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On the quick turnaround, most teams have only played two games since the last Eastern Connections, but here’s a brief heads up on what’s going on out there.

Virtual daps: J.R. Smith, New York

With Carmelo out due to a hyperextended knee, JR Smith has filled in pretty admirably as the Knicks designated go-to volume man.  In a win against Phoenix and a loss against Sacramento, Smith has put up 27 and 28 respectively.  However, this alone is not what has impressed me.  Something that Smith hasn’t done in the past is proven himself able to affect the game in other ways.  He’s always been able to fill it up with the green light.  In the past two he’s posted 6 and 7 rebounds respectively, and a whopping (by his standards) 5 assists in each.  To boot, he racked up a total of 5 thefts, a block, and a ridiculous fall-away, game winning buzzer-beater in the Phoenix game.  Much ado has been made in New York about JR’s new, more professional approach to the game, and the results on the court are paying off.  For fun, here’s a piece on his tattoos complements of the New York Times.

Who’s partying like it’s New Year’s Eve:

1215- Believe in the Atlanta Hawks, who are proud winners of four straight, but I’m starting to notice a trend, here.  Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of winning streaks pop up among random Eastern Conference teams, only to notice that they’ve been bolstered by a healthy dosage of powderpuff stretches of opponents such as Detroit and Cleveland one after another.  This being said, I’m going to give the Hawks credit as that two game softball was bookended by matchups against Chicago and Indiana, in which they also took care of business.

- Since nobody else has really been making all that much noise, I guess that I’ll go ahead and state the obvious, that Miami stands atop the East in win percentage, basically as expected.  That being said, they’ve had two abberations recently as they lost to Detroit and got rocked by Milwaukee.

- Speaking of Milwaukee, they made headlines with their 19 point whooping of Miami in which they outscored the Heat by 21 in the fourth quarter, which was their second straight against strong competition as they beat the Nets on Wednesday.  He only scored 14 against the Heat, but Monta Ellis has been firing away lately, looking more like himself, as his average is below 20 on the year for the first season since ’08-’09.

Who’s in need of turning over a new leaf:

- My New Year’s resolution is to keep the Bobcats out of this section for a while… starting next time, I guess.  It may mean keeping them out of Eastern Connections entirely, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’m willing to do.  You can’t help but feel bad at this point, especially after the promising start they had.  Eighteen straight losses now puts them at 7-23 on the year.

- After winning four straight a little while back, the Orlando Magic have matched that stretch and then some, in the opposite direction.  They’ve now fallen in five straight games, including a loss to the Wizards, which snapped Washington’s 8 game drought.  Now if I’m not careful, I’m going to run out of ways to describe a losing streak without repeating myself, so I’m going to shift the attention to Charlotte before I do so.

- In the most prevailing news, however, the Brooklyn Nets cut ties with reigning Eastern Conference Coach of the Month, Avery Johnson after a 3-9 start to the month of December.  We may never know for sure, but it sure doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence that this news comes no more than a week after Deron Williams aired some grievances about Johnson’s offense.  PJ Carlesimo has been given the nod as the interim replacement, and his Nets took care of bottom-feeders Charlotte and Cleveland in their first two games under his direction.  A far more telling test will be their road trip down south as they gear up to face San Antonio and Oklahoma City on the road for their next two.  Expect the “we want Phil Jackson” talk to ramp up from Nets fans if they lose out there.

A few sweet reads by our TrueHoop brethren:

- The Brooklyn Game goes into way more depth on the axe to Avery Johnson, and what built his demise with the Nets.

- What’s wrong with the Wizards?  TrueHoop affiliate, Truth About It, observes as the team tries to figure it out.

- A hot topic in the West has been maligned big man, Demarcus Cousins.  Over at Celtics Hub, they consider what it would be to take him on.

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