Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA column

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Logo for Diehlman at Halftime column. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

In the “month of love,” also known as February, the Atlanta Hawks decided to instead end a relationship by firing Head Coach Nate McMillian. Atlanta had a 29-30 up until his departure.

Through McMillan’s two-and-a-half seasons with the Hawks, he went 99-80 with one Eastern Conference Finals appearance. He originally replaced Lloyd Pierce in March 2021 after Pierce started the 2020-21 season with a 14-20 record.

Former Utah Jazz Head Coach Quin Snyder, who was a former assistant with the Hawks, has been hired to succeed McMillan. Snyder resigned from Utah last June after eight seasons with minimal playoff success. Assistant coach Joe Prunty went 2-0 in the two games he served as Atlanta’s interim head coach before Snyder’s arrival. It’s now up to Synder to help the Hawks improve and get out of the East’s No. 8 seed.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

Highlight

The Milwaukee Bucks are catching fire at the right time as the playoffs draw near.

They are 43-17 and only a half-game behind the Celtics for the top seed in the East. Oh, and they’re on a 14-game winning streak!

Even against Phoenix on Sunday, Feb. 26, Milwaukee continued its winning ways. This was without superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo who was out with an injury. He averages 31.2 points, 12 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.

Since Head Coach Mike Budenholzer took over in 2018, the Bucks have transformed into one of the NBA’s elite. Trading for Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans was a smart move because their defense certainly benefits from Holiday’s presence. Khris Middleton is a solid player for them, although he’s had more of a bench role this year and has seen limited action due to lingering injuries.

Then you have other key veterans, such as Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and the recently-acquired Jae Crowder. The Bucks are built for long postseason runs. Milwaukee was bounced in the second round last year by the Celtics. Imagine a playoff rematch between these two!

Lowlight

Ever since James “The Beard” Harden departed from the Houston Rockets, describing the Rockets as “underwhelming” is actually a compliment. Houston is still the worst team in the NBA with a 13-47 record and a nine-game losing streak.

While the Rockets have young talent for the future like Jalen Green and Alperen Şengün, they won’t be making the Western Conference play-in tournament anytime soon. You can forget about them making a surprise jump in the standings like the Kings, too.

The owner of the Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, even said in a recent interview to “pray for Victor.” He’s referring to French prospect Victor Wembanyama, who’s projected to be the undisputed #1 overall pick in this year’s draft. If that isn’t a clear hint that Houston is tanking, then I don’t know what is.

I think if they were to dismiss Head Coach Stephen Silas it would only be the tip of the iceberg. The Rockets need a culture change. John Wall observed this in his brief stint with them.

Fertitta is right. If Wembanyama is drafted by Houston, pray for Victor indeed.

Random Stat

We saw a legendary performance between the Sacramento Kings and L.A. Clippers on Friday night, Feb. 24, with the Kings winning 176-175 in double overtime.

The score was tied at 153 at the end of regulation. No, that’s not a typo. 

In terms of the combined score between the two teams, it was the second-highest-scoring game in NBA history with 351 points. Only the Pistons and Nuggets scored more, dropping 370 combined points (186-184) in a December 1983 affair.

Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox had 42 points and 12 assists. In Russell Westbrook’s Clippers’ debut, he dropped 17 points and 14 assists. Despite the increase of game scores and player averages due to the three-point revolution, you can’t take away how cool this game was!

I can’t imagine how the losing team feels in this scenario. Being defeated despite two overtimes and scoring over 170 points — that’s tough.

Sacramento and L.A. are close to one another in the Western Conference standings. With the end of the regular season approaching, every win or loss will have more value. These squads have played three of four meetings this year, but the road team has claimed victory in each. The fourth game will be in Sacramento this Friday, March 3. Buckle up. This one could get bumpy.

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.

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