“So, did they use, like, actual FILM for highlights, back in your day?”
Nice unprotected lottery pick you’ve got there, Cleveland! It would be a shame if, you know, something unfortunate happened to it...
Coming off a ((airquotes)) "successful" 1-4 road trip, our Atlanta Hawks are back at The Highlight Factory and can control their destiny just a little bit more, with a full-hearted Competitank effort against those playoff-hungry Brooklyn Nets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK).
The postseason race in the East is pretty tight, but one thing seems certain: if you’re not finishing this season anywhere near .500, you’re not getting anywhere near the playoffs. Coach Kenny Atkinson’s Nets (15-26) have lost three straight and risk falling seven games behind 8-seed Indiana, particularly if the Pacers take out Clevelan (spelled correctly) tonight.
Like the Hawks of yesteryear, the Cavs are watching the Nets’ fortunes very carefully. Since the Kyrie-for-IT deal back in August, they have been holding Brooklyn’s first-rounder as LeBron Insurance for this summer. Suddenly, though, it’s as if LeBron awoke one morning and discovered he’s the only Cavalier that can play some semblance of defense, something that’s kind of important if you have designs on toppling Golden State in June.
Now, the Cavs (29th in D-Rating) are dangling this Nets pick to try acquiring a star-quality talent that can hold his own on the defensive end before the deadline. But the value of the pick, either for a pre-deadline deal, or for finding a college-age talent to groom once LeBron departs, declines each time Brooklyn gets their stuff together, wins a game, and moves up in the standings.
Kicking off a six-game homestand, the Hawks will have a chance to play gremlin today. The odds go up without leading bench scorer Marco Belinelli. Polo sprained his ankle and will sit this one out.
There’s no sign that Brooklyn intends to make the Competitank easy for Atlanta (11-30). The Nets have a better record versus the West than they do against Eastern clubs (8-15, incl. 2-1 vs. the Hawks). Atlanta has the East’s worst home mark (7-11), but the Nets haven’t been playoff-stellar away from home (6-13) either.
Their leading minutes-logger, DeMarre Carroll (sprained knee), might miss his third-straight game, while D’Angelo Russell isn’t expected back until the end of the month. The Nets did have five consecutive games with a competitive finish (2-3 in those games, all within a three-point margin). But that was before the bottom fell out at Barclays Center on Wednesday, a 114-80 pasting at the hands of no-longer-two-way player Dwight Buycks and the Pistons, where only Allen Crabbe (5-for-9 3FGs) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (team-high 7 rebounds, 9-for-10 FTs, 3 steals) seemed interested in showing up.
“We’ve just got to erase it from our minds,” said Caris LeVert, the backup guard who himself just returned from a groin injury absence, “and compete in Atlanta.” There’s that C-word. Y’all gotta do more than just compete tonight, Brooklyn!
“The message is we’ve got to go to Atlanta and get this one back,” clarified Coach Kenny to the New York Post. “We have to get this back, get it back in Atlanta, come back and [take advantage of] another opportunity to compete.” That’s a little better.
Winning the season-series from the Hawks will require Atkinson to continue designing schemes to keep his former pupil, Dennis Schröder, in check. Dennis has averaged a modest 20.0 PPG and 6.0 APG in three games against the Nets, but has shot poorly from the field (39.7 FG%, including 2-for-14 3FGs). Brooklyn will try to counter with the vastly improved Spencer Dinwiddie (6.4 APG, 1.4 TOs/game), but his team needs to go against custom (NBA-low 12.7 opponent TO%) and force turnovers to at least be… sigh… competitive.
Schröder’s game-high 19 points in the last Hawks-Nets meeting were neutralized by a dominant interior presence in the second half by the Nets, notably rookie Jarrett Allen (5-for-6 FGs, 3 blocks), as the Philips Arena visitors prevailed, 110-90. Atlanta has reinforcements this time around, though, and will look to overwhelm the Nets inside.
While the Hawks could only counter Tyler Zeller and Allen with Miles Plumlee and Tyler Cavanaugh, they now have Dewayne Dedmon (9 points and team-high 9 rebounds off-bench @ DEN) back. John Collins, whose first career double-double came in Brooklyn in October, and Mike Muscala (9 points in 15 minutes @ DEN) also missed the December home-and-home series that these teams split.
Suffice to say, Atkinson has his work cut out for him if he’s going to have his former boss, Mike Budenholzer, tipping his cap to the Nets as the final buzzer sounds tonight. I wish Coach Kenny the very best of luck with this endeavor. Hello there, Dan Gilbert. We see you.
In closing, Happy Birthday to the Human Highlight Film! Here’s to 58 more years of greatness!
Rise Up! And Let’s Go Hawks!