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LJWorld.com weblogs 'Hawks in the NBA

The week that was: Markieff Morris nets career-high; Brandon Rush blows up; Josh Selby sent back to D-League

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Cleveland Cavaliers' Omri Casspi, right, of Israel, drives past Phoenix Suns' Markieff Morris during the second quarter in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Cleveland.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Omri Casspi, right, of Israel, drives past Phoenix Suns' Markieff Morris during the second quarter in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Cleveland. by Nick Gerik

  • Markieff Morris (Phoenix Suns) scored a career-high 22 points in 26 minutes on Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Keef seemingly hit everything en route to a 108-83 win and went 9-for-12 from the field and 2-for-3 from long-range. He scored nine in a row for the Suns during the second quarter, pushing a three-point Phoenix lead to 11. He finished the game with five rebounds and a block (full stats here). A rookie, Markieff is still as inconsistent as they come, though, and he went scoreless in two other games over the last week — a 113-111 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday and a 107-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday. He played six and seven minutes respectively in those games. He also sat out on Wednesday with flu-like symptoms, and the Suns lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, 103-86 (game stats here).

After starting off his NBA career scorching hot — 9.2 points per game on 49.3-percent shooting, 58.3-percent threes in his first 10 games — Keef hit the proverbial “rookie wall” and cooled off to less impressive 38.9-percent overall and 38.1-percent three-point averages for the season. Part of that is due to a freezing cold 10-game stretch during February and March, in which he shot just 22.2 percent from the field during a 10-game stretch. In 15 March games, Markieff has averaged just 5.0 points, 37-percent shooting and 30 percent three-point shooting.

The good news is that the Suns are close to breaking into the tight Western Conference playoff race. After Wednesday’s games, they were 25-26, sitting in 10th place, yet only 4.5 games back of the fourth place team in the conference (top eight advance to the playoffs).

Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert (55) and Paul George defend as Milwaukee Bucks' Drew Gooden (0) drives to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Saturday, March 24, 2012, in Milwaukee.

Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert (55) and Paul George defend as Milwaukee Bucks' Drew Gooden (0) drives to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Saturday, March 24, 2012, in Milwaukee. by Nick Gerik

  • After going on a tear in much of February and March, Milwaukee Bucks center Drew Gooden has started to drop a few duds in between his double-doubles and triple-doubles. Gooden was his usual self in a 112-92 blowout win over the NBA’s punching bag, the Charlotte Bobcats, on Friday. But his 14 points, 12 rebounds (including six offensive boards) and four assists in 25 minutes (full stats here) were the exception, rather than the rule, for the recent Eastern Conference Player of the Week. A day later, on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers, Gooden made just three of his 11 shot attempts with six rebounds, three assists and three blocks in 21 minutes as the Bucks were on the opposite end of a big beating, losing 125-104 (full stats here). Things got worse on Monday, when Gooden played some questionable defense, made just two of nine shots and airballed two others for six points, five rebounds and one assist in 22 minutes as the New York Knicks won, 89-80 (full stats here). Gooden’s offensive game reappeared on Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks, when he scored 16 points with five rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes in a 108-101 win (full stats here). Unfortunately, it was quantity, not quality, that produced those numbers, as Gooden made just five of 16 shots and got six more points with a perfect outing at the free throw line. Over the last five games, Gooden’s shooting has dropped to 30.6 percent, or an average of 3.8 makes on 12.4 attempts. His average for the season sits at 43.2 percent.

Atlanta Hawks' Kirk Hinrich (6) puts up a basket between Utah Jazz' Gordon Hayward (20) and Derrick Favors during triple overtime of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 139-133 in the NBA's first quadruple-overtime game since 1997.

Atlanta Hawks' Kirk Hinrich (6) puts up a basket between Utah Jazz' Gordon Hayward (20) and Derrick Favors during triple overtime of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 139-133 in the NBA's first quadruple-overtime game since 1997. by Nick Gerik

  • Before a three-point outing on Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich had been thriving in his starting role, scoring in double figures for five straight games. That five-game span, which was the longest of this season in which he’s started 16 games, began with a 10-point performance against Cleveland on March 21. Friday, Hinrich drilled four three-pointers en route to 14 points, four rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes as the Hawks beat the New Jersey Nets, 93-84 (full stats here). On Saturday, Hinrich put up 10 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 32 minutes against his former teammates on the Washington Wizards, and the Hawks won, 95-92 (full stats here). Sunday brought a bonkers four-overtime 139-133 Hawks victory over the Utah Jazz in which Hinrich had 12 points, five assists and two rebounds in 44 minutes (full stats here). And then, after a one-day break in the action, he put together a 10-point, four-assist, two-rebound performance in 37 minutes as the Hawks lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, 108-101 on Tuesday (full stats here). With five games in six days — and heavy minutes to boot — it’s not surprising that Hinrich’s production faltered a bit on Wednesday against the team that drafted him out of KU in 2003, the Chicago Bulls. He played 28 minutes and added three rebounds and two assists, but the Bulls stomped the Hawks, 98-77 (full stats here).

Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers, let, drives on Indiana Pacers guard Darren Collison in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Monday, March 26, 2012.

Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers, let, drives on Indiana Pacers guard Darren Collison in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Monday, March 26, 2012. by Nick Gerik

  • Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers seems to have come down with March Madness. And not the good kind. Since returning from the All-Star break at the end of February, Chalmers has averaged just 7.1 points on 34.3-percent shooting and 30.4-percent three-point efficiency. Compare that to pre-All-Star numbers of 11.1 points per game off of 51.2-percent overall and 45.6-percent three-point shooting, and the slump is even more surprising. In fact, Chalmers has scored in double figures in just five of the 14 games this month.

One of those games came on Monday in a 105-90 loss to the Indiana Pacers, when Chalmers heated up for 13 points in 27 minutes. Chalmers coughed up the ball three times in the first quarter before settling down, and he finished with four rebounds, three steals and a single assist (full stats here). In the two games before that, Chalmers put up a pair of three-point duds. He shot 1-for-5 with two rebounds, two assists, a block and three turnovers in 25 minutes during a 103-87 whooping at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday (full stats here). And on Friday, March 23, Chalmers was 1-for-7 with one rebound, four assists, three steals and a turnover in 31 minutes as the Heat beat the Detroit Pistons, 88-73 (full stats here).

Chalmers’ struggles are a bit concerning for the Heat, especially as the postseason approaches. As the Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman wrote after Monday’s game:

Chalmers simply has to be play well, because he's the Heat's only playoff-level point guard.

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce during an NBA basketball game, Friday, March 23, 2012, in Philadelphia.

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce during an NBA basketball game, Friday, March 23, 2012, in Philadelphia. by Nick Gerik

  • Deadly, do-it-all Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce looks to be finishing the month of March with a bang. Pierce scored 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting (3-for-4 threes) with nine rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in a 99-86 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday (full stats here). On Sunday, Pierce paced the Celtics to an 88-76 win over the Washington Wizards with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists (full stats here). Rolling from one porous defense to the next, “The Truth” absolutely demolished the Charlotte Bobcats a day later on Monday as the Celtics won, 102-95. Pierce scored a season-high 36 points on 10-for-20 shooting and a ridiculous 15-of-18 at the free-throw line. He also pulled down 10 rebounds for the double-double and chipped in four assists, three steals and three blocks to round out his dominant performance (full stats here). The shots didn’t fall as kindly on Wednesday against the Utah Jazz, but Pierce still made 6 of 16 attempts and 7 of 7 free throws for 20 points, six rebounds, an assist, two steals and a block as the Celtics took down the Jazz, 92-84 (full stats here).

Highlights of Pierce blowing up the Bobcats:

Minnesota Timberwolves center Kevin Love, left, goes up for a shot as Oklahoma City Thunder's Nick Collison, right, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, March 23, 2012. Oklahoma City won 149-140 in double overtime.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Kevin Love, left, goes up for a shot as Oklahoma City Thunder's Nick Collison, right, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, March 23, 2012. Oklahoma City won 149-140 in double overtime. by Nick Gerik

  • Nick Collison (Oklahoma City Thunder) played a season-high 30 minutes and scored 11 points in a crazy 149-140 double-overtime victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. Collison added three rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block while also having to contend with Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love, who lit up the Thunder for 51 points (full stats here). In the 22 minutes that Collison and Love shared the court, Love collected three fouls, turned the ball over three times, missed both three-point attempts and made 4 of 9 shots for 12 points. In the 28 minutes while Love played in a Collison-free zone, the Timberwolves big man had a cool 39 points — on 12-of-18 overall shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers – just one turnover and zero fouls. Collison’s one block also came on Love with 1:46 left in the second overtime. It erased a potentially game-tying layup, and Minnesota did not score again until 11 seconds left, with OKC already up by 11. Yay, defense.

Collison made an equally important play at the end of the first overtime, when he set a monster screen for teammate Kevin Durant, who drilled a game-tying three-pointer. And this play, unlike the block on Love, got the patented Nick Collison “badass screens with a Rick Ross track playing over it” treatment:

Collison followed up his highlight-reel game with a pair of quieter performances in victories on Sunday and Tuesday. On Sunday, Collison had two points and two assists in 18 minutes as the Thunder beat the Miami Heat, 103-87 (full stats here). In 19 minutes on Tuesday, Collison scored six points with one rebound in a 109-95 win over the Portland Trail Blazers (full stats here).

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) is closely covered by Golden State Warriors guard Brandon Rush(4) in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, March 27, 2012.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) is closely covered by Golden State Warriors guard Brandon Rush(4) in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, March 27, 2012. by Nick Gerik

  • Don’t tell Golden State Warriors swingman Brandon Rush that his team should be tanking to get a better draft pick. The fourth-year pro has been on fire lately, setting season-high numbers in multiple categories and doing everything he can to keep his team alive. Rush scored 11 points with four rebounds in 27 minutes on Saturday as the Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings, 111-108 (full stats here). A day later as the Warriors took on the Portland Trail Blazers, Rush scored in double-digits again, putting up 10 points, but this time he also pulled down a season-high 11 rebounds and blocked a season-high four shots. The Warriors lost, 90-87 (full stats here). Undiscouraged, Rush came back on Tuesday and dropped a season-high 23 points on the Los Angeles Lakers. He also grabbed three rebounds, blocked two more shots and had 11 points in the third quarter alone as the Warriors tried to mount a comeback from 16 down, but the Lakers won, 104-101 (full stats here). Rush stayed hot on Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets, scoring 12 points with three rebounds, a steal and a block, but the Warriors lost again, this time 102-87 (full stats here).

After Tuesday’s game against the Lakers, Warriors blogger Adam Lauridsen lauded Rush for his defense on Kobe Bryant and wrote:

With Monta Ellis gone, Brandon Rush is now the most capable penetrator on the team. That may not be saying much, but it’s an important role nonetheless. When the Warriors are struggling to connect from behind the arc, they need Rush and others to look for higher percentage looks. That was exactly what Rush did during his monster second half — storming his way to 21 points in just over 21 minutes. The energy and aggressiveness Rush brought to the team was infectious. Much like McGuire, Rush’s defensive effort — blocking shots and closing out on perimeter players — helped spart a quick pace at the offensive end. The Warriors climbed back into the game starting from the inside and working out, and by letting their defense generate offense. That’s how good teams recover from cold stretches or hot opponents — not looking to win it all back in a few easy-way-out threes, but by chipping away at it through stops, work in the paint and trips to the line. The Warriors — and Rush in particular — deserve credit for fighting the right way against the Lakers despite the early, discouraging deficit.


D-League update

  • Julian Wright (NBA D-League - Austin Toros) scored 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 2-of-2 free throws on Friday as the Toros beat the Maine Red Claws, 112-82. Wright added five rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes (full stats here). A night later, he duplicated his line in a rematch with the Red Claws, scoring 18 again on 8-for-11 shooting. This time, he hit just two of six free throws, but he double-doubled with 11 rebounds and six assists as the Toros coasted to a 116-77 victory (full stats here).

Wright highlights, below (at :16, 1:32, 2:02)

  • Brady Morningstar (NBA D-League - Tulsa 66ers) played just 11 minutes and scored five points on Friday as the 66ers lost to the Iowa Energy, 101-95 in overtime. Morningstar took just three shots (all three-pointers) and made one. He also chipped in two assists (full stats here). On Saturday, Morningstar did not play (coach’s decision) as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson joined the D-League affiliate for a one-game tune-up. The 66ers beat the Energy, 100-87 (game stats here). With Jackson back in OKC, Morningstar played his now-normal 11 minutes again on Tuesday against the Bakersfield Jam. He scored five points again and added one assist (full stats here).

  • In the first game of his second developmental assignment, Josh Selby (NBA D-League - Reno Bighorns) scored 18 points on 18 shots Wednesday, and his team lost, 117-89. Selby hit just 6 of 18 attempts, 3 of 8 three-pointers and was 3-for-3 from the foul line. He also had four rebounds, a steal, a block and two turnovers while not registering a single assist in 29 minutes (full stats here).


Jayhawks in upcoming NBA games

Thursday, March 29

  • 7 p.m., TNT, Mario Chalmers and the Miami Heat vs. the Dallas Mavericks

  • 9 p.m., Xavier Henry and the New Orleans Hornets vs. the Portland Trail Blazers

  • 9:30 p.m., TNT, Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich and the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Los Angeles Lakers

Friday, March 30

  • 6 p.m., Mario Chalmers and the Miami Heat vs. the Toronto Raptors

  • 6:30 p.m., Kirk Hinrich and the Atlanta Hawks vs. the New York Knicks

  • 6:30 p.m., Drew Gooden and the Milwaukee Bucks vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers

  • 7 p.m., Marcus Morris and the Houston Rockets vs. Josh Selby (D-League assignment) and the Memphis Grizzlies

  • 7 p.m., Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves

  • 9:30 p.m., Brandon Rush and the Golden State Warriors vs. the New Jersey Nets

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