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  1. “YOU PLAY TO LOSE THE GAME! HELLO?” This is it! The Recess versus The Process! Our Atlanta Hawks get their final run in, against (maybe) Ben Simmons and those wascally Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBC Sports Philadelphia). We’re going to use this, the final gamethread of this glorious 2017-18 season, to raise the subject you’ve come here to read about… me! You see, it’s still April, the dogwoods have yet to bloom, we’re only 80-some gamethreads in, the season has already drawn to a close and, now, I don’t quite know what to do with these hands. The boss lady in the glorified cubicle nearby has a few ideas, to be sure. But among the many perversely wonderful things about this 2017-18 campaign is that, for the first time in many years, the last gamethread can actually be The Last One. I’m not having to wrap these things up prematurely, hoping against hope that our Hawks’ final playoff loss might turn out a different way. So, first things first, I’d like to thank the Academy… whoops, wrong notecard. Since essentially Halloween, I’ve had ample time to contemplate how I am going to use the extra month of free time that #LotterySZN bequeaths upon me. So here’s how I intend to spend it, and the offseason that starts just hours from now. Not far from the Potemkin Village situated outside the Bravos stadium, somebody opened up an indoor skydiving facility. I’m totally trying that. Back in my drunken fratboy stage I was just another Jager shot away from trying the real thing, but common sense prevailed just in time. A more gravity-bound idea is the Top Golf spot closer to home, where I can perfect my swing in time to school fools once the new one at Highlight Factory ver. 3.0 is ready. (Most Atlanta Hawks ad ever: “Come see the SECOND biggest arena transformation in NBA history! Check that… Killer Mike just said WHAT? THIRD! The THIRD biggest transformation…”) I probably could use a spa treatment. No, not those “spas” on Cheshire Bridge with Pacific-sounding names where you enter from the back. A legit spa, where they lay cucumbers over your eyelids and stuff. I was told I need more Vitamin B in my diet, anyway, so that might be a two-fer. I’m not certain what “exfoliation” entails but, hey, YOLO. Fishing sounds nice. Maybe a little snorkeling would do the trick, too. But no way will anybody catch me on anything named “Chattahoochee” or “Lanier”. There’s Loch Ness Monsters in them joints. Folks getting swallowed up there on the regular. If the water body is more than ten times as wide and deep as my bathtub, no thanks, I’ll pass. Pottery. Poetry. Yoga. Helping little ol’ ladies cross streets. Big ol’ ladies helping me cross streets. Rescuing puppies. Frying hush puppies. Yeah, that’s a good start to a playoff-free springtime. Now, allow me to share what I am NOT going to do. We don’t know how many times we’ll get this extra time off. Certainly, with the way Mike Budenholzer has demonstrated he can coach a turnip to turn up, there’s just no telling how momentary our Recession is going to last, once more lauded young basketball talent washes ashore. This forthcoming free time is precious for me, as I trust it shall be for many of you in the Squawkosphere. So believe me when I disclose that, as Your Friendly Neighborhood Co-Moderator, I shall not be wasting precious moments under the Georgia sun dilly-dallying with some of you and your petty interpersonal Hawksquabbles, over woulda-shoulda-coulda, over foregone lottery odds, over foregone draft choices, over missed opportunities at your coveted free agents, over who on this dear roster gets to stay and who has to go. Brewing on other sites, I’ve already seen from Hawks fans what I call Absolutism, not necessarily the result of too much Swedish vodka on the brain. “If the ATLHawks don’t lose the game on (pick any day that ends in the Letter Y), I am DONE with this Treadmill team!” “If they DON’T draft (top-ten talent they’re obsessed with), that’s it, I am THROUGH!” “If they DO draft (top-ten talent they don’t trust), that’s it, I am THROUGH!” “If they don’t get (random player… okay Baze) outta here, I am OUTTA HERE!” “If they (pursue, or don’t pursue) (free agent), my fandom is OVER! KA-PUT! FAREWELL, CRUEL WORLD! Disgusted Hawks fan, OVER AND OUT!”… ((not even 48 hours later))… “Oh, and ANOTHER thing!...” We’re Hawks fans, many of us Atlanta Sports fans to larger extents. We do healthy, informed Skepticism as well as anybody in this hemisphere, for good reason, and that’s fine. But, please, refrain from the Absolutism that mandates of Budschlenk, or our fragile fanbase, “my way, or the highway!” I-285 is congested enough as it is without any more miffed Hawks fans going round in circles. Discussion is great. Differing is valued. Debate is encouraged. But, I’m sorry, Discord is not on the menu this summer. There’s no appetite for that. Most of you have had months of practice in these forums to know whose rhetoric gets all subcutaneous with you, who you can disagree with without being disagreeable, who you can ignore without acting ignorant, and which personal accusations are verboten around these parts. @AHF, @PSSSHHHRRR87 and Yours Truly have no intentions to mediate tugs-of-war between parties who should already know when, and how, to let go of ropes. If I’m doing any babysitting between now and October, it’s because my buddies and their significant others need a weekend break for fun and frolic. If I’m doing any refereeing this summer, it’s because Lou Williams or 2Chainz is chewing me out over a block/charge call in the AEBL. Your mods and I will not be coming onto this site every other day to dish out warnings, timeouts and Banhammers because somebody decided to respond to perceived boorishness with more of the same. Every off-season there is a ridiculous Squawkpurge that ensues due to unnecessary interactions, and last summer was arguably (and sadly, it’s arguable) the very worst we’ve ever seen. Review the Golden Rules on this here site, and if you feel the urge to issue an inappropriate response to somebody, follow the guidance the soon-to-be-overmatched Pac-12 coach above advises his young charges… Don’t Press Send! The next six months can be pleasant, if we all choose to make it so. Enough of all that drivel. Before I go off and ask Alexa for hammock instructions, I want to thank Coach Bud, the staff, and every one of the 87 players that suited up in a Hawks uniform, for an intentional losing season that was about as well-done as I could have hoped. This was not a 15-win team that won 25 games (oops, I gave away tonight’s outcome too soon. Pretend I said 24!). Certainly not in this LeBronference. Au contraire, this was a 30-win team, 35 at the max, that was poked and prodded and pulled down into 25-ish territory four our long-term benefit. To a tank fan, 25 wins only looks disturbing when somebody else has 20, or 24. Now, if you truly wanted to get to a baker’s dozen and stop, what you would do is, you’d hire Isiah Thomas, or Phil Jackson, or any exec with an overinflated sense of entitlement and accomplishment, to run your company. You’d let him dump Coach Bud, and his collection of whiteboard braniacs, in the summer of 2017, then replace them with a staff that knows only so much as to question their players’ guts, or other vital organs, and not much more. If you prefer, you can wait until the season starts, then pull the chair out from under the incumbent coach you were so enthralled with just months before, a la Phoenix and Memphis. Speaking of overinflation, you stack your roster with Michael Beasleys and D.J. Augustins of the world, single-minded players for whom the full box score matters not nearly as much as their individual lines. Add Joakim Noahs and Bobby Portises, so when they predictably fly off the handle and threaten to harm someone, it’s their own teammates and staff, not just some random schmoe in a Buford Highway parking lot. Swing deals for the Dwight Howards, ensuring your most lead-footed highway drivers are the ones angling for 30+ minutes a night. Put the ball in the hands of guys for whom, once adversity strikes and the 40-point losses roll in, running to Twitter and asking for a way out sounds like a splendid idea. Add in dashes of G-Leaguers, two-ways and ten-days that will hesitate to hustle, or make a basket, or a stop, for fear their participation might spoil the fans’ draft hopes. Need it be noted that, among the NBA players cited in the preceding paragraphs, despite their teams’ best efforts, none of them outperformed the Hawks in the upside-down standings? Need it be mentioned that none of those teams had to plummet farther than Atlanta did from last season to his one? Look at the respective sidelines, the way these Hawks players pull for each other even during downturns and losses, and you would think it was those other teams circling the drain for last in the NBA East. We’ve seen disastrous resets around this town before. The Babcockian variety, where Isaiah Rider, Glenn Robinson, and Antoine Walker get trotted out by the salespeople as if to say, “THIS is the turnaround, folks. Lock in your seats and get in on the ground floor, while you still can!” I credit this staff for not going that route, where the “ground floor” turns out to be a sub-basement with broken rungs on the ladder. Instead, the Hawks gave Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Dewayne Dedmon a chance to show us what 32-50 might look like, three of those players missing critical time while wearing themselves out along the way. They allowed John Collins to build up his playing time gradually, rather than throwing their most efficient player to the proverbial wolves from the outset. They allowed Schröder, Prince, Malcolm Delaney, Mike Muscala to play their way out of, into, and again out of funks, some of epic thread-worthy proportions, gaining valuable tutelage both on and off the court. They acquired veterans like Miles Plumlee and Luke Babbitt, once thought to be useless, and found a way to render them useful. Surging at season’s end, Prince (25.3 PPG, 4.7 APG and 52.4 3FG% in last three games; Atlanta 3-2 in last five games) has been less Bob Sura, the shelf-lifed nine-year vet who nuked the 2005 Hawks’ lotto chances (Atlanta 6-5 season finish) for a shot at one final free agent contract, and more Zaza Pachulia, the player thrust into starts as a young Hawk due to circumstance, whose late 2006 run (Atlanta 4-5 season finish) heralded his practicality for Atlanta’s next playoff string, one that began two seasons later. Around mid-season, the Hawks eased Babbitt, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli on to (at least momentarily) greener pastures. By the time Ilyasova drew his final charge as a Hawk, Atlanta was sitting at 18-40. With a win tonight, they check in with a slightly worse finish (7-17, 6-18 if they lose). Thing is, much of the time, they looked pretty good doing during the downturn, even with Schwab-stumping surnames like Dorsey, Lee, Morris, White, Cavanaugh, Magette, Cleveland, and Evans (and you, too, Bembry) blending smoothly into the rotation. The first year of the Recession under Coach Bud’s stewardship has been unwaveringly functional, the staff never allowing dysfunction and disinterest to take hold among the rank and file. Illustrating his staff’s moderation of the team’s success, the Hawks (24-57) made it to tip-off of the final game of the season without winning three consecutive games at any point. Even with adversity baked in, they never reached double-digits in terms of losing streaks, either, enduring one eight-game stretch in October-November, and one six-gamer in February-March before hitting the skids for five games to conclude last month. In the right-side-up standings, I peer up at every one of the East’s fellow cellar-dwellers – from Detroit and Charlotte to the NYC teams, Chicago, and Orlando, and I find myself, as a fan, unenvious of all of them. Do they have potential championship-caliber stars on their squads? Sure, some do. Do any of them have management regimes that give their fans reason to believe such glory is right around the corner? That would be a no. As it stands, the odds are pretty good the Hawks will select a top-tier talent ahead of all but maybe one of them this June. The sole exception? The franchise that was handed Shaq, C-Webb (if they wanted to keep him), and Dwight on a platter and has as many NBA titles as we do. (Sorry, but if we’ve decided that a single conference final trip doesn’t matter around here, then coming up short repeatedly in NBA Finals will, too. With all that fortune, where are the rings?) Should I be tossing and turning at night that the division rival who got a young Tobias Harris for a song, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, and Jonathan Isaac with top-6 picks, Dario Saric and Domantas Sabonis with top-12 picks, only to squander most and fail to adequately develop them all, will be beating us over the head four times a year with some future Hall of Famer we should have super-duper-tanked for? Perhaps. But I’m not. Sorry, John Hammond, but Larry Drew isn’t around to save you this time. Chris Wallace and John Hollinger got anything special up their sleeves? I have my doubts. The last time Memphis lucked out with a Top-3 pick (2009), they took Hasheem Thabeet. The 4-spot in the lottery that year, OKC, and the team that drew the 7-spot, Golden State, assuredly had fans that were peeved that they couldn’t stink up the joint enough to improve their lottery odds to the Top-3. Rest assured that fans of the Thunder, who leapfrogged two of the Top-3 clubs at lottery time, and Travis Schlenk’s Warriors, got over it soon enough. Memphis? Not so much. And their draft record hasn’t been much better since. Has Ryan McDonough done enough in this league to make you worry about a missed opportunity? The raw Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson haven’t proven to be the swift turnaround specialists they were once touted to be. Phoenix’s fellow Top-Fiver Alex Len has been no great shakes, either. It’s a good thing low-lottery prospect Devin Booker has panned out, at least on offense, enough so that Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton relishes the prospect of pairing with him. But who appears to be a sure thing to me or you, could very well look like somebody inferior to Bender in McDonough’s estimation. Maybe I should lose sleep over what the Suns might do before the Hawks can pick. But I’ll probably be snoozing with cucumber slices above my eyes instead. I’ll try not to snore too loud. I’m not losing sleep that Phoenix or even Memphis can draft-and-stir their way back to championship contention anytime soon, especially in the treacherous West where these would-be All-NBA upstarts have to bump heads with the Currys, KDs, Hardens, Westbrooks, Lillards, Davises, Boogies, Jokics, KATs, and maybe someday Kawhis out there. And don’t let LeBron start feenin for Hollywood, too. Do these teams even know who will be their head coaches, yet? Winning the Draft Lottery outright would be sweet. Still, I’m almost hoping a couple of these particular clubs get to pick ahead of the Hawks, if only to save us from ourselves (where have you gone, Bill Russell?). The peak of PoppaWeapon3’s Sixers fandom came in 1986, when Philly bumped lucky-ducky Boston aside to win #1 in the Draft Lottery. Neither team had to tank to get in the lotto mix, they just had to snooker some other teams, like the San Diego Clippers and Lenny Wilkens’ Sonics, into giving up their future picks. But just a few weeks after the Lottery, Philadelphia’s Harold Katz and Pat Williams got cute. Out goes the chance to draft Brad Daugherty; in comes Roy Hinson. Roy. Hinson. Oh, and out goes former savior Moses Malone on the same day, too! In comes the broken remains of Jeff Ruland. One would think Williams, who bailed from the Sixers later that year, then wound up running inaugural Orlando, would never be granted such lottery fortune again. PW3 Never Again’d the bridesmaid-aspiring Sixers from that summer day forward. “Trust” that -- he reminds me of it weekly. The Process, for guys like him, are now three decades in the making, and counting. Maybe Simmons, Saric and Joel Embiid will be enough to finally melt the ice. Simmons (questionable, tummy flu) and Embiid (out, fractured orbital bone) display tremendous handle and touch in just their first and second seasons, respectively. Mix in Saric, D-and-3 specialist Robert Covington, 2017 first-overall pick Markelle Fultz (1st career start tonight, if Simmons is a no-go), and a bevy of shooters including JJ Redick, Belinelli and Ilyasova, and as MJ might say, the ceiling is the roof. Baseball aside, the sports vibe is as high as they’ve ever been around the City of Brotherly Shove, with parades for Nova and the Iggles in recent months, the Flyers back in the playoffs and the Sixers (50-30) rolling on a 14-game streak, looking like they plan to go on an even bigger tear. But the older fans have seen enough stories like this before -- Barkley’s Sixers, Lindros’ Flyers, Cunningham and the 46 Defense’s Eagles -- to know how quickly it can all unravel and evaporate with one or two less-than-fortuitous postseason ventures, and with a few poorly-timed injuries. Not that he needs it, but Coach Bud has a colleague who he can turn to for advice on how to expertly endure organizational turnover and young rosters in flux. Sixers coach Brett Brown patiently guided this club out of the Process age, and they have a good chance of adding (via the Lakers) one more plum lotto pick to the mix this summer. The Process, we’ve been told by Brown, draws to a close in 2018. At this new tier with wildly heightened expectations, but with Embiid’s early return a wild-card, the new challenge for Brown is to ensure that his Sixers don’t devolve into Processed Meat. He knows Phickle Philly Phans can shift from “Whoo!” to “BOO!” in an instant. The Sixers have two bugaboos, turnovers (NBA-worst 16.2 TO%, slightly worse than the Hawks’ 15.5%) and a propensity for fouling (22.1 personals per-48, 3rd-most in NBA; opponents shooting just 74.5 FT%, 29th in NBA), that could haunt them like the ghosts of Boston Garden at playoff time. They don’t need Simmons or Embiid on the floor (7.1 combined TOs, 5.9 PFs per game) to begin repairing those issues today. But veterans Ilyasova and Amir Johnson can help demonstrate what good discipline could look like on the floor while the headliners sit. Any live experimentation Brown wishes to conduct is likely to happen tonight against the Hawks, as the Sixers travel home tomorrow to meet Milwaukee, a possible postseason opponent. Finishing the regular season ahead of reigning conference champ Cleveland (50-31) would be quite an accomplishment, especially useful if there’s a Conference Final in these teams’ immediate future. But getting gameplans ready to make a splash in the opening round is more important than looking too far ahead. If you haven’t had much enjoyment as a Hawks fan this season, I can only hope you at least tried to have some. I know I did, way more than last season, although I acknowledge the team’s pragmatic, incremental approach to 2017-18 suits me better than others. Balancing the desire to compete with the desire to tank was at once exhilarating and nauseating, but no different than any rickety thrill ride one would find at Six Flags. At Philips Arena, all the half-court fan shots, concerts, cricket tacos, and Hot Sauce breaking ankles were entertaining enough to pass the time. I know I will at least try to enjoy the offseason as well, right on through the draft, free agency, Summer League and training camp, and I look forward to your help, Squawkers, in making it a pleasurable adventure. Anybody ever try zip-lining? It helps to already be a Hawks fan, but I’d better check with my cardiologist first. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  2. “Oh, no! We’re actually gonna win!” Our Atlanta Hawks Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Al Horford of the Boston Celtics (1:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN New England in BOS). Hi there, Al. Our former multi-year All-Star center bailed on Atlanta for Boston, largely, because he wanted more global acclaim without all the critical attention. He could be a $25 million man without being a $25 million scorer, and he wouldn’t have to up his $15 million rebounder game, either. Up until now, the whole shtick has worked well for him. His PER (as per basketball-reference) is the lowest it has been since his second NBA season. His current rebounding rate is a mild uptick from last season’s career-low. Yet, thanks to his choice to don this clover-green basketball jersey, toiling under the auspices of a highly respected coach-GM combo, he has never been lauded by the NBA fanbase more. Horford went into the playoffs last season looking forward to making a run at LeBron with his running buddy, Isaiah Thomas, handling the scoring load. A calendar year later, he enters the postseason without not only his free agent salesperson, but Thomas’ functional replacement, too. Kyrie Irving’s knee procedure leaves Boston without its only 15+ PPG scorer (second-year pro Jaylen Brown averages a team-high 14.4 PPG; rookie Jayson Tatum’s 13.9 PPG is right behind him). Lost in the season opener, 2017 off-season prize Gordon Hayward (ankle, tibia) won’t be around to fill in the gap. Coach Brad Stevens’ club will continue to rely on stifling defense, particularly around the perimeter, to carry the day. But even the defense is taking a hit, as guard Marcus Smart (thumb) will likely miss the opening playoff round. Rookie backup big man Daniel Theis (knee) is done for the year, and Guerschon Yabusele may be questionable after tweaking a knee in Friday’s 111-104 win here at TD Garden against Chicago. Working on Horford’s sharp-shooting craft began in Atlanta, and Boston has benefitted by him perfecting his outside jumper under their watch (43.2 3FG%, 7th in NBA). But with diminishing scoring, defense, and depth around him, the Celtics will need Horford to morph more into a 20-and-10 guy than ever before, once the playoffs begin. Thankfully, that’s not of immediate concern today at the Gahden. He is also the team’s top-remaining assist-man (4.7 APG), so doing it all will be essential at playoff time. Even if Horf gets to play today against his old team, Brad Stevens isn’t going to take too many risks at this point. Don’t expect to catch him wrestling with Miles Plumlee for 50-50 balls. “We’ll probably be judicious with minutes,” Stevens told shootaround media on Saturday. The C’s (54-25) have locked down the #2 seed in the East. With three games upcoming in the next four days, it is purely a matter of sorting out rotations and building positive momentum as the regular season draws to a close. Boston will also lean on the “Oh! Jays” more than they had hoped at playoff time, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While Horford and rookie Jayson Tatum rested on Friday, second-year pro Jaylen Brown scored his career-high 32 points to help fend off the visiting Bulls. Also helping the Celts avoid a worrying third-straight defeat, backup big Greg Monroe notched his second career triple double. Brown and Tatum will have ample opportunity, at least in the early stages, to do what Otto Porter, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards could not. Specifically, they’ll have to cool down the inside-outside wing combo of Taurean Prince (6-for-11 2FGs @ WAS on Friday) and sixth-man Tyler Dorsey (4-for-8 3FGs @ WAS), who helped the Hawks trip up a Wizards team that was doing itself no favors. Up front, it’s hoped that John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon, each with a double-double and at least three dimes on Friday, will have a Morris twin around to defend them for at least a half. Marcus will be out trying to compensate for getting tossed on Friday, forcing Stevens’ hand in playing more of Yabusele, Semi Ojeleye and Aron Baynes than the Celtics coach would have preferred. For now, Stevens hopes he can count on the likes of Jabari “Don’t Call Me Larry” Bird and Kadeem “Don’t Call Me Ray” Allen to provide positive production in the backcourt. Bird and ten-day contractor Jonathan “Don’t Call Me Boobie” Gibson won’t be eligible for the playoffs, so days like today are where they will be expected to cut their teeth. Gibson, a 30-year-old point guard called back home from the Qingdao Doublestar Eagles, checked in during the fourth quarter on Friday and riled up the crowd with nine quick points, including a three-pointer to snap an 86-86 tie and provide the Celtics, and their fans, some welcome relief. In the short-term, Boston hopes these guards will be effective enough to preserve the necessary floor time from “Scary Terry” Rozier, who now starts in Irving’s place at the point. It won’t be put on Horford today to pull off a victory. But it will be time, very soon, where his enhanced play will be vital to Boston collecting four wins in seven games, several times over. For better or worse, this 2018 postseason will be where he gets to make a name for himself, where no one else can help make the name for him. Have fun in the playoffs, Al. Take care. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  3. “Hey, John Vall, me and Huncho gonna get our offseason vorkout started early. Join us vhen you’re freed up in a couple veeks!” We’re almost done! Our 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks season nears its end as they visit the 2015-17 Atlanta Hawks. Pardon? Oh, actually it’s the Washington Wizards (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington) that will participate in the Hawks’ final intra-division fun-run. Maybe it’s the Friday Happy Hour beverage. But I do get the vibe that the Wizards’ course is currently charting our old one. Coach’s-pet All-Stars; veteran starters that seem increasingly beyond their sell-by date; high hopes, for a young talent, that are growing sour; patchwork bench contributors (including Mike Scott) that provide an occasional spark but not much consistency. Led by a former Coach of the Year award winner. A regular season record, and postseason outlook, that belie the players’ boundless expressions of self-confidence that THIS year will somehow be different. Current Pacers reporter and former Wizards correspondent J. Michael tweeted, after reviewing a lackluster effort in the clutch by John Wall and Bradley Beal, during last night’s 119-115 loss in LeBronopolis, “…when you demand more and crave more (attention) – and they got it this season – you’ve gotta make good on it. Otherwise it sets you back even more.” Now in their sixth season together, The Best Backcourt in the East has long had little trouble talking the talk, but it’s walking the full walk that has proven to be problematic for this duo. Fans of the Wizards will now wait an inexplicable 40 years for their team to reach 50 wins in any one particular season. It’s also likely that the wait for a trip to a Conference Finals will stretch into decade number five. This, despite the plethora of injuries befalling the Celtics, and the shifting sands in Cleveland. One would think that if any NBA team would know how to capitalize by now, it would be the one from the District of Columbia. Here they are, at 42-37, going through the motions, bearing a huge payroll for a probable first-round exit, with its top six salary recipients returning for 2018-19 and with Wall’s salary doubling the season after that. Following Hawks-fan parlance of yore, is it past time, perhaps, to begin blowing this roster up? Not if you’re Ernie Grunfeld, somehow still there in an executive capacity. They’re holding out hope that LeBron jumps out West this summer, and that the only comparable superstar that ever jumps East will come because the Wizards hired the player’s former lunchlady as the Director of Team Nutrition. I made that last part up. I think. If there is a single thing the Wizards accomplished in 2018, aside from maybe wresting the Southeast Division title away from Miami, it is putting to bed the notion that this cluster of Wizards is in some way “better” without Wall on the floor than otherwise. One of their pan-flashers, Tomas Satoransky, will fill in for Wall as he rests and remains in and injury-management mode. Post-surgery knee soreness has caused him to miss half the season. But there were times when fans, and at least one player (we see you, Marcin Gortat) felt like Wall’s absence made the rest of the team’s heart grow fonder. Of one another. The last two meetings with the Hawks (22-57) allow a glimpse at what Marcin, et al., were thinking. On December 27, Wall had 11 assists, but was otherwise non-existent over the course of 33 minutes and the host Hawks won it going away, 113-99 on the strength of the Not Best Backcourt in the East, Dennis Schröder and Marco Belinelli. A month later, with Satoransky in for the re-injured Wall, a balanced effort (six players, including Scott’s 19 points, in double figures) led to a thrashing of the Hawks on the same Philips Arena floor, a 129-104 win for the Wizards. That sparked a five-game streak, but in the middle of it, Gortat flubbed an attempt at damning with faint praise, a tweet that had Wall telling his center to shut his pierogi hole. All told, Washington with Wall was 25-17 before his latest return last week, 16-17 without him. But even with him back on the floor, the Wizards aren’t showing signs of an uptick in winning play. After dusting off Charlotte at home one night before, losing by 19 in Chicago (Wall DNP’d for rest) had to be the day’s biggest April Fool’s joke. The Wiz were no match for the Rockets, losing by 16 in Houston two days later. Then last night, in what Wall hoped would be a statement game in Cleveland, Washington allowed 39 opening-quarter points. They surged ahead of the Cavs by 17 midway through the fourth, thanks to some nifty passing by Beal and Satoransky, and a scoring spree by Scott. But, much like the season, or their recent history, once Washington gets something going, they can’t sustain it when it counts. That 17-point lead was gone in the space of six critical minutes. Wall finally found his scoring touch last night, but his habit of wild circus shots and wilder passes (leading to turnovers, 18 in his past 3 games) off his frantic drives to the hoop must cease before the first-round opponent gets here. Fortunately, the Wizards won’t have to deal with a Kyle Lowry tonight. And the only Cleveland that matters today is Antonius (available to play), coming off the bench behind Hawks backcourt starters Damion Lee and Isaiah Taylor. Taurean Prince (sore back) will also be around to make things interesting for Atlanta. Like the Wizards, Grunfeld is probably not going anywhere, yet again. If he is seeking my advice about the way forward going into 2018-19, I’ve got just one word for him. It’s four letters, beginning with a T and ending in K. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  4. Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool! Brain freeze! I’ve grown comfortably numb in the afterglow of last night’s thrilling Tankwin by our Atlanta Hawks over the Miami heat. Instead of a semi-cogent game thread for the rematch at Philips Arena tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA), I’m just going to roll into Stream of Consciousness mode and see what flows out of that. Apologies in advance. Who wants a shiny arena banner? Anybody? Remember back in the day, when division championships meant something? Now that the league has taken away a first-round homecourt guarantee, it’s just fancy-schmancy window dressing. The heat and the Wizards, neck-and-neck at 42-36 apiece, are more concerned about avoiding LeBron – oops, did I say that out loud? I meant playoff positioning – than besting one another for the Dirty South Division title. The Hawks might have a say in who ultimately claims the Southeast. But, hopefully not. Of more pressing strategic interest for Atlanta: do you want probably-playoff-bound Milwaukee to get a 1st-rounder this year, or not? The Bucks’ draft pick to the Suns is 17-30 protected, and my favorite burnt-orange-colored website, Tankathon, has the Bucks at #17, their 42-36 record tied with the Hawks’ next two opponents, Miami and Washington. Our ideal strategery would push the heat and Wiz out of the first two non-lottery slots, making room for Milwaukee (You’re welcome, Phoenix! Don’t be greedy with all them picks. Let us hold somethin’!) at #16, and our dear Thibobullves at #15. Players Only! Shaq the analyst displayed his soft spot for big men last night, in commenting on heat pivot Hassan Whiteside’s travails of late. “He has a legitimate beef,” Shaq said last night on TNT while inadvertently making himself hungry. “He made the comments, ‘hey, there’s a lot of teams that want a center.’ He is correct. But he needs to understand strategy. If I was him, I would say, ‘O.K., I’m going to [let] Coach [Spo] do what he do. But I’m going to get a rest!’ Because, playoff time, when the game slows down, they’re going to need you, big man… I know, as a player, I didn’t win championships until I had 15, 20 games off.” Not entirely true, as it was more like 5-10 days off during his first Laker title years, but it’s a nice tale to tell. Whiteside finally being able to make a meaningful play at the close of the game did wonders for his psyche. Somebody went after Dewayne Dedmon’s rib (Shaq: “mmm, ribs!”), which might become the most fortunate circumstance involving a rib since the days when Adam loafed around the desert leaving toilet seats up everywhere. Dedmon’s questionable to play tonight. G-League superstar Tyler Cavanaugh will be available to sop up minutes so it won’t be all put on Miles Plumlee and Mike Muscala in the clutch. Say, does Hassan like Barbeque Chicken? Don’t ask Shaq, at least not until I get ahead of him in line at Fat Matt’s. By the way, I’m only half-serious, Miami. You’re not obligated to have another late-game “clutch.” The Miami Herald notes the heat’s 52 games with a five-point margin with 5 or fewer minutes to play leads the NBA. “I don’t know what it is,” said Dragic after last night’s scramble-from-behind, skin-of-their-teeth 101-98 victory. I’m hoping [Wednesday] is not going to be close, but you know, that’s us.” Cavahellyeah brought along some of our favorite Bayhawk pals with him, including Andrew White (I don’t like using Jr. or III, IV or the like, unless Daddy played in the Association, too. Andrew White works just fine until Andrew White IV gets here), 10-day contractor Jeremy Evans (welcome back!), and Josh “Yung Bud” Magette. I know they’ve got some crazy playoff stories from Fort Wayne to share with the rest of the crew before they head back. Evans, 30, has averaged nearly a double-double up Nawf (naw not dat way, DAT way) for the B-hawks and has earned himself another quick sip of NBA tea. He and Chris McCullough (wait, Erie got him too? Sheesh! Don’t hurt ‘em, Malik Rose!) could get a nice dunk contest going. Is John Collins well on his way to becoming what we all imagined Al Horford would one day be when he grew up? Rebounds without the flinching, threes without the jab-stepping, infrequent turnovers without the clapping. Develop those passing chops (Shaq: “mmm, chops!”) and I say it’s a wrap! (Shaq: “mmm, wraps!”) Taurean Prince still seems to be in good spirits! On the Hawks’ leading scorer from the past two Atlanta-Miami matchups, Mike Budenholzer pulled out the dreaded “Coach’s Decision” card ten minutes into the game, jussssssssst in time to affect the final outcome. I’m always got my eye on Taurean the DeLorean (all 78 games played), who seemed to be running low on fuel lately (17 total points and 11.1 3FG% in two games prior to last night), to see if he’ll pull a Whiteside on Coach Bud in the media (we still have media, right?) after a short-hook. Thankfully, Taurean keeps the banter between them on the sideline. Atlanta is 3-15 when Prince gets crowned with less than 25 minutes, including 0-4 when he gets under 20 of them. Nice! For all his struggles getting it going all season long, it was kinda nice seeing DeAndre’ Bembry back and mixing it up out there! Rebounded well, got some steals, dished a few dimes, hit a three, and everythang. Had a few too many turnovers, but, hey, you can’t just go from 0 to 60 in… okay, that was bad, nevermind. Bembry (abs) and Antonius Cleveland (ankle) are each listed as probable for today, but I’d really like to see what Cleveland could do in his NBA debut before the home crowd tonight. C’mon Coach Bud, give our NBA virgin the AC Greenlight! Okay, that was somehow even worse, sorry. Just get on out there and break a leg, Antonius! Broadway-style, that is, not like Tony Finau. More like Fin-owwww, amirite? Okay, okay, sorry! That was really sub-par. Ohhh, while I got my mind on the links, congrats to Malcolm Delaney, 2018 Hawks Masters champ! Those Red Jackets are a nice look. If the heat are legitimately trying to do more than simply show up as a low-seed for the first round of the Playoffs (0-5 in postseason series history under such circumstances), they have got to show they can beat teams at least as intentionally underwhleming as the Hawks (22-56) when they’re away from their own comfy confines (I don’t miss the “White Hot!” T-shirt white-outs, not at all). The only playoff-probable clubs with worse away-game records than Miami (17-22) are both in the West: Minnesota (darn it, Thibs!) and the Spurs (gasp! I wonder Kawhi that is…) How does one know, for certain, that a restaurant's She-Crab Soup is 100% feminine? Dare I ask? Stuff like this keeps me up at night. (photo credit above: the supreme @DOLLAONE on Twitter) Happy 404 Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  5. heat center trying to read the Hawks’ pick-and-roll scheme. The Miami heat have no reason to mess around. Winning either of two back-to-back games against our Atlanta Hawks, beginning tonight with the good guys down in South Beach (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA) before returning to play here, or another loss by the Pistons, would be enough to secure a playoff spot for just the second time in the four seasons since Mr. Not One Not Two skipped town. Everyone, aside from Do-It-Yourself Dion Waiters, is healthy enough to suit up for coach Erik Spoelstra, tonight and tomorrow. Following a Tank-busting overtime home loss to Brooklyn, Miami (41-36) has also had two full days off to rest, recalibrate and prepare for whatever Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has up his sleeve. So, why is the team’s highest paid player deciding that now is a good time to make himself the center of attention? “Why we matching up?”, notoriously brooding big-man Hassan Whiteside complained to media outlets, following Saturday’s 110-109 loss to the Nets at AmericanAirlines Arena, when Coach Spo countered Coach Kenny’s small-ball lineups with one of his own. “We got one of the best centers in the league,” Whiteside asserted to the postgame microphones, quite self-assuredly in third person before again begging the question, “Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bull(Shinola!). It’s really bull(pucky!), man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. (Shucks!). That’s bull(chips!).” Whiteside had returned to action in just his second game after missing most of March with a strained hip, and Spoelstra was already being cautious by restricting him to under 20 minutes in the prior game. But if Hassan sincerely wanted to be in the Nets game at crunch time, he didn’t help matters by calling for a sub just under five minutes into the start of the game. Instead of Whiteside, who sat through the final quarter plus OT on Saturday, and rookie Bam Adebayo (DNP-ankle, but available today) Coach Spo relied on his floor-spacing Fabio, Kelly Olynyk, to relieve James Johnson at the 5-spot. That irritated Whiteside enough to disrespect his head coach’s “authoritah.” “I don’t know if it’s because I was on a minutes restriction,” Whiteside continued, characteristically digging himself a deeper hole. “The minutes have been like that all year.” When queried whether this issue made him question his future with the heat, Hassan (two more seasons guaranteed for $51.5 million) couldn’t resist chomping on the bait. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” This is no way to head into April, as your team sizes itself up for one of Boston, Cleveland or Toronto in the first round. Before Whiteside could infest the rest of the locker room with his ball-so-hard attitude, Miami wanted to fine him. Along with the undisclosed payment from Whiteside came a begrudging apology. “…I could have handled it different,” Whiteside explained to the Palm Beach Post and the Miami Herald after practice on Monday. “But I got so caught up in wanting to get that win. I get real competitive,” he added, perhaps confusing impetuousness with competitiveness. “I really want to be out there. But I just trust coach’s decision.” Spoelstra tried to put a nice face on the whole ordeal with a bulleted response on Monday. “We’re going to help him continue to learn how to be a better professional, how to be a better leader in this locker room, how to be a better teammate and, ultimately, how to be a better winner.” Adding levity to the PowerPoint he conveyed to Whiteside, Coach Spo quipped, “If guys want to throw a few eggs at my car after the game, or T.P. [toilet paper] my house, that’s actually a better way to deal with it than speaking to all of you [in the lamestream media] about their frustrations.” All’s well that ends well in South Beach. That is, so long as tonight’s game ends well for the home team. Even with the levied fine, Miami can expect to endure more moody-blues if they fail to clinch tonight, and if Whiteside is on the bench at any time that the Hawks’ Miles Plumlee is ballin’ outta control. One of the teams that couldn’t use a decent center right now is Atlanta. Dewayne Dedmon isn’t just getting his double-doubles (#14 versus Orlando on Sunday, shooting 3-for-7 on threes, five double-doubs in his past seven games) by parking himself around the post and demanding the rock. As sketchy as the Hawks’ overall offensive efficiency can be (99.8 March O-Rating, 3rd-worst in NBA) with so many moving parts, it improves when Dedmon’s paired with John Collins, whose surefire 58.5 FG% (6th in NBA) is presently the best shot accuracy by an NBA rookie since Otis Thorpe in 1984-85. Collins and Dedmon with the standard starting backcourt (Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schröder) produced a positive +8.1 Net Rating (109.9 O-Rating) in 118 minutes together. Replacing Dedmon and Collins with Ersan Ilyasova and the lumbering Plumlee, Atlanta’s efficiencies plummeted to minus-7.0 Net and 100.2 O-Ratings, in thrice the floor time (352 minutes). Hopefully, Hassan is taking notes when he’s not in the game. The struggles for Whiteside (career-highs of 19.9 points, 16.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals per-36; 25.6 MPG, lowest since his magical renaissance in 2014-15; 54.4 2FG%, lowest since 2011-12) beyond the boxscore is exemplary of Today’s NBA, where the Howards and Drummonds of the world are having a hard time coping with their growing disutility. The seven-footer blessed with a 7-foot-7 wingspan aches to dominate with his post-up game, at a time when the number-crunchers suggest that even a decent day exploiting mismatches around the rim can prove to be under-efficient for the larger team offense. Miami has a tepid 104.6 O-Rating (19th in NBA; up to 109.1 and 11th since the Break, mostly without Whiteside available) and moves up-and-down the court with a bottom-five pace (97.6 possessions per-48, 26th in NBA; up to 17th since the Break). It wasn’t like there was some behemoth tempering the heat while Whiteside looked on. It was Brooklyn’s swingmen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, flummoxing Miami counterparts Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow. Relying on the pick-and-roll, featuring James Johnson in tandem with Goran Dragic in the fourth quarter, helped Miami narrow the gap and force overtime in the first place. Winslow sunk a three-pointer to give Miami a 37-26 lead on the Nets early in the second quarter. Tellingly, Miami didn’t convert on another one for the remainder of Saturday’s contest (0-for-7 3FGs, after starting out 7-for-10), including OT. Failing to LTMFF won’t fly if they expect to make any pleasant noise in the playoffs, and Spoelstra recognizes Whiteside can’t help in that department. Ellington went full Ogunbowale on the Dennis Schröder-less Hawks when they last visited Miami, saving the Whiteside-less heat’s bacon by contributing 19 second-quarter points while nailing 6 of 8 threes in a 104-93 win. But it wasn’t exactly Wayne’s World when the heat (again without Whiteside; also missing Goran Dragic, James Johnson, and Winslow) played in Atlanta two months later. Ellington ran into foul trouble and shot just 1-for-6 from the field, and the shorthanded heat (7-for-25 3FGs) proved to be no match for Schröder and Taurean Prince, the swingman who played less like a frog (team-highs of 24 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, a DiVincenzoan 4-for-7 3FGs) in his Hawks’ 110-104 victory. Despite 7 critical turnovers in the October meeting, Prince balanced things out with a game-high three steals plus team-high scoring (20 points) in that contest as well. Vital to victory for Miami, today and tomorrow against Atlanta (22-55), will be clipping the Hawks’ wings (including Prince and Tyler Dorsey, whose 19 bench points helped subdue the Magic on Sunday) while finding some consistent offensive attack at the same position. Richardson, Ellington Tyler Johnson and the returning Dwyane Wade shot a combined 13-for-38 from the field against the Nets. Another player who knows a thing or two about airing his grievances through the media, Dragic (2 assists in 39 minutes, 4 TOs vs. BRK; DNP @ ATL on Dec. 18) must be a better facilitator, finding shooters and passers in position to finish perimeter plays off his drives. Miami is 5-2 when Dragic (25.5 assist%, lowest in his Miami-era) registers 8 or more assists. But the fact that this sample represents less than a tenth of the first-time All-Star’s 72 appearances is the rub, Whiteside aside. It’s on the heat to put hard-charging Detroit firmly in the rear-view mirror, and build positive momentum toward the playoff’s opening round, preferably in a way that better incorporates Whiteside as he returns to full health. Spoelstra will need all the time he can to craft a winning strategy against far more arduous opponents than the Hawks. He can’t be wasting precious time scrubbing breakfast off his car. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. Sorry, Orlando. Y’all had y’all’s turns already. TANK WARS! It’s the final head-to-head Tank Battle for our Atlanta Hawks. They won’t have another chance to tack onto another Tankompetitor’s win tally after today’s game against the Orlando Magic (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida). I’m on travel today, but you all know the relevant particulars, ahead of this game. We already know the Prime Objective. Hopefully, our Competitanking Hawks do, too! This one's not for all the marbles, but it is for a LOT of ping pong balls! Happy Easter! And Let’s Go Magic! April Fools! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. Hawks opponent trying to keep up with Isaiah Taylor. Oh, Benjamin. Benjamin. You know not what you have done. Not yet. But, thank you. This week has been seminal in progress for our Atlanta Hawks, who return from a way-too-eventful road trip to host Ben Simmons and the rolling Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Philadelphia). Like another Bennie Boy from Philly, Simmons has discovered the key to draw lightning in a bottle (or jar, if you prefer), producing an electricity that us Tank-era Hawks fans heretofore didn’t know existed. With noted exception to our esteemed Squawkfriend Spud2Nique, and many of you other folks out there, I already have a low tolerance for the Game Stop Boys in our midst. Workdays aside, I am fortunate to live a mostly peaceful existence, up until from roughly 11 PM to 3 AM at night. That’s when my neighbor hops on the PlayStation and my walls are suddenly vibrating, as he gleefully blows something/body up to the enhanced effect of his Dolby Surround Sound system. I think his new wife is totally down with it, too. Man, what a trooper. We’re cool and all, as they’re otherwise responsible peeps. Besides, I get their dinnertime walls rattling, in turn, each time I bellow, “IN DEE FACE!”, anytime John Collins throws one down on fools’ noggins. Or, “AND ONE!”, for every successful Dewayne Dedmon post-up, whether he’s fouled or not. Or, “GOT HEEEEM!”, whenever Dennis Schröder (doubtful, ankle) breaks the appropriate sections of somebody’s legs as he drives for the hoop-and-scoop. For all the popcorn ceiling the neighbors have shaken into my hair, it all evens out. Still, it would be swell for the folks next door to occasionally go to, like, sleep, the way normal homo sapiens with 8-to-6s tend to do. I also grow especially irascible with the button-pushing Ninjas, online, who ought to be Rated I for Immature. This week, Master Simmons hit the irritation sweet spot on both counts. For that, he gets promoted to the next level. Don’t worry about staying up late, Simmons assured Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. As Tuesday night turned to Wednesday morning, Ben’s appeal was that Towns’ Wolves were “only playing the Hawks” later that day. Bear in mind, barely 24 hours prior, the Wolves were “only” playing the Grizzlies at the Target Center, yet Minnesota could “only” watch as Memphis ended their umpteen-game losing streak. Keeping up with current events is hard when you’re on the X-Box all day. Consider, also, the Sixers (44-30) had just waxed the Wolves in Philly (Simmons with a 15-12-13 triple double, his 10th on the season, 3rd in NBA) two days before that. Why are you two boys even…? You’re absolutely right, @hawkman. Dang Millennials. Then, as Towns was getting his LiAngelo on (56 points, 16 rebounds) courtesy of our lively Atlanta Hawks youth team on Wednesday night, Simmons was all too happy to chime in. “Told ya,” he Insta’d KAT. What are you, 12, Bennie? Were it at all possible, Towns would remind Simmons that his Wolves needed every bit of his franchise-record 56 to outlast “only” a Hawks team that, with all respect due to the visitors on the floor, wasn’t trying all THAT hard, and for good reason. Karl-Ant goes 2-for-8 from deep instead of 6-for-8, and that game is in overtime, and my hairline gets that much closer to resembling Thibs’. Sure, KAT, like fellow Minnesota legend MTM, can turn the world on with his smile. But if he drops “only” 40 on “only” the Hawks, and the Wolves lose to two lottery squads in the space of three nights, with possibly the first NBA Playoffs in 14 years hanging in the balance? No, Minnesota, you’re NOT gonna make it after all. Towns could try explaining all this to his play-buddy Simmons. Alas, he’s limited to 280 characters, so… Simmons’ antics don’t really amount to poking a bear or enraging a bull. Trolling the Hawks is the NBA equivalent of cow-tipping of the highest juvenile order. What Simmons has yet to discover is, you keep messing around with Atlanta, and you eventually find yourself squaring up with a heifer of the “Kung Pow!” variety. Simmons only needs enough sense to ask around the NBA universe a bit. All our heroes need a foil. For all his unenumerable powers, try to imagine Superman zipping around the globe getting cats unstuck from trees, freezing back our ice caps, and helping little old ladies cross streets. Bo-ring! To give a raison d’etre to our daily existence, we all need a Thanos, a Killmonger, a Lex Luthor, a Paul Pierce in our lives. I really admired Poor Paulie, back in the day. Scored lots of buckets, got over the whole nightclub stabbings thing, lugged a once-proud Celtics team as far as he could carry them during Red Auerbach’s final years. He was one of them Bros for which Cool Stories are made, soon to head toward the sunset in JoeJohnsonland as a 30-year-old borderline Hall of Famer requesting a trade to a serious contender. Then, lightning struck. Danny Ainge gets to work. Here comes Ray Allen. Here comes Kevin Garnett. Here wakes up Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo. And, along the path to Celtics Title #17, all of a sudden, here comes Ratface Paul Pierce. The guy who hadn’t won a playoff series in five years becomes a self-fashioned nemesis, an otherwise mature 30-year-old on our floor talking trash, picking shoving matches, placing unwise wagers with our young Atlanta Hawks. Finally getting back to the postseason for the first time in ages was the ice cream. But whooping Celtic tail, three times at The Highlight Factory, was the hot fudge, the forlorn looks on Pierce’s face each time the whipped cream. Y’now what? The cherry could wait. With no rational, underlying justification, Pierce put a target on the Hawks’ backs. And through all the Tebowing on our logo, through all the I-Called-Gaming, all the tricks that joker pulled out of his bag, we laid our target squarely on him. Armed with just Josh Childress at small forward, Atlanta became his toughest non-LeBron adversary along the way to his first NBA ring, in 2008. And The Truth is, he never got himself another one. Our heroes, the 2015 Hawks (and their trusty game clock sidekick) made sure of that. The year in which our Hawks return to the postseason while likely begin with the digits “202”. But whatever the final digit becomes, Bennie Boy will be our fans’ new Public Enemy #1. The one rule Atlanta sports adversaries learn the hard way: don’t come for us, unless we’ve sent for you. You all remember Brandon Jennings, don’t you? Simmons was a mere middle-schooler back when “Feer the Deer” was en vogue, when a 20-year-old Jennings was assured that he was Kind of a Big Deal. He, not James Harden, was All-Rookie 1st Team in 2010. The Hawks, who had already peaked in many minds, were supposed to be a mere speed bump on the way to future glories for Jennings, who accused Atlanta players of coming into Milwaukee “a little bit cocky” for Game 3, and who was eager to make an example of the Hawks just because he felt snubbed for Rookie of the Year. Even having lost an ugly series with Atlanta without Andrew Bogut, the first-overall pick the Hawks missed out on in the 2005 Lottery, and leading scorer Michael Redd, Milwaukee’s future seemed bright with Jennings carrying the banner. Birrrrrrr… what happened to that boy? After all the youthful bristling wore away, these days, the only Fear Jennings engenders involves what happens tomorrow, after his ten-day contract period ends. Does Simmons need a more modern example? How about our latest hip-hopped star, Isaiah Thomas? “Oh! Woe is me! I was passed over! I was picked last!” Who do you think you are, Alpha Kaba? “I’m gonna make an example out of the Hawks in the playoffs. Back up the Brinks truck for me, Danny Ainge!” How’s that all working out for you, I.T.? Which NBA town are you in this week? And is that an armored vehicle or a bus that you’ve been thrown under? All that bluster and gang-banging braggadocio in 2017 from the comedy team of John Wall and Bradley Beal, like anyone that has lived in Atlanta for five minutes has reason to be intimidated by dudes from Raleigh and St. Louis. As far as D.C. cats go, Tyrone Hankerson, Jr. gives Dennis Schröder more pause than these two nitwits. Say, will 2019 be the year they finally get to 50+ wins and a conference final? ‘Cause it sure ain’t happening this season. Say, is there a gang sign for overrated? Simmons could be staying up a full fortnight, playing a game of Fortnite, and should still be able to carry his team past the Hawks at the Highlight Factory. That’s with or without the guy Simmons should be leaving all this social media ragging to, anyway. The Center of the Future, Joel Embiid got whacked upside the noggin by the Backup Point Guard of the Future, Markelle Fultz (there was no hitch in his accidental headshot, so that’s progress). With an orbital fracture and a concussion, Embiid is not only staying home for the Sixers’ two-game road swing that ends on Sunday up in Kembaville, but his return in time for the long-awaited playoffs is now in doubt. But, hey, at least our Hawks helped handicapped today’s outcome, by waiving Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli so the pair could land in Philly’s lap right on time for this refreshing playoff push, one that wasn’t completely a slam dunk just two months ago. Philadelphia was just 24-24 after losing “only” in Brooklyn on January 31. Then came the ex-Hawks. Now the 76ers have won 20 of their past 26, and they can today win their ninth in a row to conclude their March record at a solid 13-3. Coach Brett Brown, I am sure, is mighty grateful to his former colleague, the Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer, and our management staff. Can you put down the controllers for a moment and say, “Thank you, Atlanta,” Ben Simmons? I’m sure you can. Get all the chuckles in while you can, Bennie Boy. For all their momentary, newfound success on the court, this here was a Process that was **this close** to getting CTRL+ATL+DEL’d. That’s because, for every Embiid, there was a Michael Carter-Williams. For every Dario Saric and Fultz, there was a Furkan Korkmaz, and a Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. For every Simmons, there was a Jahlil Okafor, a Nerlens Noel. And none of the so-called success-stories of the moment were of the instantaneous variety. Sam Hinkie, himself, was the Sixers’ third GM in three years by the time he came on the scene in 2013. Once he was pushed into writing his own walking papers, with the team starting out 1-21 in 2015-16, with Okafor and Noel shrinking into nothingness, it was so tempting for Bryan Colangelo to blow the whole thing up. Who knows what kind of Cheez Wizzy mess Simmons could have walked into, had he himself been able to play in his draft year, without upstarts like Embiid or Saric around to carve a path first. Fortunately for Simmons, the team stuck with its high-potential youngsters, and built around them with vets like J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Belinelli, and Ilyasova. They also developed a defensive stalwart, in Robert Covington, so they wouldn’t be giving up more than they dish out. So now, and only now, Simmons got jokes. He thinks his first name is Russell now. I, for one, have been pleased as punch over the on-court production of Collins, the first player currently behind Simmons in Player Efficiency Ranking, and the next player behind Simmons and Donovan Mitchell in Grizzlies guru John Hollinger’s other ESPN-era stats, of Value Added and Estimated Wins Added. That includes being the top rookie in Rebounding Rate (shhh… Erie Bayhawk playoff participant Tyler Cavanaugh ranks 6th, ahead of Mr. Simmons. That oughta look good in 2K19). Johnny Bap’s an upstanding kid. And dude put up with Demon Deacons in the ACC, so who better to muddle through with during a losing season? I know the cheery EXPRESS Men’s model will take all the ribbing and e-snickering in stride, just as he will the favored-team-media snub that’s coming, a few weeks from now, at All-Rookie award time. But he’s taking notes. And when it’s time to make his statement, it won’t be a Snapchat Streak or whatever the cool kids use by then. Once Collins’ Hawks take their turn rebuilding their roster, over the course of this and the next offseason, it won’t be about what’s getting played, but who. Simmons will be looking up, soon, only to find it’s not only the Hawks’ G-League and E-League teams whooping the Sixers’ tailfeathers, but the NBA-league one, too. For now, though, if he sincerely wants the Rookie of the Year award all to his lonesome, he had better do what Mitchell could not, and that’s carry his team to victory against the Hawks. Go ahead and use whatever sliders you need, Bennie. It won’t be on April 11, the season finale when the Sixers return to The Highlight Factory, hopefully with playoff seeding all wrapped up. It probably won’t even be next year. But, Ben Simmons, You Gon’ Learn. Happy Passover! Happy Easter! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “You kidding me?” My dear Minnesota Timberwolves, It is me, the Atlanta Hawks. Before tonight’s scrimmage commences between you and I (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP), I’m stopping by the Target Center to address you, heart to heart. I’m afraid, my longtime confidant, we need to have That Talk. What… ARE we, right now? No, seriously, I thought we had a mutual understanding. A simpatico. A powerful bond, one transcendent of any other NBA teams’ comprehension. I was growing weary of mostly fruitless playoff appearances. You thirsted to grab a quince from the Garden of Postseason, perhaps at some point before the Martians get here. We not only found each other, we co-exist, to chart one another’s destinies. We belonged together. Or, so I thought, until recently. I mean, just imagine, me, with my multiple lottery selections this summer, expertly drafted by Travis Schlenk. And you, with your… whatever that is you’re doing… with your prodigious talent tipping off against mine, plus all the great free agents we’re bound to draw, in the 2020 NBA Finals, the first ever for our lovely NBA cities. That was the dream. That was OUR dream, don’t you remember? By 2020, we’re not supposed to be sitting around watching your promising lottery-protected pick deteriorate into a pair of piddling future second-rounders. By 2020, you’re not supposed to be still mired in the swamp of Secaucus in the springtime, promising your fans, “This time, I’ll be sweeter!” This “thing” is just not working out, this… “relationship,” if that’s what you want to call it… between you and me. I get it, you thought Adreian Payne could someday become your Taj Gibson, so you wouldn’t have to go out and get him yourself. Heh, at one point, I held some high hopes for Major Payne, too. We have each moved on from him. But you, my dearest Timbo, have not yet held up your end of the bargain. You, my precious Minny, are threatening to not be there for me, right when I need you most. Ugh! I can’t even bring myself to friend-zone you right now. I honestly believe we need to start seeing other people. Other people, that is, pulling the strings in your player personnel department. As evidenced by Monday’s disheartening 101-93 loss here at the hands of the “bear”-bones Grizzlies, your coach’s cooking hasn’t been all that great. So, why, pray tell, are you so enthralled with letting Tom Thibodeau buy the groceries, too? You are endowed with my former All-Star point guard, Jeff Teague. You not only have an All-Star center in Karl-Anthony Towns, you let Thibodeau reunite with All-Star Jimmy Butler, and nearly got sixty games out of him. That is, before Coach Thibs ran Butler, as he is wont to do, into the frozen tundra. Why are you not at 45 wins already? Why, as the calendar turns to April, do you need my help to get there? That Jimmy Buckets (torn meniscus, return unknown; NBA-high 37.1 MPG) has become Jimmy Buckled once again was predictable. What is unacceptable is that, by now, the Great Value Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins (20.0 PPG and 5.2 RPG this month, but 44.6 FG%), and Towns (53.3 FG% this month, down from 58.1% last month) haven’t grown defensively under the auspices your handpicked, supposedly defensive-minded coach/GM. Further, that the starters’ over-exertion to compensate defensively is eating away at their collective offensive capacity. (108.5 PPG this month, lowest since November) What’s intolerable is going just 8-9 since replacing Butler in the starting unit with Nemanja Bjelica, 4-7 in your past 11 games. That’s just not working for me, not at all. When will MY needs be important to you? Frankly, the withered Rose you bought wasn’t what I needed. Never mind that it arrived weeks after Valentine’s Day. Derrick Rose (questionable, sprained ankle) isn’t even what you needed. You already had a scoring guard that’s a defensive sieve, in the eminently durable Jamal Crawford. Unlike Payne, you knew what you were getting when you started courting J-Craw last summer. If you weren’t sure, you could certainly have consulted me. Yet now, thanks to your strident insistence on redundancy, your fanbase is turning on poor Jamal, who came in from the warmth of L.A. to grace you with his presence. You don’t deserve him, tbh. Were you aware that, besides Crawford, there is a whole other set of reserve Thibobullves at the end of the bench, sitting on their hands, eager to contribute? How can I trust your commitment to our “relationship” if you can’t even bring yourself to activate Justin Patton, a Riverdale native that’s just a few months senior of my John Collins. You recall, Patton, a center that you selected three picks ahead of mine last summer? How soon we forget. You’re telling me Patton couldn’t be relieving KAT (36.4 MPG last six games, the Wolves 2-4 in that span) by now? That he couldn’t be putting in more productive minutes than Gorgui Dieng (14.0 MPG last ten games) and Cole Aldrich (team-low 2.4 MPG, questionable due to illness) with a little more emphasis toward developing the youngsters? Speaking of youngsters, with your team near the cellar in assist percentage, why is Tyus Jones (career-high 53.1 eFG%), your promising first-rounder from 2015, wasting away on the pine, and expected not to move the ball on the rare occasions he is in the game? Do you really need Jeff to put in 42 minutes just to (try to) outlast the Grizzlies? Were I not already volt green, you could color me unconvinced. If you were sincere about your intentions, you would not be crawling into April with a defensive efficiency (108.9 D-Rating, 7th-worst in NBA) that manages to be worse than mine (108.5 D-Rating, 8th-worst). And my intentions have been clear from the outset, engaging in a tryst with The Process That Dare Not Speak Its Name (okay, fine, Tanking. It’s Tanking, don’t act like you’re unfamiliar with that) to the extent the law allows. Why is your defense still palling around with mine? Try as I might here in Atlanta (21-53), I cannot accommodate you with my long-held playoff spot. You, Minnesota (42-33, 1.5 games ahead of 9-seed L.A.), must earn your own reservation, in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference (15-23 in-conference, decidedly worse than the 19-19 Clippers). And you could be doing so much more to keep our waning “relationship” a healthy one. I understand, you thought you were helping me when you lost to the Suns (twice), the Nets, the Magic, the Bulls, and now the Grizzlies (twice). But I have overrated squads like the Wizards and heat to do that for me. See? There you go again, being redundant. You had one job, split into two tasks. Clinch. Then lose. Win those games (11 losses to sub-.500 clubs; 17 wins, fewest among playoff-eligible teams) and you would have already shaken your playoff hex by now. But here we are. Look, I am trying not to be difficult. I’ve got my pugilist point guard Dennis Schröder on the shelf, getting his sprained ankle in shape for a bracelet he might have to wear down the road. He won’t be out there tonight trying to get comeuppance against his former mentor. Remember my 105-100 “victory” in Atlanta back in January, when Teague shot an inauspicious 1-for-12 from the field? Dennis has been-there, done-that plenty of times already. I’m giving you one more shot to redeem yourself, Minnesota. No Schröder, no Kent Bazemore in the backcourt. You don’t even have to put up with Malcolm Delaney, or DeAndre’ Bembry, or Jaylen Morris. Can you conceivably handle Isaiah Taylor instead? Please, try not to turn Damion Lee and Tyler Dorsey into Tim Hardaway or Wayne Selden tonight. Dewayne Dedmon isn’t taking any days off. But he should be at least a breath of fresh air for Towns, after your center got pushed around at turns by Joel Embiid and Marc Gasol (4-for-7 3FGs, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks on Monday) in recent days. There’s no point in wearing your starters down just to beat me tonight. I’ve let go of the rope. Former Yellow Jacket Marcus Georges-Hunt is over there on Thibodeau’s bench for a reason. You don’t need any fancy scouting report for me. I’m serving up fellow Minnesotan Mike Muscala on a platter for 25+ minutes, some of it alongside Tyler Cavanaugh. If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never know me. I don’t intend to keep you up all night, tossing and turning, as you’ve got real work ahead of you. If all goes as it should, very soon, you’ll go your way, and I’ll go mine. There’s no need for you and I to be back here next year, with you regurgitating your tired, empty promises. Officially, we should be through with one another, as of moonrise today. I bid adieu, and I wish you well in your future endeavors with other NBA partners. But just so we’re perfectly clear: if I’m not walking out of Target Center today with a loss, it’s not me, my darling Minnesota. It’s you. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. “But, it was just charades! I yelled… LOW CUT SOCKS!... not, HOLTKAMP SUCKS!” Here’s hoping for a thoroughly uneventful game for the Atlanta Hawks, for a change! Their West Coast swing continues with a visit to the Houston Rockets (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in H-Town), who are out to secure their first-ever (???) 60-win season tonight. The main question is, how easy can the Hawks make this for the Rockets? Houston (59-14) won handily last night at the Toyota Center, a 114-91 victory over the playoff-probable Pelicans that was only contentious as far as the barbs and fouling on the court. Conference Finals Virgin Chris Paul (sore hamstring) was rested for the past two games, and coach Mike D’Antoni would like to DNP a few more key components. But James Harden isn’t inclined to go along with that plan. Harden (NBA-high 30.9 PPG, 36.2 Usage%, 30.1 PER and .293 WS/48) remains in front of the pack contending for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. But when the Beard peeks over his shoulder, he sees a hairy situation: MVP candidates Cavs’ LeBron James, the Blazers’ Damian Lillard, and the Pels’ Anthony Davis are gaining on him as the regular season nears its end. Even with his Rockets a virtual lock for the Western Conference’s #1 seed entering the playoffs, Harden has no desire to shift to cruise-control. It’s up to D’Antoni to make sure Harden starts, and gets to lead on the floor when it’s time to salt games away. But the reigning Coach of the Year will also strategically massage his marquee player’s minutes. Impressively, Harden is likely to earn his MVP award with a downtick in per-game playing time for the second straight season (35.6 MPG, down from an NBA-high 38.1 in 2015-16). Hawks fans would have hoped for a different season where Houston would pass along their first-round draft pick. But the Rockets, unlike the Warriors, have stayed fairly healthy, and GM Daryl Morey concocted a squad deep enough with veteran role players (now including future Hawks jersey retiree Joe Johnson) that its winning collection of stars and starters don’t have to over-exert themselves, or play too far outside of their comfort zones. Just as Paul (7.9 APG, lowest since his rookie season) has effectively reduced the necessity for Harden (8.6 APG, down from an NBA-high 11.2 last season) to distribute the ball as much as last year, Clint Capela (18 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 steals vs. NOP) obviates the need for Harden (5.3 RPG, lowest since 2013-14) to dominate on the glass. Unlike some former MVPs, you won’t catch Harden (27 points, 8 assists, 9 TOs vs. NOP) wrestling around in the paint with the JaVale McGees and Mike Muscalas of the world when it’s time to vie for a tough rebound. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon (4-for-9 3FGs vs. NOP, 4 assists, 4 TOs) serves as the sole traditional point guard in the rotation with Paul out, and he’ll need help from his Harden (1.8 SPG, 6th in NBA) and his defensive swingmen to get a bead on a rested Dennis Schröder (16 points, 7 assists, 4 TOs @ GSW on Friday; questionable with an ankle sprain). With Trevor Ariza, Joe and P.J. Tucker trying to slow Schröder’s rolls, catch-and-shoot opportunities will abound for Taurean Prince (team-high 20 points, 4-for-8 3FGs, 2 steals, 2 blocks @ GSW), Tyler Dorsey (3-for-7 3FGs @ GSW), Damion Lee and Andrew White. If Dennis is a scratch, that primary dish-and-swish facilitator role would fall to Isaiah Taylor, who moved the ball well against G-State (6 assists, 2 TOs in 19.5 minutes on Friday). Keeping the Hawks (21-52) within shouting distance late won’t be the threes, but the free throws, a factor that has worked well in the Rockets’ favor this year (75.0 opponent FT%, 3rd-lowest in NBA). Atlanta clanked an inordinate 11 freebies on 20 attempts in Oakland on Friday, as much a factor in the Hawks’ inability to continue putting the second-half scare to the Warriors (and Others) as anything else. Mike Budenholzer is fine coaching a beatable team that doesn’t beat themselves, so expect better focus by his Hawks from the charity stripe tonight. For Houston, it’s just a matter of getting the win total into the 60s, and zeroing in on sewing up the 1-seed, as quickly as possible. For Atlanta, it’ll just be nice to not be the backdrop to a lead story on SportsCenter for a little while. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. “We love to fly…” “…and it shows!” Commonalities between Dominique Wilkins and Taurean Prince? Both were drafted by the Utah Jazz and later traded to the Atlanta Hawks, who happen play the Jazz in Salt Lake City tonight (9:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain in SLC), before their rookie seasons. Both wear, or wore, a ‘1’ and a ‘2’ on their Atlanta jerseys. And both are coming into their own during their Age-23 seasons with the Hawks, although not for much longer. Taurean crosses into Age 24 a couple days from now, and the Aries suddenly finds himself ramming his way upwards in his young NBA career. Prince elevated his March-long scoring average to 21.5 PPG (46.6 3FG%) by matching his career high, from earlier this month, of 38 points (9-for-13 2FGs, 8-for-8 FTs) during the Hawks’ entertaining 122-117 loss in Milwaukee on Sunday. Over the course of Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s tenure, I’ve had to learn not to freak out and give up too prematurely on the Budwings, who are constantly under development behind the scenes, fine-tuning their unique, individual skills to suit their team’s long-term objectives, and taking plenty of lumps along the way. From Kyle to DeMarre to Thabo to Baze to Timmy, the narrative now applies to Taurean, who has morphed from near-replacement-level talent in January (9.1 PPG, 34.8 FG%, minus-9.6 net rating) to a more reliable offensive cog (63.4 March TS%, 15th among NBA players getting 30+ MPG) during his team’s meticulously planned swoon. With each game in just his second season, Prince is transforming Hawks’ fan opinions from, “If he doesn’t figure out his defensive shortcomings, he’s useless,” to “If he ever figures out his defensive shortcomings, watch out!” It’s on the road where the Hawks turn to Prince (15.2 road PPG and 45.3 road FG%; 12.0 and 39.3 FG% at Philips) to attack inside, and score or get fouled trying. He has been picking his perimeter shots more judiciously away from home (4.93 road 3FGAs per game, 5.76 at home), although the Bucks game was an outlier narrowing that differential (4-for-13 3FGs on Sunday). Atlanta will turn to Taurean even more this evening, as rookie John Collins (Zaza’d in Milwaukee by the Greek Freak, out with an ankle sprain) sits at least this one out. Interior scoring for Prince, Dennis Schröder and the Hawks will be a much harder bargain, certainly, with the stifling Rudy Gobert (NBA-highs of 26.2 Net Rating and 72.1 TS% for 30+ MPG players; 25 double-doubles) holding down the fort for the torrid Jazz (40-30), who aim to stretch their undefeated month to 10-0 tonight. Remember when undefeated calendar months were kind of a big deal? Getting to 15-0 will require Utah to win not only tonight but also at San Antonio, at G-State, and back home versus Boston. That’s a slate that’s not nearly as daunting as it once looked, given their upcoming opponents’ injury issues. And this is a team that went 11-0 right before the All-Star Break, a stretch that began not long after losing Thabo Sefolosha for the season. Utah was 14th in team D-Rating before Thabo was shelved; they’re #1 (97.7 D-Rating) since. Go, Coach Thabo! The 4-Man combo of Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles represent the top four NBA players in Net Rating this month. Former Bud acolyte Quin Snyder is rolling into this matchup without starting power forward Derrick Favors (sore knee), who is having a bit of a renaissance year himself (career-high 58.3 2FG%). The arrival of Rookie of the Year finalist Mitchell (10-for-13 2FGs in Saturday’s close-shave 103-97 win vs. SAC) effectively alleviated Favors from having to step up offensively in the aftermath of Gordon Hayward’s departure, and he has responded with efficient scoring in exchange for a lightened workload. Villa Rican and former Cavalier forward Jae Crowder will be likely to fill in on Favors’ behalf. With Jae closing games in place of Favors, Utah’s 5-man unit has produced a league-best 76.4 D-Rating and 41.8 Net Rating, according to stats reported by the Salt Lake Tribune. Utah has gone a sterling 22-4 since Rudy returned from injury, back on January 19. However, that first 11-game winning run was preceded by a sour note by the Jazz. Namely, a 104-90 loss in Atlanta back on January 22, where the cited quartet of Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles and Gobert combined to score just 29 points while committing 15 player turnovers. The low-paced game remained a tight affair until Schröder and Prince (combined 37 points, 11-for-23 2FGs, 9-for-9 FTs) helped the Hawks break it open in the third quarter. Prince was particularly pernicious scoring off Jazz turnovers, particularly his steals (three) off a sloppy Mitchell and Rubio. The second steal-and-layup gave the Hawks a lead they would not again relinquish, and his dime to Mike Muscala (a probable starter today, in place of Collins; double-digit scoring in 3 of past 5 games) following his final theft opened up a 23-point lead that made Utah’s fourth-quarter scramble purely academic. This time around, Coach Quin will rely upon Rubio to make better decisions with the ball for the possession-hogging Jazz. Backup ballhandler and former Hawks draft-and-tradee Raul Neto is out indefinitely with a wrist fracture. Son-of-a-legend David Stockton is around on a ten-day to help fill the gap. But the Jazz will use the remaining games as a critical opportunity to rework 2014 lotto pick Dante Exum (10 points in 14 minutes vs. PHX, during his season-debut last Thursday) back into the rotation before the playoffs start. Defensive efficiency (115.4 March D-Rating, 29th in NBA) has remained a problem for the Hawks (20-50, seven straight road losses) throughout their latest six-game slide. But when they’re active forcing their foes into mistakes, not just the live-ball variety, Atlanta can have the look of a near-.500 team (6-8 when opponents’ turnover percentage > 17.0%, as per bball-ref). When Taurean makes the right defensive reads and doesn’t get caught out of position blindly fishing for steals (15 in Atlanta’s 20 wins; 54 in their 50 defeats), the final quarters of games can get downright scary these days… for a variety of reasons. Prince may struggle tonight, with the halfcourt lanes closed and one less scoring threat on the floor. But as he figures things out over time, look for Taurean’s gameday film to continue including more Highlight, and less Human. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. “I Can’t Feel My Feet When I’m With You…” Under cover of night, the Atlanta Hawks made their daring Escape From Sacramento in time for tonight’s rematch with the world-champion Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO). Assuming the fans can make it into the arena this time, the burning question is: who’s suiting up? Whoever becomes our draft lottery prize this summer, get you a star who, when he announces his switch to low-cut sneakers, it makes the national news. “Stephen Curry to play in Under Armour low-tops for the first time,” ESPN breathlessly reported yesterday evening ahead of today’s game at Oracle Arena. The Babyfaced Assassin expects to return to action while still dealing with tenderness in his sprained, “definitely not 100 percent”, right ankle. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? “It is kind of ironic that I made the switch this season considering my ankle issues,” noted Curry, who missed the past six games while enjoying (just saying! I’ve learned my lesson!) his 30th birthday, “but this shoe is stable and engineered to maximize my performance. I will still wear my ankle braces, but I have total comfort and security in my new shoe.” We shall see. Back when the young guard outta Davidson was scurrying around Oakland with fishtail legs, the Warriors turned to Keke Lyles to straighten him out. For the past several seasons, Lyles has been dutifully occupied with the trunks of Atlanta players, as the Hawks’ executive director of player performance. So, these days, Lyles gets to oversee players like the brutally durable Dennis Schröder (career-high 22.6 points per-36, career-low 3.1 TOs per-36), who needs to be a “healthy scratch” in order to miss tip-offs. Kent Bazemore might disagree, Steph (21 of 71 games missed this season), but the solution to your aggravations might not be the kicks. The Dubs’ Death (Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green) and Dying from Laughter (JaVale McGee) Lineup started coming apart at the seams almost as soon as Curry (an uncanny 59.2 2FG%, to go with his 42.4 3FG%) was put on the shelf. Klay fractured a thumb a few days later, and Splash Bro 2 remains out for another week or so. Days after that, KD cracked a rib, and he sits as well. Perhaps getting his Three Amigos move on a little too aggressively, Draymond became the next to hit the IR with a pelvic contusion. It has reached the point where Coach Steve Kerr will be thrilled just to get Omri Casspi (sprained ankle) back on the floor. The Dubs (53-18) have gone 2-4 since losing Curry, mustering just 75 points on Monday in a 14-point loss to a San Antonio team that has one huge, lingering injury issue of its own. Former Hawks preseason notable Quin Cook got his Isaiah Taylor on against the Spurs (20 points, 5 assists). But it’s clear from starting Cook and Nick Young together that there’s still not enough offensive firepower to compete against decent teams, on most nights, without Golden State’s Monstars available. Cook (hand contusion), Zaza Pachulia and isoBaze thief Andre Iguodala (shoulder contusions) and Patrick McCaw (wrist fracture) were all questionable going into Monday’s game, but all played, each one aside from McCaw in the starting lineup. Starting at center today will not be our old friend Zaza, nor will it be McGee. It will be Jordan Bell, the 6-foot-9 rim-protecting second-rounder who has Chicago Bulls brass kicking themselves. Bell (.184 WS/48, 4.4 Box Plus/Minus, 1.1 VORP, 18.2 PER) is arguably the sole 2017 draftee neck-and-neck with Atlanta first-rounder John Collins (.155 WS/48, 1.4 BPM, 1.3 VORP, 19.1 PER; questionable for tonight with his sprained ankle) in terms of efficiency metrics. Bell’s first start since mid-January is not merely a reward from Kerr for enduring what Bell described to pregame reporters today as a, “roller coaster, up and down” season. The Warriors had three days off entering tonight’s game, the opener of a four-game homestand, but Kerr wants the regular season minutes for his vet backup big men (Pachulia, McGee, David West) carefully metered out. They get to close out their schedule with a bunch of playoff-hungry outfits (Utah twice, OKC, New Orleans, Indiana, Milwaukee). Kerr wants his team trending up, as healthy players return and as they approach Game #82. So, don’t expect Kerr’s playoff-prepping bigs to be out here wrangling excessively in the paint with the likes of Dewayne Dedmon (a smooth 13-and-10 last night), Miles Plumlee and Tyler Cavanaugh. That task will fall heavily upon Bell and Looney tonight. While the Dubs have some gimmes on the docket like the pesky Hawks, two games against division-rival Phoenix will be on back ends of back-to-backs. The last loss before the Spurs game was a Tank-buster last Friday night, here at Oracle, at the “expense” of the Kings. Sacramento overwhelmed the remnant Warriors with the buddy-movie team of Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere (combined 8-for-14 3FGs off the bench). That was essentially the same team that the Hawks, without Schröder, successfully held serve with for two-and-a-half quarters last night, before the Kings finally pulled away. Golden State has a chance to further sew up the #2 seed (and avoid a premature playoff meeting with the Rockets) with a win today. In that regard, they can't afford to mess around with Atlanta (21-51), especially given their inherent homecourt and rest advantages. Final issue: Will Steph get invited to Damion Lee’s bachelor party? That’s always uncomfortable, towing the future bro-in-law all around Vegas with the Day-Ones, just to keep the future missus in good graces. I know this well, I’ve seen it in the movies. Things could get even more Hawkward if Curry returns to hang a 40-burger on Atlanta and its newest starter, who just signed his second 10-day deal this afternoon. Still, I figure Lee will find a way to accommodate Curry on his party bus. But given the tenuous state of Steph’s ankles, Damion, make sure that thing comes equipped with a lift. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. “MMM… POLLO A LA PARRILLA! POLLO A LA BARBACOA!!” Ahead of tonight’s TankWars tilt between the visiting Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings (10:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports California in SAC, NBATV everywhere else), let’s take a moment to give it up for Vince Carter. He’s the half-man, half-amazing player-vaulter-turned-Blake-Griffin-troller who is willingly wrapping up season #20… 20!... in Northern California. And, no, he’s not sipping merlot and just taking it all in on the bench with the Warriors. With deference to Schoolhouse Rock, and De La Soul, 30 is the Magic Number. Or, at least, it once was. I still recall the glee with which I reported in a 2014 game thread about LeBron James’ 30th birthday party, which was here in Midtown Atlanta a night before he would get DNP’d for a game at Philips Arena. The Chosen One was about to become The Olden One, and I proclaimed James’ forthcoming entry into his fourth decade of life as great news for the rest of the wannabe contenders for his annual Eastern Conference crown. Welp. It used to be common understanding that the NBA veteran body breaks down precipitously after crossing the Rubicon into The Big Three-O. Go look at those videos of venerable fellas like Tree Rollins looking like downright geriatric giants in the 90s. Tom McMillen looked every bit like a senior Congressman from Maryland, even before he got traded by the Hawks to the Bullets in the mid-80s. Carter is now the same age McMillan was, when the latter concluded his time serving… the U.S. House of Representatives! Witness even our prime NBA example of Fighting Father Time: Kevin Willis, clinging to dear life in the early 2000s as he tried to keep the folks over at Fernbank from turning him into an exhibit. Back then, even a young Vince Carter had to be looking askance at the graying Dell Curry on the Toronto bench like, “…Dude? Don’t you have some tweens back home to attend to?” Well, in this day and age, NBA medical staffs, and dietary and training methods, are way more advanced and personalized. The players are far more cognizant of their abilities to continue making bank if they keep themselves in tip-top athletic condition. No more butter-fried tilapia sandwiches at lunchtime, no more Tractor Traylors and Big Babies, not if you’re going to keep up at the pace these modern-day coaches demand. Players might, indeed, have spent a recent night racing Michael Vick in the parking lot after an eventful evening at Onyx. But you, the average fan, wouldn’t be able to tell either way. LeBron, at age 33, is still out here like, “Ladies, look at your man. Now, look at me.” He’s logging an NBA-high 37.2 minutes per game, a shade below his 37.8 MPG from last season. Not that he should have to, but he can, and he is. Oh, and he is still slaying fools, and winning, dropping 35-and-17 on the Raptors last night to lug his Cavs to victory just last night. As for Carter, whose All-Star invites stopped coming at age 30 but still is punching in the clock 11 seasons later, he ushers in an era where we wonder if 40 is even over so much as a mound, to say nothing of a hill any more. You know those 90s mixtapes where a young hooper pulls off such a spectacularly audacious play that he sprints out the gym, intending never to be seen on video again? That would have been me down in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics, had I gone off a steal and Fosbury Flopped over some 7-foot-3 dude, nearly off-vert, for a jaw-dropping one-handed jam. “Yep. Looks like my work is done here! Meep meep!” I’d have Usain Bolted out that arena, and the next you’d hear of me, I’d be retired in the Outback feeding kiwis to koalas. At best, I’d be turning my signature silhouettes into annual big-money sneaker releases – when do those Lethal 14s come out? But, nope, not Vinsanity! The guy who, even before that career-defining play, had already terminated the usefulness of any future Dunk Contests, anywhere, instead decided to grace us with his eminence for four-and-a-half more seasons with the Raptors. Then four-and-a-half more in New Jersey. Then a year-and-a-half near his hometown in Orlando, and then a brief run in Phoenix (oh, he’s 34 by then). Then, three seasons in Dallas. Three more in Memphis. And now, in Sacramento, rather than ring-chasing, Carter’s dutifully schooling the Kings on how to give one’s best effort regardless of the scoreboard, or the standings, or one’s accomplishments of yore. Vince heads into this summer as a 41-year-old free agent, and yes, he WILL get offers, significantly more than a VetMin. Out here trying to guard Griffin on occasion in the post, and complaining only to the refs about it, Vince (18.9 MPG in last five games; 48.0 2FG%, highest since 2007-08) is showing us that 40 is The New 30. LeBron might show us that 50 is The New 30, when all is said and done. Carter wasn’t on the floor back on November 15, when the Hawks raised their record to a dangerous 3-12 with a resounding 126-80 win over the Kings at Philips Arena. Atlanta pummeled a starting lineup that featured another O.G. in Zach Randolph, plus George Hill, rookie gunner Bogdan Bogdanovic, Garrett Temple, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Z-Bo and Stick Willie remain among the starters, but Randolph (stomach bug) will not play. Second-year pro Skal Labissiere is most likely to join a green first line loaded with yung’uns for Coach Dave Joerger, inclusive of rookie De-Aaron Fox and sophomore Buddy Hield. At this level of hoops, team shooting splits of 40.4/27.3/73.7 are usually an automatic addition to the L column. Yet two nights ago in SLC, wunderkind Dennis Schröder (13-for-21 2FGs, 3-for-7 3FGs, 7 assists, 2 TOs) picked-and-rolled apart the vaunted defense of the Utah Jazz. Dennis plopping a career-best 41 points (most by any road Hawk since Shareef back in December 2003) on the hapless Ricky Rubio and Friends was just enough to lift the Hawks – without Kent Bazemore, with Taurean Prince shooting 3-for-13 from the field, with Mike Muscala in place of the injured John Collins, with the soon-expiring 10-day pickup Damion Lee in the starting lineup, with random cats named Dorsey, Taylor, White, Plumlee, and Cavanaugh coming off the bench – to a 99-94 victory over a team trying to win their tenth-straight NBA game. At least, we think the Jazz were trying to win. It’s kinda late to start tanking now. Tonight’s pressing question for Joerger’s staff is, who is their Schroderstopper? Fox, the rookie whose DRPM (-2.87) is about as awful as Dennis’ (-2.80)? I don’t think so. Hill? Utah would’ve loved him the other night, but he’s in Cleveland now. Trade recipient Iman Shumpert (knee rehab) was shelved virtually upon arrival. Garrett Temple? Good choice, but he’s out with an ankle injury. Frank Mason? M’kay, good luck with that. It takes two to make a thing go right, so for the Kings, they need a screen-busting gameplan not only for Schröder (21 points, 11 in the third-quarter vs. SAC on Nov. 15) and his backup (Taylor, who had 11 fourth-quarter points vs. SAC), but their offensive partner in the post. Dewayne Dedmon (15-and-15 plus 4 assists @ UTA on Tuesday) enjoyed 11 points, plus eight of his game-high 14 rebounds, in the second-quarter as his Hawks blew that November game open. Ded-head also dropped five dimes, nearly matching Prince’s eight (seven in the final frame) as Atlanta shot 16-for-32 from downtown, plus an absurd 34-for-47 on the cushy interior of the Kings (NBA-worst 54.7 opponent eFG%). If Cauley-Stein (1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, one of 10 active NBA players averaging at least on of each) isn’t locked in defensively, it could prove to be a long night for hoop fans inside the sold-out Golden 1 Center (80-game sellout streak. No Onyxes in Sactown?) and, perhaps, Beyond. The Kings will strive to fight fire (NBA-worst 38.6 opponent 3FG%) with fire (38.1 3FG%, 2nd-best in NBA). They’ll lean on Hield and Bogdanovic, if he’s available (probable, sore hammy), plus rookies Justin Jackson and Mason off the bench, to get open for Fox. Failing that, hey, there’s always that guy Vince Carter on the bench. If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll get to show us all what tricks he still has up his sleeve. Do they even have lawns to get off of, down in Daytona Beach? If I lived there, I’d be so retired by now. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. “Heading down to 8th in the East? I Dont wanna be here!” So, I wonder… how was Malcolm Brogdon’s evening? He watch anything fun last night? The injured Atlanta native has several ACC teammates on the Milwaukee Bucks, who host the road-tripping Atlanta Hawks this afternoon (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin). So, the former UVA star doesn’t need to hear any yapping from anybody, least of all the newest birthday boy, the now-23-year-old Dookie Jabari Parker. And he’ll be glad he’s not crossing paths with another Malcolm. “I wouldn’t want any other 1 seed in history to lose to a 16…. UVA”, tweeted the injured Hokie-turned-Hawk Malcolm Delaney after last night’s earth-shaking upset by something called UMBC, his e-comment concluded with enough crying-LOL emojis to populate an improv show at a chopped-onion factory. Aside from Parker’s birthday this past Thursday, there hasn’t been much to celebrate lately around Milwaukee. The Bucks thought the worst was over when they replaced Jason Kidd with coach Joe Prunty, following a tepid 23-22 start, and subsequently won nine of their next 11 games. It was during that run, though, that the 2017 Rookie of the Year, Brogdon, tore a quad muscle. Matthew Dellavedova, whose lovechild with Christian Laettner, Grayson Allen, becomes draft-eligible in a few weeks, also sprained an ankle and is out indefinitely. Milwaukee continued to roll despite the setbacks, including a 97-92 win over the Hawks at the BMOHBC back on February 13. But the wheels began slipping off in the next game, allowing 134 points at home to the Nuggets right before the All-Star Break. They seemingly righted their ship in the first game after the Break, in a 4-point road win at Toronto. But what followed was a 3-7 stretch that included Wednesday’s 126-117 loss down in Orlando. The backwards trending coupled with game-to-game inconsistencies was the problem that supposedly helped sway the mid-season coaching change. Now, a loss to the road-weary Hawks (5-27 in away games, tied w/ MEM for the league-worst) today would drop Prunty’s record this season to 13-11. With the Spurs, Clippers, Cavaliers (the ones with LeBron, Mr. Brogdon), and the Warriors coming up to close out the month, he needs momentum to remind people why the promotion was worth the trouble. Fortunately, for Joe, he’s got his former fellow Spurs staffer, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, down the sideline to lend a helping hand. Theoretically, even with the current backcourt-depleting injuries, a team with Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG), Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and sixth-man Jabari Parker all healthy, shouldn’t be scratching and clawing to get away from the 8-spot in the Eastern Conference, where Miami currently resides due to Milwaukee (36-32) holding a percentage-point lead. They are still a mere 3.0 games behind Cleveland for a first-round homecourt seeding. But their 14-24 record versus teams above .500 isn’t becoming of a club that wants to make noise once they get into the tourney. The Bucks (post-Break 1.41 assist/TO ratio, 27th in NBA; Atlanta’s 1.30 ranks 30th) have been a team loaded with playtakers, but not enough playmakers, even less so without Delly (team-high 27.7 assist%, as per bball-ref) Brogdon available. They’ve called up the older-but-wiser former Buck star Brandon Jennings from the G-League, and the 28-year-old helped in his season debut with 12 dimes plus 16 points in just over 23 minutes to make light work of the Grizzlies on Monday night. But Prunty reverted to older-but-just-as-wise-as-before Jason Terry as the prime bench option in Orlando. The Buck offense stilted, and the Buck defense wilted, as Magic default starter D.J. Augustin had himself a day (32 points, 6-for-9 3FGs) at Milwaukee’s expense. The Bucks’ tank-busting loss came against an Orlando team that was playing on the back side of a back-to-back following a return from a winless West Coast road trip. Antetokounmpo remains a worthy world-class attraction on the floor, but on many nights the people most attracted to his exploits are his deer-in-headlights teammates. The athletic forward is by no means selfish, averaging a team-high 4.8 APG even while being freed of point guard duties with Bledsoe’s arrival and Kidd’s departure. But Giannis is not a perimeter shooter (30.1 3FG%), and his floormates tend to get caught ball-watching, without a plan in mind for the occasions he kicks the ball out to them to finish plays. Although they’ve shown signs of coming around, Middleton (35.1 3FG%) and Bledsoe (33.9 3FG%) have been regressing from deep. Prunty is inclined to press Tony Snell (41.3 3FG%) and Parker (42.9 3FG%) into more action to compensate. But then, the team defense takes a hit (75.0 post-Break D-Reb%, 27th in NBA; 54.6 opponent eFG%, 24th in NBA), particularly without E-Bled getting stops (2.1 SPG, 2nd in NBA). It’s been more 3-or-D than 3-and-D for the Bucks. Giannis could use some bigs that could spread the floor, yet Thon Maker (30.1 3FG%) hasn’t proven up to the task, while John Henson doesn’t even bother. You would think the duo would help dominate the paint instead, but Milwaukee is bottom ten in the league for both O-Reb% and D-Reb%. Milwaukee, whose 10 player TOs (just seven steals by Atlanta) were stingy enough to hold off the Hawks last month, must continue playing keep-away today against a Hawks team (15.6 opponent TOs per game, still 2nd in NBA) that’s not as aggressive with getting stops on defense as they were with Ersan Ilyasova and, lately, Kent Bazemore around. Atlanta opponents are committing just 11.9 TOs per 48 minutes this month, a value surpassing only Brooklyn’s 11.4. Instead of handing the ball back to Atlanta, these foes are lofting 32.3 three-point attempts per game (3rd-most in NBA) while connecting on 42.5 percent of them (2nd-most in NBA). Hawks leading-scorer Dennis Schröder (28.9 3FG%) and Baze’s replacement starter, rookie Tyler Dorsey (32.6 3FG%), continue to attack on drives to the rim, but neither has been proficient enough from long-range to keep up with their opponents on defense. Who wants to see a double-digit bottom-seed topple a middle-range-seed today? Fans of the Bucks, and Some Fans of the Hawks, are just fine waiting for that to transpire tomorrow. We’ll see you in the ATL soon, Retrievers! Happy St. Pat’s! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. “Next stop… NBA championship glory!” No, Dwight Howard, you’re no Coach Killer! Not anymore, anyway. These days, think of yourself as more of a PBO/GM Manslaughterer. Howard arrived in Charlotte hoping to resurrect his formidable but fun-loving reputation, once more, under the auspices of his trusted coach from olden, more golden days of yore. Now Howard arrives for the final time this season at the Highlight Factory, with the GM who acquired him summarily dispatched, while suddenly lame-duck coach Steve Clifford is nearly on the outs, too. Perhaps coach (and former PBO) Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks can lob Coach Cliff, Dwight, and the Hornets yet another lifeline tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas). This time next week, Philips Arena will be populated to the rafters with countless fans of Final Four hopefuls, and more than a few discerning NBA scouts as well. While March Madness is thrilling for most of us, prognosticating by the seats of our pants and pulling for schools we’ve never heard of before, it must be an increasingly bittersweet feeling for the Carolina Ranger. Seven years removed from a blistering run to the NCAA Championship, Kemba Walker is finally getting All-Star accolades, but seems to be losing his way as the luster from his One Shining Moment wears thin. Hornet/Bobcat fans have learned, as well as anyone, that Tank-and-Stir isn’t a surefire way to NBA title contention. Kemba entered the league with all the well-deserved media hype and, with a college championship ring in hand, took Charlotte by storm, one Dougie dance at a time. The Bobcats didn’t wind up with the worst lottery odds, or the number-one pick, but when Walker landed in their laps, they sure felt like a 49er finally striking gold. Their new Savior was a good soldier, as fans endured the worst NBA campaign (7-59) in recorded history, plus a franchise remake on and off the court, with Kemba at center stage amid it all. There were supposed to be more than five first-round home playoff games in the Queen City by now. Kemba was supposed to be the effervescent talent that puts Charlotte routinely front-and-center on TNT Thursday nights, the lead guard with a dizzying handle and a unique five-letter name beginning with K who draws other superstars to his once-struggling NBA locale for annual shots at NBA Finals. But now, in 2018, Walker looks around him and is certainly scratching his head. That 7-59 tanktastic campaign begat Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a 2012 second-overall pick and fellow NCAA champion, a defensive savant who can never stay healthy enough to resolve his flaws at the other end of the floor. There’s Cody Zeller, the fourth-overall pick from 2013. The golden boy arrived in the Tar Heel State with similar post-March Madness promise. Yet Zeller has settled in as a solid reserve, behind Dwight, with his own sketchy injury history (unlikely to play tonight due to a knee injury). There’s Frank Kaminsky, 2015’s Naismith and Wooden Award winner and NCAA finalist, who has had a career arc that’s roughly the inverse of MKG’s. The season before he got there, Noah Vonleh was the belle of the ball at ninth-overall. He became a near-instant washout. But flipping him to Portland allowed the Hornets to gamble with Nicolas Batum, who stuck around for his big NBA payday but has yet to consistently display the sharp-shooting 3-and-D promise he once flashed as a Blazer (34.1 3FG% w/ CHA in 3 seasons). As Kaminsky was up late this morning, watching Drake and Ninja play Fortnite on Twitch, Walker (22.7 PPG and 43.1 FG%, down slightly from 23.2 and 44.4% last season) must be up wondering why his whole team, that started from the bottom, is still here (in the lottery). He serves as an example of the perils which await lotto-bound teams that forget their work isn't done, once their long-sought Savior arrives via the draft. Kemba knows he isn’t even the first UConn talent that a Charlotte NBA club failed to properly build around. Second-overall pick Emeka Okafor arrived in 2002, and he was subsequently supplemented with top-ten lottery picks Raymond Felton, Adam Morrison, Brandan Wright, and D.J. Augustin before giving up on him. A consistent thread from the prior era, continuing into the current one collected by recently-deposed GM Rich Cho, is most of the Horcats’ choices being swayed by big moments on big college teams on the biggest stage. As all the Dougying around Uptown has given way to Dabbing and, now, just plain Doubting. And as Walker continues looking around, he sees remnants of other teams’ former lottery dreams washing ashore at Lake Norman. Orlando’s 2004 1st-overall pick, Atlanta’s 2005 2nd-overall pick, and Philly’s 11th pick from 2013 and 2014 Rookie of the Year, all collecting checks and biding their time around Kemba, as he prepares for another playoff-less springtime with Charlotte (29-39, 7.0 games behind 8-seed Miami, who swept the Hornets 0-4), his third in the past four NBA seasons. The latter of that trio of once-heralded talents, former Syracuse star Michael Carter-Williams, was supposed to be the kind of steadying backup presence Charlotte gave up on when they traded off first-rounder Shabazz Napier in 2014 for P.J. Hairston. But while Napier is enjoying a career-best season as Damian Lillard’s caddie, MCW lurched his way toward what is, somehow, his worst season ever (career-lows of 36.2 eFG%, 19.5 assist%) before getting shut down two weeks ago for shoulder surgery. Hornets fans hope Carter-Williams’ injury is finally enough of a factor to allow Clifford to begin assigning 2017’s lottery hopeful, Kentucky Wildcat Malik Monk, significant playing time either behind or alongside Walker. Monk has gone from mere spot duty to about 15-20 minutes per game in the past month. But as playoff hopes dim for Charlotte (Tragic Number: 8), losers of six of their past seven games, one should expect a lot more than that. How transformable is this outfit? The next Hornets GM is about to find out. Aside from MCW, but including Knicks refugee center Willy Hernangomez, plus swingmen Jeremy Lamb (questionable for today, back spasms) and Dwayne Bacon, 11 of Charlotte’s 14 highest-salaried players are under fully guaranteed contracts for 2018-19. That’s a luxury-tax-teasing $117.9 million in team salary, including Kemba’s $12.0 million expiring, but not even counting the rookie-scale deal for 2018’s lottery fantasy. If players can’t be moved in the offseason, the Hornets’ next beekeeper will probably be inclined to make a shift along the sideline. But that’s where Coach Bud can assist Dwight with Coach Cliff’s cause tonight. The Hornets’ record would be all the more deflating without three decisive wins over the Hawks (20-48), by a decisive average score of 117.7 to 103.7. Atlanta has been outrebounded 47.3-35.3 during this season’s series as Howard has feasted (62.5 FG%, season-high 18 made FTs on 27 attempts, 19.3 PPG, 14.0 RPG), playing as close to his desired, centripetal style of play as Clifford will allow. When last these teams met here, on January 31, Howard’s 20-and-12 plus the All-Star-bound Walker’s 38 points (6 assists, 1 TO) was more than enough to outlast a Hawks team led in scoring by the now-departed Marco Belinelli (22 points) and the now-shelved Kent Bazemore (25 points). Baze’s and Belly’s teammates combined to shoot 5-for-20 from three-point land, including Dennis Schröder, who could dish it out (9 assists, 1 TO) but couldn’t take it (0-for-5 3FGs) in a 123-110 defeat. John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon made their marks coming off the bench back then. Now in the starting lineup, Dedmon (37.8 3FG%, 2-for-4 past two games) should be able to freely let it fly, particularly with Howard entrenched in the paint to play traffic controller against Schröder, Isaiah Taylor and the Hawks’ depleted backcourt. Miles Plumlee soaking up minutes (and fouls) off the bench should alleviate Mike Muscala (41.1 3FG%, 9-for-13 past three games) from the indignity of wasting energy guarding Howard around the rim. The small guards should find paths to the hoop with Batum and MKG now obligated to take turns trying to hold down Taurean Prince, who has been finding his offensive stride (10-for-21 3FGs, 13-for-14 FTs last two games) during Atlanta’s brief three-game homestand. His Princely sum of 25 points, in Tuesday’s late-game loss to OKC, followed up his career-high of 38 against the Bulls. Including his game-saving exploits in a win earlier this month against the Suns, Atlanta’s just 2-14 this season when Prince scores 18 or more points. But when he and his floormates are engaged defensively (Atlanta’s 7-0 when he finishes with a plus-minus above +10), Taurean is learning that his collectives can compete well, on most nights, against mediocre competition like the Hornets. For Charlotte, who will want to put this game away early once again, they need more than a wavering effort from Walker, who has laid some eggs in crucial games this month. Four days after dropping 31 in Philly, Kemba returned home and managed just five points on 1-for-9 shooting in a loss to the Sixers, his playoff-contending rivals. Last weekend, Walker sunk just four of 14 shots against the woeful Suns at Spectrum Center. He was in for the entire fourth quarter as Phoenix scored 43 points in the frame, narrowing a 22-point Hornet lead to just three during the final minute of play. In past seasons, we’ve hinted here that Budenholzer, a former NBA Coach of the Year with his stature secure here in Atlanta, would lay off the gas pedal against teams whose coaches’ futures might be imperiled. As demonstrated in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, the difference this season is that, with the Hawks now able to focus fully on player development, a collegial Coach Bud easing off the strategic throttle can be of long-term benefit to more than just the opposing team. Don’t forget to send Bud a thank you card this summer, Dwight! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. "I'm Sorry, Baze. But, like Triple H says, it’s What’s Best for Business!" Okay, Minnesota, listen here. Let us help you, help us, help you. Our Atlanta Hawks are not making the NBA playoffs for the first time since “This Is Why I’m Hot” and “Buy U A Drank” were bangin’ on the airwaves. But that’s nowhere near a BFD as your Timberwolves being on the fringe of being a playoff participant for the first time since Usher, Lil Jon and Luda were screaming “Yeah!”. Snoop wasn’t even Dropping It Like It’s Hot yet. Heck, your boy Prince and the New Power Generation had just released Musicology, and still had FIVE top-10 albums yet to work on. So most folks think you, Minnesota, are pulling for the Hawks (what’s left of them, anyway) to do their letter-best to trip up the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma). Beating your Northwest Division rival and low-seed competitor, one night after they nearly blew it at home against Sacramento, would seem to make it easier for you to make the Western Conference cut. But we know better. That’s because we know our Hawks aren’t the only club whose receipt of a Top-14-protected pick hangs in the balance over the coming weeks. Everyone knows we have your first-rounder, postseason-pending, from abandoning ship on The Adreian Payne Project back in 2015. But few realize you’ve been holding onto OKC’s pick, pried free from Utah (2015’s Enes Kanter trade), ever since giving up on The Ricky Rubio Experiment. Both picks melt into a pair of future second rounders if they’re not used in this or the next two seasons. That’s not so much a BFD in your case, as your starting lineup is a virtual First Round Pick Museum already. But there’s no telling if you’ll get a better deal out of OKC’s pick in the coming seasons, so long as Russell Westbrook (25.2 PPG, 10.1 APG) and Friends stick around the plains. Further, your own pick could be very valuable for us here in the ATL, as it’s standing probably won’t get much better in future years. Besides, all Hades will break loose if we’re all still sitting here two years from now with your conditional pick somehow still in play. So, Minnesota, here’s what we can do for each other. Until you clinch, T’wolves, you continue to take advantage of the breaks you’ve been given. Much like when you outlasted Golden State without Curry this past weekend, you can prevail in D.C. tonight without John Wall around. The Spurs may not have Kawhi back at 100% on Saturday against your well-rested squad. Sure, you’ve got a tough opponent schedule ahead of you. But there’s no need to wait two weeks from now, when our Hawks pay a visit to the Target Center, for you to notch your next victory. Meanwhile, here in Atlanta (20-47), we’ll do our part to make sure your division rival, the Thunder (40-29, just 2.0 games in front of 9-seed Denver and **rubs eyes** 10-seed San Antonio), don’t get to add a lottery pick to their currently star-studded stable. Otherwise, OKC’s ability to add a young star prospect on a rookie-scale deal might be enough to entice Paul George (career-high 41.0 3FG% and 2.0 APG) and Carmelo Anthony (35 points behind Reggie Miller for 19th all-time; 7-for-14 FGs vs. SAC on Monday, 1st time above 50 FG% in 20 games) to play this thing out in the Sooner State. Tonight, we vow not to sit around and just let Westbrook (7-for-34 3FGs post-All-Star Break) ply his wares from the perimeter, since that seems to work against the Thunder’s better interests on most nights. Trying to out-shoot the Hawks from downtown hasn’t been that hard of a task, as the Thunder (52.0 3FG%) demonstrated the last time these teams faced off, and as the Bulls (45.9 3FG%; 77 combined 3FGAs) were all too happy to do over the weekend here at Philips Arena. But Russ jacking threes (5.5 3FGAs in OKC losses, 3.4 in wins) takes him off the free throw line (6.7 FTAs in losses, an even-more Russ-diculous 7.2 in wins). He hasn’t been MVP-caliber at the charity stripe this season (career-low 73.4 FT%, down from career-high 84.5 FT%), which might be part of the reason he’s settling for shots outside the paint so frequently. Because many of those jumpshots come in isolation (4.4 iso FGAs per game, 4th in NBA; 0.85 points per possession, lowest among top 9 NBA iso-shooters), the copious treys tend to stifle the ball movement by Russ, individually (102.2 O-Rating and -10.1 Net Rating in losses, 115.1 & +16.8 in wins), and the Thunder as a team. Hawks point guards Dennis Schröder (probable, sprained elbow) and Isaiah Taylor (probable, sprained ankle) will stay up on Westbrook and go over screens, compelling the Thunder guard to do what he does best, drive to the rim (NBA-high 18.9 drives per game; Dennis’ 16.2 ranks 4th in NBA), and set up his teammates for less-contested scoring chances (14.3 assist% off drives, second only to Chris Paul among players with 10+ drives/game; Dennis’ 9.1% ranks 27th) when the Atlanta defense contracts. The three leading scorers for the Hawks when last these teams met, on December 22, aren’t available. Marco Belinelli (27 points) and Ersan Ilyasova (22 points) are currently in the pregame line at either Pat’s or Geno’s, while Malcolm Delaney (20 points) remains out with a sprained ankle. With Atlanta Competitanking their way out of a 16-point second-half hole, it took a lucky triple from Westbrook with two seconds left to avoid overtime at The Peake and escape with a 120-117 win. You’re welcome, Minnesota. Oh, and the Hawks’ top assist-man from that game, Kent Bazemore, has exited stage left due to a bruised knee bone. That doesn’t mean Hawks’ whiteboard wizard Mike Budenholzer will make things simpler for OKC to overwhelm tonight. Or, more precisely, it doesn’t mean Thunder coach Billy Donovan will make it easy for ATL to underwhelm. We know how it works around here by now. Steven Adams (NBA-high 4.9 screen APG; questionable, bruised hip) comes down with a bout of australopithecus afarensis or somesuch. Westbrook slips and slides like he did last night, PG13 tweaks an ankle. Next thing you know, our poor Hawks have to pretend-contend with the likes of grizzled vets like Raymond Felton, Nick “yep, still here” Collison, and replacement starter Corey Brewer (15.0 PPG, 53.8 FG% in last 3 games/1st 3 starts w/ OKC). It would help the Thunder if Andre Roberson (out for season, torn patella) was available. But for as long as George is in the game, he’ll be tasked with keeping Taurean Prince (career-high 38 points, 7-for-13 3FGs, 9-for-10 FTs) from smelling himself once again, trying to force errors by getting him to put the ball on the floor and not in the air. Only the Thunder (NBA-high 15.9 opponent TOs, 16.8 deflections & 9.4 loose-ball recoveries) get foes to make more mistakes than our pesky Hawks (15.8 opponent TOs). The good news for you, Minnesota, is that while Atlanta gives up (17.7 opponent PPG off TOs) nearly as much as they get (NBA-high 18.4 PPG off TOs, tied w/ OKC) from turnovers, the Thunder are masters of turnover transition (NBA-low 14.2 PPG off TOs). The less George contributes, the less this factor matters. So we’ll try to keep him out of foul trouble (team-high 2.9 PFs/game, tied w/ Adams). Shorthanded as the Hawks may be, they’ll have their full frontcourt complement in tow, including Tyler Cavanaugh (probable, ankle sprain) and Money Mike Muscala (career-high 19 points vs. CHI; 8-for-11 3FGs in last two games) to back up Dewayne Dedmon and probable All-Rookie snub John Collins (15-for23 2FGs in last three games). Hopefully for OKC, Collison, Patrick Patterson and rookie Dakari Johnson will be needed only to relieve Adams (16 points and 11 boards vs. ATL on Dec. 22), not supplant him. For all the attention on you, Minnesota, Oklahoma City’s schedule is looking quite arduous as well. Houston, Toronto, Golden State and Boston are all on OKC’s docket among 11 consecutive games versus above-.500 clubs, a stretch that commences when the Thunder return home to deal with your fellow playoff-contending LA Clippers. They won’t get another gimme until their April 11 season finale, at home, versus the Grizzlies. The importance of making relatively easy wins relatively easy should not be lost on OKC. So, don’t worry about what we’re doing over here, Timberwolves. You take care of business on your end, and just help us help you achieve our mutual objectives. On that note: hey, Tom Thibodeau, this is no time to be out here tinkering with newcomers in your backcourt rotation. That task is for lottery-bound teams like our Hawks, not yours. You’re free to give D-Rose his obligatory 40 minutes per night… but only AFTER you clinch. Capisce? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  16. Don’t choke, Robin! At least, not today! Kinda busy downtown today, eh? I’m way too immersed in March Madness (Go Georgia State!) and Atlanta United’s home debut to get too deep into this afternoon’s other contest, the Tank War between our Atlanta Hawks and the visiting Chicago Bulls (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, WGN in CHI). So, let’s stick to tidbits! No more Holidays for Justin! The Commish isn’t big-letter Stern anymore but he issued a small-letter stern warning to Chicago for ostensibly “resting” otherwise healthy guys like Justin Holiday (DNP’d for 4 consecutive games) and Robin Lopez for days on end. So expect to see the former Hawk in the starting lineup. Despite elevated usage the 28-year-old swingman may never see again in his NBA career, Holiday has been a wayward shooter all season long (37.9 FG%). But he did feast on Memphis cooking (5-for-5 FGs) in a Tank War win over the Grizzlies earlier this week. The Bulls (22-43) have won their last three versus the Hawks, including both games so far this season. They won handily in their last visit to Atlanta, a 113-97 edge led by Lopez’s 20 points (9-for-13 FGs). In just his first week of NBA action this season, Zach LaVine struggled from the floor but still managed to grab a team-high nine defensive rebounds. In that January game, Holiday, Jerian Grant, Ryan Arcidiacono, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis shot a combined 12-for-19 on threes, freeing up Lopez and rookie star Lauri Markkanen to do their damage on the interior (17-for-29 2FGs). Contributions off the bench from the soon-departing Nikola Mirotic weren’t really needed. Chicago’s starters combined for just 5 TOs between them, usually a recipe for disaster for the Hawks (20-46). Coach Fred Hoiberg’s crew enjoyed a season-high 62 rebounds (incl. 18 O-Rebs) against the Hawks in Chicago way back on October 26, yet still found themselves clinging to a 91-86 victory, thanks to Marco Belinelli finding a fourth-quarter hot-hand. Dewayne Dedmon (10.5 RPG vs. CHI this season) and John Collins together in the starting lineup should make it tougher for Lopez (18.0 PPG vs. ATL this season) and Lauri (16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG vs. ATL) to get easy buckets and putbacks today. The Bulls’ only legit injury was to glue-guy Paul Zipser (foot), who is listed as doubtful for this contest. The Bulls have been lousy on the road (7-25), but most of those beatdowns have been out West (1-12). On that note, their next Tank War comes later this week in Memphis. Go Bulls Go! We can expect to see plenty more of rookie second-rounder Tyler Dorsey, among the few bright spots for the Hawks during Friday night’s 112-87 loss in Indiana (3-for-8 3FGs). There’s no need to pull a Bulls and DNP leaders like Kent Bazemore, or Dennis Schröder (18.0 PPG and 2.0 SPG vs. CHI this season) all week long, when Coach Bud can simply ramp up the minutes and flatten the learning curve for Dorsey and Isaiah Taylor. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  17. “INDY FACE!” Taking care of business versus the Atlanta Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, for the second time in fifteen calendar days, should be of utmost importance to the Indiana Pacers (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana). Hopefully, it won’t be necessary for the visitors to impress the value of this game upon the hosts. The Pacers (37-28) are nearly at the high-water mark of where I could’ve expected the Hawks (20-45) to reside, under an absolute best-case scenario in this transitional NBA season. They’ve enjoyed a star turn from a young guard taking his lumps as he learns to lead a team on the fly (Victor Oladipo; Dennis Schröder), and continued, if unsteady, improvement from its longest-tenured contributor (Myles Turner; Kent Bazemore). Plus there has been better shooting (Bojan Bogdanovic; Marco Belinelli), veteran savvy (Thaddeus Young; Ersan Ilyasova) and emerging players that served as luxuries off the bench (Domantas Sabonis; John Collins). Mix in some experienced coaching talent (Nate McMillan; Bud) and the Pacers have almost maxed out their conceivable success in the aftermath of their All-Star’s pre-season departure (Paul George; Paul Millsap). That should be cause for celebration in Hoosierville, especially for a team that eschewed the notion of tanking and has won seven of its past ten games, situating themselves within a mere 1.5 games of 3-seed Cleveland. Yet Indiana knows their last three defeats were the kind that should not have been left on the table. They would be in that third-seed spot right now, but for losses to three teams that are outside-looking-in at the moment in the playoff picture. Two were bad road losses in consecutive contests, at Dallas and Atlanta, the latter a 107-102 loss on February 28. Their most recent setback was here at the Fieldhouse in a 104-84 defeat at the hands of Utah, the Pacers’ biggest home loss since mid-November. To the Pacers and their fans, the reward for this fantastic voyage ought to be a first-round series that starts in their homecourt, not on the road in Toronto, Boston, or Cleveland. Continued step-backs versus non-playoff competition like Atlanta won’t put the cherry on their season-long sundae. Four of Oladipo’s seven-worst games shooting from the field (based on TS%) have come in the seven Pacer games since his return from the All-Star Game. The two worst of his season were in his past two contests, at home versus Utah and division-rival Milwaukee, the latter a 92-89 grindfest where the Pacers simply had to hang on to fend off a late Greek Freak onslaught and obscure Oladipo’s career-high ten turnovers. His other two worst off-shooting nights were against these Hawks, including Atlanta’s last visit here on February 23. Victor combined to shoot 14-for-41 FGs against Atlanta in the past two games, including 9-for-25 (1-for-9 3FGs) on the Wednesday before last. On occasions like on the 23rd, when he got some help from teammates like Young (9-for-16 FGs, 5 steals), fill-in starter Cory Joseph (7-for-12 2FGs, 4 steals), plus Sabonis (8-for-11 2FGs, 5 O-Rebs), and the trippy Lance Stephenson (5-for-7 2FGs, 8 assists) off the bench, the Pacers can cruise versus lesser competition. But then there are Off-adipo nights like the 28th, when Indy compounds bad, unbalanced shooting with sloppiness (season-high 24 player TOs; only other time committing more than 16 since December was 17 vs. ATL on Feb. 23) and a failure to box out (six O-Rebs by Mike Muscala on 2/28, matching ATL’s total on 2/23 by himself). When that happens, the Pacers can find themselves losing to anyone, even a Hawks team that is now, officially (as per Elias Sports Bureau) the most inexperienced in the NBA (estimated 1.6 average years of service as of Feb. 27). McMillan will likely have some experienced help on hand ahead of tonight’s matchup. Usual starting guard Darren Collison (5.3 APG, 1.3 TOs/game) had arthroscopic knee surgery before the All-Star Break, but plans to contribute off the bench tonight. To help with rebounding and frontcourt depth, the team recently acquired former 76er Trevor Booker, who debuted for the Pacers against Milwaukee. The fine folks at Bleacher Report took a beating from discerning fans this week. They attempted to call out the Hawks resting Bazemore, for the first time all season, back on March 4th as symbolic of “a massive tank problem” getting out of control throughout the league. This was a mistake almost as egregious as ESPN omitting the once under-utilized Collins (team-high 14 points @ TOR, tying Baze; 57.8 FG%, 5th-highest among qualifying rookies in NBA history) from their 25-under-25 list this week. Hawks fan-writers Bo Churney and K.L. Chouinard were foremost in taking the B/R writers to task for their lazy observation. “(Baze) resting, the same Bazemore who had otherwise only missed a single game this year,” chastised Churney to B/R, “caused you to make a video about the NBA’s tanking ‘problem.’” Churney noted astutely, “The Hawks still won that game. This is either a you problem or blatantly misleading journalism.” Most observant NBA fans concur that Atlanta has been about as forthright and above-board as anybody in the lottery game about their approach to this season. Here, there are no teammates harming their own cause by punching each other in the nose; no premature, fly-off-the-handle coach firings; no coaches sitting otherwise healthy talents for weeks on end; no coaches feuding with ten-year vets and sending them home to stew while still collecting a paycheck. Belinelli was still hooping dutifully for this team when Memphis sand-bagged Tyreke Evans. Ilyasova was still hoping to stick around, at least until after a Payne-ful trade deal with a contender proved impossible to swing. On and off the court, this hasn’t been the atmosphere of blatant white-flagging that we’ve seen in other NBA locales. “Some teams may be dragging their feet,” Chouinard sub-tweeted regarding the B/R hit-piece video, “but pacing (Baze) for 79 games instead of 81 isn’t it. Look elsewhere.” If the Hawks’ meager efforts result in a top-tier draft pick, that’s swell. But their insistence on getting younger, giving otherwise wholly inexperienced players a chance to show how they might become NBA regulars with real minutes and strategic development, has been straight-forward from the moment Tyler Cavanaugh started getting steady floor time back in November, if not before. Everyone from the Suns to the Warriors can vouch for the fact that Coach Bud’s Hawks are not mailing games in, certainly not from tipoff. They have entered the fourth quarter of their past four games no more than six points behind their competitors, including Tuesday night, where they held a hotly-contested one-point lead at Air Canada Centre before finally letting go of the rope for the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors. While oft-critiqued as a sign of tanking in broad daylight, Budenholzer’s decision whether to ride with his leading scorer, Schröder, in the close of contests hasn’t decisively affected the outcomes either way, especially when one considers that the point guard’s defensive deficiencies aren’t always on the court, either. The Hawks have been ceding more points since the All-Star Break (112.2 opponent PPG, up from 107.8 pre-Break). But that has been mostly a function of a hike in turnovers (18.3 post, 14.8 pre) and a propensity for fouling rather than properly contesting, especially in away games (33 opponent FTAs @ TOR; 0-14 on road when allowing 25+ FTAs). Despite a great season thus far, the Pacers’ fans (and, Some Others) hope this team has learned from the last Hawks game that resting on their laurels is premature, at best. If Indiana sits back and fails to attack Atlanta’s less-experienced playmakers, move the ball, and secure defensive rebounds, they will again find themselves like many of Atlanta’s opponents, looking up at the second-half scoreboard and wondering: “Who are these guys? And why are we still in a dogfight with them?” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  18. “Sure, Taurean! I can hug DeMar, while you take another game-winning shot!” **God’s Plan Starts Playing** Happy birthday to you, Malcolm Miller! How about this… you get to be an NBA starter, with the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors, on the very day you turn 25! Don’t worry, though. Your birthday matchup is just against the lowly Atlanta Hawks (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Sportsnet One in TOR). The only way to mess this up is to show up on the floor in your birthday suit! A lot of things had to happen to allow this 6-foot-7 product out of Holy Cross to hear his name announced during introductions at the Air Canada Centre. All-Rookie candidate OG Anunoby has been on the shelf this past week with a sprained ankle. Norman Powell has struggled mightily and is undersized for the position anyway, and Raptors coach Dwane Casey doesn’t want to overtax veteran swingman C.J. Miles just yet. So, filling in the space that once was prescribed in past seasons for DeMarre Carroll now goes to Miller, a two-way player who spent last season in Germany, the prior year in the D-League, and missed Summer League and preseason due to ankle surgery. In his first start on Sunday against Charlotte, Miller managed a rebound in 13 minutes while generally staying out of the way of Toronto’s efficient offensive lineup (110.9 O-Rating, 4th in NBA; 112.6 since the All-Star Break). Casey can afford to leapfrog Miller up the depth chart not only because he has an All-Star backcourt featuring DeMar DeRozan, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week (20.8 PPG, 59.5 2FG% since Feb. 26), and Kyle Lowry, but also since he doesn’t want to tinker with, probably, the best bench unit going right now in the Association. As per basketball-reference, the 5-man lineup of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl has been outscoring foes by 25.9 points per 100 possessions. It’s Casey most-utilized lineup not including the usual Jurassic 5 starters, and it has been dazzlingly effective. That’s even without Powell, who has been atrocious (39.6 FG%) since returning from an early-season hip pointer. The third-year guard parlayed a decent shooting effort and some momentous plays during last year’s playoffs into a four-year, $42 million extension deal that comes due next season. Barring some wild trades, literally every Raptor returns in 2018-19, and Toronto’s Coach of the Year finalist is at wit’s end trying to find a rotation spot that makes Powell playable, even versus downtrodden teams like the Hawks. “I feel for (Powell) because it’s nothing he’s done wrong,” Casey told Sportsnet radio last week. “It’s just the guys in front of him have played so well and executed… at some point, we’re going to need Norm in that rotation somewhere. It’s nothing he and (ex-Hawk Bebe Nogueira) have done wrong.” The Hawks have already been molly-whopped on three occasions by the Raps, losing by average final scores of 110.3-89.6. Yet it’s not the double-barreled blast of Lowry and DeRozan that has made the difference, nor the frontcourt tandem of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, when these teams have faced off. In each contest, Atlanta has found itself submerged by at least one of those Toronto subs: Poeltl and Siakam in November’s 34-point home defeat, by Wright and Poeltl in a 13-point road loss the following month, and by VanVleet filling out the box score line (19 points, 4-for-6 3FGs, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks) in under 19 minutes when last these teams met in January, another decisive 15-point win for the visitors at the Highlight Factory. The Raptors have mixed in sound perimeter defense on Atlanta’s most obvious threats, with steady ball control on their own end, to keep the Hawks comfortably at arm’s length. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer had just begun dabbling with John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon in the starting unit with Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince and Dennis Schröder back on November 25. And together they did well, for about a quarter. Then the mostly unheralded Raptor reserves, plus Powell, stepped in and wrested the momentum away for good in Toronto’s resounding 112-78 win. But Atlanta’s starting-five have been drinking milk and getting stronger. Either that, or they have a steady, healthy first unit growing better accustomed to one another under the tutelage of Hawks U. As per nba.com stats, among 23 Five-Man Lineups playing at least 50 minutes together since the All-Star Break, the starting quintet for Atlanta’s 13.0 Net Rating (and 62.0 TS%) ranks 6th-best in the league. Only Philly’s Death Lineup of Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric and Embiid have fared better in the East. The Hawks (20-44) can hear all the Tangst from their fanbase, the “Let’s Blow, Hawks!” chants all the way back home, south of the border. And, yes, the notion they might earn their first two-game win streak in a month is fairly far-fetched. But they play tonight in search of a more competitive outcome versus top-notch competition like Toronto (45-17, NBA-best 26-5 at home), particularly on the road, where their own 5-25 record is tied with the Grizzlies as the league’s worst. Achieving a closer outcome will require continuing what has worked thus far among the starters, keeping careless turnovers to a minimum and committing to score at least free throws off the rare live-ball turnovers Toronto (14.5 opponent points per-48 off TOs, 4th-fewest in NBA) coughs up. Then, it will be up to T-N-T (Tyler and Taylor) and the M&M Boys (Moose, Miles, Morris and maybe Magette, in place of the ankle-hobbled Malcolm) to keep whatever leads or small deficits the starters managed to gain from spiraling totally out of control. Atlanta’s bench brigade (with Delaney) shot a balanced 18-for-36 from the field versus the setting Suns this past weekend, but they’ll have to be better defensively and in transition to keep up with the Raptor reserves. Toronto allows just 24.9 three-point attempts per game, a league-low despite playing at a modest overall pace. But the Raps also will be leaning on the birthday-boy to help hold things down in transition with Anunoby sidelined (note to Bud: no need to start any international incidents this time, okay?). So Baze (DNP-TANK vs. PHX) and Sunday’s “hero”, Prince, will want to scamper down to the corner 3-point spots and help open the floor up for Dennis and the bigs. Taurean’s 22 points (6-for-8 3FGs) led the charge in the Hawks’ oddly captivating 113-112 win over hand-down-man-down Phoenix on Sunday. And Prince tried his best to rename this town Taureanto during his last trip here, going off for 30 points (19 in the second half; 5-for-6 3FGs), plus 10 boards and no turnovers, to help make the final score closer than it really was. For Miller and the Raptors’ swingmen, will they find blowing Prince off his perimeter spots, and out of the paint, is as easy as putting out a candle on a cake? Make your wish, Mr. Miller. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  19. Me watching Iguodala guard Baze in the clutch. TankWars, baby! While the Atlanta Hawks and the Phoenix Suns tempt fate in this Sunday matinee at The Highlight Factory (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Arizona), a question rages… who gets your vote for the Tank LVP? To qualify for the prestigious Least Valuable Player on a Tanking Team Award, your pick has to have 40 Ls under their belt or, alternatively, played in at least 45 games and have at least twice as many losses and wins. Oh, and they have to kinda be ballin’ outta control. The Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol and the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki would be right near the top, but with all their experience in the league, they get the Honorable Mention treatment LeBron gets at MVP time. Among NBAtank youngsters with 40 losses, Atlanta’s John Collins has the best Player Impact Estimate score (12.3 PIE), with his teammate Dennis Schröder (11.6 PIE) right on his tail. But the Tank LVP, for my Bitcoin, is Phoenix’s Devin Booker. A 16-33 record on the floor is pretty bad, but his Suns (19-45) are a much-worse 3-12 without him around. Armed with high usage (5th in NBA) for obvious reasons, Book (25.2 PPG, 9th in NBA; career-high 4.8 APG, 38.2 3FG% and 88.6 FT%) does all he can to keep the league’s most off-kilter shooting team (NBA-low 49.4 team eFG%) relevant offensively. The problem for me (well, for Some Suns Fans, really) is that Booker is threatening to disqualify himself for this honor. Today, Booker should have little problem grabbing a fifth consecutive 30-burger, his next one tying the great d*ck Van Arsdale (41) for the most in Suns franchise history, and ex-Sun greats Charles Barkley and Charlie Scott for the most consecutive games. This past Friday, as his Suns Competitanked to their heart’s content in a 124-116 home loss to OKC, Devin The Dude crossed the 4,000-point scoring mark. It should be noted, this is the first season he could buy a Lime-A-Rita to celebrate such a feat, without a fake ID. Only Bron and Kevin Durant were wetter behind the ears when they passed 40K. Collins (6-for-7 FGs vs. GSW on Friday), Schröder (27 points, 9 dimes vs. GSW) and the Hawks have a chance to further spoil Booker’s shot at Tank LVP today. Collins and Dewayne Dedmon would have to do their best not to exploit a depleted Suns line that has been without would-be incumbent starter Alan Williams (meniscus tear) all season long, and without Tyson Chandler (neck spasms) since the All-Star Break. Top-ten lottery plums Alex Len, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss remain standing in the frontcourt, as does swingman Josh Jackson (19 points, 7-for-10 2FGs vs. OKC). But the likelihood they’ll someday become lottery prunes on Phoenix’s watch is what can happen when teams get hopelessly mired in Tankopolis. Booker can focus more on attacking and shooting, now that he has a steadier option sharing the backcourt with him. The Suns used a 2018 second-rounder to swing a Trade Deadline deal for Elfrid Payton, and while he hasn’t changed his hair, you can’t say, “But She’s Got a New Hat!”. Payton’s giving it his best Lonzo Ball impression, averaging 17.1 PPG, 7.5 APG and an eye-opening 7.8 RPG as a Sun, despite lackluster shooting from the floor (28.6 3FG%). Elf notched a triple double in just his third game with the Phoenicians, surpassing Connie Hawkins as the fastest Sun to accomplish that. Against OKC, his fourth double-doub in just eight Suns games consisted of 18 points and 10 boards. Payton, Booker and sixth-men Troy Daniels and Tyler Ulis, don’t really have the defensive chops to hold other teams back, not even Atlanta, who maintains an NBA-worst 93.7 O-Rating since the All-Star Break. Tank MIP candidate T.J. Warren (career-high 19.5 PPG), who returned Friday from a tailbone injury earlier in the week, will do his best to try to keep Kent Bazemore (career-high 29 points versus the Warriors) from smelling himself once again. But he’ll be splitting time between trying to patch up the Suns’ interior woes (47.5 opponent paint PPG, 4th-most in NBA) and keeping Baze at bay. Schröder and Bazemore each had 20 points apiece in Phoenix back on January 2. But it took a flame-throwing Booker (12 points, an assist, and a steal in the final 150 seconds of play), some sketchy decisions from Schro and Baze, and the first of many bad-hair-days this calendar year from Taurean Prince (would’ve been 3-for-14 FGs vs. PHX, but for a game-saving dunk block by Chriss; 0-for-5 2FGs and 5 TOs vs. GSW) to convert a 99-89 Hawks advantage with 2:53 left into an improbable 104-103 “win” for the Suns. Atlanta built up that late lead with the help of Ersan Ilyasova (team-high 21 points) and Marco Belinelli (16 points), both of whom are in the City of Brotherly Shove now. The Hawks will try to make up for that displaced offense with Collins, now a starter in place of Ersan, and bench guys, like Isaiah Taylor and Malcolm Delaney, who were all virtual no-shows against the Suns. The Hawks might have pulled off the “win” against the Warriors on Friday if they had measurable support from their reserves (six players, combined 5-for-15 FGs, 9 rebounds and a steal vs. GSW). Warriors, Celtics, Kings, Suns. Phoenix is one of four NBA teams, and only two Tank Squads, with a better record away from home (10-21 on the road, 9-24 at Talking Stick). Today, Some Fans will hope the Suns will eventually find a comfort zone at the Highlight Factory. With the outcome to this afternoon’s game hanging in the balance, and with Booker at the line shooting crucial free throws, he shouldn’t be surprised to hear Hawk-fan echoes bouncing off the cavernous Philips Arena walls. LVP! LVP! LVP! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  20. “Is Joe a schlub? Maybe. But he’s OUR schlub, fans, c’mon!” “BOOOO! SELL THE TEAM, YOU MORON! YOU SUCK!” Barely two seasons into his tenure, things weren’t going terribly well for the owner of the reigning world champion Golden State Warriors, who pay our Atlanta Hawks a visit tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO). Only six years ago this month, Joe Lacob approved the trade-away of the Warrior fans’ heart-and-soul. A second-round pick who would become the NBA’s Most Improved Player two seasons in, Monta Ellis was the long-term investment that, by his seventh season, seemed to be paying off, the occasional moped incident aside. Fans unilaterally understood, if ever their team could arrive at the elusive Shangri-La known as the NBA Finals, or even just the playoffs, it was essential to build the roster around a high-scoring, playmaking guard like Ellis. Alas, Dubs, Inc. didn’t seem to share that sentiment. Not exactly, anyway. At the trade deadline in March 2012, Monta, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, was sent packing to Milwaukee, in exchange for the talented and occasionally upright center Andrew Bogut. The trade didn’t necessarily spoil a possible playoff run, what would have been just the second in the franchise’s prior 16 seasons. The last one, in 2007, was a magical carpet ride guided by Baron Davis, and Ellis was looking the part of an heir apparent once Davis bolted for L.A after the following season. The momentary success from the 2007 We Believe season never sustained itself. The playoff appearance before that one was in 1994, back when the fellow being honored at halftime on this cool March evening, Chris Mullin, led the charge. This night was supposed to be about Mully. And it was, right up until Lacob tried to partake in the good vibes, after Mullin thanked the crowd, to reveal the jersey banner. By then, We Believe had become We Berate. Monta's Move had gone over about as well as a guy working on his golf swing in a hotel room. “Now that we got that over with…” Lacob snidely remarked, after allowing the din of disdain to die down once he grabbed the mic. “Today is about history… and respect.” Bump that! What kind of history had Lacob (and his even more-reviled predecessor, Chris Cohan) built up with to earn respect from the long-suffering ticketholder mob? Where’s the respect for Monta? BOO! Keeping his speech in line with pro-wrestling heel protocol, Lacob interrupted himself and put the mic down, in fading hope that the crowd might encourage each other to simmer down. Not happening. The Guest of Honor stepped forward to try and save Lacob’s forlorn face. “Sometimes, change is inevitable,” Mullin remarked, speaking somewhat directly to the elephant in the room. “It’s gonna work out just fine.” When the good-cop approach didn’t work, the one guy in the arena with a Warriors championship ring took matters into his hands. “Show a little bit of class!”, derided Rick Barry, incidentally one of the least classiest greats in the history of the league. Yeah, Rick, we’ve been down this stay-classy road already, take your pleas down to San Diego. “This is crazy! Seriously! C’mon, you’re doing yourself a disservice!” No, Rick, trading away a 25-point scorer that you’ve developed over seven years for a potentially washed bag of bones? THAT is a disservice. BOO! HISS! HISS! It was amazing the Warriors’ brass ever got through the ceremony. But you could see how their dedicated fanbase was past its boiling point. They had been sold bills of goods on draftees Chris Washburn, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber, Joe “Yes, we tanked for him” Smith, Adonal Foyle, Antawn “Shoulda Just Kept Vince” Jamison, Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu, Patrick O’Bryant, Ekpe Udoh, all of them top-ten NBA picks spanning 25 years. Each, including Mullin, was the lottery pick that was supposed to help the team turn the corner toward NBA greatness. They’ve endured the handing of the franchise keys to C-Webb, to Run TMC, to Spree, to Tawn, to J-Rich, to B-Diddy. It’s now 2012: Old Man Kobe and the Lakers are running laps around these division “rivals”. The once-equally downtrodden Mavericks just won a title, and even the Clippers – the Clippers! – are finally starting to get their act together. The latest Warriors Savior is gone, and everyone is still tapping their toes, pointing at their watches. One guy who couldn’t make it to these proceedings? Wardell Stephen Curry II. The third-year guard had just suffered yet another ankle injury days before, this one season-ending. Say, couldn't we have just traded one bag-of-bones (Curry) for another (Bogut) and kept Monta around? Guess who was in the building that day? Klay Alexander Thompson. The rookie hadn’t started more than a game yet. Nice fella, he just can’t carry a team anywhere. Lose just a couple more games at the end of last season, and we coulda had Jimmer instead! Darn that Curry kid, out here spoiling things. All this losing, all this pseudo-tanking, all this cycling through middling talent. When, pray tell, are we going to draft ourselves a real, bonified Savior? This was Warrior fan thinking in 2012, when the notion of Splash Brothers was still in the nascent stages. What if Lacob could have told the crowd: “Listen, I know you’re unhappy. But that broke-down guard we drafted a few years ago? He’s gonna win back-to-back MVP awards, and soon! Your Savior is still here on the roster, folks. He’s gonna join forces with our mid-tier lotto rookie, from this past year, to form a backcourt tour-de-force the world has never seen before! Your next NBA Finals MVP? I got a guy named Schlenk upstairs who will be bringing him over in a couple years.” “That center you’re all bitter-beer-faced about right now? What if I told you him getting injured is the ONLY reason you fall one win short of a three-peat? In a season where we win over 70 games! 70! We'll be half-a$$ing it and still be 48-14 six years from now!" "This very summer, people, we’re drafting one of the greatest defensive non-centers of all time… in the second round! Not only that, how about this: that player will help us woo a future league MVP to become our MVP of our NEXT victorious NBA Finals… you know, the one after the LAST Finals MVP, who will still be here?” “Show of hands, who wants to sign up for all that? Okay? Then, all of you, shut your pieholes, give it a minute, and thank me later! Go f’n Warriors!” Mic drop. Banner raise. There will be no scintillating analysis of tonight’s Hawks-Warriors matchup. Not on this glorious March afternoon. But I do want Hawks fans, particularly the skeptics about management, ownership, and The Way Forward, to look at the Dubs not with the prism through which we see them today, but the looking-glass Dubs fans peered through, disapprovingly, just six years ago. A rebuild of our beloved Hawks (19-43) remains the right move. But we should all understand by now, tear-downs and rebuilds can be tenuous, cyclical, frustrating, and downright exhausting. They usually don’t pay off quite the way you anticipate, if they do at all. Just ask a Warriors fan. Not one of these new-jack johnny-come-latelys flaunting jerseys in Philips Arena today, no. Talk to the older-school supporters, the ones who foresaw Monta Ellis’ abrupt departure as a harbinger of yet another decade full of terrible things to come. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  21. “Is THIS Your King???” Soon, legions of amped-up fans will fill into their seats, building up a decisive advantage for Atlanta’s home team. Of course, we’re not talking about our dear Atlanta Hawks, although they will benefit tonight from a few less opponent-cheering fanboys in the Philips Arena seats, what with the Indiana Pacers in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana in Hoosierville). No, that will instead be the scene around the corner in a couple weeks from now, as Atlanta Unites in lockstep around its Soccer Club. The fever pitch out on the pitch will take time to replicate on the Highlight Factory hardwood. But Travis Schlenk and company exude confidence that an offseason or two of fine-tuning is all it will take to turn Atlanta Hawks BC into a similar sensation as Atlanta United FC. In the meantime, noted futbol savant Dennis Schröder remains at center stage, trying to figure out if his best shot-making teammates headed to The Benz early. Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Babbitt. Three veterans that sunk more than one three-pointer per night, each at a 37-percent-or-better clip, each while donning the chartreuse-and-red. All three are in new NBA locales as of this evening. In that trio’s place, we’ve got no-frills second-rounders and G-League-caliber talents (Andrew White, Tyler Dorsey, Isaiah Taylor, the status-questionable Malcolm Delaney, the rehabbing Tyler Cavanaugh, etc.) figuring things out on the fly. This, all while big men Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins try their hands at long-distance sharpshooting for the first time in their natural lives, and while Taurean Prince (24 points, 4-for-11 3FGs vs. LAL during Monday’s loss; 16.3 3FG% in last six games) and Kent Bazemore (last 2 games: 0-for-5 3FGs, shoulda-been 8-for-11 on 2FGs but for Miles Plumlee) chuck-and-duck to their hearts’ content. For a player who thrives almost exclusively on the offensive end of the floor, there is little wonder why Schröder, whose 24 years of age now serves as the median on the team, exits February averaging a mere 4.0 APG, down from a monthly peak of 7.0 per game back in December and inclusive of a whopping four total assists in his first two appearances since the All-Star Break. While flawed himself, Schröder’s own shooting percentages are on an uptick (February: 43.7 FG%, 29.4 3FG%) compared to the nadir from the previous month (January: 40.2 FG%, 24.2 3FG%). They’ll have to continue improving for Atlanta (18-43, last in the East, 0.5 games behind Orlando) to stay in contention for occasional victories. That’s true even here at Philips, where Dennis is markedly more comfortable calling his own number (Home games: 46.5 FG%, 31.3 3FG%). What Hawks fans could once boast of as the NBA’s “Best Bad Team” (not the same as, “The Best Team at Being Bad”), using statistical metrics or even just eye tests, is no more. Certainly, not with the departure of three veteran shooters from the roster, supplanted by youngsters with replacement-level skillsets. But that doesn’t mean they no longer have a shot against playoff-caliber competition. The Pacers, who just soundly defeated the Hawks in Indiana just last Friday, know this about as well as anyone. Some Fans will be heartened to know that the Mavericks are 19-42, and not a league-worst 17-44, thanks to a pair of victories over the Pacers, most recently Monday’s 109-103 win in Dallas on Monday. To this point in the season, coach Nate McMillan’s crew has fattened up its win tally with an NBA-high 30 games versus teams with records presently below the .500 mark. Yet 9 of those contests have ended in defeat, including the Hornets, Lakers, Bulls, Knicks, and their playoff-hungry division rival Pistons (three times). The only subpar team on the docket for Indy (34-26, still just 2.0 games behind 3-seed Cleveland) in their next ten games are these Hawks, who return to the Fieldhouse for another rematch on March 9. The Pacers know they must take care of business before the competition ramps up, especially on the road, as demonstrating a knack for pulling out away-games matters at playoff time. But as was the case against the Mavs this week, when the Pacers are sluggish at contesting shots (53.8 opponent FG% in road games, tied-9th-highest in NBA; Dallas’ Doug McDermott and J.J. Barea combined 7-for-9 3FGs on Monday) and forcing turnovers (just 10 Maverick player TOs on Monday, matched by Prince and Schröder alone last Friday), when the starters find themselves over-reliant on Victor Oladipo scoring in the clutch (40.4% usage, 8th among active players; 26.3 clutch assist%, 7th among those top-8 players), and when their reserves fail to help rebound the ball (seven bench boards on Monday, matched by the Mavs’ Salah Mejri alone), they could find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard versus Betty White and Liz Taylor, never mind Andrew and Isaiah. Oladipo led the Pacers with 13 of their 38 fourth-quarter points, but they failed to get stops when it mattered and came up short, granting their otherwise distracted opponents 41 points in that final frame and thus spoiling a promising outing from Myles Turner (24 points on 10-for-14 FGs, 3 blocks and 11 rebounds) after his lackluster start against Atlanta last weekend. “We didn’t have enough energy and enough fight to get out too fast,” said Cory Joseph, still filling in for Darren Collison as a starting guard, to Monday’s postgame media, “and they (Mavs’ shooters) were knocking them down.” Pivoting to his team’s next game, Joseph had no problems seeing a nexus. “(Atlanta) doesn’t have a great record,” he noted, “but they’ve got a good team that plays together, plays hard. They’re a young team, so we’ve got to bring a lot of energy.” If the Pacers play to their strengths, as they are capable, they will have little trouble keeping Schröder and the Hawks at bay. Alternatively, if their gameplan relies on Plumlee scoring some own goals on their behalf, they could find themselves in late-game trouble yet again. As Atlanta United fans are aware, you don’t want to let an important outcome, in a game versus an inferior opponent, come down to penalty kicks. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  22. “Bean burritos again, huh?” While Tanxiety is sweeping across the fanbase of the Atlanta Hawks, they’ll sit shoulder-to-shoulder at Philips Arena, tonight, with fans of the Los Angeles Lakers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Spectrum SportsNet in La-La-Land), one of several organizations whose fans are suffering from a bout with Tank Fatigue. Hawks fans will come to understand this in a year or five, but it does wear fans out to hear, one year after the next, that everything is riding, once again, on the ability to draft the likes of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Brandon Ingram in forthcoming drafts, that the next heralded collegiate wiretap subject is all that it will take to bounce back into legitimate playoff contention. Never mind what was decreed in the seasons prior. Once said draftee arrives in town, Savior Watch goes into effect, where all the hopes that the old rookie doesn’t veer off into Mediocreville or Busttown, gets shifted and foisted onto the new guy. Everything from a rookie’s shot mechanics to his Snapchats get monitored and scrutinized intensely, playoff-starved fans desperately seeking signs of a clear corner-turning toward super-stardom. The present Flavor of the Year, of course, is Lonzo Ball, who plays his first game at Philips Arena tonight. Ball missed 15 games leading up to the All-Star Break to heal an MCL sprain, and he was rested on Saturday (second night of a back-to-back for the Lakers) as part of his injury management plan. Coach Luke Walton’s club doesn’t have to sweat over lottery positioning this season, a product of the organization’s all-in gamble in 2012 to try pairing Kobe with whatever remained of Steve Nash. So rather than pressure to lose with youth on the floor, there is pressure to win, but not to do it with detritus like Luol Deng, Corey Brewer, or Channing Frye on the floor. Up until now, the Lakers have gotten about as much production, from one year to the next, out of their non-lottery selections (new Cavs Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Ivica Zubac, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart) as they have from their more touted rookie prizes. But this isn’t acceptable any longer. Los Angeles (25-34, 7.5 games behind 8-seed Denver, 10-5 in last 15 games) is under the gun to somehow make a mad dash toward the playoffs, and Walton must find a way to do it with his newest prize pupil, Ball, leading the way. Everything has been Lonzo-centric all season long, but especially now. How does Walton work Ball back into a steady rotation, with Ingram (18.3 PPG, 5.6 APG this month) playing arguably the best basketball of his short career in a point guard role? With All-NBA second-teamer-turned-panic-button victim Isaiah Thomas (17 points @SAC off the bench on Saturday) insisting he deserves to be a starter, no matter the circumstance? With the 6-foot-5 Hart (8.0 RPG, 48.7 3FG% this month) rebounding out of his mind, even more effectively than Ball (3rd among all rookies in RPG)? With Georgia native Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (season-high 34 points, career-best 8 3FGs @ SAC) emerging as a go-to guy? On top of all that, can Walton pull it off without drawing unwelcome Big Baller Beef, yet again, from Lonzo’s pops? Los Angeles is coming off consecutive wins over a pair of lottery-bound teams (vs. Dallas, at Sacramento) to start their post-Break schedule, and they intend to make it a trifecta tonight. Lonzo was instrumental to the Lakers ending a nine-game slide back on January 7, his team-high 10 rebounds, three made triples, and six assists helping Los Angeles cruise past the visiting Hawks, 132-113. But if the returning Ball isn’t the player making a splash, soon, and/or if his team regresses, the Lakers’ staff and brass run the risk of having to stamp out another PR fire. Turnovers (15.3 turnover%, 5th-worst in NBA, just behind the sloppy Hawks’ 15.4%) and sketchy defense (119.6 opponent PPG in last 5 games) have long been problems for the oft-erratic Lakers (1st in pace). Ball and the Lakers’ young stars must mature and stabilize themselves quickly, particularly tonight, if they intend to end Dennis Schröder (27 points, 10-for-19 2FGs @ LAL on Jan. 7) and the Hawks’ home game streak versus Western Conference clubs at eight. While KCP helps patrol the perimeter, Los Angeles’ interior defense must be strong enough to keep Schröder and John Collins (15 points in 21 bench minutes @ LAL) from piling up points in the paint (LAL opponents 48.4 paint PPG, 2nd-most in NBA) at their expense. The Lakers’ fans have tired of being Processed meat, and they’re eager to see if they indeed have the Next Magic / Next Kobe on their hands, or at least if they have enough quality talent to entice a free agent superstar to wander onto the team this summer. The time for the Lake Show is now. Their tank has reached the end of the road, and the purple-and-gold-clad fans at The Highlight Factory need to know: Are We There, Yet? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  23. “WHO doesn’t want us to win, you ask? The Tank People! They! THEY!!!” As both a Buck and a Hawk, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson played a valuable role in the Atlanta Hawks piling up losses over the years. Will his son continue that hallowed tradition tonight? Making his season debut for the host Indiana Pacers (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana), Glenn Robinson III returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse just in time to haunt the Hawks. In March of last season, as Papa Dog looked on from the Philips Arena stands, he ran to the left corner to catch-and-sink a buzzer-beating three-pointer that stole a win away from a Hawks team that was hungering for playoff seed-boosting victories. A Gary, Indiana native, Robinson, 2016’s Slam Dunk champ, returns after preseason ankle surgeries curtailed what was shaping up as a promotion following the negotiated departure of former star Paul George. Pacers coach Nate McMillan intends to limit GR3’s playing time to ten minutes at the outset. But if the game gets tight late against a Hawks team (18-41) bearing the league’s worst road-game and in-conference marks, and playoff implications hang in the balance for Indiana (33-25), the temptation for Coach Nate to deploy his newest closer will be high. There were over half-dozen Eastern Conference teams that I questioned coming into this season, playoff-promising teams with flaws that might have them instead hanging with the Hawks by season’s end. But the Pacers have done the best to overcome my healthy skepticism. Arriving from OKC via the George trade, Victor Oladipo (career-high 24.4 PPG) has taken the vacated leadership mantle with an exuberant attitude, earning his first All-Star nod in the process. The fifth-year pro’s shot accuracy (53.5 2FG%, 38.1 3FG%) and defensive production (4.8 D-Rebs/game, 2.1 SPG) are blowing away prior career-bests (49.1 2FG% and 36.1 3FG%; 4.1 D-Rebs and 1.7 steals per game). No longer having his usage sucked away by mediocre Magic players or MVP winners in OKC, Oladipo’s emergence as an efficient offensive threat comes right on time for an Indiana club that would have been fine settling for a short-term recession, like the Hawks, but is now budding with confidence they can be much more than the first-round-exit fodder they’ve been during George’s final seasons. Oladipo is the clear top-banana. But, as was often the case when George was the star, Indiana stands out by having a constellation of second-tier talents taking turns in the role of Oladipo’s #2 offensive sidekick. At times, it’s Victor’s fellow arrival from OKC, Domantas Sabonis (want to insta-peeve a Magic fan? Say these words: Serge Ibaka Trade), who continues to show a mastery of rebounding as a sixth-man (team-high 8.2 RPG in 25.3 minutes/game). Other times, it’s longtime veteran Thaddeus Young, who has been the NBA’s MMP (Most Median Player) for years. On occasion, it’s Indiana’s leading assist-man, Darren Collison, who has been a steadying influence (5.3 APG, 1.3 TOs/game), but remains out for another week following arthroscopic knee surgery a few weeks ago. If you ask Lance Stephenson (32.5 3FG%), he’ll tell you he’s the main sidekick, or maybe even the headliner. Myles Turner ought to be that guy, but the young third-year center continues to struggle with post strength and consistency. The current leading wing-man for Oladipo has been Bojan Bogdanovic, who has become the Pacers’ second-leading scorer while shedding a season full of struggles with his jumper (last 7 games before the break: 19.1 PPG, 47.6 3FG%, 87.5 FT%). Robinson will only add to the plethora of options for McMillan to pair alongside Oladipo. With Collison out, the Pacers’ star will have to pick between defending Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder and sticking to the wing and leaving that assignment to current starter Cory Joseph (15 points, season-high 11 rebounds @ BRK on Feb. 14). Tending to Schröder could create some openings along the perimeter for the Hawks’ Kent Bazemore (3-for-4 3FGs vs. IND on Dec. 20; 64.3 3FG% in his past 3 games). Baze was rested along with Dennis during the Hawks’ pre-Break finale, a 104-98 loss in Detroit that was way more thrilling than it should have been for the Pistons. At least for today, Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks will have a depth advantage at the point, even without Malcolm Delaney (knee), who started and matched Isaiah Taylor (questionable, sprained ankle) with seven assists in Detroit. Tyler Dorsey (6 assists @ DET), DeAndre’ Bembry and newcomer Andrew White will also help with moving the rock, on behalf of the Hawks offense. Picked up by the Pacers on a 10-day deal during the break, guard Trey McKinney-Jones and will try to help alleviate his teammates on the defensive end. Atlanta’s 105-95 home loss to the Pacers on December 20 came without Dewayne Dedmon (last 3 games: 61.5 FG%, 42.9 3FG%, 13.7 PPG, 10.0 RPG), who will try to create mismatches around the paint against Turner and Al Jefferson. If Turner’s mid-range game isn’t on-point, it could be a long day for the Pacers’ frontline against Dedmon, John Collins and Ersan Ilyasova. The Hawks will have to do a better job of pressuring the Pacers into turnovers. They managed to produce just 9 player TOs, tied for a season-low, when Indiana visited back in December. Getting stops and creating more transition buckets are what often helps the Hawks narrow gaps against superior competition. A trip to Dallas is sandwiched by the home-and-home series between these two clubs. These are clearly winnable games for the taking for Indiana, who gets the Hawks three times over the next 15 days. Having won three straight before the Break, the Pacers are a mere two games out of the East’s 3-seed, where Cleveland currently resides. But they are 4.5 games in front of the playoff-hungry Pistons, and even closer to Milwaukee and Philadelphia, opponents who are on the horizon as the calendar turns to March. That makes the next three games imperative for Indy to navigate through, without any slip-ups. Oladipo is the obvious choice for the Pacers in a tight fourth-quarter affair. But if Atlanta continues hanging around at the Fieldhouse, and Victor gets bottled up in the clutch, to whom might McMillan turn, to save the day once again? “Get Along, Little Doggie…” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  24. PICTURED: Ad promo for future Atlanta Hawks head coach, circa 2003. Random Detroit Piston in foreground. Yadda yadda yadda, Atlanta Hawks visit the Detroit Pistons tonight (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit), blasé blasé… ATTN: TANKFAM! Listen, I need you some of you fellas and fellettes to take a quick break. In that spirit, here goes a few interesting weblinks, to humor you while you step aside. In my I-got-no-spare-time-left time, many know that I double as the Smithsonian of poster-dunk archivists. So, the first sideshow is one of your favorite ex-Hawks, on one of your favorite teams (at least TODAY, they are), getting dunked on in the closing seconds to lose a game! Blowing it in the closing moments of a game, eh? What a novel concept. The second distraction is an article about an ex-Hawks’ Triple Double That Never Was. Bonus Hawks-affiliated Trivia, from this article: before this lame attempt at getting a last-second rebound, who was the previous NBA player to mess around and notch three-straight triple doubles? The third item to tickle your fancy is that same ex-Hawk (the subject of an upcoming “Where Are They Now?” thread over in the Seniorsquawk forum, sometime during the All-Star Break) in his current habitat. Here, he’s trying to demonstrate to viewers that he’s still got it, yet still finds a way to come up short! Say it with me: “He’s trash!” One more Pistons-Hawks Trivia item. This same ex-Hawk’s jersey number, with the Pistons, was previously worn (one season before him) by which other former ex-Hawk? Answer is in link #4 below! Grab a Kit Kat bar or something (V-Day candy is at a steep discount, right now! Just sayin’!), check out the links to kill time, and then meet us all back here in a few minutes, making sure to skip the bolded language in the Spoiler below! Tank You Very Much! (1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWu93oxeYM8 (2) http://www.espn.com/nba/news/story?id=1781342 (3) http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=19967819 (4) https://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/DET/numbers.html * * * ((no, really: Tanksquad, get the Hawk outta here. Move along, now. Git! Git!)) * * ((and keep scrolling past the bold stuff in the Spoiler, Tankamaniacs. That’s not for you!)) * * * * * ((shhh… they’re filing back in here. Everyone, look busy!)) * * In conclusion, I’ve discovered the best home remedy for getting rid of a boil down there is to… what? Ohh, hey! You’re ALL back! Welcome back, my Tank Legionnaires! It’s crazy about that ex-Hawk, huh? No wonder the guy we got in the 2004 draft, along with that ex-Hawk via an infamous trade, never got to wear #5 for Detroit… they’re obviously waiting to retire that other cat’s jersey! I’ve always wondered, remember when dude went with the platinum blonde number, up top? Did he steal that look from Eminem, or vice versa? Anyway, yeah, our current slate of Hawks gave us all a grand ol’ time last night in Brewtown, and Some Hawks Fans can only hope that a desperate Motown team will be up to the task tonight. The Pistons’ Week of Living Dangerously began here at Little Caesars Arena last Friday, in a deflating loss to Blake Griffin’s former employer. No worries, they thought, as a bounce-back win in Atlanta is right around the corner! Unfortunately for the Pistons (and Some Fans), somebody forgot to gameplan for Dewayne Dedmon, who moved up to the top line and put up a career-high 20 points, plus 13 boards and 3 steals, as the Hawks blazed to a 118-115 win in its Sunday matinee. No biggie, Detroit thought, since they were coming right back home, where they had previously swept a five-game homestand! Oh, but here’s the thing. The first of those five wins were against the Cavs, who were obviously drunk even before Kevin Love exited that contest early in the first quarter with a busted hand. The next four opponents who sauntered into the Pizza! Pizza! Palace had each previously played just like the Hawks did yesterday: on the road, on the first night of a back-to-back. By the time the Pistons returned from ATL, they were greeted by a Pelicans team that only needed a night off. Detroit found themselves getting roasted, 118-103, by a New Orleans team that was starting, at center… Emeka Okafor (six O-rebs in under 14 minutes)! That really needs to be the last 2004-era reference in this thread. A rising sixth-grader back when Okafor got drafted, that Anthony Davis kid proved to be quite a handful, too. That new-car smell wafting from the pre-owned Griffin (last 3 losses: 38.6 FG%, 21.7 3FG%) is wearing off rapidly. Stan Van Gundy is predictably ringing alarm bells ahead of this rematch with Atlanta (18-40) that soon, they won’t be able to sniff the playoffs, either. “You just can’t limp into the break,” SVG told the Detroit News, the postgame interviewers and, presumably, his team, after the latest loss dropped the Pistons to 27-29, 2.5 games behind the 8th-seeded heat and fading fast. “We need to get a win and keep ourselves as close to this thing as we can, to have a chance to make a run.” No, he’s not talking about a “run” at Jaren Jackson, Jr. Van Gundy knows that another humbling defeat tonight, at home, in the finale before the All-Star Break, could prove disastrous for his team. Not nearly as disastrous for Michiganders as, “We’ve secretly replaced the fine water they usually serve with gruel we piped in from the Flint River. Let’s see if anyone can tell the difference!” Still, another L would be calamitous enough for the long-term prospects of the coach-slash-executive’s tenure with the club. The burden question: do the rank-and-file on the Pistons’ roster share that sudden sense of urgency? If they do, then they’ll have to come up with a scheme that keeps Griffin and Andre Drummond from getting gashed by opposing front lines (I forgot to mention New Orleans’ Nikola Mirotic, who showed off his nose-for-the-ball with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Detroit off the bench on Monday). Opposing bigs with some semblance of an inside-outside game have left Piston defenders unsure whether they were coming or going. That includes Atlanta’s Ersan Ilyasova, who is eager to put the lowlights from Tuesday night’s 97-92 thriller in his original NBA hometown on the back burner. Also a former Piston, Trillyasova added to Detroit’s misery on Sunday with 19 points, hitting half of his four three-point attempts while being one of four Hawk starters ushered to the charity stripe for six or more free throw shots (7-for-7 FTs). Atlanta was granted a season-high 37 freebie attempts by the Pistons, and they are a gaudy 9-4 when they climb above 110 points in games this season (2-18 when they score 100 points or fewer, as was the case yesterday). Detroit also allowed the Hawks to convert on 28 of 49 interior shots (57.1 2FG%), rendering the fantasy-friendly defensive figures from Drummond (25 points, 10 D-Rebs, 3 blocks @ ATL on Sunday) as ultimately empty calories. Off the bench in Motown, when Stan calls your name, who will Be There? James Ennis? Anthony Tolliver? “There were four, five, six loose balls when nobody goes on the floor,” Van Gundy lamented after the loss to the Pels. “There are three or four times we don’t get back, and people are behind us defensively. Times when we’re not pulling in on the roll man. Those things are inexcusable when you’re trying to win… We allowed our offensive play, our frustration of missing shots and just different things going on throughout the game to really get away from our defense. That’s kind of what we anchor ourselves on.” Yeah, kind of. To turn the frowns around town upside down, keeping Ish Smith, the point guard struggling in a starting role until Reggie Jackson returns, from incessantly switching onto Dedmon and Ilyasova would be a good start for Detroit on D. The Pistons did manage to keep Atlanta’s wings cool from the three-point line on Sunday. But given that one of those swingmen is Taurean Prince (good luck on Friday!), who’s been Cooler than Whip (last 3 games: 1-for-19 3FGs), that’s no great shakes for the fellows from Great Lakes. To be fair, new Clipper Avery Bradley’s presence is sorely missing. But instead of rushing out just to contest TP, Piston swingmen Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson need to stay home, helping the bigs around the paint to slow the rolls of Dennis Schröder, John Collins (good luck as well, especially versus Embiid!) and Dedmon to the hoop. Staying true to Nique’s “K.Y.P.” mantra, the Piston point guards (Smith and Jameer Nelson; ten combined personal fouls on Sunday) should hang out closer to the elbows, enticing the whirling dervish Schröder to hone his craft as a perimeter shooter instead of a toast-burning driver. There will be no more Malice at the Palace, as years of management ineptitude has sapped the Detroit fanbase of excessively passionate ticketholders, both inside and outside the city limits. But one can anticipate a little Animus at the Arena if these Pistons drag Detroiters through four more wretched quarters of basketball and break some playoff-starved hearts on, of all days, St. Valentine’s Day. Hell hath no fury like a spurned lover, dragged to a bad basketball game on a holiday night, pelting the arena floor with half-eaten Russell Stover chocolates. Or, so I’m told. Happy V-Day to you and yours! and Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  25. **RECORD SCRATCH** ((Freeze Frame)) “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation…” Think fast… who still has the worst road record in the NBA? And who still has the most in-conference losses in the NBA? That’s right, it’s your Atlanta Hawks, still in the running to be awarded as the NBA’s Best Bad Team. Tankamaniacs will hope those two facts hold by the conclusion of tonight’s game in Milwaukee, as the Hawks take on the rejuvenated Bucks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin), and tomorrow’s in Detroit. Since sacking Jason Kidd, back on January 22, and handing the coaching keys over to longtime assistant Joe Prunty, the Bucks have won eight of their past ten games. They want to formally establish themselves as an upper-echelon team in the East (2 games behind 3-seed Cleveland), not one scrapping just to remain above the playoff line (4.5 games ahead of 9-seed Detroit). They still have quite a bit of work cut out for them. While the past ten games for Milwaukee (31-24) have been encouraging, propelling the club well above the .500 mark, few of those contests involved playoff-bound opponents. Their two losses during this stretch were at Minnesota and here, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, against Miami. Of the eight victories, two were against the LOLKnicks, two versus the Nets, and the rest against the Suns, Bulls, Sixers and Magic. A schedule that easy might have been enough to preserve Kidd’s jerb, had he lasted that long. That schedule also would have caused members of the Illtankanati to chew their fingernails raw, were it assigned to Atlanta (18-39). The Bucks are navigating their way into the All-Star Break with depth challenges in the front and back of the lineup. A quad tear is sidelining ATLien and reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, probably through mid-March. Also, not returning to the floor until after the Break is Matthew Dellavedova, as a sprained ankle will keep him from wrecking anybody else’s for at least the next several weeks. Prunty has granted backups Sterling Brown, Sean Kilpatrick, and ex-Hawk Jason Terry upticks in floor time to help compensate. Starting center John Henson has been in-and-out of the lineup with a sore hammy and is unlikely to play today. Jabari Parker returned to action last week after a one-year injury hiatus. But his minutes have been closely monitored, and he sat out Saturday’s 111-104 win in Orlando since it was the second night of a back-to-back. Prior to the Trade Deadline, the Bucks shipped Rashad Vaughn and a 2018 second-rounder to Brooklyn to acquire Nets starting center Tyler Zeller, in hopes of buttressing the front line. From the coaching staff to the roster, that’s a lot of moving parts for a club aiming at a playoff slot with first-round homecourt advantage. The good news is the All-Star Break is right around the corner, and they have a probable win to pursue tonight. Even better news is that guard and salon expert Eric Bledsoe (last 4 games: 22.0 PPG, 42.9 3FG%, 7.0 APG) is beginning to display some consistency, while swingman Khris Middleton (last 10 games: 19.6 PPG, 39.5 3FG%, 1.6 SPG) is rounding into form at the right time. The best news is they have Giannis Antetokounmpo playing, as Tim Hardaway, Jr. would concur, in a whole other stratosphere (last 9 games: 26.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 36.8 3FG%). The Greek Freak will continue moonsaulting over his competition; coaxing him into settling for mid-range jumpers all night will be a tough ask for Atlanta defenders. But the primary challenge for the Hawks this week is to figure out how not to leave behind their A-Game at The A, particularly against stout competition (sorry, Knicks). Without the dulcet tones of Ryan Cameron serenading them from courtside, the Hawks (5-22 on the road) tend to shy away from things coach Mike Budenholzer preaches. They’re more apt to take shots inside the 3-point line (64.7% road 2FG frequency, 14th in NBA; 60.7% at home, 27th), and more likely to rush up a contested shot, or over-dribble and get sloppy (1.38 road assist/TO ratio, 25th in NBA), than seek out the extra pass (66.8 home assist%, 2nd in NBA; 57.7 road assist%, 13th). Away from home, Atlanta is less likely to box out (72.7 road D-Reb%, dead-last in NBA) and more likely to foul (20.6 road personals per-48, 10th in NBA) in lieu of properly defending shooters and ballhandlers. In his first meeting with the Hawks this season, Bledsoe will try to use his speed and strength to overwhelm Dennis Schröder and the Atlanta guards. The Hawks tempt opponents into deploying roll men, although the Bucks’ bigs like Giannis and the brick-handed Thon Maker (13 points @ ORL, 3rd-highest this season) are low-usage in this area. But Bledsoe is better off seeking out perimeter kickouts to Middleton and Tony Snell, as roll-man plays have become a losing proposition for the Hawks’ opposition. Only Detroit (8.1%) has been summoned to defend P&R roll-man action as frequently as Atlanta (8.0% of opponent plays). Yet opponents on these plays have been bottom-10 in both eFG% and FT frequency, scoring at least a point on just 47.8 percent of their chances (4th-lowest in NBA). Further, Atlanta has been forcing roll-man turnovers (8.3% of possessions) more often than they’ve committed shooting fouls (7.6%). The 1.01 points-per-possession the Hawks allow has been superior to more vaunted defenses like Utah (1.03) and San Antonio (1.06), despite being attacked by offenses more often in this regard than all but one other team. The inverse of this has been the Hawks’ offense for the P&R ball handler. Eschewing post-up plays almost entirely (only 49 points by Atlanta players all season), Schröder and the Hawks’ ball-handlers attack on the P&R more than any other outfit (22.1% of possessions). Yet only the Lakers have done worse at finishing on those plays (42.2 FG%, 29th in NBA; 36.9% Score Frequency, 28th in NBA) while the turnover frequency gets elevated (17.2 TO%, 8th-worst in NBA). Milwaukee’s defense cranks out a turnover on 21.3% of Ball-Handler possessions (3rd-best in NBA) and 11.0% of Roll-Man possessions (tops in NBA). Atlanta’s transition defense will have to be primed and ready, especially for Parker and Antetokounmpo, when the predictable P&R turnovers show up. Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince accounted for 17 of Atlanta’s 27 dimes, but 10 of the Hawks’ 16 TOs during their 117-106 home loss back on October 29, a game where Milwaukee built up a 19-point cushion through the opening three quarters of action. Giannis (33 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and Middleton (27 points, 9 assists) carried the proceedings with the help of cameo appearances from the inactive Henson (9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) and the since-departed Vaughn (4-for-6 3FGs) off the bench. Even with the departures of Marco Belinelli and Luke Babbitt, Schröder (28.3 3FG%) has his next nine active leading-scorers on the Hawks all shooting above 35 percent beyond the 3-point line (but for Tyler Cavanuagh’s injury, it would be ten). Even Prince’s downturn (0-for-14 on threes in three of the last four games, kicking Orlando aside), with his sketchy mechanics needing work, has him sitting at 37.9 3FG% for the season. DeAndre’ Bembry sits right at 35.0 3FG%, a shade behind the experimental John Collins (35.3 3FG%). With his hands off the wheel and TMZ out of his hair, this two-game road trip may be an ideal time to get Bembry back up to speed at both ends of the court, certainly before Tyler Dorsey (double-digit scoring in past four games) cannibalizes his minutes. Getting a rotation that can stretch the floor and build advantages over opposing bench regimes should be one of the Hawks’ objectives going forward. Whichever of the leading scorers-slash-assist-men, Giannis or Dennis, finds the open man more effectively on forays to the hoop Is likely to find their team at an advantage through most of this game. Which team you would prefer holding that advantage, of course, is entirely up to you. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record