Thursday NBA Roundup: Hawks Need Vintage Kyle Korver to Truly Soar in the East

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Thursday NBA Roundup: Hawks Need Vintage Kyle Korver to Truly Soar in the East
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

If Kyle Korver were going to snap out of his extended shooting slump, a game against the Philadelphia 76ers for his Atlanta Hawks seemed as good an opportunity as any to do so.

The Sixers came into Thursday among the bottom 10 teams in the NBA in both opponent three-point percentage and overall defensive efficiency

Korver, for his part, has made hay against the team with which he spent the first four-plus seasons of his pro career. According to Basketball-Reference, Korver canned 46.9 percent of his threes during his first 21 games opposite the Sixers.

But if the past is prologue, as the Bard once penned, the present and future for Korver and the Hawks remain murky, despite a 126-98 annihilation of the 76ers in Philadelphia.

The Creighton product finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field (1-of-3 from three). That marked Korver's seventh game this season with five or fewer points and his 18th with either one or no three-point makes. Moreover, it dropped his three-point percentage to a career-low 35.3 percent.

Compare that to last season, when Korver turned in seven five-point games and 13 with one or fewer threes in 75 regular-season appearances while leading the league in three-point prowess (49.2 percent), and it's clear the All-Star sharpshooter has lost something off his world-class stroke.

What's gotten into Korver's game? ESPN.com's Bradford Doolittle took some educated guesses in late December:

Korver had surgery to clean up his shooting elbow during the offseason. Maybe the surgery has affected his range. Or maybe teams are running him off the line more consistently -- he's taking midrange shots much more frequently than last season. He's also had some ankle trouble, and a creaky lower body is never good for a shooter. Maybe it's a combination of all these things.

Age could play a part in Korver's decline, as well. The Southern California native did well to fend off Father Time for a while, with an assist from the Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara. But at 34, Korver may no longer have the pep in his step to outrun the inevitable.

The Hawks had better hope that's not the case.

For all of his newfound struggles, Korver remains a critical cog in Atlanta's offense. According to NBA.com, no starter has had a bigger impact on the Hawks' net rating when he's on the floor compared to when he's off than Korver has.

And no Hawk, starting or subbing, adds more to the efficiency of the team's attack than Korver's 4.8 points per 100 possessions.

To be sure, Atlanta has the horses to survive without Korver at his apex.

Kent Bazemore (22 points, 3-of-8 from three vs. Philadelphia) has more than doubled his scoring average from last season while filling in for the departed DeMarre Carroll on the wing. Tim Hardaway Jr. (eight points), who came to ATL in a draft-day trade this past June, has started to earn significant minutes from head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Al Horford and Paul Millsap (18 points apiece) remain the cornerstones of this squad and have both taken to launching from long range. Jeff Teague (seven points, four assists) is shooting a career-best 38.9 percent from deep. Dennis Schroder (14 points, six assists) continues to blossom as Teague's backup.

In the grander scheme, the Hawks offense depends not on a single player's shooting, but rather on team-wide ball movement. Against the Sixers, Atlanta assisted on 36 of its 49 (73.5 percent) makes—a cut above its season-long mark (65.9 percent, second-best in the league) and enough to get Horford excited afterward:

Those passing lanes will shrink and the floor will cramp if Korver can't be the threat that made him such a staple of Atlanta's offense in the first place. For now, the Hawks can get by as long as Korver keeps shooting and opponents still single him out in their scouting reports.

But Atlanta will be hard-pressed to outlast the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors as the Cleveland Cavaliers' top challenger in the East if Korver can't knock down shots.

And if the league as a whole catches on to Korver's slump, the Hawks could reallget their wings clipped.

 

Bulls Extend Scoring Streak

Gary Dineen/Getty Images

This season's Chicago Bulls officially have more in common with Michael Jordan's historic squads than just the jerseys they wear.

Chicago's 101-92 win over the Boston Celtics at the United Center was its ninth straight game of 100 or more points. No Bulls team had pulled that off since Jordan and company hit triple digits 11 times in a row back in December 1995.

Those Bulls went on to win an NBA-record 72 regular-season games before bringing home the franchise's fourth championship. These Bulls have a long way to go before they can so much as sniff what that all-time-great group accomplished.

But that needn't detract from the tremendous progress Fred Hoiberg's bunch is making.

Nor should it obscure the improved play of Chicago's current backcourt. Jimmy Butler kept his roll going with 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half. Derrick Rose chipped in 18 of his own—his fifth consecutive showing in double figures and his second in as many tries since returning from knee and hamstring issues.

The longer Chicago continues to pile on points, the further the Bulls will pull away from the Eastern Conference pack and the closer they'll come to pushing the Cavs atop the standings.

 

Harden's Scoring Keeps Rockets in Flight

Bill Baptist/Getty Images

No Dwight Howard? No problem for the Houston Rockets so long as James Harden is doing his thing.

Howard notched his first DNP since Dec. 4, this one on account of lower back spasms, not because Rudy Gobert was back in action for the Utah Jazz.

Harden, though, more than made up for the absence of Houston's All-Star center during a 103-94 win over the Jazz at the Toyota Center. The bearded bucket brigand dialed up 33 points—his second straight 30-point outing at Utah's expense and his league-leading 15th overall this season.

The Rockets needed every bit of Harden's spark to score their 18th win. Utah held Houston to 39 points in the first half, with Harden chipping in 16. After the break, the Rockets broke loose to the tune of 64 points on a scorching 65.7 percent shooting.

That kind of offense, from both Harden and his teammates, should help Houston hold its own without Howard and continue climbing out of its early-season hole.

 

Kobe Gets Exciting Send-Off from Sacramento

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant has played his fair share of thrilling games at Arco Arena. His final visit to the Sacramento Kings' retiring arena was certainly one of them.

Bryant kept things lively with 18 of his 28 points, including a throwback alley-oop from Jordan Clarkson, in what was a sloppy first half on both ends for the Los Angeles Lakers, who stumbled out to a 30-10 deficit.

But the Lakers started getting stops, and D'Angelo Russell exploded on the way to a career-high 27 points before rolling his ankle. Come the stretch run of the fourth quarter, the Lakers had a lead, however briefly. There were seven lead changes in the last four minutes, all while Bryant watched from the pine.

Instead of the Mamba setting up for a picturesque final shot, it was Clarkson stumbling into a disaster: a turnover for the second-year guard, a turned ankle for DeMarcus Cousins and a 118-115 defeat for the Lakers. 

Neither team can be completely happy after that result, but the game proved dramatic enough to drop the curtain on Kobe's career in California's capital. 

 

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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