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  1. It’s never too early to take up a second career! The Atlanta Hawks are right near the top of the NBA… in one key category. The Bulls’ flop last night to Dallas dropped the Hawks into a tie with the Spurs (10-6), and 1.5 games behind the mighty Warriors (12-5), among the NBA’s best records versus teams at-or-above .500. Wins over Cleveland, the Spurs, Toronto, the Rockets, Pacers and Bucks, plus near-misses against the likes of the Celts and Warriors, suggest the Hawks (24-17) deserve the small cushion they’ve gained above the rest of the playoff pack, halfway through the NBA season. What has kept that first-round-homecourt margin from getting any larger has been Atlanta’s underwhelming record against the lower rungs of the league. Versus teams like tonight’s hosts, the Detroit Pistons (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit), only the Bulls’ record against sub-.500 teams is worse (among the East’s Top 11) than Atlanta’s 14-11. The good news is, the Hawks have not dropped a game to a team with a losing record since collapsing in Minnesota back on December 26, and five days before that to those same Wolves at Philips Arena. Beginning with December home victories over the (at the time, with a winning record) Knicks and Pistons, Atlanta has rattled off seven-straight against the league’s current lower tier. But as the Dwight Howard-less Hawks showed against the Porzingis-less Knicks in New York on Monday, the Hawks still have their work cut out for them before they can fully rebuild consumer confidence in their competitive product. Speaking of confidence, normally, a “vote of confidence” from a team owner is a dreaded sign of bad things to come. But Tom Gores’ thumbs-up for coach/exec Stan Van Gundy just feels different. “I have full confidence in Stan,” Gores told reporters at halftime of the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday, Detroit bookending their 5-game West Coast road trip with victories. “We are having a hard time, and Stan and I are very real about that,” the Detroit Free Press reported Gores as saying, “but we also know that we have a great group of guys. We believe they’ll work through this. We’ve hit a bump in the road and that’s what success is about, you gotta work though it.” Detroit is carrying the third-highest salary load in the NBA, albeit due to past mistakes. They’re eighth in guaranteed salaries next season, and top-ten in guaranteed salaries for the three seasons after that. Yet, at 19-24, they stand at 10th in the East, last in the Central Division, and two games behind those 8th-seeded Bulls. Things were expected to trend upward with the arrival of star guard Reggie Jackson, but it has decidedly not been the case (8-14 since Jackson’s return). Conversely to Atlanta, the Pistons hold a 6-16 mark versus current break-even or winning teams, the last W coming at home against LeBron-less Cleveland back on December 26 (before that? The 121-85 blowout in Millsap-less Atlanta, way back on December 2). Despite the playoff push from just nine months ago, Piston fans don’t seem terribly enthused. Their average attendance at the cavernous suburban Palace of Auburn Hills ranks 28th out of 30 NBA teams. Yet, as it pertains to Stan Van’s status, file it under “What else are ya gonna do?” Gores knows that Van Gundy, who fumed throughout December as things went haywire, cares deeply about his team’s on-court effort. “This isn’t the YMCA, this is the NBA,” zinged Van Gundy to the Detroit News and reporters pregame, when asked about the team’s defensive intensity. “This is high-level basketball; you’ve got to play it hard, aggressive and smart. It’s not enough to say they’re trying hard.” Gores is willing to let the man who cut bait on Joe Dumars’ disastrous Josh Smith contract work through the back end of Smoove’s buyout, which concludes this season. The Pistons have a few walking-wounded struggling to play as well. Logging the most minutes-per-game on the team, guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (40.4 3FG%) strained a rotator cuff early in the Pistons’ blowout loss in Oakland last Thursday, and the 23-year-old ironman will miss his third-straight game. Mega-rebounder Andre Drummond (NBA-high 36.1 D-Reb%) and his frontcourt mates Jon Leuer (out) and Aron Baynes (active) are each dealing with varying knee maladies. Detroit’s adversities should bode well today for a rested Howard, assuming he gets plenty of post touches and runs the floor. Dwight matched Drummond’s 15 rebounds, in five fewer minutes, during the 105-98 win on December 30 that nudged the Hawks back above .500 for the season. There was a time, up until around 2011, when Howard shot 59-60 percent on free throws consistently. Now he’s trending upward again toward that area (65.4 FT% in last 15 games), making it tougher for opponents to defend him around the rim without giving buckets away. Having to defend Howard straight-up specifically makes it harder for Drummond (team-high 1.5 SPG) to toil as an eager help defender. Once defensive ace Paul Millsap (January: 13.4 second-half PPG, 1st among East PF/Cs; 52.2 second-half FG%) and Dennis Schröder (28 points, 13-for-16 FGs @ NYK on Monday) inevitably find their offensive grooves, and the pace picks up, it becomes harder for Jackson and Tobias Harris (combined 12-for-31 FGs @ ATL on Dec. 30) to keep up. Detroit is the league’s most reliable defensive rebounding team (80.0 D-Reb%). The wall-building Pistons are, somewhat amazingly, more adept at one-and-done whenever Drummond (79.2 team D-Reb% On-Court; 82.2% Off-Court) takes a breather. This suggests it’s crucial for the Hawks to execute well in setting up, and delivering, first shots during its possessions. Tim Hardaway, Jr. is 7-for-22 on field goals in two games this season versus his father’s current employer, going 2-for-8 (0-for-3 3FGs) back on December 30 as he watched Kyle Korver (22 points on 7-for-13 shooting) carry the day offensively. But he came alive once again in the fourth quarter on Monday to hold off the Knicks, 108-107, matching Schröder with 9 points in the final frame. He’ll find less defensive pressure on him with KCP out-of-action. Detroit has been cuddling, snuggling, and petting for well over 100 games. Yet there are finally signs their tireless work on their Hatchimal is paying off, as second-year forward Stanley Johnson may at last be breaking out of his offensive shell. SVG granted Johnson significant playing time in the past 3 games, and he has responded by going 5-for-9 on threes (26.4 3FG% prior 40 appearances) and tying a career-high with 6 assists in L.A. on Sunday. That’s not quite enough to make Stan Van a Stanley-stan. But with KCP still injured, Johnson’s the most reliable defensive wing the coach has in the stable, and he can help prop up the league’s best defense in transition off turnovers (NBA-low 13.1 points per 100 possessions off TOs). If he keeps this up, Johnson will push “KST” test subject Marcus Morris (41.2 FG%, lowest since rookie season) further down in Van Gundy’s rotation. Possibly sensing a flame under his butt, Mook put up a team-high 23 points (incl. 4-for-8 3FGs), playing in all but five minutes during Detroit’s win in Los Angeles. While not exceptional against the Knicks (12-for-32 team 3FGs), the Hawks’ three-point accuracy on Monday met-or-exceeded 37.5 3FG% for the seventh time in the past eight games (43.1 team 3FG% in January, 3rd in NBA behind the Spurs and Celtics’ 43.4%). Before January rolled around, Atlanta’s 32.6 3FG% ranked 29th. Even Kent Bazemore (42.4 3FG%) is showing signs of life… at least, beyond the arc (41.1 2FG%). With the ankle injury for Mike Muscala, Coach Mike Budenholzer was compelled to turn to Kris Humphries to relieve Millsap and Howard. Kris’ 3-for-3 triples and team-high seven boards in 24 minutes helped get Atlanta over the proverbial Hump in New York. Expanding contributions from Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy, and Taurean Waller-Prince would also help improve flexibility for Coach Bud’s rotation of bench forwards, at least until Muskie returns. Schröder and the Hawks have benefitted from the improving play of backup guard Malcolm Delaney (last 9 games: 51.8 FG%, 4.6 APG, 1.9 TOs/game; 37.4 FG%, 2.6 APG before). The rookie currently ranks 5th among all NBA players (min. 15 minutes/game) with a 98.0 D-Rating, a value that was especially good (91.2 in October/November, 2nd in NBA) before the team’s November/December nosedive. While NBA.com stats are always sketchy in this area, his high rating suggests Delaney (5 assists and 2 steals @ NYK) and his teammates are doing something right. Another solid two-way effort by Delaney versus Pistons reserves Ish Smith (13 assists @ ATL in his last start on Dec. 2) and Beno Udrih could help the Hawks gain a decided advantage. Atlanta is 11-4, with just one loss (Boston) since November, when he collects four or more dimes in a game. Last month, it took consecutive home wins over the Knicks and Pistons to get Atlanta back on track. This time around, a two-game parlay would extend the Hawks’ road streak to six (most since the 12-game magic during December/January of 2014-15) and earn the team its 14th road win on the season, potentially tops in the Eastern Conference. Relying just a little more upon a player once self-identified as Superman could have the Hawks looking up, up, and away from the bottom half of the East. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  2. “You Gettin’ Mad... I’m Gettin’ Rich!” “DESTROYED! BASKETBALL!” Things sure were revving up in the Motor City the last time the Detroit Pistons met the Atlanta Hawks on the neutral court known as Philips Arena, a December day not much different than today (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit). Why, it was only four weeks ago, when the league’s most-shy 3-point shooting team strolled into the Lamelight Factory and shattered their franchise record with 17 three-point makes (on 29 attempts). Sure, the Hawks were missing their Anchorman in Paul Millsap (hip). But the Pistons likewise enjoyed their biggest victory of the year margin-wise, 121-85, without their team’s leading scorer. Reggie Jackson (knee, thumb) had been out all season, but was ready to hop on the wave two nights later back home against Orlando. Surely, a surge to the upper room in the Eastern Conference was around the corner, right? Well, not exactly. They flopped against the Magic. The next game, though, they toppled their division-rival Bulls at The Palace. Happy days are here again, right? Well, not quite. A season-low 77 points in a loss at Charlotte (despite a familiar-sounding 26 & 20 performance by Andre Drummond) was quite a bummer. However, after that game came a resounding 117-90 victory in Minnesota (Drummond with 22 & 22). So, it’s Morning in Auburn Hills, right? Well, not really. The Pistons returned home and suffered an inexcusable 97-79 loss to the 76ers (and, no, Joel Embiid did not play). But, hey, after a couple days off, Detroit bounced back and prevailed in Dallas. Now, the ship is steering in the right direction, right? Well, hold your horses. Back-to-back defeats at Washington (allowing a season-high 122 points) and back home versus the Pacers meant it was time for the tried-and-true Players-Only Meeting! Leading scorer Tobias Harris felt relieved after the meeting, convened by backup big Aron Baynes after the 15-point loss to Indy. “It’s a dialogue about communication for everybody… it was good to just get everybody talking,” Harris told the delayed postgame media. Marcus Morris gave his best Bluto impression. “Are you going to play for the next man beside you, or are you going to play for yourself?”, he paraphrased for reporters. So, all for one, one for all, right? Well, not quite. See, Jackson (45.7 eFG%, lowest eFG% among top 35 NBA players in Usage%) kinda got the impression that the team’s frustrations were directed squarely toward him. After all, things were on the uptick before he returned – hey, did you not see how good we looked against Atlanta, without you??? So, a miffed Jackson decided to come into Chicago playing not so much Detroit Basketball, but something more like Deez Nuts Basketball, declining to take a shot, even when open, until nearly halftime. The result? A 113-82 drubbing. That’ll learn ‘em, R-Jax! “That wasn’t us,” said the always forthcoming Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, “That was him.” Atlanta knows all about up-and-down, one-step-forward, two-steps-back basketball. I joked just yesterday, though, that the Hawks’ alternate logo ought to be a Black Box. Through all the ups and mostly downs, if you catch so much as a hint of off-court dissension on this team, from either coaches or players, your flight has officially landed inside a volcano. That’s never the situation in Detroit, certainly not when their head coach is anywhere within eight miles of a microphone. I present to you, via MLive and the Detroit Free Press, the many smooth stylings of “Stan Van Gundy: Master of Panic.” Reflecting after the loss to the Suxers, after returning from Minnesota: “We weren’t ready. To hell with the weather… You’re an NBA player. It’s your job to be ready to play. But I didn’t do my job in getting them ready to play.” After the loss to the Pacers: “We’ve definitely got to look at some things, lineup and rotation-wise. That unit (Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Morris, Harris, Drummond) is clearly not working… So, the question is, how long do you stick with it?... There’s no question we’re not as good as before (Jackson’s return)… Our offensive frustrations have taken a toll on our defense. It shouldn’t, and it’s not a legitimate excuse. But I’m just giving you the facts.” After the third-straight double-digit loss, in Chicago: “Team meeting, my [patootie]. Like I said before, that stuff means nothing; it’s what you do on the court. Talking is easy… It was a disgusting performance, by all of us. Me included. It was unprofessional. Embarrassing. Humiliating. Whatever you want to say, it was terrible… Looks to me like a lack of effort, a lack of heart… I guarantee you on Wednesday night, we’re not trottin’ that (starting) five out there again.” Riffing on players, like Drummond, concerned about fewer touches since Jackson’s return: “I told them today I don’t really care… you know what, my basic message today was, ‘Do your job’… Does the plumber get a motivational speech in the morning? No… He either does his job right or he doesn’t get paid… I don’t know in how many jobs, and I said this to them, does your employer pay you and then also take responsibility for your happiness? That ain’t the way it works.” All of that, and more, from The Notorious M.O.P. in just the past 18 days. If Coach Bud’s mealy-mouthed postgame commentaries bore you to tears, go catch some interviews in the Pistons’ locker room after a bad loss. Oh, and he’s not done. SVG is virtually down to using toes to find something he can point at people with, so he’s trying a different tack. “When a team is having the problems we’ve had this many times, it’s on me,” he told the media after a 25-point loss at home to the Bucks on Wednesday, “I’m not going to get in here and blister the players… I’m responsible. I got to figure out what needs to be done. Quite honestly, I’m embarrassed. I’m not getting it done. I’m NOT getting it done.” Detroit has one win in their past seven games, and that exception was gifted to them on Monday by Tyronn Lue, after the Cavs coach DNP-REST’d LeBron James. Close-shave losses to Golden State and Memphis served as encouragement, but the Milwaukee loss knocked them for yet another loop. Tonight, will they be able to once again sip from the Fountain of Relevance in Atlanta? While they indeed whooped the Hawks by 36 points back on December 2, Van Gundy surely noticed when the Hawks (16-16) got waxed on Toronto’s floor the very next night, by 44 points… and what happened in that same building less than two weeks later. After such high hopes to start the month, a loss in Atlanta tonight would plummet the Pistons (15-19) to 12th in the LeBronference, the very bottom of the East’s Crab Barrel. “We’re in jeopardy right now,” said You Know Who. With the curtains wide open, the Wizard of Osmosis is pulling on whatever levers he can find. Harris (16.3 PPG), the Pistons leading scorer, now comes off the bench, Stan Van turning to Tobias’ super-efficient sub Jon Leuer in the starting lineup. His play as a reserve (last 3 games: 23.3 PPG, 55.8 FG%, 52.9 3FG%, 8.3 RPG) has sparked the bench offensively, but Leuer’s effect on the starting-unit’s defensive intensity has yet to bear fruit. The Pistons’ three-point barrage back on December 2 essentially ended the Hawks’ ability to distract viewers with their then-top-ranked defensive efficiency. Their slippage has them at 7th place in D-Rating entering today’s action, although still 2nd in the East, ahead of Milwaukee and Detroit. Among the NBA’s top ten teams in D-Rating, only the Hawks and Pistons have a negative Net Rating, a tell-tale sign of offensive struggles. Behind Drummond, the Pistons, for their part, have also led the league with 84.5 D-Reb % in December (NBA-low 9.5 opponent second-chance PPG, only team allowing less than 10), so second-chances may be hard to come by for Atlanta, even for Dwight Howard (1 O-Reb in 25 minutes vs. DET on Dec. 2). This suggests that the first shots need to be good ones. For Hawks’ ballhandlers Dennis Schröder, Malcolm Delaney, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and (yes) Kent Bazemore, it means knowing when to attack the paint, like when they’re guarded by Jackson instead of KCP, and when to find passing lanes, rather than forcing the issue when Drummond and Baynes form walls and seal off penetration. Despite his considerable girth, Drummond (1.0 BPG) is decidedly not a shot-blocker, preferring to make stops by drawing charges and making steals when he’s not boxing out. He will be occupied with sealing off Howard and averting lob plays, so players on the opposite side of the floor from D8 need to be active, ready to receive the rock and finish plays from that side. Continuing to recover from a sore groin muscle sustained last week, Hardaway is a past-due target to get to the bucket, especially when KCP strays to help with Schröder. Hardaway was 0-for-7 shooting over just 13 minutes versus his prior team, the Knicks, on Wednesday. And in the UM alum’s last meeting with the Pistons, he was a few more wayward clanks (0-for-6 3FGs) from being disowned by his assistant-coach father. He and Bazemore (3-for-11 FGs vs. DET on Dec. 2) need to make more cuts to the hoop and be prepared to produce more assists for Schröder (11 assists, 1 TO vs. DET) via interior buckets. While Hawks foes like the Pistons have had a field day from the perimeter this month (NBA-high 40.5 opponent 3FG% in December; 11.6 opponent 3FGs per 100 possessions, 2nd-most in NBA), Atlanta continues its own slide in that area (8.3 3FGs per 100 and 31.6 3FG%, 3rd-worst in NBA). If your team relies on your 6-foot-8 power forward, shooting 31.0 3FG% and rocking a swollen eye, to take the most three-point attempts, you’re not making it easier on your team to win games. Instead of allowing Millsap to think he’s somehow spreading the floor, allow him to work on Harris and Leuer inside. The Hawks must feed the tandem of Howard and Millsap, and allow them to create better outside options for players paid to hit those shots, like Kyle Korver (3-for-5 3FGs, 1-for-5 2FGs in the OT win vs. NYK). Kyle’s last five triples have come by way of passes from either Howard, Millsap, or Mike Muscala. Facing a back-to-back, Coach Bud sat Thabo Sefolosha (season-low 16.6 minutes) in the second-half of the loss against Detroit, and Baze was given a rest in the final quarter. So Detroit’s decision to go buckwild from deep (11-for-20 3FGs) was no accident, especially after a first-quarter test (5-for-6 3FGs) revealed the water was fine. Both Kent and Thabo should be healthy enough to contribute major minutes tonight, making perimeter looks on the back end of the clock tougher for the Pistons. Detroit’s 32.9 3FG% since that game (27th in NBA) is not much better than Atlanta’s 32.1% (28th). Just as NBA opponents have figured out they should go ahead and let Atlanta fire away from outside, they’ve also learned not to bail out the poor-shooting Pistons with ticky-tack fouls. Detroit’s 18.0 personal fouls drawn (per 100 possessions) are the league’s lowest this month; their 19.8 FTAs per-100 in December are ahead of only Dallas’ 19.7. Plus, the lion’s share of those hacks are directed at Drummond, whose 44.2 FT% (41.1% this month) is actually a career-high. One half-full way of looking at the Hawks’ late-December stretch is that they have not lost consecutive games since December 5. They also haven’t won back-to-back contests since December 9, or consecutive home games since November 16. But these are low bars that they can clear tonight. Considering Bud’s hard-to-beat mentor (and the source of Van Gundy’s plumber philosophies) Gregg Popovich is swinging by on New Year’s Day, this is no time for the Hawks to resort to half-empty basketball. Let’s save all the drama tonight for the guys in the other locker room. Hit Dem Folks! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  3. "GOOD JOB! GOOD EFFORT!" ~lw3
  4. Marc with the Stein-er Recliner... Can't you just feel the excitement? ~lw3
  5. “YOUR Dad’s a GENIUS!” It’s another Separation Saturday! When our Atlanta Hawks last left Auburn Hills, eight days ago, their Palace coup left the Detroit Pistons a bit embittered. Both teams have done fairly well for themselves in the days since, and each has a good reason to grab a win tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Detroit) —specifically, stiff-arming the competition below them in the conference standings. Atlanta and Detroit share the top spot among the East’s toughest remaining schedules, opponents each holding a 57% winning percentage. Seven of Detroit’s remaining nine games involve back-to-backs. The Pistons actually do pretty good with back-to-back series, as they’re an impressive 20-14 in those games. Even better, they’ve won their last six contests on the back ends of those series, and hoping to extend it to seven tonight. The Pistons are STILL amid that nine-game homestand that began with the loss to the Hawks on March 18. And the confines have gotten quite comfy. They dusted four lotto-bound teams before fumigating the Hornets last night (62 team rebounds in regulation, a season-high). Tonight, they’re on the hunt for their first six-game winning streak since the infamous Smoove Buyout spurred Stan Van Gundy’s club to seven-straight back in December-January of last season. After tonight, Detroit (39-34, 8th-seed in East) hosts OKC and the Mavs before finally hitting the road, for a three-game stretch that includes a miffed Bulls squad (2 games behind) and the heat. Their schedule concludes with a visit to Cleveland. Since they have a better record versus their Central Division rivals than they do against the Raptors, they might not mind bringing an extra bag to the Buckeye State in advance of a playoff series there. In the Hawks’ case, tonight concludes the back-to-backs (22-14, 11-7 on second nights) for the season. They’ve swept their last three series and are looking to extend that string to four tonight, after starting out the year sweeping their first three. Winning their sixth road game out of their last seven tonight should keep Atlanta (43-30, 3rd-seed in East) a half-game ahead of the Celtics, who are in Phoenix tonight awaiting a team that played yesterday, and extend their division lead over resting Miami to a full game. While two games each versus Cleveland and Toronto await, the sooner that these teams firm up their playoff positioning, the sooner they can focus on rest and recuperation ahead of the postseason. Bang The Drummond Slowly! The last time the Hawks were here, Mike Budenholzer’s strategic fouling of the Pistons’ mammoth center was a successful exercise in torture that even some presidential candidates could admire. Dre sunk almost half of his 17 foul shots to add 8 points to his 18-and-18 evening. But more importantly, Hack-a-Dre effectively short-circuited his entire team’s momentum, the Hawks eroding Detroit’s 11-point third-quarter lead to surge ahead for good in the fourth. “If we feel like it’s going to create an advantage,” Coach Bud said unapologetically to the postgame media, “we’ll continue to do it… (Detroit) was playing so well offensively, it’s a way to give your defense a little break and take the ball out of some other people’s hands and change the rhythm of the game.” Those “other people’s hands” rightfully belong to guys like Reggie Jackson (36.1 Assist%, 10th in NBA), who had 17 points and 10 assists without sinking a single three-pointer against the Hawks (0-for-6 3FGs on March 16). "He drilled us in transition, the pick-and-roll game, everything that we worked on," Hornets coach Steve Clifford praised of Jackson's offense after last night's game. Still, RJax is looking to right the ship after going 0-for-5 from deep last night while getting torched from the perimeter by Charlotte's Kemba Walker (25 first-half points; 6-for-9 3FGs; 5 assists and no turnovers). Their Atlanta counterpart, Jeff Teague, had half of the Hawks’ paltry 12 player turnovers last night versus Milwaukee, and went 0-for-5 on threes, but saved his best for last with 12 of his 18 points in the closing seven minutes of the contest. Detroit seized the frontcourt scoring edge from Charlotte thanks to 18-and-14 by Drummond (just two free throws, both missed), along with bench bigs Aron Baynes (16-and-8 in 18 minutes) and Anthony Tolliver (3-for-7 3FGs and 8 boards in 20 minutes). The Pistons will need a double-dip of that tonight from a bench corps that ranks last in the NBA with a cumulative 26.5 PPG and 41.4 FG%. Detroit relies more than any other team on three-point bench shots (40.7% of bench FG attempts are from 3-point distance), so the Hawks perimeter defense must continue to be on point today. Conversely, despite shooting just 32.0 3FG% on the season, the 45.4 FG% by Atlanta’s bench is the best in the East. Tim Hardaway, Jr., Kris Humphries, and Dennis Schröder will continue improving Atlanta’s offensive ambrosia, particularly when Kyle Korver (0-for-4 3FGs on Friday, 1-for-3 @ DET on March 16), Teague, and the All-Star starting frontcourt are having off-nights from the field. Detroit cooled off with 3-for-16 team shooting in the fourth quarter on Friday, as the Hornets’ reserves dwindled a 26-point mid-fourth-quarter deficit down to five with 38 seconds left to play. Similar to the situation with Atlanta’s bench scoring, in fourth-quarters, the Hawks shoot just 32.4 3FG% but their 46.4 FG% is second-best in the East, just a hair behind Miami (46.5 FG%). Detroit’s fourth-quarters haven’t been so hot (42.8 FG%, 26th in NBA). So they’re hoping once again to pounce early and hang on late, especially after SVG rested his starters in the final frame while the Hornets made their late-game charge. The Hawks got a bit discombobulated while up nine points with 80 seconds left in the last Pistons game, making the eventual outcome, a 118-114 win, a little tighter than necessary. After Paul Millsap’s And-1 bucket gave the Hawks the final lead of the night with under four minutes to go, their final 13 points were all free throws. A Teague turnover, a few missed freebies and some defensive lapses in the closing minute allowed the Pistons to sneak back into the rearview mirror. But Jeff’s 8-for-8 fourth quarter FTs helped make Detroit’s last stand too-little-too-late. Last night, Atlanta showed that they want to be a team that Lives by the D, not just the 3. Even with the iron unkind all night from downtown (5-for-32 3FGs), the Hawks refused to take, “Just not our night!” as an answer. They kept the Bucks few perimeter threats cool from deep (Khris Middleton and Jerryd Bayless 2-for-8 on 3FGs) and made Milwaukee earn just about every interior shot they could make. While Milwaukee missed 23 shots in the taint, I mean paint, Atlanta’s 58-42 points-in-paint advantage made all the difference in the final score. The Hawks also helped their own cause by slowing down the Bucks’ fastbreak, building a 22-14 advantage in that category as well. The Bucks, meanwhile, didn’t help their own cause by missing nine of their 26 free throw attempts. Foreshadowing, Pistons? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. “There can be only one…” Another back-to-back, Jack! Coming off a successful twin-billing at home this past weekend, tonight starts one of just two back-to-back sets left for the Atlanta Hawks. Both include a trip to Greater Motown to face the Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Detroit). Hoping to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009, Detroit (34-33) comes into tonight’s contest looking every bit like a young, upstart .500 team. Is this a team that’s won three of their last five, or lost four of their last seven? Are they winners of seven in their past eleven games, or losers of nine out of their previous 16 games? Are these the Pistons that won, in recent weeks, in Cleveland, at home against Toronto, and by 20 versus Portland? Or is Stan Van Gundy’s club the team whose last four road losses were by double-digits, including a 33-point nationally-televised blowout on Monday, against fellow 8-seed contender Washington? The answer to all of that is, yes, these are those Pistons. And with Joe Dumars a distant memory around Auburn Hills, Pistons fans couldn’t be much happier. Detroit is just a percentage-point behind the Bulls for 8th in the Eastern Conference, and tonight, they will embark upon a NINE-game homestand. Yes, nine games, for a team that’s a modest 19-11 in the roller rink otherwise known as the Palace. Detroit knows that a surge over the next 17 days at home could have them charging right up the standings. They’re also aware that anything less than a 5-4 mark out of this homestand would turn postseason hopes into a pipe dream. Tonight, these Pistons hope to get even with Atlanta’s tepid (22-18) in-conference record. After hosting the Hawks, the Pistons have four relative cupcakes (Sacramento, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Orlando) paying them a visit. Then it’s the red-hot Hornets. Then, whaddya know, it’s those Hawks again, one night after Atlanta hosts the Bucks. Then the Thunder, and finally the Mavericks, one night before traveling to Chicago. SVG knows there won’t be much room for error after that. As was the case this weekend with the Pacers, the Hawks (38-29) hope to have the Pistons stumbling into their upcoming schedule, not soaring and using a win over Atlanta to build momentum. The Hawks have some chasing to do as well. The reigning Southeast Division champs are just a game behind Joe Johnson’s Miami heat, along with the potentially sliding Boston Celtics, in the standings. They’re 20-14 this season in games of back-to-back sets, but that included a 6-0 start to the season. They can match that early-season run, but not if they get caught looking past opponents like Detroit. In the teams’ last meeting in December, the Pistons came into Philips one night after, first, coming from way behind to prevail in Miami, then enduring weather delays that prevented their arrival in ATL until the morning of the game. Early and sporadically, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer deployed a Hack A. Drummond strategy, using Lamar Patterson, Tiago Splitter, and Mike Scott as part of the tag-team. Andre sunk 7 of his 25 points, but missed 11 free throws as the Pistons fell too far behind to catch up. Despite losing by just 107-100, the Pistons found themselves in a 19-point fourth-quarter hole before Atlanta kicked into cruise control. Drummond (league-highs 15.0 RPG, 34.6 D-Reb%) remains a top-notch defensive threat, but SVG has his All-Star center going after rebounds and steals, not Whitesiding and imperiling the paint by chasing after uncommitted shooters in search of box-score-busting blocks. Van Gundy upgraded the frontline by flipping Ersan Ilyasova to Orlando (along with Brandon Jennings) in exchange for Tobias Harris. But it’s really going to help the Pistons if forwards Harris, Marcus Morris, and rookie Stanley Johnson can help Drummond make stops. Harris is averaging 4.9 defensive boards through 13 games, and while that’s below his averages in Orlando, it still counts as second-best on the team. Detroit’s 3.6 blocks per game ranks 29th in the league, and their 7.3 steals average ranks just 21st. The Pistons are not strong shooters (26th in FG%, 22nd in 3FG%, last thanks to Drummond in FT%). But they are very stingy with turnovers (12.2 TO%, 6th-best in NBA), and they crash the boards after every carom (27.1 O-Reb% and 14.9 second-chance PPG, both 2nd in NBA). On defense, Paul Millsap and Kris Humphries must help Al Horford keep the paint clear of pernicious Pistons. The Pacers on Sunday couldn’t tell whether the frontcourt duo of Millsap and Horford (15-for-29 FGs vs. DET on Dec. 23) were coming or going (combined 11-for-18 2FGs, 4-for-8 3FGs vs. IND). Their ability to command defensive help has been freeing up Kyle Korver (4-for-9 3FGs vs. IND), whose 3FG% has grown from 29.3% in December, to 38.7% in January, 42.3% in February, and 52.8% mid-way through March. Leading scorer and dime-maker Reggie Jackson (career-high 22.3 points per-36 and 36.8 3FG%; 36.0 Assist%, 10th in NBA) helps Van Gundy push a Piston pace not seen by Michiganders since the days of Alvin Gentry, back around the year 2000. The less defensive pressure Jackson feels, the better Detroit’s chances for victory. The Pistons are just 2-9 (one win coming this past week, in Philly) when opponents get 10 or more steals, and the Hawks’ 19.2 PPG off turnovers now leads the NBA. Jackson commits 2.2 TOs per game (6.8 APG; 50.1 FG%; 48.5 3FG%) in wins, 3.2 TOs (5.5 APG; 38.2 FG%; 26.1 3FG%) in losses. Detroit’s ability to execute their offense successfully will be tied to Jeff Teague (4 steals vs. DET on Dec. 23) and the Hawks’ defensive effort versus R-Jax, whose defensive effort also falters when his offense isn’t fiyah. Dennis Schröder scored 11 of his 14 points in the first quarter of the last Hawks-Pistons matchup in December. Teague followed that up with nine of his team-high 23 points and four assists in the second. One X-Factor for the Pistons’ playoff hopes, but not tonight, will eventually be Jodie Meeks, who hasn’t played since October after injuring his foot, but will be activated soon. His fellow Georgian, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, has done a solid job of defending the perimeter, and will be busy chasing Korver (40.2 3FG% on the road) around tonight. But by the time of the Hawks’ next visit, Meeks could be the player that helps stretch the floor to the benefit of Drummond and Jackson. Detroit is the kind of up-and-coming team that could use a come-up against the Hawks, especially if Atlanta is the kind of team they might face in the first round of the playoffs. Winners of five of their last six, the Hawks can continue to whet their mettle, along the way to the postseason, by pulling off at least one Palace coup. Have a Happy St. Pat’s Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. ~lw3
  8. “Bad Boys to the Bone!” Well, hello, there. Stan Van Gundy! Did you have yourself a Happy Smoove Buyout Day? One day before tonight’s tangle between the Detroit Pistons and the host Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Detroit), yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Van Gundy inviting Josh Smith into his office to advise: “Look, it’s not you, it’s… okay, screw it, it’s you. We’re cutting you loose!” The Pistons sat at 5-23 when their GM/coach elected to apply the CBA’s stretch provision to his most notorious stretch-four. Even 5-23 doesn’t begin to reflect the scale of abject dysfunction that pervaded the roster, symbolized by its highest-salaried player, signed to a head-scratching free agent deal by a GM that no longer worked there. This was 5-23 with Smith, with Brandon Jennings, with Greg Monroe, with Andre Drummond. The team was a nightly #NotTop10 laughingstock. Piston fans were Pistoff, and Detroit’s once-proud suburban home attendance had fallen through the Palace floor. Just getting settled into the Motor City, Van Gundy wasn’t about to crash-and-burn in this Edsel. He knew Detroit would have to consult the White House to find a bailout more momentous than placing Josh Smith on waivers. Jumpshot Josh bounced from Motown to an eventful stop in H-Town, and now sulks and seethes on the bench in Tinseltown while averaging several career-lows, alongside just the latest head coach with that how-do-I-get-this-dookie-off-my-shoe look etched on his face. Picking up new paychecks at each stop along the way, he stopped by A-Town last March, and bragged to Ryan Cameron that “It’s a new day!” after sinking some lucky threes. Van Gundy could not possibly agree more with you, Josh. After waiving Smith, Detroit played .500-ball the rest of the way (27-27) through last season, threatening to break into the playoffs, and might have done even better were it not for Jennings rupturing his Achilles amidst their January turnaround. Since the waiver, the Pistons are a sound 44-39 coming into tonight’s meeting with another one of Smoove’s grateful former employers. Detroit didn’t chase Monroe is free agency, and now That Other Moose is handsomely paid on a Central Division rival that can’t seem to find traction. Midway through last season, and again this summer, they rolled the dice and committed to a backup lead guard from Oklahoma City. Today, Reggie Jackson (career-highs 20.4 PPG, 6.4 APG, 35.5 3FG%) waltzes into tonight’s contest as the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week. It is Jackson’s second such honor this season, matching Drummond, who won it for each of the first two weeks of the NBA season. No longer flanked by Smith and Monroe, Drummond has continues to come into his own. He earned his first weekly honor of the season, in part, by trouncing Budball with 18 points and 19 rebounds in a season-opening 106-94 win over the defending regular-season conference champs in Atlanta. 19 boards would count as a career day for most NBA players, but Drummond has already met or bested that tally eight times this season. That included 29 boards one week after the Hawks game, versus Indiana, and 21 rebounds in Chicago last Friday in a back-and-forth battle that stretched through four overtimes. Playing 54 minutes, Dre would certainly have grabbed even more boards had he not fouled out with just over a minute left. The Windy City win was the first four-OT game in the NBA since Jeff Teague’s Hawks nipped Paul Millsap’s Utah Jazz back in March 2012. But while Chicago had to fly out to New York for a game the next night, Detroit followed up their running of the Bulls with a restful three-day layoff. Still, one can hope that when the Pistons flew into Hartsfield-Jackson, their arms were tired. Much like the Hawks’ last opponent, the Pistons arrive in Atlanta one night after squeaking out a win in Miami, storming back from being 18 points down in the second quarter. The AJC's C-Viv notes they arrived early this morning, due to the soupy weather delaying their flight from South Florida. Detroit is 0-for-3 thus far, including a loss to the Lakers, when playing the back end of a back-to-back on the road. Stan has kept things steady among the starters. Detroit (17-12) has maintained the same starting-five since the successful season opener in ATL, with Jackson and Drummond joined by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forwards Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova. Due largely to a lack of healthy options and backcourt defenders, KCP (30.2 3FG%) is second only to Houston’s James Harden in daily NBA floor time, averaging 38 minutes per game. The former UGA star’s offense is beginning to turn a huge corner as well. Despite going 7-for-14 (4-for-7 3FGs) in Atlanta in October, his field-goal shooting was in the dirty thirties (38.9 FG%) through November. But KCP’s jumper is looking extra-crispy lately, particularly when Detroit is desperate for a closer to take pressure off of Jackson. He’s been shooting 43.9 FG% this month, hitting a big triple with under two minutes left in the fourth OT to corral the bickering Bulls, and overcoming a rough shooting night with the final seven Piston points to temper the heat yesterday. Jennings has returned to the lineup for the Pistons, and his good-soldier attitude (“best PG in the East right now,” he tweeted two days ago) has defused any questions so far about the Jackson/Jennings dynamic. He will be used not only as a Jackson backup but, more likely, as a secondary shooting guard to relieve Caldwell-Pope (40 minutes yesterday in Miami). While he’s unlikely to appear tonight, Jennings is expected to boost the bench, as he gets back up to speed. But he may also get showcased in Van Gundy’s quest to improve Detroit’s shallow backcourt situation. Jennings’ $8.3 million salary concludes his contract this coming summer. Detroit has managed without not only Jennings but Jodie Meeks. The former Norcross High standout, Meeks fractured his foot in just the second game of the season and remains out for a couple more months. Factor in the recurring D-League development of youngsters at the bottom of the depth chart (Spencer Dinwiddie, Darrun Hilliard, and Reggie Bullock) and Jackson, KCP and the crafty Steve Blake have had the guard rotation essentially all to themselves. Due to the diminished depth, and the boundless energy of Van Gundy’s young upstart starters (you too, Ersan), Detroit’s reserves rank last in the league with a collective 15.6 minutes per game, 23.3 PPG, 37.3 FG%, and 2.0 SPG. But the marksmanship of ex-Hawk Anthony Tolliver, Blake, and rookie Stanley Johnson last night (collective 11-for-17 3FGs @ MIA) helped Detroit’s reserves quickly turn the tables on the heat in the second quarter. The Hawks have to push the pace on the Pistons, and Jeff Teague needs to lead the way. The Hawks still go as Jeff goes: 12-0 when he posts a plus-minus of zero of better, 17-2 when it’s minus-3 or better, eight double-digit losses (including to these Pistons) when he’s done worse. Teague (38.5 2FG% in December) has contributed either 20 points or 10 assists just once in the past ten games, and that was ten games ago. On offense, especially when his jumpshot isn’t falling (4-for-12 FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs vs. Tim Frazier and Poor-tland), he must work his way around Jackson and draw help defenders into the paint. Atlanta is 9-1 when Teague gets at least six free throw attempts. He’ll find lanes to attack whenever triple threat Kyle Korver (8-for-12 3FGs last two games) draws Caldwell-Pope to the other side of the floor. On defense, Teague (1.1 SPG, down from 1.7 in 2014-15) must get back to bringing the same fullcourt terror to opposing guards that he provided consistently last season when the Hawks got on a wintertime roll. In the ten losses where Teague played this season, he totaled just 7 steals. It’s his responsibility to make shoot-first PGs like Jackson work the full floor. Jeff must not only spark the Hawks, who thrive off scoring from opponent turnovers, but make opponents pay by converting those opportunities into points. Among the top 25 NBA players in transition possessions, Teague’s 21.0 turnover percentage on those possessions ranks as the second-worst, and his 55.8 eFG% is the fifth-worst. While Teague has been merely putting on the veneer of a top-flight point guard, Dennis Schröder (7-for-10 FGs, team-high 18 points in just 17 minutes) took his own veneer and stuffed it in his sock, while socking it to the toothless Trail Blazers on Monday. The gummin’ German has recommitted himself to defend opposing guards better (2.4 SPG in last 5 games, 0.8 before that), and it’s resulted in an uptick in productive floor time (52.0 FG%, 50.0 3FG%, 5.0 APG, 1.6 TOs/game in last 5 games). Schröder and the bench corps must exploit the rest-and-preparation advantage over their lead-legged Detroit counterparts. Thabo Sefolosha will join Kent Bazemore in forcing tough perimeter shots, but it will help a ton if Lamar Patterson (one steal in his last 13 appearances) can get a couple stops, or if Justin (no significant minutes since November 21) can make the Holidays happy. Tight-but-smart defensive pressure along the perimeter and limiting dribble penetration by Piston guards will lighten the load for Paul Millsap and Michigander Al Horford as they try to keep Drummond and Morris (13 combined O-Rebs, 29 boards @ATL on Oct. 27) from piling up second-chance points, which is naturally the Pistons’ specialty (league-high 15.8 PPG). Horford and Millsap (who, like Teague, will play through a tweaked ankle) are among the league’s top-ten in Roll Man possessions, and Al is hoppin’ when he’s not just pick-and-poppin’. Among the top 15 Roll Men, Horford’s 55.9 eFG% is tops, while his 2.9 turnover percentage on those possessions is the best among the Top 30. Atlanta’s ball handlers must recognize this and feed Horford early and often on rolls to the rim. Millsap, meanwhile, ranks 2nd among the league’s Top-20 in eFG% on Post-Up possessions, and 31.6% of those Post-Ups ending in free throw chances blows away the field among the NBA’s Top-50 post-uppers. Atlanta’s bigs, including Mike Scott, Tiago Splitter and The Real Moose, must be relentless on interior shots against a Detroit team that allows 45.2 PPG in the paint (most in the East), and their guards must be clever enough to feed the bigs when they’ve got the likes of Ilyasova, Morris, and Tolliver covering them. Sharp passing and assertiveness can neutralize Drummond’s cherry-picking ways, compelling him to focus more on his defensive tasks, and making plays on the drivers and cutters rather than the ball itself. With the floor spread out in his favor last night, Chris Bosh didn’t bother to ask his doctor before feeding Drummond a pill or two around the rim, and Horford can certainly follow suit tonight. Drummond’s dominance in the offensive rebounding column has just as much to do with the Pistons’ own struggles making halfcourt shots (50.7% true shooting, tied for 2nd-worst in NBA) as anything else. Detroit only shot 37.9% on two-pointers back on Oct. 27, but 12-for-29 (41.4%) on threes (Detroit’s 8-1 when they sink ten or more). Last season’s MLK Day game saw Drummond nab 11 of his 18 rebounds (surpassed in the same game by Monroe’s 20) in the first quarter, but Detroit could muster only 12 points (8-for-24 FGs, 0-for-6 3FGs) in that frame. Last season, Atlanta’s opponents took the bait and jacked a league-high 25.8 threes per game, but shot just 34.1 percent on them. So far this year, Hawks foes aren’t settling quite as much (24.0 3FGAs per game, 16th in NBA), but are getting better looks (36.8 3FG%, 5th-most in NBA). Rather than being mesmerized by Drummond’s prodigious play in the post, improving the perimeter defense would make things easier on the Hawks tonight. Hawks point guards and roving wings can minimize the need for the bigs to vacate the paint (and Drummond) to help. A third-straight victory over Atlanta, a fourth consecutive victory overall, a fourth-straight road win to even up their away-game record, and a possible vault up to second in the East. All of that would suffice as quality gifts for the Detroit Pistons as they head into the Christmas Day break. But don’t bother wrapping anything, Atlanta. For Stan Van Gundy, Christmas already came a couple days early. Merry Christmas to you and yours, and Happy Holidays! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. He's Baaaaaaaaaaack! ~lw3
  10. The screaming from the injury was painful to watch/listen to last night, in Milwaukee no less. Hopefully, he'll recover well. ~lw3
  11. "You got a fast car..." http://fansided.com/2014/12/06/detroit-pistons-andre-drummond-takes-selfie-driving-100-mph-photo/ Hey, ya gotta do whatever you can to get a headstart on the Sixers... http://www.mlive.com/pistons/index.ssf/2014/12/detroit_pistons_andre_drummond_46.html ~lw3
  12. http://www.basketballinsiders.com/celtics-trade-anthony-for-pistons-bynum/ ~lw3
  13. Is Smoove a GM killer now, too? It appears Joe D may jump before he's pushed. http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/10748178/detroit-pistons-president-joe-dumars-expected-resign ~lw3
  14. http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20131015/SPORTS0102/310150097 Fortunately, they have Chauncey Billups back around to start the season. Mo might want to Saran-wrap him for the next couple weeks. ~lw3
  15. National anthem singers in the 313, bone up on your lyrics! https://twitter.com/ESPNSteinLine/status/344215261966123008 ~lw3
  16. http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/9186721/lawrence-frank-fired-detroit-pistons-sources And yet Joe D lives on, it seems. ~lw3