Posted by lethalweapon3 in lethalweapon3's Pre-Game Preview Blog, 28 January 2015 - · 23 views
“Uh, how is it you say, uh… Buyer’s Remorse?”
For the Atlanta Hawks, tonight’s game against the Brooklyn Nets (8:00 PM, 92.9 FM “The Game”, ESPN) is crucial. It has huge significance beyond potentially matching last season’s win total, moving within percentage points of NBA-leading Golden State ahead of next week’s contest, and stretching the franchise’s longest-ever winning streak to 17.
Why, you ask? Well…
The Notorious A$G isn’t the sole NBA ownership unit seeking buyers for their franchise. Russian gazillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov rode in like a bare-chested prime minister on a horse to facilitate the Nets’ relocation to Brooklyn from New Jersey, entrusting GM Billy King to spend Prokhorov’s money on players, with few strings attached.
His Prok-lamation was to pay enough cash to field a perpetual NBA championship contender, while encroaching more aggressively into the massive New York market on the Knicks, much like the Clippers are finally doing in L.A. The Nyets have been big spenders but big money losers, as the league’s highest luxury taxpayer, and the less-than-luxurious play on the court isn’t helping revenues at all.
Prok’s investment did generate a multiple-scale windfall in five years. But his desire to continue competing has declined as swiftly as ruble values and oil prices, and already he’s snooping around for a way out. Mikhail’s still got political ambitions, too, and nobody in Moscow wants to see an attack ad that goes: “Would you trust your nation’s economy to a man who’s spending almost a quarter-billion dollars on Deron Williams and Joe Johnson?”
Now, Atlanta cannot compare to Gotham’s media market and the revenue potential it entails. But for a prospective NBA owner remotely interested in the product on the floor, looking at the comparative styles of coaching and play, the general management capacity, the rosters and cap space flexibility, there’s enough there to make one think, “Hmmm. You know what?” A strong performance by the Hawks on national television tonight might be enough to sway just the right person to Buy Low.
You need another reason? Okay, then.
You never know what a GM might pull with his back to the wall. By December 2007, then-Sixers-GM King, who once drafted-and-traded Thabo Sefolosha to Chicago for Rodney Carney, was one year removed from trading franchise face Allen Iverson in exchange for Andre Miller, Joe Smith, and 2007 1st-round draft picks which became Jason Smith and Herbert Hill.
The writing was already on the wall for King in the 2007 offseason, when he brought in free agent Calvin Booth to prop up a stale 76ers roster that had a bored Kyle Korver (career-low 35.2 3FG% at the time) and Lou Williams coming off the bench behind Willie Green. Just one day after a December home loss to Joe Johnson, Al Horford and the upstart Hawks dropped Philly to 5-12, King was handed his walking papers.
It’s likely that a possible Nets buyer will not want to carry all the baggage that “The Other BK” and Prok brought to the borough. Accordingly, the Nets’ shoulda-been-Big-Three (D-Will, Joe, and Brook Lopez) have all been shopped in recent weeks. It’s also probable that a buyer will want to know what Prok is going to do about his GM, so King may pull some major moves in a desperate attempt to prove he’s worth his stock. Another road drubbing on national TV may be enough for King and the Nets to grease the skids.
Coach Lionel Hollins isn’t going anywhere: he’s already their fourth coach in the past three seasons, and since he’s locked down for up to $20 million over the next three seasons, the last thing the Nets’ brass needs is another sunk cost. Deliberate tanking doesn’t do much good, either: Brooklyn’s first-rounders are beyond their control (for various reasons… let’s not go there) until 2019. So the only place for King to turn is to the players. Is there a crazy GM somewhere out there willing to take one of their big ticket ballers, or The Big Ticket himself, and/or some combo of lower-tier players in exchange for draft picks Brooklyn could control sometime before the next presidential administration?
Last January, the Hawks had opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic to keep Brooklyn mired in the doldrums of the East, and failed. They let Joe have his way in both games as he sparked their season turnaround, while Korver could not buy a bucket as the Hawks’ season began to spiral. Who knows if another loss to the Hawks would have put King in a full-panic, fire-sale mode back then? Who knows what instability his maneuvers, with one foot out the door, might engender?
You think there’s another reason, don’t you? Of course you do.
Deron Williams was once the back end of a popular local refrain that doomed Atlanta’s BK seven years ago: “We could have had Chris Paul and…!” The five-time Eastern Conference All-Star, who hasn’t been back to the contest since the Nets relocated from Jersey, may soon be joined on Brooklyn's roster by the guy Billy Knight preferred, Marvin Williams. Meanwhile, Atlanta seems to be just fine settling with Jeff Teague, whose name is likely to be among tomorrow’s invitees to the mid-season classic.
The coaches’ votes for All-Star reserves are already locked in as of noon yesterday, so there’s no way Teague (98.1 defensive rating, 3rd among NBA point guards), Paul Millsap (1.8 SPG, 2nd among NBA frontcourt players), Horford (2.8 Assist-turnover ratio, 11th in NBA, 1st among NBA centers), and Korver (73.8 true shooting percentage and 9.2 catch-and-shoot PPG, 1st in NBA) can sway their opinions with strong performances tonight. What they can do is make it tougher on America’s TV viewers and prognosticators (like tonight’s ESPN color analyst Jon Barry) to downplay the quality of their candidacy.
Not enough justification? Fine!
You’ve got to beat your conference opponents while they’re down. Brooklyn (18-26)’s last two road games resulted in a nationally-televised 39-point beatdown in L.A. (by the Clippers) on Thursday and a 35-point drubbing in Salt Lake City (by the Jazz) on Saturday. Last week marked just the fifth time in NBA annals that a team lost consecutive games by 35 or more. Not even Joe and Woody’s playoff exits were that bad.
While the Nets have lost eight of their last ten games, Deron’s been out for weeks with a fractured rib. Euro-prize Mirza Teletovic had to exit stage left with dangerous blood clots in his lungs. Joe’s been mumbling about tendinitis, “real bad in my right knee and my left ankle,” and it’s hard to imagine the Nets’ leading scorer (15.7 PPG) is playing possum, having shot 32.2 FG% and averaging 10.3 PPG in his last seven appearances.
Lopez probably has headaches from the constant drone of Hollins in his ear, directly and via news reporters, recently the recipient of a “lazy” accusation after failing to chase after a loose ball. The third of the top-20 highest-salaried NBA players rocking a Brooklyn jersey, B-Lo has Hollins starting him about once a week. Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett (7 blocks in 35 games this season) doesn’t have a headache from headbutting Dwight Howard last month, but the 38-year-old did draw a one-game suspension for it, mixing it in with his weekly DNPs.
The good news for the Nets is they got some rest, to the extent escaping Mother Nature’s wrath and bussing to Philly for a flight to Hartsfield-Jackson qualifies as “rest.” Winter Storm Juno spared Brooklyn from getting snowed under at home against Portland on Monday, turning Atlanta’s expected one-day rest advantage into a one-day disadvantage.
The Nets will try to try to keep up offensively with a cavalcade of in-the-paint jumpers, hook shots, and putbacks. Led by Johnson (48.5 2FG% from 3-10 feet; just 20.2% of 2FGs assisted) and Bropez, the Nets make 7.0 in-the-paint shots per game (outside the restricted area) at 46.1 FG% per game, both figures leading the league.
Jarrett Jack (18.9 3FG%, worst in NBA w/ minimum 65 attempts) will try to live up to his surname, but the Nets have been the league’s worst three-point shooters this month (26.3 January 3FG%). Bojan “Don’t Call Me Bogdan” Bogdanovic (29.9 3FG%), Alan Anderson (32.4%), and Sergey Karasev (30.6%) haven’t fared much better this season from long range. Jack is far more dangerous on long twos, shooting 46.3 2FG% beyond 15 feet from the rim.
Hollins will be counting on Johnson to keep the pace low (93.86 January possessions per-48, 4th lowest in NBA) to keep Atlanta’s multifaceted offense from pulling away. He’ll also look to Dunk Contest participant Mason Plumlee (59.4 FG%, 3rd in NBA; 11.8 O-Reb%) and Jerome Jordan (7 O-Rebs vs. LAC last Thursday) to produce second-chance opportunities.
Still, this remains a chance for the Hawks to keep ninth-seeded Brooklyn submerged in the conference standings. The Nets come into tonight’s contest just a game-and-a-half behind seventh-seeded Miami and 1.5 games ahead of tenth-seeded Boston. They’re just seven games behind resurgent fifth-seed Cleveland, but just five games in front of down-in-the-dumps 13th-seed Orlando.
Thanks to 14 second-quarter points from DeMarre Carroll, the Hawks beat the breaks off Brooklyn back on December 5. It was a 98-75 victory that could have been much bigger had Carroll’s teammates not missed nine of their 24 free throws and shot 39.4% from the field. Still, it was enough to stymie a Nets squad then shot just 37.5 FG%, including 3-for-18 on threes, virtually everyone cold aside from Lopez (20 points, 7 rebounds in 27 minutes). On defense, Carroll will be depended upon to keep Joe cool.
Teague should be able to cut down the Nets by deploying his speed against slow-of-foot opposition to get to the bucket, both in transition and off of well-placed halfcourt screens. He and Dennis Schröder were both Brooklyn Deckers in December, each shooting 5-for-9 while combining for 10 assists and 7 steals (4 by Schröder in just 18 minutes).
No Hawks fans care to see this particular crew of playoff-tested Brooklyn veterans get healthy and restore their self-confidence in advance of the postseason. The Nets overcame a rabid playoff-starved fanbase and the second-biggest GM verbal faux pas of 2014 to take out higher-seeded Toronto last season. If we had our druthers, we’d much rather face the Celtics in April, thank you.
Is that enough rationale? Alright, sure, just one more.
This is one time where Johnson may genuinely care what the Philips Arena fans are thinking. If recent rumors gain steam, Atlanta’s former franchise face may become a six-times-per-year division opponent for the Hawks. Injuries and all, Joe is eager to show everyone tonight, before a national audience and a packed Highlight Factory house, he’s still got it. And by “it,” I don’t just mean over $25 million in guaranteed salary.
Big victories during the past month in Chicago and Washington haven’t propelled the Nets to greater glory in subsequent games. But a win in Joe’s old stomping-the-ball-into-the-ground grounds could be just the ticket to inspire the Nets and pull away, once and for all, from the lottery pack.
Atlanta certainly doesn’t want that. For reasons that should be obvious by now.
Let’s Go Hawks!