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Found 23 results

  1. Stupid Head Coach Tricks! How much have the Atlanta Hawks learned? Beginning with tonight’s affair in Orlando against the Magic (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida in ORL), the forthcoming 4-game road trip should be quite revelatory. The Hawks pulled off the trifecta in its homestand this past week, culminated by a stunning overtime victory over the daunting San Antonio Spurs. Prior to that run, though, confidence seemed to be at a new low, the Hawks sandwiching a narrow escape in Denver with two offensively poor defeats at the hands of the Timberwolves. Atlanta is giving out hints that it’s ready to pull ahead of the middling pack in the LeBronference. To do that, they need to begin stringing together convincing road victories, not just last-minute scrambles and mad dashes in the fourth quarters. They must especially perform consistently well against sub-.500 teams. The road trip ahead is full of exactly those kinds of teams. After Orlando (16-20), the scene shifts tomorrow to New Orleans (14-22), and both opponents have already flummoxed the Hawks in Atlanta. After that, bottom dwelling teams in Dallas (11-24) and Brooklyn (8-25) await the Hawks’ arrival in the coming days. The Hawks will get a chance to boost two elements that will factor into the East playoff race: their records on the road (currently 8-9, worse than Orlando’s 9-9), and versus the West (currently 5-9, same as Brooklyn’s). The Magic know all about the up-and-down basketball Atlanta patterned in December. A seemingly corner-turning victory in San Antonio on November 29 was followed by a loss in shorthanded Memphis two days later. That was followed by an encouraging three-game road winning streak, and then, a three-game losing streak. Then, a big 131-120 win in Atlanta was followed by a home loss to the Clippers the next day. Then a win, a loss, a win, a loss, a two-game win streak, a two-game losing streak. That means Orlando’s road win on Monday against the Porzingless Knicks could serve as a harbinger, either as a loss tonight versus the Hawks, or the extension of another win streak that artificially inflates hopes around the Magic Kingdom. The Magic pulled out the victory in New York without the continued services of Evan Fournier (17.8 PPG). Orlando’s leading scorer has been out for the past five games with a bruised heel. Whether Fournier (likely to play) starts or not, the Magic hope for a repeat performance from replacement starter Jodie Meeks, who eclipsed the season-high 20 points (4-for-6 3FGs) he contributed back home in the ATL last month with 23 points on a Hardaway-esque 6-for-7 3FGs on Monday. Meeks’ sharpshooting allowed backcourt mate Elfrid Payton (career-high 14 assists @ NYK, tying his output @ ATL) to penetrate and pepper the court. Against the Knicks, half of those 14 assisted baskets were within five feet of the rim, and many more involved dishes to open shooters from 16 feet out. Were it not for Magic coach Frank Vogel’s concerns about team defense, the effort against the Knicks was good enough to maybe earn Payton and Nikola Vucevic (13 rebounds, 5 O-Rebs @ NYK) their starting gigs back. It’s not clear that the move is working, anyway, as Magic starters’ D-Rating dropped from 102.0 (10th in NBA) to 109.3 (24th in NBA) since Elf and Vooch were relegated to bench status. While they are reserves, the duo is still averaging more minutes than replacements Bismack Biyombo and D.J. Augustin, and Vogel seems hesitant to change that. Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings were of little use defensively against Payton and Augustin, but Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder ought to be more up to the task. Schröder (19 points, season-high 13 assists @ ORL on Dec. 13) has certainly begun to blossom as an offensive player, but his defensive imprint still leaves much to be desired. Dennis (1.2 loose-ball recoveries per game, 7th in NBA) has registered just 3 steals just once this season, back on November 25 in Utah, and registered no swipes in four of his past eight contests. After helping secure multiple defensive rebounds in nine of his first 11 appearances, Schröder has mostly deferred to the forwards and centers in three of the past ten games. Schröder (last ten games: 20.2 PPG, 49.4 FG%, 7.1 APG, 3.0 TO/G) will continue to excel for the Hawks (14-5 when his D-Rating, bball-ref formula, is 113 or less, incl. 5 wins in a row) when he makes his presence felt at both ends of the floor. Without the ability to get stops, Atlanta and Orlando (9 player TOs, season-high 58.6 team FG% @ ATL in December) may again engage in the freewheeling, AND1-mixtape style of ball that is to neither Vogel’s nor Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer’s liking. The Hawks could not force the Spurs into a lot of mistakes, but along the way to victory on Sunday, Atlanta did not commit many of their own (11 player TOs vs. SAS). In addition to Schröder, expect a more active and assertive on-ball defensive effort out of Paul Millsap (32 points, 13 rebounds vs. SAS), whose streak of games with at least one steal ended on Sunday at 13. Millsap and Howard tightening things up around the rim, plus active hands from Thabo Sefolosha and the Hawks’ guards and wings beyond the paint, should be enough to cool the Magic down. Much of Atlanta’s defensive lapse versus Orlando in the prior game was attributable to the bench brigade. The Magic made 13 of 15 shots within 5 feet of the rim in the first half, many of those beginning with Mike Muscala trying to hold the fort in place of Dwight Howard, and ending with Elfrid Payton, Jeff Green, and Meeks feasting. Moose’s minutes are down, but his on-floor impact has improved of late (+27 combined plus/minus in last two contests), Coach Bud adding a dash of Kris Humphries to help lessen the load. Buoyed further on offense by Tim Hardaway, Jr., if the bench can stop hemorrhaging opponent points, we’re likely to see a fine start to Atlanta’s road trip. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  2. LOTTERY TREADMILL BY: ORLANDO MAGIC, PRICELESS How much would you pay to go win 30-35 games? That’s an uncomfortable question facing the Orlando Magic, who come into Atlanta on a sudden downturn to face the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida) for the first time in the regular season. One franchise has been an NBA Playoffs participant for nine seasons running; the other is desperate to avoid stretching their string of postseason absences to five years. One team is the closest to being under the salary cap line ($5.1 million over) among the five teams in the Southeast Division. The other team is $7.5 million further over the cap ($12.6 million over) -- highest in the division, third-overall in the East, eighth-overall in the NBA. All the above statements are contradictory. It was June 2012, and both the Hawks and the Magic had caught a case of Spurs Fever. When the 2011-12 season ended, both organizations chased after executives of the Western Conference leaders in San Antonio. Seeking a fresh start, Orlando hired the fresh-faced Spurs’ director of basketball operations Rob Hennigan, at age 30 the youngest GM in the league. Eager to rebuild without a full teardown, Atlanta, in turn, zeroed in on the Spurs’ VP of basketball ops, Danny Ferry, hiring him just days later. Under Ferry, out went Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, the VetMins, and coach Larry Drew. In came Mike Scott, Paul Millsap, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, coach Mike Budenholzer, Dennis Schröder, Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore. Out went Ferry, eventually. But a lot of his low-budget gambles paid off, and the Hawks not only sustained themselves as a postseason mainstay, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in their history. While the Johnson deal made Hawks fans pull up a chair to the Ferry feast, it was the alleviation of the incessant Dwightmare in Orlando that made Rob “You Blind” Hennigan the NBA’s hotshot wunderkind. Within two seasons of the four-team deal, the Lakers (Dwight Howard) and the Sixers (Andrew Bynum) were already suffering from Buyer’s Remorse, while the Nuggets (Andre Iguodala) had squandered whatever gains they had made. Hennigan further pilfered the Nuggets in 2014 by giving Arron Afflalo back in exchange for young gunner Evan Fournier. Further, Orlando had lucked their way into obtaining the prize of the Dwight mega-deal, their future stud center: Nikola Vucevic, a double-double machine! And just look at all the lottery picks coming their way! Atlanta hasn’t drawn a lotto pick since 2007; the Magic have had five such picks in the past four seasons. Under Hennigan’s watchful eye, the future seemed so bright! Well, the future is here, and it’s become blinding to Magic fans. Ferry’s 2013 coaching hire has outlasted even his tenure and gained a Coach of the Year nod while picking up where Ferry left off. At the same time, Hennigan’s Magic stalled under the direction of former Spurs acolytes Jacque Vaughn and James Borrego. Taskmaster Scott Skiles dragged the Magic to a 35-47 record last year, but quit after the season, and was so fed up we may need to convene a search party to find him today. In season #5, Hennigan is on coach #4: former Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who is adamant about putting a defensive imprint on a roster lacking in that department ever since bidding adieu to Howard. About all those lottery picks. The Magic drafted Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Euro-stash Dario Saric, Mario Hezonja, and Domantas Sabonis. Saric was swapped on draft day for their point-guard-of-the-future, Elfrid Payton, whose collegiate reputation as a plus-defender (like Bazemore, a former Lefty Driesell Award winner) hasn’t translated to the pros. Oladipo and Sabonis were sent packing (with Ersan Ilyasova) to Oklahoma City, Orlando in turn receiving Serge Ibaka (1300 blocks since 2009-10, most in NBA; Dwight 4th with 1010) in its quest to prove it’s serious about becoming defensive-minded. Oladipo and Sabonis are thriving as starters with the Russellaires, while Ibaka has become more of a three-point bomber (career-high 40.7 3FG% on 3.2 attempts per game) than an on-ball defender. First Gordon (career-low 41.3 FG%), and now Payton and Vucevic have been benched under Vogel, while Hezonja is being bubble-wrapped in search of trade partners. Speaking of trades, December 15 ushers in the availability of many more players on NBA rosters to deals, specifically summertime acquisitions like Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, and D.J. Augustin. Ibaka and Biyombo were brought on to show the fanbase the team is serious about spending cash to win, and (after sending Tobias Harris to Detroit for Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings last season’s deadline, a move suspected as having been ordered from on-high, above Hennigan) finally dead-serious about defense, Green and Augustin notwithstanding. But in the process, the duo of Ibaka and Biyombo (plus Green) have managed to crowd Gordon and Vucevic out of meaningful minutes. While the team D-Rating finally began to pick up in recent weeks (103.5, 12th in NBA; 16th last season), the O-Rating has fallen through the floor (98.0, below everyone but Philly’s 96.8). Just weeks ago, the Orlando Sentinel’s Brian Schmitz opined that Hennigan's plans have, “flopped as spectacularly as New Coke, pay toilets and ‘Zoolander 2.’” New Coke… ouch! Atlantans don’t need that reminder. The team that’s third-highest over the salary cap in the East now sits 11th among the conference’s 15 teams, slightly ahead of 12th-seed Washington. This, after having lost three games in a row, including allowing 121 points in a Saturday night home loss to 9-15 Denver. Further, the Magic’s 10-15 record has been puffed up by a weak schedule (league-low 45% winning percentage among played opponents, as per PlayoffStatus.com), so things could get worse soon. These days, Magic fans are straining to recall just what was so bad about Otis Smith. “A big build-up has been replaced by a big letdown,” said Schmitz. Hennigan, who received a Jeff Fisher-lite contract extension in 2015, now stands on the shakiest ground for an NBA GM anywhere outside of New Orleans (although at least Dell Demps has a shield in Ferry now). Hennigan’s desperate to swing some deals, soon; as of this Thursday, every player aside from leading scorer Fournier (re-signed this summer, trade-restricted until January 15; career-low 36.4 3FG%) will be immediately on the block, before CEO Alex Martins considers putting Hennigan’s job on it instead. Atlanta has been working through offensive struggles of its own, as a recent dip slipped them into a momentary tie with the Magic in the standings. Hawks fans and players alike have ample reason to want a widening of the 2.5-game gap between the two teams, for reasons that go well beyond the former Magic franchise star who now suits up at center in Atlanta. Hennigan spent the past two offseasons at the OPM (Other People’s Money) ATM, and at least once, his maneuvering has cost the Hawks. He swung for the fences in 2015 by flying up to Atlanta, ringing All-Star Millsap’s doorbell, and offering him a long-term max-contract. The Hawks’ scramble to counter-offer Millsap cost them precious time once Toronto rolled into town, too, and pried Carroll free. The Magic had no interest in acquiring Sabonis in the 2016 Draft, but they did have an interest in keeping the stretchy big man from falling into Atlanta’s lap. Picking right in front of the spot their division rival had recently traded up into, Orlando snatched up Sabonis and shipped him to OKC for what is shaping up to be a one-year (or less) rental of Ibaka, whose $12.25 million contract expires this summer. As per at least one media report, they were also trying to stick mouse ears on Bazemore, one of many teams coveting the rising swingman in free agency before he chose to stay in the ATL. The first team to call Baze this summer, the Milwaukee Bucks, could only watch on Friday night as their top free agent target was on the sideline, sore knee and all, doing his best Tony Manero impression. That’s because, against all convention, his Hawks were committed to Staying Alive. Bazemore was rooting his Hawks to a 114-110 victory, featuring the improbable erasure of a 20-point Milwaukee lead, the biggest comeback win in the NBA this season. In this pace ‘n space era of NBA hoops, 20-point deficits are becoming the new 10-point deficits. Orlando knows this well: they beat Philadelphia last month after falling behind by 18. Yet the Hawks (12-12) should not grow accustomed to digging such holes for themselves, with the intention of somehow triumphantly crawling out. This win was improbable largely due to the Hawks’ inability, once again, to get the full offense in gear, up until the third quarter. This particular bounceback was made possible by the continually improving play of Schröder (career-high 33 points; 17 in the opening quarter, 8 in the final one), the steady mind of Millsap (23 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks), and the team’s collective recognition that sound ball movement and off-ball player movement are what grant their offense advantages from one game to the next. “The level to which our activity dissipates when we’re not making shots is… you can’t do that in this league,” Coach Bud noted to the AJC and postgame reporters. Another woeful first-half outing (3-for-17 3FGs) was flipped with 8-for-13 3FG shooting in the third-quarter, and 8-for-13 2FG shooting in the pivotal fourth. All eight of Atlanta’s major participants logged at least two assists in Milwaukee, seven of the octet with at least three. Half of Howard’s two dimes turned out to be the most momentous of the game, setting up Tim Hardaway, Jr. with a corner three that finally wiped out the deficit and had Bazemore nearly splitting the inseam of his skinny pants in jubilation. “Bazemore said at halftime, this could be a turnaround for our season,” noted Hardaway to the AJC. “It just shows with the resiliency in this locker room and playing for each other, it’s at an all-time high right now. We need it more than ever after having that tough stretch.” Atlanta (12-12) also could use some consecutive non-game days to recuperate and regroup; they haven’t had any since November 13-14. Three off-days precede tonight’s game with the Magic, and two more follow ahead of a challenging road-home back-to-back with the Raptors and Hornets. The time off may have been enough to have Bazemore, this past weekend’s Ring-of-Honoree up at Old Dominion, out of leisure suits and in uniform for today’s game (currently listed as probable). But the recovery period has given the starting small forward time to study and recalibrate after a struggling start to the season (career-low 35.8 FG%; 29.1 FG%, 3.4 RPG in his past ten games). Sefolosha (41.4 FG%, 18.8 3FG% in last ten games) has been similarly poor in recent weeks on the offensive end and, like point guard Malcolm Delaney, gets caught up in trying to score in isolation when times get tough. But Thabo’s ability to rebound, pick off passes, and defend bigger and taller opponents has made him a more favorable play than Kent alongside Hardaway, whose defensive work is beginning to reap dividends (minus-6.3 opponent differential FG% on defended shots, 7th-best among NBA guards and wings w/ min. 10 games & 5.0 opponent FGAs per game). Sefolosha also avoids turning the ball over, which helps all the more when he’s actively involved (last two starts: 9 assists, 1 TO) in Atlanta’s ball movement schemes. Opponents have gathered a team-high 9.3 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes with Bazemore on the floor (13th-most in NBA, min. 15 games played). When he returns as a starter, Baze’s willingness to apply his wingspan in ways that help Howard and Millsap minimize opponents’ extra chances will enhance his, and the team’s, defensive effectiveness. Bazemore’s shot mechanics may be hampered by the anticipation that he’s going to miss the field goal attempt. Kent has seven offensive rebounds in his last five games (five O-Rebs in the prior 17 games). In four of those recent games, at least one of his offensive rebounds came from following his own shot. Those missed shots ranged from 2 to 24 feet, three of them from 15 feet out, and that says nothing of the second-chances he pursued but didn’t get. Teammates have also gotten into the act of chasing the rebound after an expected Bazemore miss. Adherence to Budball dictates not just taking the open shot created within the flow of the offense, but getting back in defensive position as priority over chasing follows, no matter how inaccurate the shot becomes. Kent’s own confidence in his offense will improve if he’s focused on execution as he was coached, instead of acting in anticipation of poor results. The Magic (33.3 team 3FG%, 71.2 FT%), like the Hawks (32.3 3FG%, 70.7 FT%), have not been sharp shooters from the perimeter, or the charity stripe. But while Atlanta is a much surer shot inside the arc (51.1 2FG%, 5th in NBA), the same cannot be said of Orlando (46.2 2FG%, 29th in NBA). The Magic’s cause could be helped if Vucevic would shoot better than 52.9% within 3 feet of the hoop, and if Vooch, Ibaka, and Gordon would grow less enamored of long 2-point attempts. But Howard and the Hawks will be ready to turn probable rebounds into transition points at the other end. Vucevic is questionable to play due to a back contusion sustained last week, while Biyombo has been hampered by an injured shoulder. Schröder and Delaney will work to thwart drives by Augustin and Payton, the latter’s field goal percentage dropping precipitously away from the rim (63.4 at-rim FG%, 31.2 FG% from 3 feet out). That’s part of what has prompted Vogel to turn instead to Augustin in the starting lineup, but the pairing of Augustin and Fournier in the backcourt has the Magic leaking oil on defense. Neither put much pressure on opposing guards, and their funneling of ballhandlers into the teeth of the Magic’s shot-block-hungry front line (5.6 team BPG, 4th in NBA) tends to leave somebody open. Orlando has allowed at least 109 points in the past four games, putting its offensively inefficient team behind the 8-ball, especially against higher-paced teams. Small forwards have feasted on the Magic in each of their last three losses, a good sign for Atlanta’s struggling shooters. And while Orlando last won in Washington a week ago, they had few answers for the speedy John Wall (52 points on 45 total shot attempts). Atlanta will want no repeat of the prior two regular season meetings with the Magic. The back-to-back defeats in February included a low-percentage buzzer-beating jumpshot by Vucevic in Orlando, and a 117-110 overtime loss the next day in Atlanta. Orlando had not won two straight in over a month before those victories, and while the wins seemed to be a pick-me-up, ending a similar three-game skid, the Magic would not win two in a row again for another 45 days. That second loss had Orlando eroding a 20-point deficit of their own (Hawks up 28-8 in the first quarter, 71-53 midway through the third), and OT was forced by a 29-18 Magic advantage in the fourth quarter. Vucevic, Payton, Fournier, and even Hezonja piled up a combined 26 points in the paint in the rematch, something Howard will seek to minimize in keeping the Magic from evening up their road record (6-7) this season. The Hawks need this win tonight to keep the vibes positive, but also to keep the Magic trending downward. After all, nobody needs Hennigan around next summer drumming up new schemes to stick it to the Hawks again. For once, let’s make Hennigan pay. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  3. Jodie moves a little closer to home. ~lw3
  4. ~lw3
  5. “I Want to Wake Up in a City That Never Sleeps (totally not a trade request, btw)…” After getting Fournier’d by Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic in a Super Bowl matinee, it’s already time for the Atlanta Hawks to lace ‘em up again, this time with a meeting at the Highlight Factory (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBATV, Fox Sports Florida) where they’ll serve up a nice dose of payback to their division rivals. Maybe. Team President-by-Coup Mike Budenholzer does seem to hold some endearing solidarity with the many contemporaries in his NBA coaching profession. With his own position fairly secure no matter what the Hawks spew on the floor these days, you are left to ponder whether Bud is stealing losses away from hopeless, floundering opponents, as a means to maybe re-instill confidence from their coaches’ higher-ups, however fleeting, and preserve coaches’ paystubs for just a little longer. From Jeff Hornacek to Derek Fisher to Lionel Hollins to… probably soon, George Karl and maybe Sam Mitchell and Scott Skiles… is Coach Bud trying to break their falls? Do these courtesy wins serve as parting gifts? Or are his conciliatory Bud Waves more of an insidious, kiss-of-death kind of deal (David Blatt, your thoughts)? Just over a decade ago, it took a loss to the Hawks to guarantee you’d get fired soon. My, how times have changed. We’ll get a greater sense of whether we’re onto something as Scott Skiles’ team rolls into Philips Arena with unexpectedly lifted spirits. The Hawks (30-23) especially love to giftwrap victories to bad teams missing key players, and yesterday’s win for the Magic (22-28; 3-15 in 2016) without their leading rebounder, forward Tobias Harris, was no exception. Harris (ankle) remains questionable for tonight, which is probably good news for the Magic against the Hawks. Sunday’s contest was more of a Bizarro World Hawks game. Without Harris available to push them around, the Hawks turned into the second coming of Moses Malone, crashing the glass for a season-high 18 offensive rebounds, the most by any Hawks team since Larry Drew was running the show back in December 2012. Of course, when you’re shooting 38.5% from the field (incl. 34.9 2FG%; Atlanta’s 0-9 when shooting below 40%), you have to at least look like you’re trying, lest anyone catch on to your charitable ways. Then the Hawks neutralized themselves further, failing to pressure Orlando’s backcourt tandem of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, into mistakes until they decided to make things entertaining, once Thabo Sefolosha’s lucky buzzer-beater concluded the third quarter. Sloppy play, no open shot-making, no transition buckets… but copious offensive rebounds? What’s going on around here? Al Horford (5-for-15 FGs, 6 rebounds in 35 minutes) must have been thinking of the hundreds of poor fans in the stands that would love to be anywhere but Amway Center as The Big Game approached, just a couple hours away. There’s no other logical reason why, with only Payton standing before him, he’d flub a layup with 80 seconds left that would have brought the Hawks within a point of the lead. The Magic had not held a team below triple digits since losing 96-87 at home to Philly nearly three weeks ago. And yet here was Atlanta, sitting tied at 94 apiece with under a minute to go, still poised to back their way into a victory that would even up their road record. Kent Bazemore (23 points, 3-for-5 3FGs) had a horrifyingly bad start on Sunday, thanks largely to the officials, but used his six offensive rebounds to kickstart his game. After Paul Millsap’s dime to Baze tied things up at 94, and after Baze drew the offensive foul on Vucevic at the other end, Horford must have gone all Sarah MacLachlan in his All-Star court mate’s ear. Haven’t these Magic fans suffered enough? For the price of a cup of coffee… So, Hawks miss shots, get boards, miss shots, Millsap (5-for-14 FGs in 34 minutes) short-rims a shot within 5 feet of the rim with 2 seconds left. Timeout Magic, Vooch gets the ball back, ba-da-boom, ba-da-bing, game, blouses. Magic fans go home happy for once, Bud Wave, end scene, fade to black, Lady Gaga croons the credits. Back home at Thrillips, consumer confidence among Hawks fans has ebbed, and those that show up tonight aren’t going to feel quite so cordial toward Skiles’ plight. If Bud’s Fix isn’t in, it will show by way of an effort from the bench that was non-existent yesterday (2-for-17 FGs, not counting Thabo’s lucky shot). It was hard to outplay Orlando’s reserves (4-for-18 FGs, 2 assists), but Atlanta managed to find a way. Dennis Schröder (lacerated chin, reportedly) was held out of the entire fourth quarter yesterday, but will be counted on for anything better than the 1-for-7 FGs, one-assist-in-13-minutes output he contributed. Mike Muscala (2 blocked shots since December 12, both in the same game) managed to sit out the final frame as well, and without Tiago Splitter (hip, out until after the Break), Moose’s presence needs to be felt at both ends of the floor. Improved play from this pair will limit the need for excessive floor time today from Jeff Teague (team-high 24 points, 3-for-5 3FGs, 5 assists, 5 TOs on Sunday) and Horford. This will be the final home game before the Hawks end the pre-All-Star break schedule in Chicago, where the Bulls are struggling defensively, and suffering through injuries to Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic and Jimmy Butler. Wait a minute… is Fred Hoiberg’s job secure? Is that “In the Arms of an Angel” I’m hearing? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. Voted “Most Likely to Quit Trying to Look Like Rajon Rondo.” We’ve seen plenty of times this season when our Atlanta Hawks have to pick up an easy spare, and roll out a gutterball in the neighboring lane. That’s whether it involves blowing anybody-on-one fast breaks, or playing down to the level of a bad team on a losing skid. So the home-and-home series on back-to-back nights with the struggling Orlando Magic (1:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Florida) is the furthest thing from a sure shot. Including a loss in ATL on MLK Day, the Magic have gone just 2-15 since January 1, a scale of futility matched only by the Phoenix Suns. Of course, half of the Suns’ wins came courtesy of embarrassingly poor play from the Hawks just a couple weeks ago. Orlando is also just 1-8 in the Dirty South Division. So, naturally, this two-game series is setting up to be a barn-burner. Thanks to a great 19-13 start, the MLK Day loss only dropped the Magic to 20-20 as they remained in the thick of the playoff chase, an impressive 4th in the East. But like a Lake Eola jogger, Scott Skiles’ club finds itself going in circles, and they’ve been getting lapped by one Eastern Conference team after another. Half of Orlando’s wins in 2016 came last Sunday at home, thanks to a red-hot Boston Celtics team that shares Atlanta’s 30-22 record. Since that victory, the past week included road losses in San Antonio and OKC, and Friday’s home loss to their old coach Doc Rivers’ Clippers. They held fourth-quarter leads, however, against both the Spurs and Thunder before melting late. So the good news is, it isn’t like they’re not competing and forcing the action, primed to trip up opponents that don’t bring their A-game. As an additional silver lining, Orlando can’t sink below the plankton of the East (Nets and Sixers) no matter how badly this slump is, and a spirited string of victories puts them right back in postseason play, as they’re just 4.5 games behind the 8th-seed. Getting up off the canvas for the Magic won’t be possible until center Nikola Vucevic and point guard Elfrid Payton show they’re willing and able, respectively, to defend at their positions and involve their teammates at the other end. The duo share the a net rating (-18.8 points per 100 possessions) in calendar year 2016, the second-worst in the league (after Hawks’ basketball snatcher Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker in Phoenix). That includes an NBA-worst 90.4 O-Rating, and they’re tied with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas with the second-worst D-Rating (110.5) among 1-5 pairs. For the NBA’s reigning record-holder for assists in a single game, Coach Skiles is learning it’s actually easier to do than to say. Payton’s struggled through injuries in the past month, but his passing marks (5.6 APG; 5.4 since January 1) have slipped since his All-Rookie 1st Team season (6.5 APG). He’s also struggled to stay in front of his man, or even produce turnovers with help defense. His 2.2 steal% (incl. 9 steals in 13 games since January 1) is way down from the 2.9% that ranked 5th in the NBA last season. Skiles’ first move is to shift Victor Oladipo (37 points, 4 assists, no turnovers @ OKC last Wednesday) to the point, or at least allow him to dominate the ballhandling duties. Oladipo has not been as much of a turnover machine as he was in his rookie season, but both he and Payton are prone to making egregious mistakes in crunch time. Both players could have their hands full today with Atlanta’s Jeff Teague. After a season-long struggle, Teague could be in line to earn Eastern Conference Player of the Week (58.3 FG%, 58.3 3FG%, 90.0 FT%, 19.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 2.3 TOs per game, 1.7 SPG) with a strong effort today. Orlando’s leading scorer and rebounder, Vooch will get his obligatory double-doubles (10-and-11 @. ATL on MLK Day; 20-and-11 vs. the Hawks on Dec. 20). But despite Skiles’ push to get more active hands out of his center, Vucevic still looks like a crossing guard as opponents drive into the paint and opposing stretch-bigs plop copious jumpers from outside. Vucevic is a poster child for America's Budball victims. The Magic grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in last month’s game in Atlanta, yet they only managed 81 points, a season-best for the Hawks defense. Mike Budenholzer’s troops allowed the Pacers to nab 16 more O-Rebs and 5 more D-Rebs on Friday night, but it only served to make things interesting in a 102-96 win. That victory raised Atlanta’s record to 16-8 when they give up at least 12 offensive rebounds, 14-14 otherwise. He hears it from fans and a former Hawks coach that accuses him of playing with cement shoes around the defensive glass, and he hears it from the guy with a statue outside Philips Arena that he doesn’t take advantage of drives against slow-footed bigs like Vucevic. Yet Al Horford (62.5 TS%; 5 O-Rebs in his last 7 games) adheres to his head coach’s demands. His 21 heroic points against Indiana on Friday were the most he tallied since Jan. 9. Getting Horford lots of open looks and encouraging him to drive to the lane and get to the line will keep Vucevic and the Magic bigs guessing all day what he’ll pull out of his hat. A strong Teague-Horford combo should be enough to have Orlando looking forward to Super Bowl prop bets by game’s end. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. “…one day, on the red hills of Georgia…” It’s “A Day On, Not a Day Off” for millions completing service projects around the country and, particularly, in the hometown of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many volunteers will then choose to sit back and relax at Philips Arena, getting serenaded by Regina Belle-Battle, and hoping their Atlanta Hawks won’t take a day off against the Orlando Magic (5:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Florida, NBATV). If They Could, Orlando fans would Make It Like It Was back in December, when the Magicians went 10-5 (after starting out with what was already an impressive 9-8 record) and earned Scott Skiles an Eastern Conference Coach of the Month nod. Going 13-5 between Thanksgiving Eve and New Years’ Eve, the best mark in the East during that span, had the O-Town faithful feeling they’d entered A Whole New World, at least one different than the seasons after the Stan Van Gundy era came to a close. That was before a 1-6 skid this month, interrupted only by a road win versus Atlanta’s last vanquished foes, the Brooklyn Nets. On the whole, the 20-15 start has the Magic all set to eclipse their 25-57 record from last season, the high-water mark of the prior three seasons. But fans who recall the abbreviated success of James Borrego last season know that things can de-escalate quickly. Over the past six calendar years, Orlando has overcome the Hawks just once in 11 road trips to the ATL. Without a road win over a team with a current winning record, the Magic would love a victory against their division-champ rivals to start turning things back around. But they would have to do it while dealing with a lot of moving parts in the backcourt. The Magic offense has gone “poof!” ever since point guard Elfrid Payton (5.8 APG, 8th in the East), hobbling since mid-December, was shelved a couple weeks ago to heal an ankle bone bruise. Victor Oladipo slid into Payton’s spot and has shot the ball well lately (70.1 TS% last five games). But ball movement has not quite been to Skiles’ liking, as if there’s anything that Skiles likes. Only the Nets (94.7 points per 100 possessions) have a lower offensive efficiency in January than Orlando (95.2 O-Rating in January; 104.9 O-Rating in December, 1st in East; 19.3 January O-Reb%, last in NBA). Just as concerning for the Magic has been the lack of transition-scoring opportunities since Payton starting having issues with his ankle. Steals per game have gone down from 9.3 in December to 5.7 this month, while opponent turnovers declined from 15.3 last month to 11.3 in January. Payton returned and played briefly in the Magic’s loss in London versus Toronto, but Oladipo sprained a knee taking a charge during that game and is now out indefinitely. It was Oladipo’s fourth-quarter heroics that allowed the Magic to nearly pull a big win out of their hat against the Raptors in London last Thursday, before falling short in overtime. Sidelined since November, guard C.J. Watson had a setback in his plans to return from a sore calf and is also out indefinitely. Shabazz Napier has been under the weather as well, prompting Orlando to nab D-League star Keith Appling over the weekend. Despite the intercontinental flights, Payton’s ankle should be well-rested following a four-day layoff that allowed the Magic to scout two Hawks games. Elf’s return allows Skiles to field his December starting lineup again, but expect to see a lot of rookie Mario Hezonja backing up both Payton and Evan “Never Google” Fournier. In Orlando back on December 20, the Magic shot just 4-for-12 from deep against the Hawks and proved to be no match for the Alabaster Blaster. In perhaps his last successful long-range shooting display, Kyle Korver went off in the second half and finished with 6-for-8 three-point shooting for a team-high 19 points, including the game-winner with 44 seconds left, as Atlanta seized back the lead to edge the Magic in a 103-100 victory. Korver was joined off the bench by Mike Scott (3-for-5 3FGs, 15 points vs. ORL Dec. 20), who can be can’t-miss so long as he isn’t, like, dunking or anything. Orlando will try to counter with Fournier, Hezonja, and a suddenly-struggling Channing Frye (42.2 3FG%, 7th in East; 15.4 January 3FG%). But Skiles must also encourage his array of supporting-cast bigs (including Aaron Gordon, habitual Hawk Killer Jason Smith, and Andrew Nicholson) to get out on the perimeter defensively and keep Atlanta from figuring out which Hawks have a hot hand. Aside from Oladipo, the Magic shot just 4-for-16 on threes in London on Thursday, and despite out-shooting Atlanta over the course of the season, their January swoon of 31.1 team 3FG% ranks just 25th in the league. The last time Skiles’ team needed a sharp-shooting mid-season boost, his Bucks shipped a hardly-used Tobias Harris to Orlando in exchange for a half-year rental of J.J. Redick (you, too, Gustavo Ayón and Ish Smith). It’s safe to assume Skiles won’t let Harris get away so easily again. Now the highest-paid Magician on the payroll, Harris has been a delight for those trying to forget the last guy who wore #12 in the Magic Kingdom. His scoring is down to 13.6 PPG from 17.1 PPG last year, but that’s in part because Skiles implores Harris to de-emphasize scoring and model the versatility of stretch-forwards like Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh. Tobias’ interior shooting is at a career-best 51.9 2FG%, while he is also posting career marks with 7.2 RPG and 2.1 APG. Fan voting for the All-Star Game in Toronto concludes at the stroke of midnight tonight, ushering in the coaches’ voting phase. Coaches, like the fans, vote in two guards and three frontcourt players, but they also elect two wild cards from each conference. Isaiah Thomas has argued his case since the season started, and John Wall has been carrying the Wizards through adversity all year. Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving are locks whether they start alongside Dwyane Wade or not, and you can’t leave Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan out in the cold. Thus, the coaches will be inclined to grant both wild card spots to guards, leaving guys like Atlanta’s Millsap (2nd in East in PER, 3rd in per-48 Win Shares and Box Plus/Minus, 4th in VORP) and Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (4th in East in FG%, 9th in PER) in a squeeze play for three precious frontcourt slots. Despite the surge by Carmelo Anthony to the third starting spot in the East, Andre Drummond is too tough a case to snub. There’s plenty of love for his fellow yung’uns Kristaps Porzingis and Hassan Whiteside, while Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh get their Lifetime Achievement sentiments. LeBron James has a lot of pull to get His Guys in, so it will be hard to keep Kevin Love out, especially since then-first-place Atlanta got four All-Stars last year. Then, there’s the dismissive You Had Your Turns Already attitude toward mid-market semi-stars. That means for guys like Sap (career-highs of 18.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 BPG) and Vooch (career-best 2.8 APG; 20 points and 11 boards vs. ATL on Dec. 20), the only way to keep NBA coaches’ rapt attention during the voting period is to play well in a winning effort. The Hawks’ powerful forward is the team’s only entry deserving consideration, but Do it All Paul will fall quickly into injury-replacement territory if Atlanta keeps dropping games to the Knicks, Hornets, Bucks, and Magic of the world. We’re at the midway mark of the season. If, back before Halloween, someone were to tell you the Hawks would not be firing on all cylinders, struggled hitting threes and keeping opponents below triple-digits, had several returning All-Stars either regressing or playing inconsistently, and had not yet worked any newcomers into prominent roles in the rotation while on pace for “just” 48 wins… yet still would be sitting on top of the Southeast Division (ahead of perpetually-hyped Miami and Washington) and 1.5 games out of second in the East, you would begrudgingly take that scenario, especially given a roster that has reached the midway point relatively healthy. Now the fun begins. Can Al Horford (one rebound, offensive, in 23 minutes vs. BKN on Saturday) string together a couple productive weeks of basketball in a row, or at least a couple games? Can Jeff Teague (7 assists, 1 TO vs. BKN; 37.3 2FG% in January) and Korver (1-for-6 FGs vs. BKN) slip out of their respective cocoons, especially defensively in Teague’s case? If not, will Coach Bud turn even more toward bench options like Dennis Schröder (15-and-10 plus 1 TO vs. BKN, first double-double of the season), Tiago Splitter and, dare we say it, Tim Hardaway, Jr.? And would that necessarily be a bad thing? As the February trade deadline approaches, does GM Bud have any tricks up his sleeves? Might continually underwhelming play shake him out of “We Like Our Group” mode? Winning 60 or even 50 games isn’t as important as building positive momentum toward the springtime. But an impressive home win over a team like the Magic, ahead of a modest four-games-in-six-nights West Coast swing, would signal to Hawks fans that there is, indeed, something good on the other side of that mountaintop. Happy MLK Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. ~lw3
  9. "So, our producers Google Image'd your surname, Evan, and here's what they found..." Way too busy again for a preview of this evening's tilt between the visiting Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, SUN Sports)! Chime in at will! See you in the Squawkchat! (PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Evan's nickname is "Never Google," and for good reason. Do NOT, under any circumstances, Google Evan's last name. No, seriously, do NOT! I see you over there thinking about it. Stop that right now! Think about basketball! This is your final warning!) ( PSA PART II: Here's a safe-click explanation as to why... http://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2015/11/4/9668830/orlando-magic-evan-fournier-never-google-SERIOUSLY-DO-NOT-DO-IT-I-SEE-YOU-THINKING-ABOUT-IT ) Let's Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. Poor Victor got World Peace'd. Can somebody put some little pandas on Metta's elbows? ~lw3
  11. And so, it begins. ~lw3
  12. http://www.beyondthebuzzer.com/2013/11/12/glen-davis-throws-tantrum-breaks-computer-keyboard-motel/ Ain't it a great world we live in, where we're self-entitled to wreck stuff, bust people over the head with bottles, etc., and then run to our Twitter and Facebook to apologize? Oops, was that YOUR property? Whoops, was that YOUR face. I'd like to apologize to you all, let me get online and do that... Just putting the question out there, but under what circumstance, at 4:00 in the morning, does a player desperately need a motel in the town that houses the team they've been playing for for years? The mind wanders... ~lw3
  13. Shame we couldn't have a #SOLOWATCH this year! He worked so hard to make that roster down in O-Town. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/sports/blogs/magic-basketblog/os-mbb-magic-solomon-jones-knee-injury-20131101,0,6802491.post?track=rss ~lw3
  14. So, there's that. ~lw3
  15. When the bough breaks... http://www.insidehoops.com/blog/?p=12251 ~lw3
  16. http://tracking.si.com/2012/07/13/orlando-magic-jacque-vaughn-nba-spurs-coach/ ~lw3
  17. http://www.orlandopinstripedpost.com/2011/12/5/2612024/orlando-magic-hire-mark-price-player-development-coach-nba ~lw3
  18. Well since there is no season, there is really no reason to even bother with "homecourt rules" now...what are your best NBA memories? Some of mine were big shots by "Downtown Freddie Brown"..."Silk Wilkes" from the corner...Magic to Worthy on the break...and, of course, Bird to DJ in the conference finals...my all-time favorite play (being DJlaysitup )....yours? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43DrapEn5QA Note: DJ had to be really alert and made a layup on that play - I doubt 80% of todays players could have made that shot in that situation- even though it was technically a layup. DJlaysitup