NBA returns after break: Johnson walk-off win, Raptors win 5th straight and Warriors lose 6th straight
Nothing about Nets forward Joe Johnson screams max player. Johnson was foolishly given an insane max contract by the Atlanta Hawks, yet continues to put up numbers in Brooklyn that are considered a major disappointment based on salary. However, it’s a broken record to say all athletes are overpaid. While Johnson may never reach expectations, he has suddenly become a dangerous man with the game on the line.
Johnson hit a game-tying 3-point field goal to force OT against the Bucks Tuesday night in Brooklyn. Then with the game tied at 111, Johnson calmly buried a game winner as time expired. This is already the third time this season Johnson has given the Nets a win in the closing seconds. It’s easy to knock Johnson for his mediocre 17 points per game scoring average, or his less than 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game; or even his under 43% from the floor. When you see those numbers you want to scream how much of a joke it is what he makes. However, this game is all about being clutch.
Considering the Nets appear to be a legit threat in the Eastern Conference, especially should they acquire either Dwight Howard or Josh Smith before the trading deadline. Throw numbers out the window if you have a guy like Johnson, that you can give the ball to in the clutch and know he can get you a win all by himself.
Raptors win 5th straight:
Break up the Toronto Raptors. Ok, even though I joke, with the trade deadline near anything is possible. With the way the Raptors are playing since acquiring Rudy Gay, I say keep this team together. The Raptors won their 5th straight game Tuesday night by beating the Wizards in our Nation's capital. And since John Wall returned for the Wizards, beating them in their building is no easy task. While people will look at the Wizards record and laugh, they have beaten some of the best teams in the league at home since Wall’s return.
Think about what the Raptors have done during their 5-game win streak: They ended the Pacers 15-game home winning streak. They also beat Nuggets, who had been one of the hottest teams in the league. They then went back on the road and beat the second best team in the conference, the Knicks. Albeit highly unlikely, the Raptors are just 5 games back of the Bucks for the 8 seed. If they continue beating some of the best teams in the league, who knows what kind of finish they can have.
Hinrich returns and the Bulls get back on track:
While everyone is focused on the whether or not Derrick Rose will return this year for the Bulls, the short-term focus should be on keeping Kirk Hinrich on the court. The Bulls are clearly a different team when he’s on the court-- on both sides of the ball. Hinrich’s ability to essentially lock up opposing point guards makes everyone’s lives on the Bulls defense that much easier. Nobody has to worry about helping out or constant rotating when the defense breaks down 20 feet from the basket. When Nate Robinson was forced into the starting role due to Hinrich’s injury, you were subjected to watching a Bulls defense run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Tom Thibodeau must have been taking extra strength tums.
And Hinrich’s ability to run the Bulls offense is invaluable in comparison to Robinson. Hinrich makes the offense run a lot smoother and gets Deng and Boozer easier shots in the sets. Whereas Robinson would hold the ball and wait and wait and wait. And then of course you had to sit back and watch the Nate show. Fun to watch when hot--painful to watch when turning the ball over and creating long scoring droughts.
2 key numbers in the Bulls win Tuesday night in New Orleans: 30 assists and 41.7% FG allowed. Those two stats are critical for the Bulls to have success.
I killed the Bulls front office in the off-season for re-acquiring Hinrich. I thought he was shot. I still worry about his nagging injuries that cost him games from time to time. However, I now admit how wrong I was about his play and what he means to this team.
Warriors lose 6th straight:
After getting to a season-high 13 games over .500 (30-17), the Warriors have taken several steps backward in the progress head coach Mark Jackson had made with this team. The Warriors defense much improved from years past, has now allowed 100 plus points in 5 of the 6 games during this losing streak. Allowing 140 at Houston, 119 at Oklahoma City, 116 at Dallas, 116 at home against Houston, and then Tuesday night allowing 115 in Utah. Seems like the league has watched a little film and figured out some obvious holes in this defense. Mark Jackson--your move.
Dragic career-high 18 assists:
Goran Dragic finally did his best Steve Nash impersonation Tuesday night, recording a career-high 18 assists, and more importantly leading the Suns to a rare win. The Suns have been a total disaster this season and have already changed coaches. The biggest problem with the Suns offense has been the inability to get Marcin Gortat the ball. It’s almost as if he’s been forgotten while on the court. The Suns have way too many interchangeable perimeter players who force bad shots. They need to focus on getting the ball inside and letting Scola and Gortat dominate. Force double teams and then perhaps the outside shots will come easier. So many bad possessions where the ball never even goes inside.