After getting Fournier’d by Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic in a Super Bowl matinee, it’s already time for the Atlanta Hawks to lace ‘em up again, this time with a meeting at the Highlight Factory (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBATV, Fox Sports Florida) where they’ll serve up a nice dose of payback to their division rivals. Maybe.
Team President-by-Coup Mike Budenholzer does seem to hold some endearing solidarity with the many contemporaries in his NBA coaching profession. With his own position fairly secure no matter what the Hawks spew on the floor these days, you are left to ponder whether Bud is stealing losses away from hopeless, floundering opponents, as a means to maybe re-instill confidence from their coaches’ higher-ups, however fleeting, and preserve coaches’ paystubs for just a little longer.
From Jeff Hornacek to Derek Fisher to Lionel Hollins to… probably soon, George Karl and maybe Sam Mitchell and Scott Skiles… is Coach Bud trying to break their falls? Do these courtesy wins serve as parting gifts? Or are his conciliatory Bud Waves more of an insidious, kiss-of-death kind of deal (David Blatt, your thoughts)? Just over a decade ago, it took a loss to the Hawks to guarantee you’d get fired soon. My, how times have changed.
We’ll get a greater sense of whether we’re onto something as Scott Skiles’ team rolls into Philips Arena with unexpectedly lifted spirits. The Hawks (30-23) especially love to giftwrap victories to bad teams missing key players, and yesterday’s win for the Magic (22-28; 3-15 in 2016) without their leading rebounder, forward Tobias Harris, was no exception. Harris (ankle) remains questionable for tonight, which is probably good news for the Magic against the Hawks.
Sunday’s contest was more of a Bizarro World Hawks game. Without Harris available to push them around, the Hawks turned into the second coming of Moses Malone, crashing the glass for a season-high 18 offensive rebounds, the most by any Hawks team since Larry Drew was running the show back in December 2012. Of course, when you’re shooting 38.5% from the field (incl. 34.9 2FG%; Atlanta’s 0-9 when shooting below 40%), you have to at least look like you’re trying, lest anyone catch on to your charitable ways.
Then the Hawks neutralized themselves further, failing to pressure Orlando’s backcourt tandem of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, into mistakes until they decided to make things entertaining, once Thabo Sefolosha’s lucky buzzer-beater concluded the third quarter. Sloppy play, no open shot-making, no transition buckets… but copious offensive rebounds? What’s going on around here?
Al Horford (5-for-15 FGs, 6 rebounds in 35 minutes) must have been thinking of the hundreds of poor fans in the stands that would love to be anywhere but Amway Center as The Big Game approached, just a couple hours away. There’s no other logical reason why, with only Payton standing before him, he’d flub a layup with 80 seconds left that would have brought the Hawks within a point of the lead.
The Magic had not held a team below triple digits since losing 96-87 at home to Philly nearly three weeks ago. And yet here was Atlanta, sitting tied at 94 apiece with under a minute to go, still poised to back their way into a victory that would even up their road record.
Kent Bazemore (23 points, 3-for-5 3FGs) had a horrifyingly bad start on Sunday, thanks largely to the officials, but used his six offensive rebounds to kickstart his game. After Paul Millsap’s dime to Baze tied things up at 94, and after Baze drew the offensive foul on Vucevic at the other end, Horford must have gone all Sarah MacLachlan in his All-Star court mate’s ear. Haven’t these Magic fans suffered enough? For the price of a cup of coffee…
So, Hawks miss shots, get boards, miss shots, Millsap (5-for-14 FGs in 34 minutes) short-rims a shot within 5 feet of the rim with 2 seconds left. Timeout Magic, Vooch gets the ball back, ba-da-boom, ba-da-bing, game, blouses. Magic fans go home happy for once, Bud Wave, end scene, fade to black, Lady Gaga croons the credits.
Back home at Thrillips, consumer confidence among Hawks fans has ebbed, and those that show up tonight aren’t going to feel quite so cordial toward Skiles’ plight. If Bud’s Fix isn’t in, it will show by way of an effort from the bench that was non-existent yesterday (2-for-17 FGs, not counting Thabo’s lucky shot). It was hard to outplay Orlando’s reserves (4-for-18 FGs, 2 assists), but Atlanta managed to find a way.
Dennis Schröder (lacerated chin, reportedly) was held out of the entire fourth quarter yesterday, but will be counted on for anything better than the 1-for-7 FGs, one-assist-in-13-minutes output he contributed. Mike Muscala (2 blocked shots since December 12, both in the same game) managed to sit out the final frame as well, and without Tiago Splitter (hip, out until after the Break), Moose’s presence needs to be felt at both ends of the floor. Improved play from this pair will limit the need for excessive floor time today from Jeff Teague (team-high 24 points, 3-for-5 3FGs, 5 assists, 5 TOs on Sunday) and Horford.
This will be the final home game before the Hawks end the All-Star break in Chicago, where the Bulls are struggling defensively, and suffering through injuries to Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic and Jimmy Butler. Wait a minute… is Fred Hoiberg’s job secure? Is that “In the Arms of an Angel” I’m hearing?
Let’s Go Hawks!