“NBA Doggy Bag: Feb. 2nd Edition”

MKG return
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is back! (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

Here’s a few, current storylines in the Association…

Suns fire Jeff Hornacek

Jeff Horn
(Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

After going 14-35 to start the season, the Phoenix Suns, as expected, decided to part ways with Coach Jeff Hornacek. Though Phoenix struggled to stay healthy, inconsistent play, mixed with unrealistic expectations, was the final blow.

It was a rough go for Hornacek, who might have been a victim of his surprising 2013-14 campaign (48-34, 9th in the West). Since then, management seemed to hold him to a higher standard of production, though recent transactions (ahem, acquiring three PGs, signing an aging Tyson Chandler) were questionable to say the least.

But with a rumored disconnect between players and a franchise used to competing for playoff spots, it’s the right move going forward. Former NBA guard Earl Watson will take over interim duties in a sort of 40-game audition the rest of 2015-16.

Phoenix actually needs to bottom out to acquire a top-5 pick and pair him next to Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Len for the future.

Because remember, if you have to ask yourself if you’re better than the Sixers or Lakers, something went horribly wrong!

 

The Return of MKG 

MKG back
(Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports)

He’s backkkkkkkk!

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist SURPRISINGLY returned to NBA action over the weekend, tallying a combined 32 points and 19 boards v. POR and LAL. Maybe I wasn’t dedicated enough to track MKG’s recovery progress but going from an out-for-the-season torn labrum in October to playing 34 minutes in his first game back is ridiculously impressive.

Not only did MKG show off his trademark, lockdown defense v. Portland and LA, he flaunted an improved jumper. Rejoice, Hornets fans! MKG’s hitch is now slighter than ever!

During the game, MKG converted two 3s, the ONLY time that’s happened in his career. For one of the few wings who makes defense payable, turning into a two-way threat is the next logical step.

His return is PERFECT timing, with Kemba Walker desperately needing more help to keep Charlotte afloat in the playoff race (2 GB Indiana for 8th).

Hopefully, Coach Steve Clifford will get creative with lineups and send out a four-man tandem of Walker, MKG, Jeremy Lamb and Nicolas Batum to run in transition.

 

Toronto’s Terrific January

KLOE DeMar
(Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports)

Don’t look now but the Toronto Raptors have taken a stronghold over the East’s second spot. With Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta all in the hunt, Toronto produced a 12-2 month of January, which featured All-Star berths for Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan (clicking on and off the court!) and a Coach of the Month award for Dwane Casey.

But what has fueled the Raps’ recent string of success? Defense. 

And that’s a really encouraging sign for a team who played too soft heading into the postseason last year.

During January, opponents scored just 97.4 ppg (compared to TOR’s 105.6 ppg), with a bulk of the defensive action paced by Lowry and Cory Joseph on the perimeter, who made a point to hound opposing PGs and force turnovers.

Even without DeMarre Carroll for all but two games last month, Toronto was still able to reel off an 11-game winning streak (franchise-record; ended last night in Denver) and sits five games ahead of the next place team (MIA).

The road gets a little rougher coming up (next 5 on the road) but with Lowry’s leadership, DeRozan’s dynamic scoring, and Casey’s coaching tactics, there’s no reason to believe the Raps will take a step back.

#DOFGAME #DOG

-Jabari J.

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