• Hawksquawk.net

    Atlanta Hawks community, for the fans, by the fans

    lethalweapon3
     
    “Is THIS Your King???”
     
    Soon, legions of amped-up fans will fill into their seats, building up a decisive advantage for Atlanta’s home team. Of course, we’re not talking about our dear Atlanta Hawks, although they will benefit tonight from a few less opponent-cheering fanboys in the Philips Arena seats, what with the Indiana Pacers in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana in Hoosierville). No, that will instead be the scene around the corner in a couple weeks from now, as Atlanta Unites in lockstep around its Soccer Club.
    The fever pitch out on the pitch will take time to replicate on the Highlight Factory hardwood. But Travis Schlenk and company exude confidence that an offseason or two of fine-tuning is all it will take to turn Atlanta Hawks BC into a similar sensation as Atlanta United FC. In the meantime, noted futbol savant Dennis Schröder remains at center stage, trying to figure out if his best shot-making teammates headed to The Benz early.
    Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Babbitt. Three veterans that sunk more than one three-pointer per night, each at a 37-percent-or-better clip, each while donning the chartreuse-and-red. All three are in new NBA locales as of this evening. In that trio’s place, we’ve got no-frills second-rounders and G-League-caliber talents (Andrew White, Tyler Dorsey, Isaiah Taylor, the status-questionable Malcolm Delaney, the rehabbing Tyler Cavanaugh, etc.) figuring things out on the fly.
    This, all while big men Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins try their hands at long-distance sharpshooting for the first time in their natural lives, and while Taurean Prince (24 points, 4-for-11 3FGs vs. LAL during Monday’s loss; 16.3 3FG% in last six games) and Kent Bazemore (last 2 games: 0-for-5 3FGs, shoulda-been 8-for-11 on 2FGs but for Miles Plumlee) chuck-and-duck to their hearts’ content.
    For a player who thrives almost exclusively on the offensive end of the floor, there is little wonder why Schröder, whose 24 years of age now serves as the median on the team, exits February averaging a mere 4.0 APG, down from a monthly peak of 7.0 per game back in December and inclusive of a whopping four total assists in his first two appearances since the All-Star Break.
    While flawed himself, Schröder’s own shooting percentages are on an uptick (February: 43.7 FG%, 29.4 3FG%) compared to the nadir from the previous month (January: 40.2 FG%, 24.2 3FG%). They’ll have to continue improving for Atlanta (18-43, last in the East, 0.5 games behind Orlando) to stay in contention for occasional victories. That’s true even here at Philips, where Dennis is markedly more comfortable calling his own number (Home games: 46.5 FG%, 31.3 3FG%).
    What Hawks fans could once boast of as the NBA’s “Best Bad Team” (not the same as, “The Best Team at Being Bad”), using statistical metrics or even just eye tests, is no more. Certainly, not with the departure of three veteran shooters from the roster, supplanted by youngsters with replacement-level skillsets. But that doesn’t mean they no longer have a shot against playoff-caliber competition. The Pacers, who just soundly defeated the Hawks in Indiana just last Friday, know this about as well as anyone.
    Some Fans will be heartened to know that the Mavericks are 19-42, and not a league-worst 17-44, thanks to a pair of victories over the Pacers, most recently Monday’s 109-103 win in Dallas on Monday. To this point in the season, coach Nate McMillan’s crew has fattened up its win tally with an NBA-high 30 games versus teams with records presently below the .500 mark. Yet 9 of those contests have ended in defeat, including the Hornets, Lakers, Bulls, Knicks, and their playoff-hungry division rival Pistons (three times).
    The only subpar team on the docket for Indy (34-26, still just 2.0 games behind 3-seed Cleveland) in their next ten games are these Hawks, who return to the Fieldhouse for another rematch on March 9. The Pacers know they must take care of business before the competition ramps up, especially on the road, as demonstrating a knack for pulling out away-games matters at playoff time.
    But as was the case against the Mavs this week, when the Pacers are sluggish at contesting shots (53.8 opponent FG% in road games, tied-9th-highest in NBA; Dallas’ Doug McDermott and J.J. Barea combined 7-for-9 3FGs on Monday) and forcing turnovers (just 10 Maverick player TOs on Monday, matched by Prince and Schröder alone last Friday), when the starters find themselves over-reliant on Victor Oladipo scoring in the clutch (40.4% usage, 8th among active players; 26.3 clutch assist%, 7th among those top-8 players), and when their reserves fail to help rebound the ball (seven bench boards on Monday, matched by the Mavs’ Salah Mejri alone), they could find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard versus Betty White and Liz Taylor, never mind Andrew and Isaiah.
    Oladipo led the Pacers with 13 of their 38 fourth-quarter points, but they failed to get stops when it mattered and came up short, granting their otherwise distracted opponents 41 points in that final frame and thus spoiling a promising outing from Myles Turner (24 points on 10-for-14 FGs, 3 blocks and 11 rebounds) after his lackluster start against Atlanta last weekend.
    “We didn’t have enough energy and enough fight to get out too fast,” said Cory Joseph, still filling in for Darren Collison as a starting guard, to Monday’s postgame media, “and they (Mavs’ shooters) were knocking them down.” Pivoting to his team’s next game, Joseph had no problems seeing a nexus. “(Atlanta) doesn’t have a great record,” he noted, “but they’ve got a good team that plays together, plays hard. They’re a young team, so we’ve got to bring a lot of energy.”
    If the Pacers play to their strengths, as they are capable, they will have little trouble keeping Schröder and the Hawks at bay. Alternatively, if their gameplan relies on Plumlee scoring some own goals on their behalf, they could find themselves in late-game trouble yet again. As Atlanta United fans are aware, you don’t want to let an important outcome, in a game versus an inferior opponent, come down to penalty kicks.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Bean burritos again, huh?”
     
    While Tanxiety is sweeping across the fanbase of the Atlanta Hawks, they’ll sit shoulder-to-shoulder at Philips Arena, tonight, with fans of the Los Angeles Lakers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Spectrum SportsNet in La-La-Land), one of several organizations whose fans are suffering from a bout with Tank Fatigue.
    Hawks fans will come to understand this in a year or five, but it does wear fans out to hear, one year after the next, that everything is riding, once again, on the ability to draft the likes of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Brandon Ingram in forthcoming drafts, that the next heralded collegiate wiretap subject is all that it will take to bounce back into legitimate playoff contention. Never mind what was decreed in the seasons prior.
    Once said draftee arrives in town, Savior Watch goes into effect, where all the hopes that the old rookie doesn’t veer off into Mediocreville or Busttown, gets shifted and foisted onto the new guy. Everything from a rookie’s shot mechanics to his Snapchats get monitored and scrutinized intensely, playoff-starved fans desperately seeking signs of a clear corner-turning toward super-stardom.
    The present Flavor of the Year, of course, is Lonzo Ball, who plays his first game at Philips Arena tonight. Ball missed 15 games leading up to the All-Star Break to heal an MCL sprain, and he was rested on Saturday (second night of a back-to-back for the Lakers) as part of his injury management plan.
    Coach Luke Walton’s club doesn’t have to sweat over lottery positioning this season, a product of the organization’s all-in gamble in 2012 to try pairing Kobe with whatever remained of Steve Nash. So rather than pressure to lose with youth on the floor, there is pressure to win, but not to do it with detritus like Luol Deng, Corey Brewer, or Channing Frye on the floor.
    Up until now, the Lakers have gotten about as much production, from one year to the next, out of their non-lottery selections (new Cavs Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Ivica Zubac, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart) as they have from their more touted rookie prizes. But this isn’t acceptable any longer. Los Angeles (25-34, 7.5 games behind 8-seed Denver, 10-5 in last 15 games) is under the gun to somehow make a mad dash toward the playoffs, and Walton must find a way to do it with his newest prize pupil, Ball, leading the way.
    Everything has been Lonzo-centric all season long, but especially now. How does Walton work Ball back into a steady rotation, with Ingram (18.3 PPG, 5.6 APG this month) playing arguably the best basketball of his short career in a point guard role? With All-NBA second-teamer-turned-panic-button victim Isaiah Thomas (17 points @SAC off the bench on Saturday) insisting he deserves to be a starter, no matter the circumstance? With the 6-foot-5 Hart (8.0 RPG, 48.7 3FG% this month) rebounding out of his mind, even more effectively than Ball (3rd among all rookies in RPG)? With Georgia native Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (season-high 34 points, career-best 8 3FGs @ SAC) emerging as a go-to guy?
    On top of all that, can Walton pull it off without drawing unwelcome Big Baller Beef, yet again, from Lonzo’s pops? Los Angeles is coming off consecutive wins over a pair of lottery-bound teams (vs. Dallas, at Sacramento) to start their post-Break schedule, and they intend to make it a trifecta tonight. Lonzo was instrumental to the Lakers ending a nine-game slide back on January 7, his team-high 10 rebounds, three made triples, and six assists helping Los Angeles cruise past the visiting Hawks, 132-113. But if the returning Ball isn’t the player making a splash, soon, and/or if his team regresses, the Lakers’ staff and brass run the risk of having to stamp out another PR fire.
    Turnovers (15.3 turnover%, 5th-worst in NBA, just behind the sloppy Hawks’ 15.4%) and sketchy defense (119.6 opponent PPG in last 5 games) have long been problems for the oft-erratic Lakers (1st in pace). Ball and the Lakers’ young stars must mature and stabilize themselves quickly, particularly tonight, if they intend to end Dennis Schröder (27 points, 10-for-19 2FGs @ LAL on Jan. 7) and the Hawks’ home game streak versus Western Conference clubs at eight.
    While KCP helps patrol the perimeter, Los Angeles’ interior defense must be strong enough to keep Schröder and John Collins (15 points in 21 bench minutes @ LAL) from piling up points in the paint (LAL opponents 48.4 paint PPG, 2nd-most in NBA) at their expense.
    The Lakers’ fans have tired of being Processed meat, and they’re eager to see if they indeed have the Next Magic / Next Kobe on their hands, or at least if they have enough quality talent to entice a free agent superstar to wander onto the team this summer. The time for the Lake Show is now. Their tank has reached the end of the road, and the purple-and-gold-clad fans at The Highlight Factory need to know: Are We There, Yet?
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “WHO doesn’t want us to win, you ask? The Tank People! They! THEY!!!”
     
    As both a Buck and a Hawk, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson played a valuable role in the Atlanta Hawks piling up losses over the years. Will his son continue that hallowed tradition tonight?
    Making his season debut for the host Indiana Pacers (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana), Glenn Robinson III returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse just in time to haunt the Hawks.  In March of last season, as Papa Dog looked on from the Philips Arena stands, he ran to the left corner to catch-and-sink a buzzer-beating three-pointer that stole a win away from a Hawks team that was hungering for playoff seed-boosting victories.
    A Gary, Indiana native, Robinson, 2016’s Slam Dunk champ, returns after preseason ankle surgeries curtailed what was shaping up as a promotion following the negotiated departure of former star Paul George. Pacers coach Nate McMillan intends to limit GR3’s playing time to ten minutes at the outset. But if the game gets tight late against a Hawks team (18-41) bearing the league’s worst road-game and in-conference marks, and playoff implications hang in the balance for Indiana (33-25), the temptation for Coach Nate to deploy his newest closer will be high.
    There were over half-dozen Eastern Conference teams that I questioned coming into this season, playoff-promising teams with flaws that might have them instead hanging with the Hawks by season’s end. But the Pacers have done the best to overcome my healthy skepticism.
    Arriving from OKC via the George trade, Victor Oladipo (career-high 24.4 PPG) has taken the vacated leadership mantle with an exuberant attitude, earning his first All-Star nod in the process. The fifth-year pro’s shot accuracy (53.5 2FG%, 38.1 3FG%) and defensive production (4.8 D-Rebs/game, 2.1 SPG) are blowing away prior career-bests (49.1 2FG% and 36.1 3FG%; 4.1 D-Rebs and 1.7 steals per game).
    No longer having his usage sucked away by mediocre Magic players or MVP winners in OKC, Oladipo’s emergence as an efficient offensive threat comes right on time for an Indiana club that would have been fine settling for a short-term recession, like the Hawks, but is now budding with confidence they can be much more than the first-round-exit fodder they’ve been during George’s final seasons.
    Oladipo is the clear top-banana. But, as was often the case when George was the star, Indiana stands out by having a constellation of second-tier talents taking turns in the role of Oladipo’s #2 offensive sidekick. At times, it’s Victor’s fellow arrival from OKC, Domantas Sabonis (want to insta-peeve a Magic fan? Say these words: Serge Ibaka Trade), who continues to show a mastery of rebounding as a sixth-man (team-high 8.2 RPG in 25.3 minutes/game). Other times, it’s longtime veteran Thaddeus Young, who has been the NBA’s MMP (Most Median Player) for years.
    On occasion, it’s Indiana’s leading assist-man, Darren Collison, who has been a steadying influence (5.3 APG, 1.3 TOs/game), but remains out for another week following arthroscopic knee surgery a few weeks ago. If you ask Lance Stephenson (32.5 3FG%), he’ll tell you he’s the main sidekick, or maybe even the headliner. Myles Turner ought to be that guy, but the young third-year center continues to struggle with post strength and consistency. The current leading wing-man for Oladipo has been Bojan Bogdanovic, who has become the Pacers’ second-leading scorer while shedding a season full of struggles with his jumper (last 7 games before the break: 19.1 PPG, 47.6 3FG%, 87.5 FT%). Robinson will only add to the plethora of options for McMillan to pair alongside Oladipo.
    With Collison out, the Pacers’ star will have to pick between defending Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder and sticking to the wing and leaving that assignment to current starter Cory Joseph (15 points, season-high 11 rebounds @ BRK on Feb. 14). Tending to Schröder could create some openings along the perimeter for the Hawks’ Kent Bazemore (3-for-4 3FGs vs. IND on Dec. 20; 64.3 3FG% in his past 3 games). Baze was rested along with Dennis during the Hawks’ pre-Break finale, a 104-98 loss in Detroit that was way more thrilling than it should have been for the Pistons.
    At least for today, Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks will have a depth advantage at the point, even without Malcolm Delaney (knee), who started and matched Isaiah Taylor (questionable, sprained ankle) with seven assists in Detroit. Tyler Dorsey (6 assists @ DET), DeAndre’ Bembry and newcomer Andrew White will also help with moving the rock, on behalf of the Hawks offense. Picked up by the Pacers on a 10-day deal during the break, guard Trey McKinney-Jones and will try to help alleviate his teammates on the defensive end.
    Atlanta’s 105-95 home loss to the Pacers on December 20 came without Dewayne Dedmon (last 3 games: 61.5 FG%, 42.9 3FG%, 13.7 PPG, 10.0 RPG), who will try to create mismatches around the paint against Turner and Al Jefferson. If Turner’s mid-range game isn’t on-point, it could be a long day for the Pacers’ frontline against Dedmon, John Collins and Ersan Ilyasova.
    The Hawks will have to do a better job of pressuring the Pacers into turnovers. They managed to produce just 9 player TOs, tied for a season-low, when Indiana visited back in December. Getting stops and creating more transition buckets are what often helps the Hawks narrow gaps against superior competition.
    A trip to Dallas is sandwiched by the home-and-home series between these two clubs. These are clearly winnable games for the taking for Indiana, who gets the Hawks three times over the next 15 days. Having won three straight before the Break, the Pacers are a mere two games out of the East’s 3-seed, where Cleveland currently resides. But they are 4.5 games in front of the playoff-hungry Pistons, and even closer to Milwaukee and Philadelphia, opponents who are on the horizon as the calendar turns to March. That makes the next three games imperative for Indy to navigate through, without any slip-ups.
    Oladipo is the obvious choice for the Pacers in a tight fourth-quarter affair. But if Atlanta continues hanging around at the Fieldhouse, and Victor gets bottled up in the clutch, to whom might McMillan turn, to save the day once again? “Get Along, Little Doggie…”
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    PICTURED: Ad promo for future Atlanta Hawks head coach, circa 2003. Random Detroit Piston in foreground.
     
    Yadda yadda yadda, Atlanta Hawks visit the Detroit Pistons tonight (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit), blasé blasé…
    ATTN: TANKFAM! Listen, I need you some of you fellas and fellettes to take a quick break. In that spirit, here goes a few interesting weblinks, to humor you while you step aside.
    In my I-got-no-spare-time-left time, many know that I double as the Smithsonian of poster-dunk archivists. So, the first sideshow is one of your favorite ex-Hawks, on one of your favorite teams (at least TODAY, they are), getting dunked on in the closing seconds to lose a game! Blowing it in the closing moments of a game, eh? What a novel concept.
    The second distraction is an article about an ex-Hawks’ Triple Double That Never Was. Bonus Hawks-affiliated Trivia, from this article: before this lame attempt at getting a last-second rebound, who was the previous NBA player to mess around and notch three-straight triple doubles?
    The third item to tickle your fancy is that same ex-Hawk (the subject of an upcoming “Where Are They Now?” thread over in the Seniorsquawk forum, sometime during the All-Star Break) in his current habitat. Here, he’s trying to demonstrate to viewers that he’s still got it, yet still finds a way to come up short! Say it with me: “He’s trash!”
    One more Pistons-Hawks Trivia item. This same ex-Hawk’s jersey number, with the Pistons, was previously worn (one season before him) by which other former ex-Hawk? Answer is in link #4 below!
    Grab a Kit Kat bar or something (V-Day candy is at a steep discount, right now! Just sayin’!), check out the links to kill time, and then meet us all back here in a few minutes, making sure to skip the bolded language in the Spoiler below! Tank You Very Much!
    (1)    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWu93oxeYM8
    (2)    http://www.espn.com/nba/news/story?id=1781342
    (3)    http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=19967819
    (4)    https://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/DET/numbers.html
    *
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    * ((no, really: Tanksquad, get the Hawk outta here. Move along, now. Git! Git!))
    *
    * ((and keep scrolling past the bold stuff in the Spoiler, Tankamaniacs. That’s not for you!))
    *
    *
    *
    *
    * ((shhh… they’re filing back in here. Everyone, look busy!))
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    In conclusion, I’ve discovered the best home remedy for getting rid of a boil down there is to… what? Ohh, hey! You’re ALL back! Welcome back, my Tank Legionnaires!
    It’s crazy about that ex-Hawk, huh? No wonder the guy we got in the 2004 draft, along with that ex-Hawk via an infamous trade, never got to wear #5 for Detroit… they’re obviously waiting to retire that other cat’s jersey! I’ve always wondered, remember when dude went with the platinum blonde number, up top? Did he steal that look from Eminem, or vice versa?
    Anyway, yeah, our current slate of Hawks gave us all a grand ol’ time last night in Brewtown, and Some Hawks Fans can only hope that a desperate Motown team will be up to the task tonight.
    The Pistons’ Week of Living Dangerously began here at Little Caesars Arena last Friday, in a deflating loss to Blake Griffin’s former employer. No worries, they thought, as a bounce-back win in Atlanta is right around the corner!
    Unfortunately for the Pistons (and Some Fans), somebody forgot to gameplan for Dewayne Dedmon, who moved up to the top line and put up a career-high 20 points, plus 13 boards and 3 steals, as the Hawks blazed to a 118-115 win in its Sunday matinee. No biggie, Detroit thought, since they were coming right back home, where they had previously swept a five-game homestand!
    Oh, but here’s the thing. The first of those five wins were against the Cavs, who were obviously drunk even before Kevin Love exited that contest early in the first quarter with a busted hand. The next four opponents who sauntered into the Pizza! Pizza! Palace had each previously played just like the Hawks did yesterday: on the road, on the first night of a back-to-back. By the time the Pistons returned from ATL, they were greeted by a Pelicans team that only needed a night off.
    Detroit found themselves getting roasted, 118-103, by a New Orleans team that was starting, at center… Emeka Okafor (six O-rebs in under 14 minutes)! That really needs to be the last 2004-era reference in this thread. A rising sixth-grader back when Okafor got drafted, that Anthony Davis kid proved to be quite a handful, too.
    That new-car smell wafting from the pre-owned Griffin (last 3 losses: 38.6 FG%, 21.7 3FG%) is wearing off rapidly. Stan Van Gundy is predictably ringing alarm bells ahead of this rematch with Atlanta (18-40) that soon, they won’t be able to sniff the playoffs, either.
    “You just can’t limp into the break,” SVG told the Detroit News, the postgame interviewers and, presumably, his team, after the latest loss dropped the Pistons to 27-29, 2.5 games behind the 8th-seeded heat and fading fast. “We need to get a win and keep ourselves as close to this thing as we can, to have a chance to make a run.” No, he’s not talking about a “run” at Jaren Jackson, Jr.
    Van Gundy knows that another humbling defeat tonight, at home, in the finale before the All-Star Break, could prove disastrous for his team. Not nearly as disastrous for Michiganders as, “We’ve secretly replaced the fine water they usually serve with gruel we piped in from the Flint River. Let’s see if anyone can tell the difference!” Still, another L would be calamitous enough for the long-term prospects of the coach-slash-executive’s tenure with the club. The burden question: do the rank-and-file on the Pistons’ roster share that sudden sense of urgency?
    If they do, then they’ll have to come up with a scheme that keeps Griffin and Andre Drummond from getting gashed by opposing front lines (I forgot to mention New Orleans’ Nikola Mirotic, who showed off his nose-for-the-ball with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Detroit off the bench on Monday).
    Opposing bigs with some semblance of an inside-outside game have left Piston defenders unsure whether they were coming or going. That includes Atlanta’s Ersan Ilyasova, who is eager to put the lowlights from Tuesday night’s 97-92 thriller in his original NBA hometown on the back burner. Also a former Piston, Trillyasova added to Detroit’s misery on Sunday with 19 points, hitting half of his four three-point attempts while being one of four Hawk starters ushered to the charity stripe for six or more free throw shots (7-for-7 FTs).
    Atlanta was granted a season-high 37 freebie attempts by the Pistons, and they are a gaudy 9-4 when they climb above 110 points in games this season (2-18 when they score 100 points or fewer, as was the case yesterday). Detroit also allowed the Hawks to convert on 28 of 49 interior shots (57.1 2FG%), rendering the fantasy-friendly defensive figures from Drummond (25 points, 10 D-Rebs, 3 blocks @ ATL on Sunday) as ultimately empty calories. Off the bench in Motown, when Stan calls your name, who will Be There? James Ennis? Anthony Tolliver?
    “There were four, five, six loose balls when nobody goes on the floor,” Van Gundy lamented after the loss to the Pels. “There are three or four times we don’t get back, and people are behind us defensively. Times when we’re not pulling in on the roll man. Those things are inexcusable when you’re trying to win… We allowed our offensive play, our frustration of missing shots and just different things going on throughout the game to really get away from our defense. That’s kind of what we anchor ourselves on.” Yeah, kind of.
    To turn the frowns around town upside down, keeping Ish Smith, the point guard struggling in a starting role until Reggie Jackson returns, from incessantly switching onto Dedmon and Ilyasova would be a good start for Detroit on D. The Pistons did manage to keep Atlanta’s wings cool from the three-point line on Sunday. But given that one of those swingmen is Taurean Prince (good luck on Friday!), who’s been Cooler than Whip (last 3 games: 1-for-19 3FGs), that’s no great shakes for the fellows from Great Lakes.
    To be fair, new Clipper Avery Bradley’s presence is sorely missing. But instead of rushing out just to contest TP, Piston swingmen Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson need to stay home, helping the bigs around the paint to slow the rolls of Dennis Schröder, John Collins (good luck as well, especially versus Embiid!) and Dedmon to the hoop.
    Staying true to Nique’s “K.Y.P.” mantra, the Piston point guards (Smith and Jameer Nelson; ten combined personal fouls on Sunday) should hang out closer to the elbows, enticing the whirling dervish Schröder to hone his craft as a perimeter shooter instead of a toast-burning driver.
    There will be no more Malice at the Palace, as years of management ineptitude has sapped the Detroit fanbase of excessively passionate ticketholders, both inside and outside the city limits. But one can anticipate a little Animus at the Arena if these Pistons drag Detroiters through four more wretched quarters of basketball and break some playoff-starved hearts on, of all days, St. Valentine’s Day. Hell hath no fury like a spurned lover, dragged to a bad basketball game on a holiday night, pelting the arena floor with half-eaten Russell Stover chocolates. Or, so I’m told.
     
    Happy V-Day to you and yours! and Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    **RECORD SCRATCH**
    ((Freeze Frame))
    “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation…”
     
    Think fast… who still has the worst road record in the NBA? And who still has the most in-conference losses in the NBA? That’s right, it’s your Atlanta Hawks, still in the running to be awarded as the NBA’s Best Bad Team. Tankamaniacs will hope those two facts hold by the conclusion of tonight’s game in Milwaukee, as the Hawks take on the rejuvenated Bucks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin), and tomorrow’s in Detroit.
    Since sacking Jason Kidd, back on January 22, and handing the coaching keys over to longtime assistant Joe Prunty, the Bucks have won eight of their past ten games. They want to formally establish themselves as an upper-echelon team in the East (2 games behind 3-seed Cleveland), not one scrapping just to remain above the playoff line (4.5 games ahead of 9-seed Detroit). They still have quite a bit of work cut out for them.
    While the past ten games for Milwaukee (31-24) have been encouraging, propelling the club well above the .500 mark, few of those contests involved playoff-bound opponents. Their two losses during this stretch were at Minnesota and here, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, against Miami. Of the eight victories, two were against the LOLKnicks, two versus the Nets, and the rest against the Suns, Bulls, Sixers and Magic. A schedule that easy might have been enough to preserve Kidd’s jerb, had he lasted that long. That schedule also would have caused members of the Illtankanati to chew their fingernails raw, were it assigned to Atlanta (18-39).
    The Bucks are navigating their way into the All-Star Break with depth challenges in the front and back of the lineup. A quad tear is sidelining ATLien and reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, probably through mid-March. Also, not returning to the floor until after the Break is Matthew Dellavedova, as a sprained ankle will keep him from wrecking anybody else’s for at least the next several weeks. Prunty has granted backups Sterling Brown, Sean Kilpatrick, and ex-Hawk Jason Terry upticks in floor time to help compensate.
    Starting center John Henson has been in-and-out of the lineup with a sore hammy and is unlikely to play today. Jabari Parker returned to action last week after a one-year injury hiatus. But his minutes have been closely monitored, and he sat out Saturday’s 111-104 win in Orlando since it was the second night of a back-to-back. Prior to the Trade Deadline, the Bucks shipped Rashad Vaughn and a 2018 second-rounder to Brooklyn to acquire Nets starting center Tyler Zeller, in hopes of buttressing the front line.
    From the coaching staff to the roster, that’s a lot of moving parts for a club aiming at a playoff slot with first-round homecourt advantage. The good news is the All-Star Break is right around the corner, and they have a probable win to pursue tonight.
    Even better news is that guard and salon expert Eric Bledsoe (last 4 games: 22.0 PPG, 42.9 3FG%, 7.0 APG) is beginning to display some consistency, while swingman Khris Middleton (last 10 games: 19.6 PPG, 39.5 3FG%, 1.6 SPG) is rounding into form at the right time. The best news is they have Giannis Antetokounmpo playing, as Tim Hardaway, Jr. would concur, in a whole other stratosphere (last 9 games: 26.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 36.8 3FG%).
    The Greek Freak will continue moonsaulting over his competition; coaxing him into settling for mid-range jumpers all night will be a tough ask for Atlanta defenders. But the primary challenge for the Hawks this week is to figure out how not to leave behind their A-Game at The A, particularly against stout competition (sorry, Knicks).
    Without the dulcet tones of Ryan Cameron serenading them from courtside, the Hawks (5-22 on the road) tend to shy away from things coach Mike Budenholzer preaches. They’re more apt to take shots inside the 3-point line (64.7% road 2FG frequency, 14th in NBA; 60.7% at home, 27th), and more likely to rush up a contested shot, or over-dribble and get sloppy (1.38 road assist/TO ratio, 25th in NBA), than seek out the extra pass (66.8 home assist%, 2nd in NBA; 57.7 road assist%, 13th). Away from home, Atlanta is less likely to box out (72.7 road D-Reb%, dead-last in NBA) and more likely to foul (20.6 road personals per-48, 10th in NBA) in lieu of properly defending shooters and ballhandlers.
    In his first meeting with the Hawks this season, Bledsoe will try to use his speed and strength to overwhelm Dennis Schröder and the Atlanta guards. The Hawks tempt opponents into deploying roll men, although the Bucks’ bigs like Giannis and the brick-handed Thon Maker (13 points @ ORL, 3rd-highest this season) are low-usage in this area. But Bledsoe is better off seeking out perimeter kickouts to Middleton and Tony Snell, as roll-man plays have become a losing proposition for the Hawks’ opposition.
    Only Detroit (8.1%) has been summoned to defend P&R roll-man action as frequently as Atlanta (8.0% of opponent plays). Yet opponents on these plays have been bottom-10 in both eFG% and FT frequency, scoring at least a point on just 47.8 percent of their chances (4th-lowest in NBA). Further, Atlanta has been forcing roll-man turnovers (8.3% of possessions) more often than they’ve committed shooting fouls (7.6%). The 1.01 points-per-possession the Hawks allow has been superior to more vaunted defenses like Utah (1.03) and San Antonio (1.06), despite being attacked by offenses more often in this regard than all but one other team.
    The inverse of this has been the Hawks’ offense for the P&R ball handler. Eschewing post-up plays almost entirely (only 49 points by Atlanta players all season), Schröder and the Hawks’ ball-handlers attack on the P&R more than any other outfit (22.1% of possessions). Yet only the Lakers have done worse at finishing on those plays (42.2 FG%, 29th in NBA; 36.9% Score Frequency, 28th in NBA) while the turnover frequency gets elevated (17.2 TO%, 8th-worst in NBA).
    Milwaukee’s defense cranks out a turnover on 21.3% of Ball-Handler possessions (3rd-best in NBA) and 11.0% of Roll-Man possessions (tops in NBA). Atlanta’s transition defense will have to be primed and ready, especially for Parker and Antetokounmpo, when the predictable P&R turnovers show up.
    Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince accounted for 17 of Atlanta’s 27 dimes, but 10 of the Hawks’ 16 TOs during their 117-106 home loss back on October 29, a game where Milwaukee built up a 19-point cushion through the opening three quarters of action. Giannis (33 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and Middleton (27 points, 9 assists) carried the proceedings with the help of cameo appearances from the inactive Henson (9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) and the since-departed Vaughn (4-for-6 3FGs) off the bench.
    Even with the departures of Marco Belinelli and Luke Babbitt, Schröder (28.3 3FG%) has his next nine active leading-scorers on the Hawks all shooting above 35 percent beyond the 3-point line (but for Tyler Cavanuagh’s injury, it would be ten).
    Even Prince’s downturn (0-for-14 on threes in three of the last four games, kicking Orlando aside), with his sketchy mechanics needing work, has him sitting at 37.9 3FG% for the season. DeAndre’ Bembry sits right at 35.0 3FG%, a shade behind the experimental John Collins (35.3 3FG%).
    With his hands off the wheel and TMZ out of his hair, this two-game road trip may be an ideal time to get Bembry back up to speed at both ends of the court, certainly before Tyler Dorsey (double-digit scoring in past four games) cannibalizes his minutes. Getting a rotation that can stretch the floor and build advantages over opposing bench regimes should be one of the Hawks’ objectives going forward.
    Whichever of the leading scorers-slash-assist-men, Giannis or Dennis, finds the open man more effectively on forays to the hoop Is likely to find their team at an advantage through most of this game. Which team you would prefer holding that advantage, of course, is entirely up to you.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “I don’t know what to do with my hands!”
     
    In preparing a quick preview for this game between the Detroit Pistons and your Atlanta Hawks (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit Plus), several times, I’ve confused this afternoon’s opponent with the LA Clippers. Just a couple weeks in, I imagine Blake Griffin’s teammates are still trying to envision him as a Piston, too.
    That’s how inextricable Griffin is from an iconic persona the former #1 pick of the Clippers built up over seven-plus pro seasons. The LA-era franchise leader in points scored, and SportsCenter highlights rendered, put that long-forlorn NBA franchise on the proverbial map. He won’t bear that kind of burden in the Motor City, but he will have to help re-entrench their team’s Bad Boys reputation, perhaps Eddie Haskell-style, while making them more consistent winners. Going from glitz-and-glam to grit-and-grease, Detroit is having a hard time figuring out what to make of their new star, too.
    He’s like a pre-owned model infused with that new car smell. His introduction has been infectious for the Pistons (27-27), who were sliding toward the Hawks and the NBA abyss just weeks ago but, after winning their first five games with Blake around (all at home), are threatening to push several Eastern Conference rivals out of the postseason.
    Opponents are still scratching their heads a bit, too, and that drawn attention has allowed Griffin (21.0 PPG, 25.0 3FG%, 7.0 RPG and 6.2 APG as a Piston) to serve as a catalyst for enhanced production by several of his teammates. Andre Drummond has been punishing the paint with more freedom around the glass (19.7 RPG in last six games). Stanley Johnson (15.0 PPG in last six) is playing with fewer burdens, while Reggie Bullock (51.5 3FG% in last six), Ish Smith and Anthony Tolliver have been burying perimeter jumpers with fewer closeout defenders around.
    The Pistons did slip up against his old team at home on Friday, the bench overwhelmed while trying to keep a rejuvenated Lou Williams in check. Also, the frequency with which Detroit’s offense gets bogged down when neglecting to move the ball has not been lost on its head coach.
    “Even though we've been winning,” Stan Van Gundy remarked to media, after Detroit managed just 15 fourth-quarter and 39 second-half points in the loss to the Clips, “we have that dilemma of how we're going to get Blake the ball and not be standing around watching.” They need a win today at the Highlight Factory to keep pace in the conference standings with the Sixers, who are reportedly stocking up for a playoff run with bought-out Hawk Marco Belinelli, the heat and the Pacers.
    For Griffin, he’ll have to demand the ball, early in the clock, and move the ball when the Hawks’ defenders coalesce around him, a strategy that worked wonders for LeBron James (new career-high 19 assists, 10th career triple-double in a 123-107 win @ ATL) and his “shorthanded” Cavaliers on Friday at Philips Arena. This task had been Drummond’s (196 assists, already more than double his career-high) to this point in the season, but he now has Griffin to key the offensive attack from positions all across the halfcourt floor, while he returns more fully to the low block.
    With teammates like Undulating Star Taurean Prince (0-for-9 3FGs, zero assists vs. CLE on Friday) struggling mightily on many nights, Dennis Schröder has been compelled to go it alone lately on offense (last 5 games: 20.2 PPG, 16.8 FGAs/game, 28.6 3FG%, 95.8 FT%, 4.2 APG) to mixed results. The temptation will only be higher, relative to Friday’s game, as he is less likely to have Griffin switched onto him, allowing him to feast against the likes of Smith, newly-acquired Jameer Nelson, Dwight Buycks (questionable due to illness) and Langston Galloway (5-for-9 3FGs @ ATL on Dec. 14).
    Atlanta’s starting lineup combined for 67 points but a mere eight assists (one of those dimes from the lightly-used Miles Plumlee) against the Cavs, however, and it’s on their floor-leader to model the importance of the extra-pass to the Hawks offense. When Dennis (10 assists, 2 TOs, 3-for-7 FGs vs. DET on Dec. 14) calls his own number against the Pistons’ block-averse defense, he must finish his got-heems off the glass, or else Atlanta will be perpetually one-and-done.
    Handling Drummond (19 rebounds and 8 assists @ ATL on Dec. 14) and Griffin will be a tough task for Plumlee and the Hawks’ frontline. They didn’t have Dewayne Dedmon for the last meeting against the Pistons, and Atlanta’s backup pivot will be hopeful for a big game after posting a pair of duds (combined 3-for-13 FGs and 6 boards) at Orlando and versus Cleveland.
    SVG has vowed to find a way to get his star frontcourt more rest. But Jon Leuer is out for the season, and Griffin’s fellow ex-Clipper Willie Reed remains suspended by the league through the All-Star Break. Further, the Pistons have Released The Boban to the Clippers, and second-year pro Henry Ellenson has yet to impress. One can expect an uptick in playing time for backup big Eric Moreland, especially if the Hawks’ bigs and paint drivers can get the Piston star starters in foul trouble.
    Detroit (9-16 on the road; one road win, at Brooklyn, since Dec. 15) has extra motivation to get into the playoffs, following Blake’s acquisition. The 2018 first-rounder they sent LA is only 1-4 protected. They don’t want to hand Blake’s old team a lottery pick. By the time May comes around, they want to find themselves challenging teams like the Cavs in the playoffs, not vying with teams like Atlanta (17-39) for a top-4 draft talent. As for the Hawks, it’s just the latest in a string of opponents facing a Must-Win scenario at The Highlight Factory. Ultimately, it’s up to them to determine which ones they let off the hook.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “You like Brazilian music?”
     
    Our Hawks played the Competitank to perfection last night in Orlando (Dewayne Dedmon Stepback FTL!). Their reward is a trip back home to Atlanta, where The King, LeBron James, and a smattering of his subjects on the Cleveland Cavaliers have been waiting for one final head-to-head tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Ohio).
    Aside from LeBron, who are left standing after “The Purge: Anarchy” unfolded off Lake Erie? The remnant Cavs making the trip down from the Buckeye State include a handful of vets: J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Jeff Green, and ex-Hawks Kyle Korver and Jose Calderon.
    The new arrivals should help transform the locker room from something less like “Grumpy Old Men”, to something more resembling “Romper Room”. Cavs’ GM Koby Altman, who pulled the trigger on deals dispatching Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose to distant NBA locales, hopes the net effect will be positive for the homegrown star he can only hope will stick around a bit longer.
    “I think we’re going to get a rejuvenated LeBron James, and that’s the key,” Altman said to USA TODAY and media reporters, going so far as to invoke the always-popular C-word. “We were worried that what was going on, on the floor, and the Culture on the building, we thought we were marching a slow death. The window we have with LeBron and this time, it was the time to do something and have some sustainability going forward… I think we’re going to be fun, athletic, and exciting to watch.”
    Which direction that George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance will collectively nudge the Cavs, relative to Boston, Toronto and the title contenders out West, is anyone’s guess. But as was the case versus Minnesota, the directives to ensure a chance at victory remain the same. Don’t waste LeBron’s valuable time having to come help with the man who keeps beating you off the dribble. On offense, get the ball to LeBron, and clear out to the perimeter awaiting further instruction. Step up on the floor, or in the locker room, only when LeBron calls upon you to do so. This King’s newest subordinates will be far more apt to take heed.
    While Cavs coach Ty Lue would appreciate having the recipients from Cleveland’s mega-trades available, they’re still clearing physicals and stuff. So, it appears likely he will have to make-do with youngsters like Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, and a pair of “European”-sounding two-way contractors (London Perrantes, John Holland) to fill in the gaps.
    T-Lue (2-1 against ATL) would also appreciate winning the season series against Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer tonight, something his reigning Eastern Conference champs could not accomplish last season (1-3 against ATL in 2016-17). He’ll start Calderon and Smith, plus Osman (the energetic rookie’s first NBA start) and Thompson alongside You-Know-Who.
    It’s hard to suggest any team featuring James (career-high 17 assists in a 123-114 win vs. ATL on Dec. 12) is “shorthanded”. But victory tonight for Lue’s “shorthanded” assemblage would help build much-needed momentum, after LeBron’s overtime heroics on Wednesday staved off a potential fourth loss in Cleveland’s past five games. As road games in Kyrie’s Boston and Russ’ OKC are forthcoming, the Cavs (31-22, 4.0 games ahead of the East’s 9-seed) might as well kickstart this road trip with a win streak.
    The Hawks might still get out-gunned tonight, but they won’t be out-manned. The only absences include future MARTA straphanger DeAndre’ Bembry, inactive since returning from a groin injury, and Tyler Cavanaugh, who will sit through the Break while rehabbing a tough ankle sprain he suffered up in G-League Erie. Everybody else is in decent shape for Atlanta (17-38), and trade-deadline holdout Marco Belinelli will be rested and ready to show NBA title contenders like Cleveland what they’ll be missing.
    The only intrigue for the Hawks will involve seeing whether Dennis Schröder can regain his resolve after getting the ShMackDown from former teammate Shelvin Mack late in last night’s game. While the Cavs’ roster is shallow, Calderon (4-for-5 3FGs vs. ATL on Dec. 12) and his help defenders will do what they can to get under Schröder’s skin and force another second-half short-hook from Coach Bud.
    The good news for Dennis (benched in the fourth @ CLE on Dec. 12) is that James will be needed more in the frontcourt and will spend less time creating mismatches at the point guard spot. Schröder will have to regularly and swiftly find Kent Bazemore (6-for-10 3FGs @ CLE on Dec. 12), Taurean Prince (8-for-10 FGs @ CLE) and whichever Hawk shooters spring open, of which there will be many, against Calderon, Korver, Thompson, Green, Smith and the G-Leaguers. Cleveland’s defensive woes won’t vanish right away.
    While Some Fans will have their eyes on one of the Hawks’ 2018 draft picks, there’s another one more likely to be impacted by tonight’s outcome. LeBron’s buzzer-beating jumper on Wednesday moved the Hawks’ Wolvespick (#25… man, another Adreian Payne deal would’ve been nice yesterday!) to within 1.0 games of where the Cavs reside on the Tank Rank, at #24. Another slip-up or two by Minnesota could scooch that Wolvespick up past not only Cleveland’s, but emerging Milwaukee’s.
    Considering that, you can forgive Some Hawks Fans for being doubly supportive of another “Nice Try” effort by the Hawks (no home wins vs. East foes since Dec. 27) in front of the home crowd. As for the folks showing up to The Highlight Factory in whine-and-gold tonight? Don’t mind them too much. They’ll probably be wearing #23 jerseys in wholly different colors this time next year.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “I’m sorry to have to break the news to you, Baze. But, we’ve traded away your fashion sense for future cash considerations.”
     
    “Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All* Here!”
    Wait, is that “Hail!”, or “Hell!”? No matter, because around 95 percent of your Atlanta Hawks remain Atlanta Hawks, now that the smoke has cleared following a wild-and-woolly NBA Trade Deadline day. As they prepare to swoop in on the Orlando Magic for Tank War Z (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), Many Hawks Fans have a pressing question for the Basketball Club: “What the Heck Do We Care, Now?”
    In past seasons, the Hawks would raise fans’ hopes for a deadline deal that might somehow raise our postseason profile in the LeBronference, only to deflate those aspirations by settling for stuff like a pre-waivers lunch date with a retiring Antawn Jamison.
    2018’s deadline was shaping up to be a different beast altogether. Atlanta was armed with an array of veterans, both young and old-but-healthy. They could conceivably be flipped for future prospects, as-yet-undrafted or otherwise, in what would send a clear “win-later” signal, one that Many across Hawksland have waited to hear.
    Alas, like GMs of the past, Travis Schlenk don’t gotta dance. He makes money moves!
    Atlanta’s sole roster casualty turned out to be the lightly-used Luke Babbitt, the sole reason for the asterisk above. His return to Wade County, plus another smoke-and-mirror deal with Washington, amounted to meager salary savings which have no bearing upon the Hawks’ nightly competitive capacities on the floor. Now the scene shifts to buyout negotiations for Schlenk and Company. But during that period, and beyond, a critical light also shines upon Mike Budenholzer, as fans wait to see just how much more conniving the Hawks’ head coach is willing to get.
    The Budenhustle of old involved convincing opponents that ceding offensive rebounds and loose balls meant that they had an upper hand during games. The current challenge for the Budenhustler involves literally giving those teams that upper hand, and maybe a forearm.
    That’s not going to be easy. Have you not seen what horror shows Memphis, Sacramento, and Phoenix have been throwing out there to play allegedly professional hoops, lately? That’s to say nothing of Orlando (17-36), who did, to their credit, step up to finish off the pipe dreams of the defensively destitute Cavaliers on Tuesday here at Amway Center, but still have that, “Aww, shucks” mentality about them.
    “Aww, shucks, we’d be making a playoff run right now, but there’s no reason to hurry back Nikola Vucevic, our leading rebounder who’s been out since Christmas with a hand injury.  Same goes for you, lottery-pick Johnathan Isaac (sprained ankle).”
    “Gee willikers, take your time, Terrence Ross (MCL, tibia), on the shelf since December 1.” “What’s the rush, Aaron Gordon? Save your energies and heal that hip. Maybe you can dunk over some mascots next year!”
    “Gosh, Jonathon Simmons, if I had dropped 29 points in a single half on LeBron and ex-Friends, I’d probably be nursing a bum ankle too!” “Hmmm… whaddya say, we take hairdo-of-the-franchise Elfrid Payton, gift him to Phoenix for some second-round picks, and then see what happens! Jiminy Crickets, he might help the Suns win a game or two!” You don’t need to see the Whiteboard to figure out what shenanigans these post-Hennigan Magic are up to.
    Yes, technically, Orlando is looking to win it’s third straight game, like the Hawks (17-37), and its fourth in five outings. But in reality, the Magic are going to try to “soldier on” the way Red Panda might do with a busted hand-me-down unicycle. The Hawks, to this point, have tried the nobler approach. But going forward, it is going to take more sleight-of-hand from Coach Bud than merely stowing away Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins behind Miles Plumlee on the depth chart, or benching Dennis Schröder at the close of games.
    There is one thing that might slow the Hawks’ roll “up” the standings in the near-term, and that is the upcoming schedule. Tonight’s game initiates the second and final time that Atlanta plays five games over the course of seven calendar days. The last such series was in December, when Atlanta beat these Magic at Philips Arena (a 117-110 win, despite Vooch’s 31-and-10 effort and Simmons’ 29 points) before dropping four-straight, including a road loss at Memphis.
    On the back end of this particular quintet, Blake Griffin’s Pistons will bookend a game in Milwaukee with the Greek Freak next week. While that sounds encouraging to Some Fans, there is the sobering reality that the Hawks are coming home to Whoop. Some. Cavalier. Hiney, in tomorrow night’s game. With that in mind, this game is as important of a “Nice Try” opportunity as the Hawks will have before them all season.
    Magician guards Shelvin Mack and D.J. Augustin will have to look like world-beaters, or at least not like themselves-beaters. Former lottery prize Mario Hezonja (last 5 games: 15.2 PPG, 57.1 3FG%) must continue to look like the future star Orlando thought they drafted in 2015.
    For significant stretches, Bismack Biyombo ($17 million per year, probably through 2019-20) must look like anyone other than Bismack Biyombo. Arron Afflalo can’t be out here finding out what happens When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong. And Evan Fournier ($17 million per year, probably through 2020-21) must look the part of a man who is thrilled to be stuck in O-Town for the foreseeable future.
    If most of those things don’t transpire, then the Hawks can play their B-game, as they did at home with the Grizzlies on Tuesday, and still find themselves moonwalking their way to victory this evening. Which, if any, of these events unfold hinges on the player combos Coach Bud fields on the court tonight.
    The Gang’s All* Here! Great… now what?
     
    Go Morehouse! Go CAU! and Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Uh-oh… better get MAACO!”
     
    Not much to say, aside from… Tank Wars SZN!
    After Sunday’s perfect-storm of sketchy reffing, stellar passing, and Knickscraft of the purest quality in the clutch, Some Fans of our Atlanta Hawks are looking ahead with trepidation at the next pair of games, beginning tonight with the Memphis Grizzlies (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL and MEM, 92.9 FM) in town.
    After today, there’s the Rumble in the Bungle on Thursday, as the Hawks (16-37) visit the Magic (16-36) just a few hours after the trade deadline expires, in the scramble for the NBA’s worst record heading into the All-Star Break.
    I’ve got nothing, really, to alleviate Those Hawks Fans’ anxiety. Previewing almost every angle ahead of today’s Grizzlies-Hawks matchup, figuring out some way this game, played before a Tuesday night Philips Arena crowd of mausoleum-like quality, doesn’t conclude with a Hawks W has me looking like the lady in that GIF with the mathematical signs and equations floating all around her.
    The starting back-three replacement coach J.B. Bickerstaff throws out there, as it stands, consists of second-year Wayne Selden, rookie Dillon Brooks, and swingman Andrew Harrison. That’s not as disastrous a story as the West Memphis Three, but still, how can any NBA team fathomably underperform that trio?  Never mind that knee issues might sideline Selden today, shifting one of Mario Chalmers or Ben McLemore to the top line. The burning question, above, persists.
    I legit thought “Myke Henry” was some affectionate nickname for JaMychal Green, the starting power forward who got strung along by Memphis’ front office throughout 2017 restricted free agency. But no, there’s an actual Myke Henry, bearing no relation to the World’s Strongest Man. This undrafted rookie guard out of DePaul and the G-League is with Memphis on a two-way deal, and the ink had hardly dried on the contract before even he found himself getting 15-25 minutes a night.
    Franchise star Mike Conley struggled to stay on the floor and is gone for this season. McLemore (recently returning from a knee injury) and Chandler Parsons (injured again, not much better when he’s not) have exemplified every red-flag warning waved before they were signed to unwise deals.
    The Grizzlies needed all of Tyreke Evans’ 22 points just to eke past the Hawks, 96-94, at FedEx Forum back in December. But Evans has now been put on ice, so as not to diminish his value prior to the trade deadline. That pretty much leaves Gasol (8 TOs vs. ATL on Dec. 15, career-low 41.6 FG%, career-high 2.7 TOs/game), the 33-year-old former All-Star center, on an island all to himself. Big Spain has to deal with Big’s Pain behind him on the depth chart, too, as Deyonta Davis (knees) is out of action tonight.
    Memphis broke out to a spiffy 5-1 season start, before the Grizz lost their Fiz during a 4-22 stretch. While Evans was making his case for an All-Star bid, though, they did manage to go 9-8 between late December and the end of last month, and they had to be heartened by the first two contests during this four-game Eastern road trek that concludes today, losing by four at Indy and by two in Detroit on back-to-back nights. They were even down just a point through three quarters in Toronto on Sunday afternoon. Yet without Reke available in the clutch, they just don’t have enough horses offensively to string victories together.
    Memphis (18-34), who returns home to deal with red-hot Utah tomorrow, has been Grit without much Grind. Dead-last in pace, they will hack opponents to death (NBA-high 23.3 personals per game; 26.2 opponent FTAs per game, 2nd-most in NBA), specifically those that dare attempt to set plays up inside the perimeter (NBA-low 26.0 opponent 2FGs/game). The departure of former mainstays like Z-Bo and Tony Allen have done little to erase the team’s long-held reputation for being terrible perimeter shooters (35.3 team 3FG%, 25th in NBA), and that poor marksmanship is now bleeding inwards (54.2 team 2FG%, 20th in NBA) as well.
    As expected, given the opponent’s game-planning, the going was tough for Dennis Schröder as a scorer during his last meeting with the Grizzlies (5-for-18 FGs), but he made the most of his trips to the line (7-for-8 FTs; Isaiah Taylor 5-for-6 off the bench) while distributing the ball well (11 assists, 3 TOs). So much as a moderate day from Schröder directing the Hawks offense (15-for-33 3FGs @ NYK on Sunday; 31-for-34 FTs @ BOS on Feb. 2) will be sufficient to put the Beale Street Bears in hibernation.
    As Atlanta has not gone the route Memphis has gone with Evans, Atlanta’s playmakers should have their full offensive array at their disposal. This is quite possibly the Hawks finale for several players, including Sunday’s “hero”, Kent Bazemore (4-for-7 3FGs @ NYK; 19.3 PPG, 52.2 3FG%, 1.8 TOs/game in last 4 games), Dewayne Dedmon (14 rebounds @ NYK), and Ersan Ilyasova (back in the starting lineup, after missing Sunday’s game with an illness). All veteran trade targets will be hoping for a strong potential-farewell performance and a pleasant, if a bit subdued, send-off from the Highlight Factory crowd.
    Seventeen combined consecutive postseasons come to an end this April for these two clubs. But upon closer inspection, Atlanta and Memphis appear to have divergent means of sinking toward the NBA bottom. Unlike the Grizzlies, the Hawks chose not to gamble on big contracts, for their 30-ish incumbent veteran stars, in hopes of another shot at a playoff run. Unlike the Hawks, the Grizzlies have made many questionable first-round selections in recent years (backup forward Jarell Martin the sole first-rounder since 2008 who has stuck), and they did an even more questionable job developing them.
    Unlike the Hawks, the Grizzlies grew skittish as the losses piled up, and reneged on their mutual commitment to build with their head coach. And unlike the Grizzlies, the Hawks’ beneficiary from the NBA’s wild 2016 free agency period might wind up paying his team dividends. That it is Atlanta that has been looking up at Memphis in the standings to this point, and not the other way around, is a testament to the strength of the Hawks’ Competitank. But how much longer can that situation be sustained? Some Enquiring Hawks Fan Minds want to know.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Coach tells us they’re sending you to Cleveland!... Not to play, though, just for a weekend vacation. All expenses paid!”
     
    Afternoon Delight! At least, that’s what the New York Knicks are hoping for with the Atlanta Hawks in town for an early Super Bowl Sunday tipoff (12:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC) at the so-called Mecca.
    I’ve long been a bit presumptuous about Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, stemming from his years quietly toiling away in Phoenix and Philly, and then his latter years in Utah, rubbing his face before free throws to say hello to his kids watching from home. He seems like a swell guy! At worst, he looks like an actuarial scientist! I, for one, cannot imagine what magic words Coach Horny could ever utter that would prompt me to loft a towel over his face. Nevermind saying whatever unkind words the banished Joakim Noah laid in his direction.
    The Oscars are getting dished out about a month from now, and Noah has been wasting his time not earning any statuettes. C’mon, Lenny Cooke was a classic! Even Spike’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was underrated! Like latter-day Lenny, I would love for Oscar-winning producer Noah to come in from the future, letting Joakim know his true full-time, Hall-of-Fame professional career is right around the corner. Go ahead and retire, then make your tens of millions per year doing something way more productive than standing around and cussing out Hornacek for “only” getting five minutes against the Warriors.
    Fans of the Knicks would greatly appreciate Noah exiting stage left soon, so they can more fully turn their attention to another uncomfortable contract. A back-to-back pair of power outages from the perimeter (combined 0-for-12 3FGs) has ex-Hawk Tim Hardaway, Jr. entering today with the worst three-point shooting percentage (32.6 3FG%) of his five-year career.
    At least he’s young, though. Junior has ample time to turn it around, and try as he might today against his former team, it will take more than one afternoon to do so. With $70.95 million coming his way over this and the next three seasons, it’s not like he’ll be singing “Goodbye, Manhattan”, anytime soon. Some sports fans from his prior NBA home will be cheering, in hopes that Hardaway is the most successful product of the Michigan Wolverines’ athletic department today.
    Hardaway’s three-point attempt as time expired went long on Friday night, leaving him unable to salvage a 92-90 loss at Milwaukee, sealed when Enes Kanter was left Holding That L after the Greek Freak’s game-winning layup sailed over his head.
    While Kanter has been an offensive rebounding revelation for New York (15.7 O-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) in a featured role, his contract represents the most realistic means by which the Knicks can create some cap flexibility, if they’re not stuck picking up the tab on his $18.6 million player option this summer. As for franchise-face Kristaps Porzingis (career-high 23.0 PPG, NBA-high 2.3 BPG, 58 points in two games vs. the Hawks), his veteran extension is right around the corner. So, with the Knicks already saddled with Timmy’s deal, it’s essential for them find a way to move on from Kanter and Noah, soon.
    One challenge lottery-dwelling seller-teams have as the trade deadline approaches: their players know this may be their final time playing together. They want to look good in case they are on their way out the door, if in part hoping that Golden State or some top-flight title contender is somewhere marinating over acquiring them. This applies to Knicks like Courtney Lee, the Knicks’ minutes-leader whose 42.6 3FG% and former defensive reputation may seem appetizing to opposing GMs, and Willy Hernangomez, the once-exiled All-Rookie 1st Teamer who is suddenly getting playing time.
    The conundrum also applies to most members of the Hawks, particularly age-28-plus veterans like Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Babbitt, Miles Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon and Kent Bazemore, as management expressed their objective to get younger in preparation for the future. All except the then-injured Dedmon appeared in the Hawks 111-107 loss at MSG on December 10. Plumlee’s point-blank bucket giving Atlanta a brief lead late in the third quarter before Doug McDermott surged the Knicks ahead for good.
    Dennis Schröder was benched for the final eight minutes of that game, in favor of Isaiah Taylor. But with Belinelli, Ilyasova, and Bazemore combining for the Hawks’ final 13 points in the last two-and-a-half minutes, Atlanta closed the gap to two with seconds to go before Porzingis’ free throws iced the game.
    It was good to see Schröder playing well in the opening half of the Hawks’ 119-110 loss in Boston on Friday (25 points for the game, 8-for-8 FTs), along with Taurean Prince at least momentarily shaking off his cobwebs (31 points and 8 rebounds). It took a Kyrie-less Celtics team to break through with 41 third-quarter points to turn the tide, and a fuller defensive effort today could once again make this game a close-to-the-vest affair.
    If Noah wants to troll hard, he’d be smart to spend Super Bowl Sunday with Jimmy Dolan’s pal Charles Oakley. Closer to home, perhaps we’ll see Matt Ryan and Julio Jones prepping for a party together. Hey, Julio, catch this jumbo bag of Tostito’s… oops!
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3