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Atlanta Hawks Validating Claim for Multiple All-Stars and Sunday NBA Takeaways

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2015

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When the reserves for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game are announced on Jan. 29, there will probably be fewer than four Atlanta Hawks included on the list.

The team's 112-100 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves offered evidence of why that might be the wrong result.

Yes, four All-Stars seems a little ridiculous, especially with Atlanta's top quartet—Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford—operating as part of a system that shares the ball, suppressing their individual statistics below the level you'd associate with stardom.

No Hawk averages more than 20 points, 10 rebounds or 10 assists. Not even close, actually.

If you're a casual fan, nothing about the individual numbers of Atlanta's best players strikes you as remarkable. Proof: None of them came anywhere close to starting gigs voted on by the fans, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Chris Vivlamore @CVivlamoreAJC

Paul Millsap 10th and Al Horford 11th in frontcourt and Jeff Teague 8th in backcourt in final East voting. #ATLHawks

Yet the Hawks are crushing teams, running up a franchise-best 16-game winning streak and rocketing out to a 37-8 start that begs to be noticed.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Hawks have won 30 of 32 overall, 10th team in NBA history to have 30 or more wins in a 32-game stretch

Hopefully, the coaches voting on reserves find a way to acknowledge the way the Hawks' top four players have all posted All-Star-worthy campaigns. Perhaps Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, who'll be leading the East in the All-Star game, can provide some tape for his peers to review.

If they skim the footage of Sunday's win, they'll find plenty to like.

Teague was the offensive catalyst, penetrating and running the pick-and-roll expertly. He scored 15 points and handed out a team-high seven assists while making sure to kick-start Atlanta's patented pass-happy attack.

Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders did his best to convey the helplessness a Hawks offense inspires in a defense, via Brad Rowland of Peachtree Hoops: 

Brad Rowland @BTRowland

“Until you play against style, I don’t think you understand how good they are.” - Flip Saunders on the Hawks.

Korver, of course, buried treys at high volume and efficiency. His 4-of-8 effort from downtown actually caused his season three-point percentage to decline, though. That's how devastatingly accurate he's been from deep.

Millsap led the way with 20 points, flashing the versatility and aggression that has made him, probably, the Hawks' most dangerous player. Millsap is uncommonly strong, hefty enough to handle power forwards. Yet he's also quick enough to dart around smaller players on the wing.

Basically, he turns the term "tweener" into a compliment, as ESPN Insider's Amin Elhassan noted:

Chillin in my Bacta @DarthAmin

Meanwhile, Mo Williams cant even keep Millsap in front of him FACING UP! He blew by him like he was Westbrook, found Horford for the flush

Horford has been an unappreciated, painfully overlooked star in Atlanta for years. This season, his numbers have slipped significantly, but as a defensive presence in the paint and high-efficiency fulcrum on offense, he's thriving as much as ever.

His quiet 8-of-9 effort, bolstered by six rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 31 minutes, was an understated masterpiece.

On the whole, the Hawks shot 56.3 percent from the field and registered 30 assists against just 10 turnovers. And frankly, this was one of the messier games they've played during the streak.

It's difficult to talk about the Hawks without getting preachy. Lauding the way they play these days invariably makes you sound like some kind of basketball evangelist, sermonizing about the magnificence of team-first play and the honor in subjugating the individual for the betterment of the whole.

David Goldman/Associated Press

It sounds high-minded and silly, sure, but how else are we supposed to discuss a team that seems to be so much more than the sum of its parts?

The truth is Atlanta doesn't have stars in the conventional sense. It has very good players who've made one another great by working together.

If that's not worth celebrating with some All-Star nods, I'm not sure what is.

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Hassan Whiteside's Remarkable Journey Continues

It is difficult to overstate just how unexpected Hassan Whiteside's rise to prominence would have seemed just a few weeks ago.

"I told my teammates, man, you won't believe how things work out in life," Whiteside told Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. "Three months ago, you can ask anybody in Charlotte at the downtown [YMCA], I was just there. At the downtown Y, just chillin'. Workin' on my game. I couldn't even get a team to pick up the phone."

On the out-of-nowhere spectrum, the local YMCA falls somewhere between the Bermuda Triangle and the NBA D-League. For all intents and purposes, it might reside closer to the former than the latter.

Whiteside escaped the Y, and his improbable relevance continues, most recently with a completely absurd triple-double in the Miami Heat's 96-84 matinee win over the Chicago Bulls.

The big man piled up 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks in 25 minutes off the bench.

Ridiculous. Just ridiculous.

There have been precisely three instances in recorded NBA history (blocks weren't kept as a regular stat until 1985-86) in which a player piled up that many stuffs in so few minutes, per Basketball-Reference.com. You won't be surprised to learn that nobody has ever recorded a triple-double with 12 blocks in just 25 minutes.

Super fun side note: Manute Bol once had 13 blocks in 20 minutes and made both of his three-point attempts. That happened on March 21, 1989, and I like to think his head coach at the time, Don Nelson—a man as hateful toward basketball conformity as has ever lived—was never happier.

1988-1989:  Manute Bol of the Golden State Warriors shoots the basketball. Mandatory Credit: Tim de Frisco  /Allsport
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

If Whiteside starts shooting threes, I'm not sure Nellie would be able to resist sending his resume to the Heat.

A Healthy LeBron James Helps

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the game on January 25, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

File this one under "insultingly obvious," but the Cleveland Cavaliers are a different team when LeBron James is feeling right.

A two-week layoff to rest his back and knee seems to have rejuvenated James, who went off for 36 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a 108-98 win over the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder. It was Cleveland's sixth straight victory.

Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick captured the five-word summary from James that should have the rest of the league worried: "My first step is back," James said.

Let the NBA-wide trembling commence.

Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA

Really enjoying the Cavs. Totally different team. LeBron has been his explosive self since return.

James looked great, and the Cavs held a dangerous opponent below the century mark, which may be just as big of a deal for a team that hasn't defended well on the year. At the same time, it's still January. And everybody knows that for the Cavs to do anything, James has to have his first step (and everything else) intact from April to June.

Seeing LBJ move around like he used to is a good sign for Cleveland. It proves the Cavs are a team to be reckoned with. But let's not make the mistake of thinking two weeks off will mean perfect health for James the rest of the way.

Don't Try to Throw the Ball Over Anthony Davis

That doesn't seem like something that should ever need to be said. But Rajon Rondo tried to loft an inbounds pass to Dirk Nowitkzi in the closing seconds of the New Orleans Pelicans' 109-106 victory against the Dallas Mavericks, and the results were, well…predictable.

Davis, telescoping arms extending forever skyward, intercepted the pass easily. He was pretty pumped about it.

Jan 25, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) celebrates a win as Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons (25) walks off the court following a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Mavericks 10
USA TODAY Sports

Trailing by one and forced to foul with just seven seconds left, the Mavericks could only watch as AD drilled two free throws to expand New Orleans' lead to three.

The margin held up when Monta Ellis (whose 36 points and crunch-time layup parade were for naught) couldn't convert a desperate 27-footer at the buzzer.

Davis finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, five steals, three assists and a block. Ho. Hum.

Rondo finished with a lesson: Do not under any circumstances test the vertical limits of Davis. There are no such things.

Stephen Curry Is Trying New Things

First it's Korver going on a dunk spree (OK, twice in a week), and now Stephen Curry is joining in on the chaos.

Curry has had a handful of slams this year, but they've all been of the breakaway, one-handed, barely-over the-front-rim variety. This one was different, made even more difficult by the fact that Curry, a left-foot jumper, jumped off his right foot.

Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle transcribed Klay Thompson's reaction:

Rusty Simmons @Rusty_SFChron

Klay Thompson on Steph Curry's dunk: "Off his weaker leg, I didn’t think he had that. He doesn’t cease to surprise me anymore."

What happened to the good old days when shooters shot and dunkers dunked? The line's getting blurry here, people. Pretty soon, we'll have no rules at all. Cats and dogs living together…just anarchy across the board.

A sign order endures in at least one way: The Golden State Warriors took care of the Boston Celtics, 114-111, behind 22 points and 10 assists from Curry and 31 points from the still-scorching Thompson just one game removed from scoring 52.

Chris Paul Would Like Some All-Star Consideration

With James Harden piling up buckets like crazy and Thompson erupting for 37-point quarters, the standard for All-Star reserves in the West backcourt is absurdly high.

Good thing Chris Paul can still play the point absurdly well.

He threw together 23 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds as the Los Angeles Clippers toppled the Phoenix Suns by a final of 120-100. The result helped the Clips continue their quiet return to elite status, per Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Arash Markazi @ArashMarkazi

The Clippers are now 8-4 against the top 8 teams in the West and have won four straight, their second longest streak of the season.

On the off chance Paul misses out on an All-Star spot, he probably shouldn't turn to Blake Griffin for consolation.

Paul Coro @paulcoro

Blake Griffin yelling "Don't cry P.J.!" at Tucker as the teams went to the huddles. Clips having a 30-15 quarter. LAC 85-72. #SunsVsClippers

Griffin's more of a tough-love kind of guy, it seems.

James Harden Had a Nice Game

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 25:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 25, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers in L.A. by a final of 99-87, and Harden tallied 37 points.

To which Klay Thompson probably queried: "Yeah, but what did he do in the other three quarters?"

OK, not really. Thirty seven is a nice number—or at least it was before Thompson showed the world what was possible in one red-hot quarter.

CP3, Klay and the Beard are all fighting for the right to replace Kobe Bryant as an All-Star starter. Not sure how you go wrong there.

Damjan Rudez Happened

Until Sunday, Damjan Rudez hadn't scored more than 13 points in a game.

In a 106-99 comeback win against the Orlando Magic, the 28-year-old rookie provided the Indiana Pacers with 16 points in the fourth quarter alone. He had 18 overall.

Behind the small forward's late-game outburst, Indy put an end to a miserable seven-game losing streak marked by horrendous offense and ugly losses. The Pacers outscored the Magic 31-17 in the final period.

Salvation, thy name is Damjan!

Pat Boylan @PatBoylanPacers

The Pacers trailed by 9 with 8 minutes to go, looked like they might drop their 8th straight. And then @Damjan_Rudez http://t.co/TmRUw96Mzn

The Pacers slogged through a brutal stretch that featured 10 of 13 games on the road. They'll head home for five straight now, buoyed by a wholly unexpected performance from Rudez.

The Wizards Dodged a Bullet

More than one, actually.

John Wall played brilliantly, piling up 19 points and 16 assists in the Washington Wizards' 117-115 overtime feat of survival against the Denver Nuggets. But he needed Kenneth Faried to miss two free throws at the end of regulation (which he did) and Ty Lawson to brick a wide-open six-footer that would have tied it at the end of overtime (which he did) to secure the result.

It was a close one, folks.

You Can't Bury The Spurs

Eric Gay/Associated Press

That statement works in both macro and micro, as the San Antonio Spurs have spent nearly a decade refusing to die, and they came back from an 11-point hole to beat the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

In San Antonio, resurrection is a habit.

Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 20 points and 11 rebounds while Kawhi Leonard contributed 19 and 14 of his own. The best news for San Antonio may have been the solid 7-of-11 effort from Boris Diaw, a key component to their 2014 title who has looked out of shape and a step slow all season.

Things haven't been nearly as pretty for the Spurs this year, but then again, the beauty standard they set a season ago is almost impossible to reach. They'll take the ugly wins where they can get them.

Those count just the same.

The Pistons Will Survive

Losing Josh Smith made the Detroit Pistons better. Whether the same will be true of Brandon Jennings, whose season is officially over after suffering a ruptured Achilles, remains to be seen.

One thing's for sure, though: Backup D.J. Augustin looked pretty darn able in his first stint as Jennings' replacement.

Though the Pistons fell 114-110 to the Toronto Raptors, Augustin was remarkable. The veteran led all scorers with 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting, tossing in eight assists and four rebounds to round out the stat sheet. Missing a point guard—even one who had been playing the best ball of his life—didn't seem to hurt Detroit at all.

Instead, the Pistons suffered at the 2, where Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot just 6-of-17 and Jodie Meeks chucked up a masonic 2-of-13 effort from the field.

If a few more of those shots fall, we're talking about how the Pistons won a huge road game and didn't miss a beat without Jennings.

Assuming the shooting comes around and Greg Monroe keeps beasting in an increased offensive role (21 points and 16 boards against the Raps), the Pistons' surge into playoff territory will continue apace.

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