet points from Tuesday's seven-game schedule...
• I’m not going to go so far as to say the Hawks are better off without Joe Johnson(notes), but they are undoubtedly a more cohesive team unit without him. Ball movement and quality looks are of higher precedence, which really benefits everyone involved. With Tuesday’s comfortable 15-point win against the Nets, the Hawks improved to 4-1 without Johnson, a five-game span that includes an impressive six-point win against the Magic at home. With iso-Joe sidelined for another three-to-five weeks following arthroscopic surgery, the Hawks were able to find much better looks than the 15.5 (at 41%) that Johnson had previously provided. How much better? Try 60 percent from the field as a team, spurred by a season-high 34 assists. Coach Larry Drew has found his go-to lineup, especially against bigger teams, moving Josh Smith(notes) to the 3 and Al Horford(notes) to the 4 in order to start Jason Collins(notes) instead of Maurice Evans(notes). Evans has been a massive letdown with Johnson sidelined, averaging 3.6 points on 21 percent shooting (5-of-24 FG).
• Josh Smith led the way (34 points, 7 assists, 2 blocks, 2 threes, 14-for-16 FG) with one of the best lines of the night, while Al Horford (24 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists) and Jamal Crawford(notes) (26 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 threes) more than did their part. The trio combined to score over 70 percent of the Hawks’ points, doing so on 69 percent shooting.
• Wondering why there hasn’t even been a hint of a possible Mike Bibby(notes) demotion yet? The guy has been unconscious from three, hitting 72 percent of his attempts (34-for-47) over his last dozen games. He’s at 54 percent on the year, a figure made even weirder considering he’s shooting just 43 percent on two-point attempts.
• The Nets extended their losing streak to five games, securing their spot at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Devin Harris(notes) showed no ill effects from his knee injury in his second game back, turning in his second double-double of the season (18 points, 13 assists, 3 steals, 13-of-16 FT), though it didn’t come without its inefficient moments (5 turnovers, 2-for-8 FG). Jordan Farmar(notes) continues to be a viable play even with Harris healthy as Avery Johnson has opted to play them together for stretches. He’s averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists, and 3 treys over his last give games on (a fluky) 49 percent shooting, and at least warrants consideration in standard leagues. Brook Lopez(notes) scored 24 points but didn’t do much else (5 rebounds, 1 steals) as his rebounds continue to go to Kris Humphries(notes), who remains in the top-five in rebound rate. Troy Murphy(notes) registered a DNP-CD, technically his second of the season, but he remains buried in the depth chart behind Humphries and Derrick Favors(notes) (who could claim the starting PF job soon).
• From one five-game losing streak to another, the Cavs have all but given up on their season at this point. They’ve dropped their past five games by an average of 22.2 points, and have lost nine of their last 11 dating back to Nov. 16. Anderson Varejao(notes) (8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals, 2 assists) and Daniel Gibson(notes) (16 points, 4 threes, 6-of-10 FG) put up the best overall lines in this one, while J.J. Hickson(notes) led the team in scoring with 18. Byron Scott has been talking about making changes to the lineup for some time now, but the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t have the personnel to. It’s only a matter of time until Gibson replaces Anthony Parker(notes) in the lineup, but even then, you lose a major spark plug from your second unit. There have been better days, even in Cleveland.
• Considering there was basically no defense played in this game, especially on Cleveland’s end, I wouldn’t make any major judgment calls based on the inflated lines that many of the 76ers posted. Thaddeus Young(notes) scored a game-high 26 points off the bench, but I still remain highly skeptical of the 12.5 percent jump in his shooting percentage. Amongst qualifiers (10+ games, 15+ MPG), he ranks 14th in field-goal percentage at the rim and fourth from within 10 feet. Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated suggested to me that he could be a sixth man of the year candidate, and with the way he’s been playing, I don’t necessarily disagree.
• Spencer Hawes(notes) finished with his first double-double of the season (10 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks), and has averaged 8.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in his last three games. I still have no idea why he continues to start, but given his track record, there’s no real reason to be overly optimistic here and rush to the waiver wire to pick him up. Those in deeper leagues may want to give him a look if you’re short on centers. I added him in a 14-team league with a deep bench for Chuck Hayes(notes), but avoided him otherwise.
• One guy I am endorsing from the 76ers though is Jodie Meeks(notes). In the 10 career games where Meeks has played 24 minutes, he has averaged 11.9 points and 3.4 threes on 53 percent shooting. He’s a bit limited in his contributions, mainly to threes and good percentages, but there’s certainly value to be had here and growth in other areas is certainly possible.
• Chauncey Billups(notes) had one of the better lines of the day, making a living at the line (11-of-12) and filled the stat sheet, tying a season-high with 25 points to go along with five assists, four steals, four threes, and a block. The shooting still needs to come around though (5-of-13 FG, 37 percent on the season). Carmelo Anthony(notes) put up 22 points and seven rebounds, but was terribly inefficient (8-for-21 FG, 6-of-10 FT, 4 turnovers) in the process.
• The Bobcats were carried by their guard play, with Stephen Jackson(notes) (23 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 5 threes, 1 block) and D.J. Augustin(notes) (18 points, 6 assists, 3 treys, 7-of-11 FG) leading the way. It was Jackson’s 19th double-digit performance of the season. Tyrus Thomas(notes) left late in the game with a left quadriceps injury, but an examination suggested it is nothing serious and he shouldn’t miss any time. Thomas is having the best season of his career, and it remains a big enigma as to why he’s only getting 20 minutes a game.
• Though Dirk Nowitzki(notes) torched David Lee(notes) time and time again to the tune of 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, the best line of the game belonged to Dorell Wright(notes), who double-doubled for the third straight game. Wright finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds while adding three steals, four assists, and three treys. Keep in mind that he’s playing almost 40 minutes a game though, and given the durability issues that have plagued his career, he’s an eventual sell high candidate down the line.
• With Tyson Chandler(notes) sidelined with a stomach illness, Ian Mahinmi(notes) did an admirable job of filling in and posting his first career double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, 8-for-10 FT). Most impressive though was his seven offensive boards. Caron Butler(notes) scored 19 points and has averaged 15.4 points over his last five games, but remains a rather average option with almost no supporting stats to boot.
• It was a three-man show for the Rockets as they picked off their third win in four games. Luis Scola(notes) led the way with 35 points and 12 rebounds on 16-of-25 shooting, but it was Kyle Lowry(notes) who put up the best overall line in this one with 22 points, 12 assists, six steals, and four threes. Though Aaron Brooks(notes) is targeting Friday’s game for his return, Lowry is still very much worth holding onto with potential for huge lines like this.
• It comes as no surprise that there were no real notable lines to report on the Pistons’ end as they shot just 42 percent as a team and turned the ball over 18 times. Greg Monroe(notes) was perhaps the only bright spot in this one with a very effective 24 minutes where he totaled seven points, three rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.
• The Blazers-Suns game was tightly contested all the way through, and the Blazers were finally able to hold on in the fourth quarter after getting outscored by 63 points in the second half over the past six games. Grant Hill(notes) (23 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks), LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) (20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks), and Wesley Matthews(notes) (24 points, 2 steals, 3 treys) led the way. Steve Nash(notes) posted his seventh straight double-double (24 points, 15 assists), but not before turning the ball over six times. The Suns will square off against the Blazers once again on Friday, and expect the gift of turnovers to continue to keep on giving. Brandon Roy(notes) posted a useful line (20 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds), and his lift/quickness actually looked pretty good out there, but his shooting struggles have been pronounced. He’s shot just 35 percent over the past three games and 42 percent since his three-game absence. That is what happens when you lose your explosiveness and half a second off your step though. The Blazers cannot successfully run isolation sets for Roy anymore, and his game has morphed into jump shooting and post-ups on the elbow or on the block.
• The best was clearly saved for last though, as the three best lines of the day came from the late game between the Wizards and Lakers. John Wall(notes) came through with his second straight double-double and sixth of the season (22 points, 14 assists, 3 blocks, 2 treys), while Nick Young(notes) continued to score points in one bunches with 30 off the bench on 6-of-11 shooting from deep (including this acrobatic layup). Pau Gasol(notes) paced the Lakers with one of his best overall lines of the season (21 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 blocks).
Tuesday’s top performers (per-game value): John Wall & Pau Gasol (+1.19), Nick Young (+1.14), Josh Smith (+1.12), Thaddeus Young (+1.10)
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