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  1. “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
  2. How does that Randy Newman song go? No, not I Love L.A., that OTHER one... ~lw3
  3. “Do You Believe That We Can Win That Fight Tomorrow Night?” Can Atlanta make it 3-for-3 for the week in SoCal? The Hawks will aim for the Peach State Trifecta when they kick off their Staples Center sleepover in a tilt with the Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 PM Eastern). The notion of rebuilding from the ground floor is usually fun, at the outset. As fans, though, you just have to be careful when it comes to understanding what risks you’re signing up for. Having moved on from Kobemania in the search for the next great Laker Legend, Lakerfans have swayed from Randlemania to D’Angelomania to Ingramania to Lonzomania. Each year, fans have sold on their own self-made hype, that the next lotto pick is The Next Great One, certainly enough to carry their hallowed franchise to playoff glory for the first time since 2013. But now, the Lakers sit at 11-27, on the verge of losing their tenth in a row and 13th in 14 games. And if they don’t play their cards right, their next lottery hopeful may be suiting up in Celtics Green instead. Despite raw shooting skills (35.2 FG%, 30.3 3FG%, 48.0 FT%), Lonzo Ball (6.8 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.4 SPG) is nowhere near bust material. In fact, the rookie’s rebounding, passing wizardry, and defensive skills from his point guard position are almost ideally what the Lakers need. But when it comes to the long haul of rebuilding teams, and the instability that can transpire from the floor to the front office along the way, draft scouts may now have to weigh the merits of a prospect’s progenitors. As one might say, you can’t choose your draft pick’s parents. “You can see they’re not playing for Luke [Walton, the Lakers’ head coach] no more,” says proud papa LaVar Ball, chilling at a Lithuanian spa, trying to keep Lonzo’s younger siblings from starting another global incident. LaVar treats the second-year full-time NBA coach the way he treated his kids’ coaches from high school and AAU through UCLA, with disdain. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him,” LaVar adds, each critique moving Tito Horford further up the ballot for the Pro Baller Discreet Dads’ Hall of Fame. “I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young… He ain’t connecting with them no more. You can look at every player. He’s not connecting with not one player.” LaVar won’t be happy until he is controlling his kids’ teams, from the sideline, and if they’re still not winning, he won’t be satisfied until he has run his kids’ teammates out of town on a rail, something that may literally happen soon with the younger clan over in Prienai-Birštonas. In cahoots with media that can’t seem to tear the microphones away from him, LaVar’s mouth forces everyone, from Laker management to Lonzo himself, to drop everything and, on a Sunday night between the worst two clubs in the NBA, formally address the dissension that the Big Bawler of the Ball family tries to stir. If he’s not overly distracted, Lonzo (who, naturally, disagrees with his father regarding Walton) has the tools to make his head-to-head tonight with the Hawks’ Dennis Schröder (last 2 games: 38.7 FG%, 4.5 APG, 4.5 TO/game) an arduous one for the latter, especially if former UGA star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can switch onto Atlanta's top scorer. For all the Lakers’ offensive faults (NBA-low 32.4 3FG%, 68.9 FT%), thanks largely to Lonzo, they push the pace (NBA-high 103.8 possessions per-48) and they’re the best NBA team aside from Golden State (16.1 per-36) in producing fastbreak points (11.7 per-36). The Hawks can counter by pounding the only team with interior defense (NBA-high 10.7 opponent second-chance points per 48) as sketchy as their own (10.6 opp. second-chance points per-48). Los Angeles allows a league-high 37.2 paint points per-48, and that was with Andrew Bogut, who was waived this weekend. Brook Lopez, aside from his 1.5 BPG, and super-rookie Kyle Kuzma (team-high 17.2 PPG) provide next-to-no defensive resistance. If Horford-in-Training rookie John Collins (58.8 2FG%, 9th in NBA; 15.0 O-Reb%, 4th in NBA) is unable to drown the Lake Show with a dominant interior offensive performance, might his family harbor grave reservations about the strategic wisdom of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer? Maybe. Maybe not. But either way, we’ll never know. Go Dawgs! Rise Up! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  4. Luol and the Lakers are working on something out back. http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/21319059/luol-deng-los-angeles-lakers-hopeful-play-elsewhere ~lw3
  5. It's Peter Vecsey, so caveat emptor. But this story might actually have legs. ~lw3
  6. Everything in that town deserves a Hollywood ending. ~lw3
  7. “Just Keep Truckin’ On!” Coach Mike Budenholzer found himself thoroughly outcoached on Friday night, at the hands of his former lead assistant. Quin Snyder’s visiting opponents played right into the strengths of his Utah Jazz team along the way to a 95-68 rout, an Atlanta output that was offensive in only one sense of the word. Coach Bud and his Atlanta Hawks will seek to bounce back today, but they’ll have to do it against the reigning Coach of the Year’s former lead assistant: Luke Walton, formerly of Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors, now head honcho for the Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), who already has one W against Atlanta under his belt. Oh, and Kerr’s Warriors await these Hawks for a game tomorrow night as well. Keep those replacement whiteboards handy! Both teams come in having dropped four of their last five, but the circumstances are a bit different in the case of Los Angeles (8-9). This remains a season of nurture for Walton’s Lakers, whose sole victory in the past week was a two-point win at Staples Center versus OKC. They embark on another high-mileage four-game road trip after tonight’s game. “I want the basketball to be fun for our players and for our fans, something that’s fun and exciting to watch,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told USA Today recently. “And I want the team to get better as the year progresses. I don’t know what that means in terms of wins and losses, but if we’re a better team a month from now, or three months from now, or five months from now, than we are today, and we’re fun to watch, I think our fans, our partners, will be on board, and I think we’d have something to build on.” L.A.’s recent losses were at home to the Spurs and Bulls, then during a home-and-home series against the Warriors, the Western Conference champs winning games by margins of 149-106 and 109-85. Amid that 5-game stretch, D’Angelo Russell (team-high 4.8 APG) was shelved for a few weeks, having received a PRP injection for his sore left knee. Julius Randle (team-high 8.1 RPG; 3.9 APG, second on team) missed the series with the Dubs due to a hip pointer. Larry Nance, Jr. remains questionable after spraining a thumb against Golden State. This season remains about bringing along these younger Lakers (including rookies Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac, the latter on D-League assignment, plus guard Jordan Clarkson), allowing them to cut their teeth and build up their confidence while slowly mastering Walton’s gameplans. With the injuries piling up, plus Nick Young (sprained toe, returning tonight) sitting out the last game, Walton has turned to Jose Calderon to man the point, and shifted Luol Deng to power forward while granting Ingram the first starts of his career against Golden State. Ingram scored 16 points in Oakland during the bigger blowout loss, and was harassed into 3-for-18 shooting but contributed 9 rebounds in the rematch at Staples. Another schedule inversion is in the works for the Hawks, shifting from a plodding Utah team (last in pace) that prides itself on defense (second to Atlanta in D-Rating) to a high-tempo Laker team (4th in pace) that isn’t totally sure how that defensive side of the floor works (next-to-last in D-Rating). Since scratching out an impressive 6-4 start to the year, the Lakers have allowed at least 109 points in each of the past seven games (2-5). They’ve needed to score at least that many points in all but one of their eight victories, including the 123-116 win at Philips Arena on November 2, when they outscored the Hawks 72-56 in the second half to overtake the lead. It’s been tougher to keep up the pace (and get stops) with Russell on the mend and Calderon (six assists in each game vs. GSW) pushing the ball. While player development remains the theme, at the ends of games Walton will incorporate his veterans to help the Lakers close out close contests. Their leading scorer is sixth-man extraordinaire Lou Williams (16.4 PPG, 41.0 3FG%, team-high 4.2 FTAs per game), who made himself right at home by spraying the Hawks with 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter of L.A.’s win at the Highlight Factory. Much like the Lakers with Russell, Atlanta’s coaching staff and veteran teammates are responsible for ensuring their young starting point guard doesn’t suffer from a crisis of confidence. Dennis Schröder’s 43.8 2FG%, 76.5 FT%, 29.5 assist percentage, 1.1 steal percentage, and 5.9 rebound percentage are the lowest marks since his short-leashed rookie year. Dennis has led the team in assists just three times during the Hawks’ last nine games. His hot start versus Utah (12 first-quarter points) was not rewarded in kind by his teammates stepping up their play (31.3 team FG%, lowest since January 2013 @ CHI, third-lowest by NBA team this season), and his production wilted (6-for-19 FGs, two assists, two TOs in 29 minutes) trying in vain to carry the team. Unlike past seasons with Al Horford (16.7 assists percentage last season, highest among non-point guard Hawks) at center, Schröder’s passes into Dwight Howard (6.3 assist percentage, lowest since 2007-08) are usually one-way propositions. Howard registered zero assists against the Lakers in Atlanta, the loss spoiling his 31-point, 11-rebound effort versus his old club. The Hawks (10-6) are 1-4 when Howard comes away with no assists, a record inclusive of each of the Hawks’ last three defeats. Do-it-all Paul Millsap (career-best 18.2 assist%) and fellow starters Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore have elevated their assist rates from last season to help out. But Atlanta’s slip-sliding offense (21st in O-Rating) will get a boost if Howard and Schröder go beyond mere lob-hunting to improve their 2-man game. Allowing league-highs of 26.1 assists per game and 50.0 paint PPG, the Lakers serve as an ideal palate for Atlanta’s starting center and point guard to hone their mutual skillsets. Howard can “assist” by doing more than just passing the ball out of the post when the double-team comes. The Hawks’ 9.1 screen assists rank just 18th in the league, and their 0.84 points per possession on off-screen plays rank 26th. Versus Utah, Atlanta’s wing players failed to beat their assignments down the floor in transition, allowing the Jazz to set the tone with their brand of basketball. The Lakers don’t provide the same scale of effort, and it’s on the Hawks to produce on the fastbreak. This includes not only Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, and Taurean Prince, but also Kyle Korver hustling down to the corner-3 spots. L.A. allows 16.8 fastbreak points per game, third-most in the league. The Lakers are one of just five teams that have opponents hitting 40.0 3FG% or better from each corner; Utah is among that quintet, but Atlanta (2-for-5 corner 3s on Friday) failed to exploit that. The Hawks’ are shooting just 31.8 3FG% above-the-break (26th in NBA), so until their mechanics improve, the closer corner shots are where it’s at. The Hawks have the talent, experience and skills to beat the Lake Show at their own high-tempo game. The trick is doing it early and sustaining it long enough (well beyond the opening half) that the Lakers’ top stat-padders can’t impact the outcome as the contest draws to a close. Breaking the Lakers’ will with the fervor that Kris Humphries uses to break backboards would take away the bad taste of Utah and turn momentum upward as the scene quickly shifts to Oakland tomorrow night. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “…’cept nobody is supposed to know. Ohh, So I Creep! Yeah… ‘cause she doesn’t know what I do…” When you hear the word, “Showtime!”, only one NBA team should come to mind. Of course, that’s the Atlanta Hawks, who look to stretch their season start to 4-0 against a team from Los Angeles they call the Lakers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL; Spectrum SportsNet in LA). Only one team in basketball can presently boast of 24.0 PPG derived from opponent turnovers (+7.0 net PPG off TOs, 1st in NBA), and that’s Atlanta. The Hawks can capitalize even more against a Laker team that has allowed a league-high 24.5 PPG off TOs and is ahead of just three teams with 16.5 opponent fastbreak points. Is there a Bleak Mamba in the house? It’s going to take quite an adjustment for the Lakers (1-3) to compete with any level of consistency, especially now that Kobe Bean Bryant has laced ‘em up for the final time. They arrive in Atlanta looking to avoid a four-game slide after falling in Indiana last night, without the services of starting center Timofey Mozgov due to an eye injury sustained against the Pacers. But things are not all Tar Pits in La-La-Land. There remain several things to give new-age Laker fans hope for not just tomorrow, as in future seasons, but today, as in this year. You can start with the new head coach. The Golden State Warriors finished at 73-9, but they started out at 39-4 under the watchful eye of current Lakers coach Luke Walton. He implores his new starters not to wait until the ends of games to execute game plans, as if they’re hoping for some tight contest that’s in search of a heroball hero. After all, Kobe isn’t walking through that door anymore. “I don’t know why we didn’t come out with the intensity and hunger we should after early losses,” Walton told the OC Register after last night’s 115-108 defeat, a climb made difficult by allowing a 27-18 first-quarter deficit and 62 Pacer points in the opening half. Whenever the curtain has lifted on the Lake Show, so far L.A. coughed up an NBA-worst 121.6 opponent points per 100 possessions in opening quarters of play. Contrast with Atlanta, whose 83.3 first-quarter D-Rating ranks 3rd behind the Bulls and Pacers thus far. The Hawks themselves have gotten sloppy out of the gate in games, Dennis Schröder’s squad currently ranking behind the Lakers and 2nd-worst overall with 18.7 first-quarter turnovers per 100 possessions. Although he is still feeling things out in his new full-time starter role, it is Schröder’s challenge to keep this specific game from getting unnecessarily chaotic. His late-game scoring (7 fourth-quarter points) was crucial in completing the comeback against the Kings on Monday, but Dennis’ fourth-quarter production even more more useful if it’s to put a well-earned lead out of reach. To that end, Schröder must also disallow easy baskets by leading Laker scorer and playmaker D’Angelo Russell (15.0 PPG, 4.0 APG). With or without Kobe around, the Lakers have more than their share of players willing to create their own shot, from Russell to shooting guards Jordan Clarkson and ex-Hawk Lou Williams (44.4 3FG%), to swinger swingman Nick Young (32.0 3FG%). Whether said shot is a wise one, in the cases of Clarkson (15.4 3FG%) and Russell (33.3 FG%) remains to be seen. Another gem that is beginning to pan out for the Lakers is power forward Julius Randle. The man known in L.A.’s Spanish-speaking circles as “Don Julio”, Randle is averaging 7.5 RPG while shooting 64.7 FG%, showing a nifty knack for finishing shots around the rim. If he’s granted lots of undisturbed low-post touches, Randle will be a lot to handle, even for Atlanta’s Paul Millsap (77.2 D-Rating, second behind Thabo Sefolosha among NBA players averaging 20+ minutes). Sap and the Hawks forwards need to invite Randle to work on his lack of range tonight. The way it was supposed to work, Dwight Howard was destined to be the face of the Lakers franchise once Kobe reluctantly handed over the mantle. Didn’t quite work out that way. Howard expected to be top-banana right away, and the whole so-called superteam slipped on the banana peel in that fateful 2012-13 season as Bryant balked at Howard’s entreaties. Two teams later, D8 (NBA-highs of 3.3 BPG, 23.0 O-Reb%) suits up to face a Laker team (somehow, still with Metta World Peace on the roster) that will struggle to keep him away from the rim without hacking, specifically in the absence of Mozgov, who looked to be returning to pre-Mozgov’d form. Hawks assistant Neven Spahija hopefully has a gameplan cooked up to help the Hawks deal with his fellow Croatian, Lakers rookie Ivica Zubac. Zubac has yet to be activated this season, but Dwight’s size will likely be too much for his former Rocket backup Tarik Black (career-best 16.2 rebounds per-36) to contend with for long stretches of the game. The future success of the Lakers is connected very closely to their top pick, the long and lanky rookie Brandon Ingram, who is behind Hawks management favorite Luol Deng on the depth chart. How soon the Lakers return to a winning brand of basketball will depend upon how successful Walton is establishing Ingram within the flow of the offense, taking the leap, of course, that such a flow currently exists. Either of Ingram or Deng will be a haughty challenge for former Laker towel-waver Kent Bazemore. Baze is working out of his “Kent Yucky” early-season slump, as evidenced by his 11-point second-half output in the Hawks’ 106-95 victory over the Kings. If his open shots aren’t falling early, look for Bazemore to mimic his fellow starter Millsap (8 assists vs. SAC) by keeping the rock moving, an aspect of offense that the Lakers (46.7 assist%, 28th in NBA, league-low 0.95 assist/TO ratio) still struggle to execute. It's Showtime! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. “Blood Type: Mamba!” A Weekend in Hollywood! Sure sounds like fun, on the surface. But after squandering a big opportunity laid before them in Oakland, the Atlanta Hawks are looking at the upcoming pair of games at Staples Center more as an Escape From L.A. The Hawks want to keep this back-to-back set, beginning with Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL, ESPN, TimeWarner Cable SportsNet) and ending with the Clippers, from feeling more like a Weekend at Bernie’s. To do that, they’ll have to shed the deadweights of “Can’t Make Clutch Shots” and “Can’t Grab Crucial Rebounds” off of their shoulders. Okay, so by now you’ve certainly tired of hearing how Hawks opponents are coming into games shorthanded and hobbling, so let’s get the Lakers’ health issues out of the way with the quickness. Dealing with soreness in his right shoulder, Kobe Bryant was made to sit after one quarter in Denver on Wednesday, one day after sitting out L.A.’s last home win against the Nyets. Jordan Clarkson dropped 11 points on the Nuggets in that first quarter, but exited in the third with a patellar tendon strain. Both guards are listed as questionable, but I’d expect Kobe to make at least a brief appearance early in the game. Snellville’s Finest, Lou Williams was a scratch in the Denver game is will remain out for at least a week due to a strained hammy. One of the great NBA Juniors, Larry Nance, Jr. is probable to return after sitting out of the Denver game with a sore knee. As bad and broken down as the Lakers (12-50) have been, it’s worth noting that they held a fourth-quarter lead in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back, courtesy of a Nick Young three-pointer with just over nine minutes to go in the contest. They’re also reasonably rested. The games versus Brooklyn and Denver came after a three-day layoff. You’ve got to admit that Lakers coach Byron Scott has played his cards well. The win against Brooklyn was the sole victory in L.A.’s past ten games. Yet, Scott will survive this season, because the Lakers’ brass understands that this is merely a Farewell Tour disguised as a competitive NBA campaign. Besides, the most valuable thing Scott can do for the Lakers, while certainly on his way out the door this spring, is to maximize the preservation of their first-rounder, which goes to Tankadelphia if it somehow falls out from the Top 3. Coach Scott has heard the catcalls for a fuller commitment to the youth movement. That means releasing a link or two from the leashes holding back D’Angelo Russell (41.5 FG% pre-Break, 51.6% post-Break) and Julius Randle (41.7 FG% pre-Break, 46.8% post-Break; 31.5 D-Reb%, 4th in NBA). But to Scott, that also means seeing more of what SoCal high school star guard Anthony Brown and center Tarik Black can bring to the table. The rookie Brown is getting trial-by-fire as the first option off the bench in place of Kobe. In his second season, Black has been a stout rebounder and rim-protecting center to spell Roy Hibbert, despite his 6-foot-9 frame. To close out the season, expect less of Bryant, Hibbert, Young, and Metta World Peace, and more of these guys. If Bryant, Clarkson, and LouWill cannot go, that’s just more opportunity for the budding rookie Russell to shine. On Tuesday, Russell poured 39 points on Brooklyn in his certifiably best perimeter shooting contribution (8-for-12 3FGs) this season. For his next act, he led the way with 24 points in Denver, and while his jumper wasn’t as wet (3-for-9 3FGs), he did distribute the ball well (6 assists, 1 TO) while going head-to-head with Emmanuel Mudiay. The same could be said of Russell’s backup, 32-year-old Brazilian rookie Marcelo Huertas (8 assists, 1 TO). Ultimately, when it came down to defense, neither guard could handle Nuggets’ newest arrival: D.J. Augustin, formerly of the Thunder, tore the Lakers asunder with 26 points in 23 minutes (22 in the fourth quarter!) to top Mudiay’s 22 points. D.J. kept playing that song with the kind of balanced offensive performance that should have Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder (17 points, season-high 8 FT attempts @ GSW) licking his chops. Schröder spelled Jeff Teague with five minutes to go in regulation with the Hawks down ten points on Tuesday, and never looked back. Teague will be well-rested, but the more coach Mike Budenholzer can preserve his starter for Saturday’s follow-up game against Chris Paul and the Clippers, the better. Tonight’s game is a good chance for the Hawks to see what Kirk Hinrich can contribute off the bench. As a whole, the Lakers have been the league’s worst shooters (41.6 team FG%) and the worst inside-the-perimeter defenders (51.9 opponent 2FG%). But they can stay in the thick of things if they can keep opponents cool from outside (34.9 opponent 3FG%, 12th-best in NBA), force trips to the free throw line (25.2 FT attempts/game, 4th in NBA), and rebound the heck out of the ball (8-16 in games with more than 45 rebounds, 4-34 otherwise). In a close-to-the-vest fourth-quarter contest, the Lakers have gunners (Kobe, Russell, Clarkson, Lou, Young) who are more than happy to take a big shot. It’s exactly the type of scenario the Hawks (33-28), now losers of three overtimes in their last eight games, are desperate to avoid. From Derrick Favors to Nik Vucevic, from Jarrett Jack and Damjan Rudez, to Carmelo Anthony and Archie Goodwin, from Mario Hezonja and Evan Fournier to Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams, from Luol Deng to Klay Thompson and Steph Curry and now, Draymond Green, the Hawks have made a habit out of being present for opponents’ fourth-quarter-and-OT highlight reels. Their foes’ varied prayers get answered eventually because the Hawks fail to close the door with execution, usually after they’ve worked so hard to get themselves a lead. Atlanta’s spiffy little defensive rating (99.6 opponent points per 100 possessions, 2nd in NBA) drops to a league-worst 135.8 in overtime, the offensive rating of 73.1 (28th in NBA) not much better. The Hawks have found themselves in clutch scenarios (last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime; teams within five points of the lead at some point) in 36 games this season, tied with the Raptors and Pelicans for the fourth-most occasions in the league. Yet in those circumstances, the Hawks have shot just 31.5% on three-pointers, contributing to a 17-19 record, whereas Toronto’s 37.7 3FG% has them at 23-13. The league leader in clutch threes? Draymond can tell you. Golden State’s 40.8% shooting from deep has them at 22-1 on the season. Suffice to say, you don’t want to be down or up a few points in the closing minutes of regulation, with Nick Young in house shoes hoping to get himself on SportsCenter. And you don’t want to be up all night wrangling with the Lakers while the Clippers are chilling in their adobes and taking notes from home. Left mostly on Alcatraz Island for almost 40 minutes (the only other sorta-center, Mike Muscala, logged less than three minutes @ GSW), Al Horford (23 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals) will need a big breather ahead of tomorrow’s contest with DeAndre Jordan and company. Muscala is not in the best of moods right now (nobody ask him about Holy Cross last night) and ought to be itching for a productive game fending off L.A.’s myriad of big men. Like Hinrich, this is an ideal time to get Kris Humphries into the rotation. The weak defense by the Lakers’ guards and wings should present ample opportunities for Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha to get on the board, particularly on cuts and transition opportunities. Kyle Korver, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Mike Scott (combined 7-for-13 3FGs @ GSW) should find the water just fine from downtown at Staples. Paul Millsap (1-for-6 3FGs @ GSW) can afford to lay off the three-pointers for awhile and focus on getting his post game back, against a Laker frontline that will much prefer to have Sap earn his points at the line. If he must stretch the floor, Millsap can instead try some mid-range shots when they come in the flow of the offense. If Randle and Bass come out to challenge, Millsap can take them inside off the dribble to finish plays. Atlanta has only forced 17 turnovers from opposing players in the past two games. Meanwhile, with the ball less in Kobe’s hands and more in the hands of shooters and putback players, the Lakers have only piled up double-digit turnovers in six of their past 12 games, compared to 45 times in their first 50. Forcing Russell and the younger Lakers into mistakes with the basketball will revive the transition offense engine for Atlanta (19.3 points off turnovers, 2nd in NBA). However the Hawks get it done tonight, they need not keep everybody up late. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. ATL offers: Mike Scott - PF LAL offers: Brandon Bass - PF/C The Good: Scott career-best shooting: 56.7 2FG%, 40.9 3FG%, 80.0 FT%. Lakers last in NBA with 31.4 team 3FG%. Scott visibly playing his best team defense (career-high 0.8 Steals and 0.6 Blocks per-36), despite career-low 4.4 D-Reb per-36. Lakers last in NBA with 108.2 D-Rating. Bass career-best 53.8 FG%, although almost half of his FGs (50 out of 105) are dunks. Career-best 69.1 FG% within 3 feet of rim. Bass career-bests 3.5 Block% and 1.3 Steal%. 5.1 D-Rebs per-36 most since 2011-12 w/ BOS. Bass career-best 10.9 Assist%, topping last season's 8.6% w/ BOS. Bottom-25 among active NBAers with low 10.9 TO%. Bass a solid 82.8 career FT%, 84.0% this season. Defensive Box Plus/Minus (Bball-Ref): Bass +1.1, Scott -1.5. Bass with expiring contract player option ($3.1 million, up marginally from $3 million) this summer. May need to vow to opt-in early, in order to get moved (as per Steve Kyler, Bball Insiders) Player control: Scott with Team Option for just $1 salary increase ($3.333 million) this summer. ESPN Trade Machine "Analysis" for Lakers: "With this trade you have decreased this team's projected wins by 5." Good news for a team that needs to finish Bottom 3 for their lotto pick. Classic "Reward Good-Soldier Vet on Sucky Team Chance to Make Difference for Playoff Contender" deal. 30-year-old and 10-year player Bass veteran upgrade for Hawks over Scott or Mike Muscala. Starter in 30 of 36 playoff appearances from 2011-2015. Louisianans Bass (Baton Rouge) and Paul Millsap (Grambling) can trade stories from back home. Bored Lakers fanbase and Scott's emoji tattoos are match made in heaven. The Bad: Bass 16.3 D-Reb% just 6th on LAL, but directed to O-Rebs by Lakers as Julius Randle (31.3 D-Reb% per-36, 3rd in NBA), Larry Nance, Jr. and Roy Hibbert hold down the other end. Bass a career mid-range jumpshooter who's shifted to post play over past 4 seasons. Only tried his hand at threes w/ BOS last season (9-for-32 3FGs). 31.3 FG% on jumpers this season. 47.4 FG% on lay-ups. ESPN Trade Machine "Analysis" for Hawks: "With this trade you have decreased this team's projected wins by 1." Lakers and Hawks both over-the-cap, so... Traded Player Exceptions (?)... in any case, Lakers willing to add a little salary for a replacement backup PF? The Ugly: Damocles' Sword of drug conviction for Scott unlikely before April. But if the wheels of justice suddenly accelerate, better off on team looking to tank with Randle/Nance on depth chart than on playoff contender behind Millsap. Bass, with Celts, shading the Hawks back in December 2014: ""I mean, look at the league. The best teams in the league, it’s – Atlanta’s No. 2. And I don’t know who’s number one, but they’re beatable teams.” ~lw3
  11. "Slide over, Shaq! I'll be joining y'all here on Thursday Nights soon!" There’ll be plenty of snake-charming going on, as the Atlanta Hawks and their fans give the Black Mamba a nice send-off, Kobe Bryant visiting Philips Arena for the final time (safe to say they won’t meet in the NBA Finals) with the Los Angeles Lakers (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South, TWC SportsNet). Dendroaspis polylepis is the binomial nomenclature for the Black Mamba at the Atlanta Zoo. From now on, when you pass by Isaiah Rider in the sloth cage to check out the reptile cages, you’ll find the zoo’s Black Mamba now goes by the apt name of “Kobe.” Sorry, Will Bynum, we never named any primates after you. Tonight we witness the passing on of the legend who won five NBA titles, was named to 17 All-Star Games, was a holy terror at ski lodges, and had millions of impressionable six-foot-tall middle schoolers everywhere convinced they’ll never need postsecondary education, so long as they can put the rubber ball through the hoop in high volumes. Tonight is also a good time to recognize an endangered species that’s indigenous to the Metro Atlanta area. Kobeus fanboius atlantus can be spotted around downtown just once a year, usually when Dendroaspis polylepis is in season at the Highlight Factory. They’re expected to shed their purple-and-gold epidermis for the final time when the Black Mamba slithers off the hardwood. Whither the Atlantan Kobe Fanboy (and his sister species, Kobeus fangirlus atlantus) once there’s no longer a Kobe to cheer beyond all sense of human rationality? Part of the Superstarus fanboius family, some of the Atlanta Kobe Fanboys will morph fully into Durant, Westbrook, LeBron, and Curry Fanboys, decked out in whatever gear the objects of their attraction will be donning over the next several seasons. But until guard D’Angelo Russell (10.7 PPG, 40.6 FG%) or forward Julius Randle (11,7 PPG, 43.9 FG%) becomes a thing, and until Byron Scott (Exlakerus cantcoachus) is replaced, we’re not going to see much purple-and-gold flaunting around town for quite some time after today. The Atlantan Kobe Fanboy has longed lacked an appetite for members of the Buteo family, particularly the red-tailed Buteo jamaicensis atlantus. And who could blame them, really? For almost two decades, Kobe signified the ruthless champion attitude the Fanboys happily projected onto themselves. Barring a sea change in the nature of the Atlanta Hawks, they’ll likely go the way of the extinct Jordanus fanboius family, last seen booing the Hawks off the floor, never to return, when Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s buzzer-beater dispatched Michael Jordan’s Wizards in 2003. The undulating Hawks (12-9) have not prevailed in back-to-back contests since sometime around All Saints’ Day. While the Lakers have been a shell of their former glories, all it takes is a spell of poor performance by their opponents to find Fanboys chanting their bi-syllabic “Ko-BE!” mating calls while perched on the edge of their seats. That happened last November, when the Mamba struck with an And-1 20-footer over the outstretched arm of Thabo Sefolosha to cap off a 114-109 win and grant the Lake Show just their second victory in 11 games. It also happened on Wednesday. Shortly before the Hawks collapsed at home before Kyle Lowry and the no-longer extinct Raptors, Kobe had Kobeus fanboius colombianus districtus reaching for any Kleenex they could find. Bryant poured in 31 points on the Wizards to grant his Lakers just their third victory in 18 games. A winning Black Mamba (Kobeus victorius) is a rare sight at this final stage of his development, but it’s possible whenever Laker opponents put their guards down and let L.A. hang around. The Lakers would be thrilled to cobble together their first two-game winning streak since last February, their first road winning streak since last December, with a victory in another big pro-Kobe town. Two nights ago, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer resorted to Bitter Beer Face posturing and curt postgame commentary after Atlanta players missed wide open threes (29.6 team 3FG%) and more importantly, blew gimme shots around the baskets, leaving the door open for Kyle Lowry to blow through it in the closing frame (39-20 Toronto advantage, Lowry with 22 points) of the 96-86 defeat. Coach Bud preaches incessantly about good defense fueling the team’s offense. But there’s the other half of the Hawks Cycle that has gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Good offense can enliven the defense. The Hawks were up by 17 midway through the 3rd period, Bud elected to lean on Mike Muscala, Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schröder to carry the water. 12 minutes of bad, stagnant offensive possessions later, Atlanta’s lead was wiped out. DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross had found a groove in the third, and Lowry went bananas in the fourth while ex-Hawk Lucas Nogueira enjoyed the greatest game of his natural life. Throughout that time, Bud struggled to find the proper substitutions to make to re-establish the offense and slow the Raptors’ roll. The good news for the Hawks was there are no Kyle Lowry Fanboys in their stands cheering the Dinos on. They won’t have that luxury tonight. Budenholzer must recognize when units aren’t working and sub them out, rather than ride them out, before the momentum vanishes. It’s not just Bryant (31.1 FG%, 22.2 3FG%) who needs at least 30 shots to put 30 points on the board. Kobe will be joined on the floor by Russell, for as long as Scott aavoids pulling on the short leash, and fellow starter Randle; at times, by ATLien and former Hawk Lou Williams (35.2 FG%), Nick Young (41.0 FG%, 40.7 3FG%) and Metta World Peace (33.8 FG%) off the bench. Collectively, this is the league’s worst team in effective field goal percentage, meaning offensive rebounds and second-chance points will be at a premium. The Lakers don’t excel at much, but they are pretty good and taking advantage when they’re bailed out by personal fouls. They rank in the top ten in free throw attempt rate and free throw percentage.They’ll prefer a slow pace that allows inertial players like Bryant, Roy Hibbert, and Brandon Bass to plod up the floor and guards that push for contact and trips to the free throw line. After explosive fourth quarters from guards like Westrbook and Lowry, Jeff Teague and the Hawks can’t afford to conclude their homestand by allowing Jordan Clarkson or Bryant to go buckwild in the fourth quarter. Despite the presence of ex-Pacer Roy Hibbert, the Lakers give up 15.2 second-chance PPG (2nd-most in NBA) and 44.1 PPG in-the-paint (5th-most in NBA). Al Horford and Paul Millsap must crash the glass at both ends and win the energy battle against Hibbert and the Laker bigs. Horford had six first-half rebounds versus Toronto, but just three in the second-half, including two in the final minute once the game was decidedly out of reach. Part of that problem was Lowry turning it on, and part was Bud’s overreliance on Muscala, but Horford could have produced more on the offensive rebounding end, when the outcome hung in the balance. One of the busiest teams to this point of the NBA season, the Hawks will finally benefit from some R&R with four days off before the next game. They can either head into it on a positive note, or sulk their way through the weekend about missed opportunities gone awry. Like our friends at the zoo, Atlanta will do well to keep the Black Mamba from getting uncaged, and send the Fanboys home early to ponder their next stage in the evolutionary cycle. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. Always enjoyable to poke a little fun at the Lakers. Explaining the Lakers' Poor Start
  13. There's a 4-6 month recovery period, but in all likelihood they'll shut the rookie down for the year. As bad as they are, the Lakers don't need any more injuries (as if any team does). ~lw3
  14. "Alright, Jeremy. It's all on you to hand me the ball now." ~kb24 ~lw3
  15. I'm assuming this is THIS year's news, Ken! Darn you, Dahntay! ;-) ~lw3 Lakers video staff, you are now ON the clock for the next comeback video. ~lw3
  16. Brother, can you spare $100 million? http://www.latimes.com/sports/lakersnow/la-jodie-meeks-accepts-twoyear-deal-with-lakers-20120810,0,2545205.story ~lw3
  17. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/metta-world-peace-suspended-7-080557977--nba.htmlIn the aftermath of Elbowgate, will Ron Ron's 7-game suspension doom the Lakers' chances of getting out of the first round?I won't rule them out with Andrew Bynum likely to have some advantageous matchups, but Ron's tenderizing act won't help matters at all. Matt Barnes has played well in the past week but has been out for the last few days with an ankle sprain, and yesterday Devin Ebanks bruised his non-shooting hand after dropping a 50-pound dumbbell on it while working out. Both are expected to be ready for Game 1 but still...They either get Denver, winners of 4 of their last 5, or they get most of the team that dispatched them last year (Dallas).~lw3