• Hawksquawk.net

    Atlanta Hawks community, for the fans, by the fans

    lethalweapon3

    Hawks at Nuggets

    By lethalweapon3, in Game Previews,

     
    Gosh, what a sticky situation!
     
    There’s no need to fear. The Fall Breakers are here!
    You’d have to work at Reynolds Wrap to find more silver linings than our Atlanta Hawks have been dishing out to opponents this season. Our Fine Feathered Friends have arrived in Denver, where a once-upbeat Nuggets team (9:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Altitude TV in DEN) finds itself in dire need of a trust fall catcher.
    Memphis needed a big bounce back after debuting with a 111-83 loss at Indiana. They got one from the Hawks, and the Grizzlies are grinning at 8-5 now. One night after getting burned, 135-106 in Charlotte, the Bulls traveled to Atlanta and found their salve, a 12-point margin representing their biggest victory to date.
    Were it not for a road win in the ATL just over a week ago, the Knicks would be mired in a six-game skid. After dropping five of their prior six games, the Pistons stopped by The Farm to get themselves back above .500 on the season. Even the Cavs, who lost to the Hawks and later fell to 0-6, firing their coach, losing their star to injury, ran it back and were gifted a 22-point win for their first victory.
    Your iconic team president is feuding with your head coach? You say your champion All-Star is embroiled with one of the other ones, threatening to tear your dynasty asunder? Relax! We Got Y’all. As the autumn temperatures plummet and the leaves turn crisp, look to the Fall Breakers to help you out.
    A couple weeks ago, Denver could not have imagined they’d need the Hawks as a boost. These Nuggets were golden, rolling to a 9-1 record to kickstart their playoff-return campaign. They beat Golden State, and Boston, and their hated division rivals in Utah along the way.
    Those three wins, and four others, came without their super-soaking wing scorer, Will Barton, who went down to a hip injury after just two starts. All of Denver’s success came without free agent pickup Isaiah Thomas, and a pair of rookie additions intended to fill the crater at small forward. Through the Nuggs’ first ten games, only Milwaukee and Golden State could boast of a better Net Rating. Forget just reaching the postseason, why not dream about the conference finals?
    The slide started innocently enough, with a two-point defeat at Memphis. Then came a bad loss back home versus Brooklyn. The losing homestand continued with the Nuggets (9-5) dropping games versus Giannis’ Bucks and Harden’s Rockets here at Pepsi Center.
    So what gives? You could start with the reliance on the second-youngest roster (barely behind the Bulls) in the league right now to compete for over 80-plus games. Yes, that roster includes Uncle Paul Millsap, the soon-to-be 34-year-old former Hawk who missed much of last season, his first as a Nugget, due to injury, and I.T. (hip), who has no timetable for a return. Shortly after Millsap’s and Thomas’ birthdays this coming February, team minutes-leader and top scorer Jamal Murray (17.8 PPG) will blow out 22 candles on his cake.
    Both Murray (27.7 3FG%) and 24-year-old backcourt mate Gary Harris (29.4 3FG%) have been wayward with their marksmanship beyond the arc. Despite a lot of familiarity among returnees from last season, he Nuggets have nine active rotation players with only 1-4 seasons of NBA experience under their belts, and Harris is the sole player with four. After Sap, there is Miles’ brother, Mason Plumlee, who has technically been around for five seasons, and that’s it as far as experience goes.
    Young players tend to start out like gang-busters, but struggle with plateauing once they read the press clippings and feel they no longer have much to prove. The similarly-sized guards in Denver’s starting unit have languished on the defensive end as well, and their similarly-green backups, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, aren’t much of an upgrade on that end of the floor, either.
    That leaves the fort-holding to the interior, where Uncle Paul (team-high 1.1 BPG) and the esteemed Nikola Jokic await their guards’ many blow-by opponents. Over the past nine days, Denver’s defensive rating (114.6) was worse than everyone’s in the league aside from New York (FWIW, winless Atlanta’s ranked 18th during that stretch).
    Whether it’s defending, passing, or making exterior shots, a lot has been left for the Nuggets’ bigs to handle. That’s especially the case for Jokic (17.5 PPG, 40.0 3FG%), who rings up more per-game assists (6.9 APG) than Murray (3.8) and Harris (2.8) combined. I’m not sure if it’s all the Coors and the Rocky Mountain Oysters available, but Jokic’s conditioning has left much to be desired.
    When he’s on the court, Jokic (#1 in VORP and Box Plus/Minus, as per bball-reference) is playing at MVP-quality level, displaying an improved touch with his defensive rebounding. But it has been tough to keep him running the full court for more than 30 minutes per game.
    When Nikola is not on the floor, the defense improves marginally but the ball movement and shot selection becomes stifling. When he is not drawing fouls and earning trips to the line, the Nuggets’ offense becomes even more of a grab bag.
    Layer on the notoriously thin air, and the inherent home advantage dissipates for the Nuggets versus high-tempo teams, like Bud’s Bucks and perhaps the Hawks, or squads with spread-and-pick-apart offensive schemes, like the Rockets.
    I’ve long been a fan of Mike Malone, the unfairly deposed former Kangz coach who freshly inked a two-year contract extension just last month. But I posit that he is among the dying breed of “Gumption” coaches in the NBA. These are the sideline taskmasters who aren’t renowned for their X’s and O’s but rely, more so, on the well-worn tactic of insisting his players just play harder, no matter the efficacy of the plays being designed and called.
    “Last four (games), the defense fell-off big time,” Malone explained to the Longmont Times-Call and media after the loss to Houston. “It’s one-on-one containment, the blow-bys are at epic levels right now, just the inability to guard one-on-one and then just having pick-and-roll awareness.” Hinting at the issue with Jokic and others on what should be an energetic roster, Malone added, “We have some guys that look like they are exhausted two minutes into a game.”
    Help isn’t coming, consistently, at the small forward spot. They started the season with Torrey Craig, a second-year pro out of South Carolina-Upstate, but he has struggled to make a mark the way he did for years in Australia’s pro league. After Denver’s loss to the Nets, Malone replaced on the top line with Juan Hernangomez (team-best 44.7 3FG%), but signs of improvement haven’t been immediate.
    One presumes that a triumphant return by Melo is not in the works around here. But filling the 3-spot with backup 4’s, like Hernangomez and Trey Lyles, depletes the frontline options, and makes it more important that Millsap stays fresh and out of foul trouble. With their beefy lineups, Denver has been rebounding as well as anybody (1st in D-Reb%, 2nd in O-Reb%), but it’s the frequency of taking the ball out of the net that has been troubling lately. In Denver’s last four games, Nugget foes have shot a scintillating 40.0 percent on threes (5th-highest in NBA, just behind Atlanta’s 40.1 3FG%), and 48.9 percent overall (3rd-highest in NBA).
    Fortunately for Nuggets fans, there are few Western Conference staffs who would be more familiar with Atlanta, even in its current incarnation. Sharing the bench with ex-Tech shooting coach Mark Price is former Hawks head coach Bob Weiss – yes, he’s still at it, at a spry 76 years of age. The video coordinator for Atlanta during the Woody-era turnaround, John Beckett serves as Denver’s player development coach.
    It shouldn’t take an Ivy League degree to figure out how to tackle the downtrodden Hawks (3-11). But Tommy Balcetis, the Nuggets’ analytics and team strategy director, was about to play alongside Jeremy Lin (seven points away from 5,000 for his career) with the Harvard Crimson back in the day, before having to hang it up due to a heart condition. Mason knows a little bit about Miles Plumlee, Atlanta’s backup pivot who will get even more action than normal, what with Dewayne Dedmon (out, a hopefully bouncy Baby Ded on the way) and Alex Len (questionable, sprained ankle) among the likely inactives.
    They don’t have the All-Defensive talents that Golden State had to fluster Trae Young (2-for-12 FGs, 9 assists and 3 steals @ GSW in Tuesday’s 110-103 defeat). But panning out an easy victory for the Nuggets tonight will require keeping Young out of the paint, having him settle for high-arching, contested shots outside the flow of Atlanta’s offense, and denying catch-and-shoot opportunities for swingmen Taurean Prince (4-for-7 3FGs, team-high 22 points on Tuesday), Vince Carter and Kent Bazemore. Atlanta’s woeful perimeter shot accuracy (33.8 3FG%) elevates to a modest 36.7 percent on catch-and-shoot chances, 36.9 percent on wide open shots, as per NBA.com stats.
    The Hawks have more than their share of inexperienced talent on the floor tonight, as well. Omari Spellman will likely get the default start again, despite being unimpressive on the road lately (1-for-10 FGs past two games). A solid rebounder like Spellman, two-way contributor Alex Poythress could earn some more playing time, especially if he can mix it up inside and draw productive trips to the free throw line (46.7 FT%, no FTs in past four appearances).
    Only the injured Barton and Harris remain from the 2014-15 outfit coached by Hawks assistant Melvin Hunt, the last time the Nuggets had a coaching crisis. Hunt and the rest of Lloyd Pierce’s staff will try to draw production out of DeAndre’ Bembry (3 steals in under 17 minutes @ GSW) and rookie Kevin Huerter, exploiting Denver’s struggles at the wing spot.
    The outcome tonight may come down to Young’s and Lin’s ability to kick the ball to open shooters off dribble penetration, and the Nugget defenders’ willingness to thwart the point guards and make secondary ballhandlers beat them.
    Harden (2-for-10 FGs, but 11 assists @ DEN) drew plenty of attention on Tuesday, allowing Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker, and James Ennis to feast (combined 9-for-18 3FGs). It was a similar deal two nights before as Brook Lopez (8-for-13 3FGs) had himself a night while all Nugget eyes were on the Greek Freak (8 assists).
    After tonight’s game, the December 8 rematch in Atlanta will close out a run of nine road contests among the next 11 games in the Nuggets’ schedule. With competition in the NBA West starting to percolate, Denver is going to prefer turning the momentum around today, at home, and not weeks from now. Atlanta’s Fall Breakers are knocking at Denver’s door. Will the Nuggets be the latest team smart enough to invite them in?
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “SHOOTIN’ AT THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE… BANG! BANG!...”
     
    Our Atlanta Hawks came at The King and missed, but they’ve got another Golden State opportunity ahead of them during this four-game road swing. The Hawks outraced the Warriors from Staples Center up to Oakland ahead of tonight’s game (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO), and they hope to take advantage in what is, very likely, their final visit to Oracle Arena.
    The Hawks’ connections with this venue, the oldest one in the NBA, run deep. It was here, with the Warriors, where Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon (out for tonight again, personal leave) and Jeremy Lin, all undrafted players shuttling back-and-forth from the D-League, began formally charting the course of their careers as NBA pros.
    GM Travis Schlenk and Coach Lloyd Pierce built up much of their impressive resumes here, the former playing critical roles in the scouting and drafting of the modern Dubs’ first championship core, the latter working with Stephen Curry and pre-Linsanity Jeremy during a half-season as an assistant in 2010-11.
    The Dedmon-less Hawks failed to make the critical plays in the paint they needed to fend off the Lakers in Sunday’s 107-106 last-minute loss. Atlanta (3-10) having to play without Dedmon again tonight ought to make things easy on the Warriors (11-3). That is, if only coach Steve Kerr can get Kevin Durant and his pal Draymond Green focused on tearing into the Hawks, instead of each other.
    Freshly returned from injury, Green failed to look for KD, or any other teammates, at the close of a tie game in regulation last night, after the defending NBA champs had scored 11 consecutive points to draw even with the host Clippers in L.A.  After stealing a rebound away from Durant, Draymond dribbled up the court and lost the ball in traffic as time expired.
    The misfortune of being caught between Durant’s passive-aggressive commentary and Green’s dragon breath fell to their Warrior teammates, who were reduced to clapping in a futile effort to drown out the stars feuding on the sideline prior to the overtime period.
    The Dubs fell short in OT to the Clips, 121-116, after Durant fouled out with his squad up by three. They headed back upstate late last night ahead of tonight’s contest, but not before Durant and teammates spent time bickering boisterously (as reported by ESPN) in the postgame locker room about Green’s decision-making during regulation. “One of the most intense and volatile scenes of this Golden State championship era,” tweeted Woj on ESPN’s report, my emphasis on the words, “One of”.
    The Hawks are the kind of opponent that can cure a lot of ills, at least momentarily. But the longer Golden State fails to take their aggressions out on Atlanta (17.2 second-chance opponent points per-48, 2nd-most in NBA; NBA-high 24.2 opponent points per-48 off TOs), the more likely they’ll find themselves in a late-game situation as precarious as the Lakers found themselves in on Sunday night, with the basket in Trae Young’s sights.
    Sure, it sucks not having the shot-making magic of Curry (6th in NBA for 3FG%, out with a groin strain, GSW 39-60 all-time without him) around to obscure your team’s internal squabbles. Fortunately for Golden State, they do have former Hawks preseason standout Quinn Cook (4th in NBA for 3FG%) standing in for Steph in their starting lineup.
    Cook will get some help from Shaun Livingston, who himself just returned from injury, to add to the maze the Hawks’ rookie star must navigate on his adventures to the hoop, a path that will feature Andre Iguodala, Durant and Green, at turns. As per NBA Stats, Young currently ranks second in made field goals and field goal percentage, and third in assists, in the league off drives.
    When you have a phenom like Curry, good things can happen just by virtue of a couple degrees of separation. Ex-Hawk Damion Lee got hitched to Curry’s sister, Seydel, in the offseason, and now joins his brother-in-law on the Dubs’ roster with a two-way deal.
    One of Steph’s security guys had a cousin, undrafted out of Wisconsin-Green Bay and out of the league after going through the motions last season with Toronto. That cuz (no relation to DeMarcus) got a chance to shine in training camp, and now Alfonzo McKinnie (48.3 3FG%) gets major minutes relieving the Warriors’ swingmen, doing many of the things former fan-favorite Bazemore once did here at Oracle. With the Warriors playing a back-to-back, look for both Lee and McKinnie to get pressed by Kerr into significant action tonight.
    After Klay Thompson jacked up 16 attempts, sinking five, in last night’s loss to the Clips, Kerr will want to make sure his off-guard doesn’t shoot his arm off trying to bombard Atlanta. Pressed into a high pace of play, Hawks’ opponents are lofting nearly 35 attempts per game and hitting on 38.5 percent of them (4th-highest in NBA). The Dubs’ opponents similarly shoot as many, but they struggle to convert (31.4 opponent 3FG%, 2nd-lowest in NBA) due to superior perimeter defense and their signature switching.
    That’s why, despite the back-to-back, tonight’s contest could be a breeze for the Warriors if they take care of business on the interior, and don’t resort to shooting fouls (26.0 opponent FTAs per-48, 5th-most in NBA; Atlanta’s 27.5 tied with Miami for the most) to make up for listless defense.
    One of the Hawks’ few advantages thus far on the season has been inside scoring (+2.6 paint points per-48), even without Dedmon and John Collins around, and the Warriors will need the platoon of Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney, and momentary starter Damian Jones to neutralize that edge. The Warriors rank 6th in the league for blocking shots, despite no one aside from Bell (1.0 BPG) averaging more than a swat per contest.
    Despite their obligatory collapse during the third quarter, Atlanta stayed in their game versus a Laker team that was, like Golden State, playing the back end of a back-to-back, by outscoring them in the paint (46-44), on fastbreaks (19-14), and off turnovers (30-25). They’ll need a similarly active effort on defense and in transition if they intend to bid farewell to Oracle with their first win in this building since 2011.
    With the rest advantage, the Hawks will be… 2 Legit 2 Quit in their Oaktown finale, so a victorious outcome for Golden State can’t be foreseen as… Automatic. It always… Feels Good to leave the champs pointing fingers at one another, and Life Is… Too Short not to take advantage of a distracted and shorthanded bunch from the… Jump. Will Atlanta have enough focus and firepower to leave these Warriors feeling… The Blues?
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    ***ATTENTION, TJ MAXX SHOPPERS...***
     
    Okay… NOW, the schedule gets tough!
    The first dozen games in the Atlanta Hawks’ regular season slate provided opportunities to catch teams napping, or trip them up while they were still calibrating with reformulated lineups. That fun ends tonight, as the Hawks kick off an arduous four-game road swing versus LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL).
    Maybe the outcomes won’t be as dire as they project on paper, though. Tonight’s contest begins the first stretch in a while that Atlanta (3-9) won’t be in the middle of a 3-games-in-4-nights run.  For coach Lloyd Pierce’s club, it’s the last of a string of 4-games-in-6-nights that began back on October 27 (1-8 in that span).
    Given the run of even-numbered-days rest over the next couple weeks, the outlook for victories would be so much sunnier if there weren’t so many NBA studs to reckon with. After LeBron and Company, there’s KD and the Dubs on Tuesday, the Joker on Thursday, Dipo on Saturday. That’s before returning for a four-game homestand that includes Kawhi, Kemba and the Celtics.
    No one’s going to shed a tear for Trae Young (18.4 PPG, 7.8 APG, 4.0 TOs/game) and the Hawks. But maybe chances will arise to use relatively routine rest to their advantage, against favored opponents like L.A.
    Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a heartfelt song by The Platters, but it’s not one LeBron and his newest team, the Lakers (6-6) wish to croon. They tipped off at 7 PM last night in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, the arena layered with smoke from the deadly Camp Fire ravaging northern California. They pulled off the 101-86 victory, the fourth win in their past five games, against the Kings. But the ambient conditions wafting into the stadium proved problematic for many attendees, including the players spending a half-hour going back-and-forth for 94 feet.
    “Everyone gets affected by pollution,” James (25 points in 31 minutes yesterday) told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and postgame media before the game. Afterwards, the Lakers’ latest franchise savior noted he was dealing with a slight pregame headache, “and I can’t pinpoint any other reason why it was going on besides the smoke.” Starting center JaVale McGee, who suffers from asthma, cited stomach pains that he estimated, “was from the smoke, for sure.”
    Back home ahead of a game less than 24 hours later versus Atlanta, the Lakers have friends and neighbors who are dealing with the uncontained Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire northwest of L.A.  Arriving in Sacramento on Friday from SoCal, some Lakers watched fires burning from the plane. If they were awake during the flight home last night, chances were good they observed even more destruction from above.
    Smoke like this is always undesirable, but what has been unnecessary has been the figurative smoke emanating from the president of basketball operations' office. Third-year Lakers coach Luke Walton doesn’t want any smoke from his legendary, smoldering boss.
    I’m always grateful that Magic Johnson remains among us, but Lakers fans would appreciate it if he added a chill pill to his daily prescriptions. I understand Magic trying to live up to his promise of a grand turnaround and a return to glory by the end of the 2019-20 season. But a 2-5 record, all versus fellow Western Conference opponents, was apparently too slow a start for the Magic Man.
    Johnson reportedly gave Walton a grand, vocal chewing out last week, following Los Angeles’ return home from losses at San Antonio and Minnesota. He defended his actions by insisting he was more concerned about the style of play – somebody, promise me he’s not demanding Walton to install the Triangle. Magic insists that, despite his vitriol, Coach Luke’s job status isn’t in peril “this year.”
    The Lakers have gotten everything they could want in the post-Kobe campaign. Five years of tanking produced lottery picks in Lonzo Ball (4.4 APG) and Brandon Ingram (15.6 PPG). They took some late-first-round picks from 2017 and hit it out of the park with Kyle Kuzma (18.5 PPG) and Josh Hart.
    As he planned, Earvin put on his Magic charms this past summer and wooed LeBron to Hollywood. As James would want, Magic’s staff stocked the roster with go-along-to-get-along vets, in Rajon Rondo (7.0 APG), JaVale McGee (3.0 BPG), Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and, this past week, Tyson Chandler.
    But why is Magic insistent on Walton building Rome in a day? Aside from LeBron, this is not an All-Star roster, and it won’t be until the youngsters round out their games and the next big free agent catch arrives next summer. When it comes to support from the top, right now, this team needs more Magic and less Earvin. The Lakers exec is the only one capable of making rash decisions that could disrupt the West Coast Process, detrimentally, and render James not much more than a glorified award-show presenter.
    LeBron is accustomed to bulldozing his way to the hoop with the rock and having colleagues ready to play their roles around him. He is not used to standing aside as forwards like Ingram and Kuzma call their own numbers. His 31.4 assist percentage is his lowest since 2006-07. Sharing the ball with an effective passer like Rondo (32.8 assist%) is a factor. But no one should expect Walton, with the pieces he has around LeBron, to drum up an effective motion offensive scheme in October. That’s almost as bad as expecting Pierce to have the Hawks’ offense (102.1 O-Rating, 29th in NBA), in any respect, humming by now.
    Atlanta players won the turnover battle versus their opponents four times in 12 games, and they are 3-1 in those situations. They have also shot at least 39.5 percent on threes in those victories, but they haven’t crossed the 30 percent mark in any of their past three games. Those were all losses, including Friday night’s game, where they came out against Detroit (20-40 in the opening quarter, versus the NBA’s second-worst 1st-quarter team) like they were driving a car filled to the brim with buttered popcorn.
    James can be counted on to get his stats, and Kuzma is sure to enliven Staples Center with a highlight play or two. But Walton is likely to go deep into his rotation to give his key contributors some rest, entrusting players like Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Ivica Zubac to help carry the day.
    The Hawks can be more competitive tonight if they execute plays better on the run, and if the wings and guards get back in transition and defend the Lakers’ passers without fouling. Atlanta ranks second-worst on opponent fastbreak points (17.7) per-48, the Lakers diametrically ranked second in fastbreak scoring (22.7 per-48, 0.1 point behind yesterday’s foe, Sacramento).
    But the Lakers and the Warriors (3rd in fastbreak per-48 points), who may be without Steph Curry (groin strain) when they host the Hawks on a back-to-back Tuesday, may be a bit lead-legged and distracted due to the events going on all across California. For any Hawks players who are interested in stealing a road win, they ought to consider the next pair of contests a Golden State opportunity.
     
    Happy Veterans' Day! Hearts out to the wildfire victims and emergency service providers out in Cali. And, Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “I like to KICK… STRRRRRRETCH… aaannd KICK!”
     
    It’s time to renew that all-time great NBA rivalry… Fort Wayne versus St. Louis!
    Imagine if the industrialist owners of those 50s-era NBA midwestern franchises were just a tad bit more civic-minded. We’d never know for sure, but while we NBA fans might indeed be watching Detroit versus Atlanta tonight at State Farm Arena (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), we could very well find ourselves rooting for expansion franchises.
    The Pistons are the Pistons because the top gadgets supplied to the automotive industry were cranking out of a foundry run by Fort Wayne’s Zollner Machine Works. The NBL team was branded by company executive Fred Zollner’s family as the Zollner Pistons, and the cagers brought multiple championships to the northeast Indiana city, prior to the BAA merger in the 1940s. It was Fred who was known as “Mr. Pro Basketball”.
    The Pistons came close to claiming back-to-back NBA titles in the 1950s, falling in the Finals to the (Philly) Warriors, the (Minny) Lakers and, probably, some (Greedy) point shavers. It was the Fort Wayne-versus-Minneapolis 19-18 stall-fest, in 1950, that would soon usher in the shotclock era. Around Indiana, it was reasonable to project that their Pistons would soon overtake those Lakers as the NBA’s next dynasty.
    Allen County built War Memorial Coliseum (probably a favorite venue of the late George Carlin) on the outskirts of its county seat in 1952 to keep the Pistons around, and the arena hosted the 1953 All-Star Game. Yet not even five years after getting into his new palace, Zollner was ready to high-tail it out of town.
    The Hawks’ town-trotting owner, Ben Kerner, felt Milwaukee wasn’t big enough of a beertown to support the brave new world of high-scoring NBA hoops, bailing for St. Louis in 1955 after just four years in America’s Dairyland. Zollner was watching closely, and it wasn’t long before he announced a move from Motor Parts City to the Motor City itself. The decision was questionable, since a decade before, Detroit clubs in both the BAA and the NBL folded. Is Detroit even a basketball town, like Fort Wayne?
    I imagine some disaffected Hoosier shifting his fandom to the Hawks after the 1957 move out of Fort Wayne. To continue supporting Midwestern pro hoops, it was either that, or root for the Royals who just relocated that same year to Cincy themselves. Otherwise he’d have to settle cheering for Minneapolis, and nobody likes the Lakers. At least St. Louis, he’d reason, looks like they’re not headed anywhere soon.
    No matter whether their teams were winning from one season to the next, Kerner and Zollner each struggled to keep the teams profitable in their new NBA locales. Zollner eventually sold the franchise to Bill Davidson, who kept the Pistons in (and mostly around) Detroit for the ensuing four decades. Revenue for Kerner’s Hawks stagnated after winning the 1958 NBA title in St. Louis, and no enterprising locals were willing to let him off the hook. He did find some takers, though, in recent Georgia governor Carl Sanders, and Atlanta-area real estate developer Thomas Cousins.
    Pro sports was off to a rocky start in Atlanta in the 1960s, in part due the tumultuous race relations that percolated at the time. But the continued success of Henry Aaron with the Braves facilitated the race to establish Atlanta as the Deep South’s first major-league city.
    Fifty years ago, Loving v. Virginia was perceived as the harbinger of some kind of national crisis. Tonight, people will spend their Friday nights sharing arm rests regardless of their background, while multi-racial Oklahoma Sooner legends Blake Griffin and Trae Young trade baskets.
    As competitors both franchises were stuck in neutral for decades, before the Pistons surpassing the Hawks by winning NBA titles in 1989, 1990 and 2004. But throughout their tenure in Motown, the Pistons have seemed like the NBA’s Club Castoff. Largely, a team accustomed to making-do with players other teams had already given up on.
    As sad-sack as the Cleveland Cavaliers of the early 1980s were, couldn’t find a steady role for Bill Laimbeer, and they couldn’t foresee a future with coach Chuck Daly. Orlando saw more of a chance at a championship-winning future with Grant Hill, and the Magic were more than happy to part ways with Ben Wallace in order to grab for the brass ring.
    Same deal with the Wizards, who couldn’t believe their luck when Detroit was willing to hand them All-Star Jerry Stackhouse in 2002 for the low-low price of Rip Hamilton. Portland had to shed their JailBlazers notoriety, so Rasheed Wallace found himself getting passed around.
    Pistons got three NBA trophies for making smart moves and draft decisions to accompany these acquisitions. But the strategy doesn’t always work out, as those who recall Joe Dumars bidding against himself for Josh Smith’s services can attest. In 2018, with current owner Tom Gores’ team formally back in town, his new management is trying the same tack. Gores put ex-Sixers executive Ed Stefanski in charge of stewing the Pistons Potluck for a new generation.
    Stefanski was with Toronto back in 2011, when that club gave Dwane Casey a shot to coach. Last season’s NBA Coach of the Year found himself washed ashore after his Raptors got Thanos’d in the playoffs yet again by LeBron James. The votes Casey earned for that coaching honor was attributed to first-place Toronto’s offensive resurgence, something Raptors management now entrusts to his successor and ex-assistant, Nick Nurse.
    Casey has been directed to eventually replicate that success, with a new set of staff, for a Detroit franchise that hasn’t seen much of a functional offense since the 2007-08 Flip Saunders-led team bowed out of the Eastern Conference Finals. He and the Pistons are turning to the mammoth Andre Drummond (18.9 PPG, NBA-high 16.6 RPG) and a slew of castoffs headlined by Griffin (career-high 27.3 PPG, 40.7 3FG%, 10.7 RPG).
    Blake’s star shone brightly in making the Clippers the surprise marquee club in L.A. for a half-decade. But with his injuries and dwindling assertiveness, the Clips were looking for an out, in hopes of spending Steve Ballmer’s cash on some future superstar instead. In mid-season last year, Detroit was more than happy to take in both him and his freshly-inked multi-year contract ($39 million in 2021-22, the season he turns 33 years of age).
    The NBA’s 29 other teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder for obvious reasons, where unwilling to give shoot-first, shoot-next, shoot-last point guard Reggie Jackson a shot at scratching out an All-Star career as a lead ballhandler. The Pistons were the exception. Now with Casey at the bat, Detroit has to craft a gameplan where Jackson (3.7 APG, lowest since his 2012-13 season as a Thunder reserve) and the big men all share the ball, and a cast of role players all chip in to make the trio’s lives easier. If that sounds like a big challenge, that’s because it is proving to be one.
    The Pistons (5-5) squandered a 4-0 start to this season, dropping five straight games before escaping Orlando with a 103-96 win on Wednesday. Edging a Ben Simmons-less Sixers team at home, in a 133-132 overtime win over two weeks ago, is perhaps the signature victory thus far.
    After years of entrusting DeAndre Jordan to patrol the paint, Griffin isn’t fond of Drummond’s interest in expanding his range beyond the three-point line. The spread floor, in Blake’s estimation, only makes it more likely he’ll face double teams on his post-ups and forays to the hoop. The more pressing issue is that Griffin’s teammates aren’t scoring much from long distance, either.
    Detroit’s 30.5 3FG% has them ranked next-to-last in the NBA, with Griffin the sole Piston popping above a 35 percent clip. Getting Ish Smith (33.3%), Jackson (30.4%), Langston Galloway (29.3%) and Reggie Bullock (23.3%; 44.5% last season, 2nd in NBA) unstuck would do wonders for this offense (NBA-low 47.9 eFG%), although some of that requires more mindful inside-out play from both Griffin and Drummond.
    The Piston defense has been solid but front-heavy, as it is too reliant on Drummond, the sole player averaging at least one steal and one block per contest, barely (1.0 SPG, 1.3 BPG). They’re heavily reliant on Stanley Johnson and rookie Bruce Brown contesting shots and drives well from the wing, a strategy that doesn’t work when their opponents get hot.
    Fortunately for the Pistons, their opponent tonight is the Hawks, who struggle to string together two or more productive possessions on offense (17.7 TO%, 29th in NBA; 21st in 3FG%, 24th in FT%). Rookie guard Trae Young will need better movement and execution out of Taurean Prince, the marquee for tonight’s 50 Years in Atlanta celebration, who returns to the starting lineup, as well as Kent Bazemore.
    A combined 4-for-24 on threes during Wednesday’s 112-107 loss to the Knicks, none of that trio of Hawks stood out in a good way until it was too late for Atlanta to dig out of another unnecessarily large second-half hole. The Hawks’ Net Rating in 3rd quarters is an atrocious minus-25.9, and no other club is as bad as Chicago’s minus-12.9.
    The Pistons would love to feel sorry for Atlanta, but they have their own troubles getting off the blocks to start games (minus-13.6 Net Rating in first quarters, 29th in NBA). The team that shakes out of their doldrums after leaving the locker room is likely to be the one with something to cheer when they return to the tunnels.
    As new Piston and recent NBA champion Zaza Pachulia once said, “Nothing easy!” With exception to a couple noteworthy eras, it has not been a simple task for either of the Hawks or the Pistons to sustain competitive success over much of their five decades in their respective NBA towns.
    But unlike Detroit, Atlanta isn’t satisfied with the approach of cobbling together unwanted spare parts to build a something better than an Edsel. This is the type of town that moves on from the rusty Ford plant to make room for Porsche.
    If all goes well, by the time we celebrate the Hawks’ 60th, and 75th, seasons in the ATL, perhaps fans at The Farm will have some worthy banners to point to, as evidence that the best engines can indeed be built from scratch.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “And here’s my job, Mr. Robinson. Fizdale loves you more than you should know. Woe, woe, woe…”
     
    You’ve got to give it up for these veteran ballers on the Atlanta Hawks. Colonel Schlenk’s senior lieutenants would make for an awful waffle commercial – each of them Leggo their Ego so easily!
    But like a Waffle House buffet, they still get to eat… plenty! Pretty much everybody does in coach Lloyd Pierce’s egalitarian rotation. Eleven different Hawks are averaging at least 15 minutes per outing, including ten hoopers in last night’s loss up the road in Charlotte.
    Except for Miles Plumlee, who knows his role well, four of the five members in Atlanta’s 29 And Up club found time to shine on Tuesday night, even with the Hawks starting three first-round rookies in the lineup due to player injuries. Jeremy Lin, Dewayne Dedmon, Kent Bazemore, and Vroom-Vroom Vince Carter all had their moments.
    They’re not thrilled about the losses that pile up, including yesterday’s action, where the Hawks defensively ran out of gas during the second half of the Hornets’ 113-102 victory. But they are pleased that they are appreciated for their readiness and their contributions on and off the court, cheering on the sidelines, intervening only when asked and when necessary, while the young guns learn the NBA ropes on the fly.
    More critically, Atlanta’s vets are not deluded into believing they’d be winning a lot more, if only they had just a few more minutes per night, preferably at the beginning of games and in crunch time. It’s not like that around the league, where the consternation has already grown palpable.
    In Minneapolis, Jimmy Butler has been side-eyed about his younger co-stars since September. Over in Tinseltown, LeBron James’ struggles to connect with his greener future stars continue to be well-documented. The demotion to the bench in Chi-town, in deference to an energetic lottery pick, isn’t sitting well with the grungy Robin Lopez.
    His playing status yo-yo’d by upper management, J.R. Smith is throwing Insta-shade at rookie teammate Collin Sexton. Doncic-to-DeAndre should be all the rage in The Big D. Yet the center, and his fellow veteran teammates, seem reticent to share the ball with their star rookie at critical times, literally fighting him over defensive rebounds, taciturn on the sidelines, hogging up the shot clock on possessions until there’s not much left for Luka to do. Need I mention that none of these teams have been charging up the NBA standings?
    And then, there’s the New York Knickerbockers, who happen to visit The Highlight Farm this evening for a quick run with the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL). Never mind the sound bites coming from Enes Kanter, the uber-rebounding center who is fuming over a lost spot in the Knicks’ starting lineup. Many veteran players really don’t mind losing, as long as they are the ones put front-and-center, both starting and finishing games, during the losses.
    On a rebuilding roster that just happens to sit in the nation’s biggest media market, the starry-eyed Kanter wanted assurances that he’d be the keystone. Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Emmanuel Mudiay and Mitchell Robinson are all cool stories. But especially while Kristaps Porzingis is supposed to be out of action, 2018-19 was supposed to be The Year of the Kanter, at least in Enes’ mind.
    David Fizdale believes his center can still have a major role, just as one of the first reserves off the bench. The Knicks’ new head coach is under little pressure to win now, particularly while the Unicorn remains a mythical notion. He also has familiarity with a team reaping the benefits after bringing a relatively clueless NBA team up slowly, having sat beside Mike Woodson as an assistant with the early-Aughts Hawks.
    Beginning with the 13-69 season in 2004-05, Atlanta started pushing aside the likes of Antoine Walker, Tom Gugliotta, Kenny Anderson and Kevin Willis to make way for the Joshes (Smith and Childress), Zaza, and the All-Star and future lottery picks that were soon to come. “The toughest year of my career, from a win-loss standpoint,” Coach Fiz recently recalled to ESPN’s Ian Begley about that 13-win season. “By the fourth year (2007-08), we were playing Boston in the playoffs taking them to seven games. Just (by) adding a couple pieces, and keeping those young kids growing.”
    “Now, I’m not saying we’re going to take four years (in NYC), but I do lean on that as my experience to say, ‘Hey, it’s never as bad as you think.’” That message is falling on the deaf ears of Kanter, who is only 26 years of age and, armed with an expiring contract, hopes to make bank during next summer’s free agency period. He feels he needs not just the minutes, not just the boxscore stats, but whatever laurels that come with the prestige of being an 80-plus-game starter on a big-city NBA club.
    Exhibit A: over 40 overtime-boosted minutes of floortime on Monday, 23 points, 24 rebounds, and 7 assists, all team-highs as the Knicks’ double-OT campaign versus the visiting Bulls fell just a couple points short of victory, dropping the club to 3-8 on the season. Fizdale was not short on praise for his backup big man during postgame commentary. Kanter was, “a guy that’s going to have his hat in the Sixth Man of the Year award,” said an effusive Coach Fiz. But much like Positive K, Kanter is not tryna hear that, see.
    “I don’t worry about trophies,” Negative K told the New York Post when queried about Fizdale’s “sixth-man” compliment. “My thing is, we promised this city the playoffs,” he insisted, catching himself just in time to add, “My thing is, just go out there, and my job is, how am I going to make my teammates better, whether I’m first unit, second unit or third unit.” Between the lines, you can read that Enes doesn’t want anyone, especially his head coach, to rule him out of the first unit.
    Kanter thought he was rolling in the previous game, with team-bests of 18 points and 12 boards, when Fizdale yanked him midway through the final quarter in favor of the starting Robinson. The Knicks’ offense floundered for the remainder of the contest as they handed sad-sack Washington just their second win of the season.
    Literally putting too fine a point on his emotions, Kanter tweeted a “.”, shortly after Saturday night’s 108-95 defeat. The passive-aggressive tweet, which still exists, could just as well have been an exclamation point to the ravenous Manhattan media outlets. To be fair to Robinson, New York played behind the Wizards virtually the entire game, never getting over the hump to seize the lead while Kanter was still on the floor.
    It’s not as though the Knicks were swimming in victories while Kanter was a starter, either. After beating the Hawks in the October 17 season-opener, New York dropped four straight games before Coach Fiz made the switch, including a 23-point loss in Miami where Kanter’s notorious defensive shortcomings were on full display. Fizdale insists he isn’t “chasing wins,” the way Kanter believes the Knicks should be. But it’s notable that all three of New York’s victories, to date, have come in games where Enes was granted less than 30 minutes of floortime.
    Filtered through the relatively tame Hawks media sources, all you’ll see from the 29 And Up Club is Dedmon playfully pestering Coach Pierce like Ivan Johnson about his “promised” minutes. Dedmon proved himself a steady starter option to close out last year’s 24-58 run with the Hawks, much as he did at his prior NBA locales of San Antonio and Orlando. Dedmon returned to Atlanta for another go-round, and has been just fine ceding the starter’s role in support of the Alex Len Reclamation Project, particularly as he returns from offseason ankle rehab.
    In contrast to Kanter, Dedmon’s tweets are instead land-line-phone emojis, celebratory retweets of his successful three-point bombs, ones that Coach Pierce is encouraging his seven-footer (4-for-11 3FGs, 35.5 3FG% last season) to take when it’s within the flow of the Hawks’ otherwise disjointed, wild-and-woolly offense.
    He’ll be back on the court after missing yesterday’s Election Day game with an ankle sprain, but I’m not so sure I’m ready for the Hawks’ Taurean Prince to majority-lead the Hawks’ House. “I’m going to stop being conservative w/ the heat I bring to the court, Prince tweeted after last night’s game, adding, “Watch (eyes emoji) this lol.”
    I’m willing to “watch” this “heat,” I guess, so long as the tepid Prince (38.8 FG%) joins rookie Trae Young in being committed to improve his shot selection, and if he diminishes his 5.7 turnovers per 100 possessions. Taurean (team-high 21 points, 6 TOs @ NYK on Oct. 17) will replace rookie Kevin Huerter, who got his first start at Charlotte but will be out today for personal reasons.
    Tim Hardaway, Jr. (31 points on 30 total shots, zero TOs vs. ATL on Oct. 17) suffered a back injury midway through Saturday’s game, but similarly returns to the starting lineup after missing out on Monday’s matchup. He’ll pump up the offensive volume for a New York starting unit that is almost as inexperienced as Atlanta’s.
    Ntilikina, who struggled mightily during Monday’s loss, continues to get the nod starting point over Mudiay, who nearly pulled off the win over Chicago before fouling Zach LaVine with seconds to spare in the second overtime.  Frank “Le Tank” and Hardaway will be joined by 2017 second-rounder Damyean Dotson, another reclamation project in Noah Vonleh, and Robinson. Recovering from an ankle sprain, lotto-rookie Knox can be expected to get more minutes and touches while coming off the bench.
    Guard Allonzo Trier is making it hard for the Knicks to keep him as a two-way player. He dropped 21 points (9-for-9 FTs) on Monday in his first NBA start, mere days after pouring 23 bench points on the Mavs in New York’s last victory. Much like Hardaway, Trier will have to find more ways to contribute than just the scoring column if he intends to supplant Dotson (6.0 RPG) on the Knicks’ top line.
    Joakim Noah’s been cut loose, Courtney Lee has been stashed with a sketchy-sounding neck injury, and Lance Thomas’ minutes have been flushed, all to the content of the Knicks’ fanbase. You’d think that Kanter (career-high 4.0 offensive RPG) would understand and get with the long-range program. Instead, you’ll likely catch him taking his frustrations out on Atlanta (t-23rd in D-Reb%) tonight, playing wall-ball with the offensive glass to boost his rebounding figures up his teammates look on.
    Tomorrow can Start Today, but not if the Yesterday Gangs keep holding the day hostage.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Où sont toutes les femmes chaudes?”
     
    The future of your Atlanta Hawks rests in the capable hands of… Tony Parker? And Nicolas Batum, too? Okay, it’s not that serious. Still, the Hawks may want to be extra nice to the Frenchmen when they pay the Charlotte Hornets a visit (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL).
    Travis Schlenk’s draft-and-stashee, the final selection from the 2017 NBA Draft, forward/center Alpha Kaba is currently having his paycheques signed by Parker. The longtime NBA point guard and one-time Finals MVP doubles as the team president for ASVEL Basket, the French LNB Pro A outfit in suburban Villeurbanne. Last year, Parker took Batum (club president of basketball ops) under his employ.
    Kaba shined for the SummerHawks back in July, putting together an impressive double-double in Atlanta’s Summer League finale. Yet he injured his elbow a month later while training with ASVEL, who have nonetheless raced to the top spot in Pro A action with a 7-1 record.
    “You can tell he found the weight room in France,” Schlenk told the AJC, clearly impressed by the work he had put in the prior season with Parker’s club. Albeit from afar, Schlenk and Batum are carefully monitoring Alpha’s rehab, as the 22-year-old is expected to be back in action later this month, in time to help his team wrap up Eurocup group play.
    While he looks awfully weird in teal after so many seasons rocking the black-and-silver, Parker landing in Charlotte as a result of this past summer’s free agency period made sense. For starters, Tony now gets his own checks signed by an accomplished NBA champ.
    After giving the ineffective Rich Cho the heave-ho, Hornets owner Michael Jordan sought out more folks with a winning pedigree to bring under his wing, starting with Original Redeem Team gold medalist, multiple-time NBA champion, and ex-KobeLakers GM Mitch Kupchak to run the show. To fill the coaching spot vacated by Steve Clifford, Kupchak hired a Spursguy in James Borrego, an assistant on Gregg Popovich’s bench during ten of Parker’s seasons in San Antonio.
    Beyond the bond with Borrego, Parker saw the opportunity to coordinate directly with Batum on foreign affairs as a positive. Then there’s his most essential role, as a steady backup and reliable stopgap behind Kemba Walker, the two-time All-Star who has all the look of an All-NBA candidate in the early going (career-highs of 28.0 PPG, 52.5 2FG%, 40.4 3FG%, 86.2 FT%; fewest MPG since his 2011-12 rookie year).
    Having cycled through D.J. Augustin, Mo Williams, Jeremy Lin, Ramon Sessions and Michael Carter-Williams as Kemba backups, the Hornets’ fanbase, Parker knew, wasn’t about to have outsized expectations of the 36-year-old’s current skillset. It’s early, but it appears Parker (5.0 APG, 1.4 TO/game in 18.1 MPG) is clearing a reasonably low bar as a reserve ballhandler.
    With either Walker or Parker paired with Batum, Borrego fields Hornet lineups that are better equipped to move the ball, even though it occasionally winds up in the hands teammates that are often accuracy-averse. Charlotte ranks 6th in the league with 18.0 assists per 100 possessions (the top three teams in this department are a combined 26-3). Last season’s edition of the Hornets ranked 27th.  Maintaining the predecessor coach Clifford’s emphasis on ball control, their 1.99 assist-turnover ratio is just behind pass-happy Golden State, at 3rd in the league. Last season, Charlotte was bottom-ten in threes attempted; this season, they rank 7th.
    Replacing Dwight Howard in the offseason, effectively, with Bismack Biyombo and a horde of future second-rounders (recouping the picks sent to acquire Willy Hernangomez from New York) hasn’t harmed the Bugs’ defensive efficiency (it helps that they have a healthy Cody Zeller this season to help man the middle, too). As a result, the Hornets’ 7.5 Net Rating (5th in NBA) currently belies their otherwise benign 5-5 record.
    Aside from Kemba’s brilliance, Charlotte hasn’t opened many eyes around the league yet, not in ways fellow small-market Sacramento has done so far. That’s in part due to a feeble strength-of-victory -- wins have come against Orlando, Miami twice, Chicago, and Cleveland. Also factoring into the muted reactions to the Hornets’ play are the stale remnants of the roster left in Cho’s wake.
    Shots by Kupchak’s fellow Tar Heel alum, 13-year NBA yeoman Marvin Williams, have landed like dead ducks by the time they approach the rim (37.1 FG%, 20.5 3FG%, 62.5 FT%). Acquired in a draft swap with the LA Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, rookie Miles Bridges (39.1 3FG%, team-high 75.0 2FG%) has been gently nudging his way toward Williams’ spot in the starting lineup.
    Another former second-overall draftee, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist remains the WYSIWYG of the NBA, a defensive pest for forwards and wings, but incapable of extending his range beyond the paint. The dead-and-buried lottery bust Frank Kaminsky has become the spirit animal representing Hornet draftees’ unfulfilled promise, and the cover model for Deadspin’s latest list of “Butt” NBA youngsters.
    Batum, Williams, and Zeller aren’t going anywhere, not with their eight-figure salaries guaranteed through at least next season. It’s unlikely that Biyombo or MKG, slated to again make $30 million combined as opt-ins next season, will be dipping, either. The crux of the issue for the Hornets is that Walker and Jeremy Lamb very well might this summer. Returning the backcourt starters at their respective market value will only further bloat a core payroll that no one foresees as championship or even contender quality.
    For Charlotte to become more than they are, Kupchak’s cupboard must be emptied, somehow, of the treadmill veterans he inherited. And his coaching staff has to find a way to get 20-year-olds Bridges and Malik Monk playing consistently ahead of their development curves.
    For the Hawks (3-6), Taurean Prince’s ankle sprain, suffered late during Saturday’s 123-118 win over Miami, will produce even more next-man-up action out of Lloyd Pierce’s reserves. Kevin Huerter may become the third rookie inserted into the starting lineup, in place of Prince. Chapel Hill legend Vince Carter may make a return to the top line as well. But another strong option could be former Charlotte Nets AAU star DeAndre’ Bembry.
    Despite a recent swoon, DeAndre’ has been pure Pierre from the perimeter (42.9 3FG%), a vast improvement from injury-riddled seasons past. He and/or Huerter could help draw Batum, the Hornets’ top defensive rebounder (6.5 RPG), out of the paint. But he’ll have to be a stronger finisher on his forays inside (39.2 FG%; 2nd-most missed FTs on the team) to balance out his offensive threat.
    Bembry and Kent Bazemore will be switching intermittently to relieve Young of the defensive pressure of containing Walker. Trae, in turn, must be ready to help with intercepting dishes out to Batum (40.0 3FG%, 4.1 APG) and Monk (13.4 PPG, 2nd on the team in scoring).
    Omari Spellman (team-high 1.8 O-Rebs per game), Dewayne Dedmon, ex-Hornet Miles Plumlee and The Alexes (Len and Poythress) need to crash the glass as a platoon, keeping Zeller, MKG, and Hernangomez occupied and unable to maximize second-chances for the Hornets. Keeping Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin, and the Charlotte bigs from helping Walker and Parker would allow Young and the Hawks to execute plays and, in combination with Prince’s absence, keep the turnover margin with the stingy Hornets close.
    Charlotte’s offense relies heavily on the point guards driving inside and drawing trips to the charity stripe. Keeping a wing defender in front of Parker and/or Walker and getting them to pick up their dribble before they get into the paint, without fouling, will lower the Hornets’ offensive efficiency and keep the Hawks in the contest late.
    No matter the outcome tonight, Atlanta had better stay on Parker and Batum’s good sides. That is, unless we want Alpha Kaba to become the next Alain Digbeu.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “If I may, Sir, allow me to explain, but I disagree that Cardi B was completely in the wrong here…”
     
    Calling another audible! Yeah, yeah, we’ve got Lloy Pierce’s Atlanta Hawks flapping their defensive wings once again, back at The Farm tonight against the Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA). But we’re playing them again in just a few weeks. So, I’d like to get something off else my chest right now.
    What the heck is wrong with you, Washington Wizards?
    For those who have heard this shpiel from the Atlanta Dream forum, skip the next four paragraphs.
    The Washington Valor made it to Arena Bowl XXXI this summer. Sure, they had a lousy 2-10 record to close the regular season. But there are four teams in the whole league, and they all get into the playoffs. Not satisfied with accepting a participation trophy, the Valor pulled off the semifinal upset over first-place Albany. So much for discretion.
    The upset launched the Valor right into the Arena Bowl championship against their arch rivals form up I-95, the Baltimore Brigade. With both teams in just their second season of existence, the Valor and the Brigade squared off in hopes of earning their owner America’s most prestigious indoor football title. Yes, I said, “owner”. Not “owners”. Because, you know, we’re talking about the same dude here.
    At the title game in Baltimore, Monumental Sports’ Ted Leonsis was sitting there in the afterglow of his Washington Capitals finally shaking off their longtime hex, just weeks before his competing Arena Bowl teams met. The Capitals have had their share of stars, even arguably (sorry, Crosby) the best player in all of modern pro hockey. But they never were able to pull it together and meet their own lofty expectations. Not until 2018, their 28th postseason try, when the top-seeded Caps beat Crosby and their nemeses from Pittsburgh, along the way to besting inaugural-season Vegas and finally hoisting Lord Stanley’s coveted punchbowl.
    Leonsis’ teams weren’t done grinding their way into championship games this summer. In September, his Washington Mystics ended Atlanta’s Dream season in the playoffs, reaching the WNBA Finals for the first time in their 20-year history. They were the last of the current WNBA franchises to get there. But they put their heads down, made no excuses, and got there, together.
    So pardon your boss, John Wall and Bradley Beal, if he has no more time for your perpetual wailing and whining. It’s time for your Ted Talk.
    We’ve been hearing it all summer, the screeching growing louder as the season approached. LeBron was gone from the NBA East, and with all the hub-bub about the Celtics and the Sixers, Kawhi and the Greek Freak – let’s all say it in SpongeBob language, “nObOdY iS tAlKiNg AbOuT Us WiZaRdS.” That was a common refrain even back when LeBron was in Miami.
    So much claptrap about putting some respeck on the name of “The Best Backcourt in the East”, for so many seasons, half of that tandem the Fastest Man in the NBA. And, So. Much. Posing. We get it, John, there are some street corners in Raleigh with some gangs that want people to think they’re scary. That’s cute. Look, pal. You were the #1 pick in a draft from eight years ago. Never mind the conference finals. Have you been on a team that’s won 50 games, yet?
    You’re running out of chances to get that elusive win total this season, too, Johnny Blaze. I know, last year, you were struggling through injuries, and you fell out with your starting center. But what does that have to do with starting out this season 1-7? A record that’s not 0-8, only because Markieff Morris managed to find a way not to get himself ejected?
    You came into this season healthy, as did Beal, as did broken third-wheel Otto Porter. Your peeved Polish pivot player got shipped out the conference, traded for Austin Rivers, replaced by the guy the center used to sub in Dwight Howard. Your GM with obviously dirty pics of the owner stashed away, Ernie Grunfeld, also brought in Jeff Green and rookie Troy Brown to shore up coach Scotty Brooks’ roster behind your sterling starting unit.
    So, what’s the deal, Mr. Wall, Mr. Beal? For all your consternation about disrespect in the East, all the people looking past you as a suitable bridesmaid for the NBA Finals, the Southeast Division is tailor made for you to dominate. No, seriously, we want you to have it. It's our gift to you. Just act like you want it.
    All you have to overcome is the Nilla Wafers of the league in the Charlotte Hornets, a team only made appetizing whenever Kemba Walker, the All-Star ballhandler who makes no excuses, doesn't whine for attention, and is never too into himself ((cough)) goes bananas.
    If anybody deserves to be dealing with distractions in this division, it’s Erik Spoelstra’s club, not yours. For the better part of two months, virtually every player on the heat (3-4) has lived with the dreaded prospect of Pat Riley tapping them on the shoulder, to advise they’re being flown from South Beach to the North Star State, just in time for the wintry season.
    Right now, .500 ball is all anyone could reasonably ask of the heat, or the Hornets. Surely, you intend better than that, Washington? Atlanta (2-6) has allowed 126, 131, 136, and 146 points in half of their games already this year. Yet somehow, they’re not the NBA team whose defense, if that’s what you wish to call it, is allowing the most points per game of any NBA team since Doug Moe’s Nuggets of 1990-91. Venture a guess as to whose team that is, John and Brad?
    No, Dwight can’t save you, not in 2018. He’s sagging, and not just on pick and rolls these days. If you had any hope otherwise, last night’s drubbing on your home floor to Dennis Schröder’s OKC Thunder drove the point home adequately. You’re relying on mature play off the bench from… Kelly Oubre? Defensive stops from… Green, Rivers, and Jason Smith? Your biggest threat to hit a perimeter shot is… Morris? Whose plans is this?
    Your schedule is lightening up this month, Wizards, but our Hawks don’t get to see you until December 5, seventeen games from now. By the time we do get to see you, Wall and company, you had better have some things figured out. There is no point in the Gregorian calendar where Atlanta is supposed to be looking down at you in the NBA standings.
    Atlanta is rooting for you, Washington Wizards. Heck, Orlando is rooting for you. If they’re being honest with themselves, Charlotte and Miami are rooting for you. We are ALL rooting for you! How dare you?
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    (Random 80s player, probably flopping.)
     
    With all due reverence to the Clinton-Dix family, Ha-Ha Danny Ainge!
    It’s almost time to nail down Thanksgiving reservations, but Ainge’s Celtics and the 76ers are already locked in for the 2019 NBA Draft next summer. Boston and Philly already have their knives and forks out at the table of the Sacramento Kings, who are tired of being everybody’s turkey.
    The Sixers had already swindled the pick out of Vlade Divac. The newly-hired GM’s team, in 2015, was desperate to clear cap space for veteran free agents (Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, and “RONDOOOO!”) to pair with Boogie Cousins and coach George Karl, but he had a roster and a payroll congested with ne’er-do-wells. Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson were sent packing to Philly, along with annual pick swaps and a protected 1st-rounder.
    Sacramento’s top-10-protected pick didn’t convey (obvsly) after last season. It’s now unprotected for next summer’s draft, having Philadelphia licking their lips at the prospect of being rewarded by the Kings watching the playoffs from home for the 13th consecutive year.
    But Ainge got cute, and as the 2017 Draft approached, the draft pick whore decided to pull off a bit of a heist to outsmart his division rival. With his 53-win team having won the Draft Lottery (thanks, Brooklyn!), Danny Boy collared the Colangelos, “gifting” them the top draft slot so Boston could “settle” for Jayson Tatum.
    In return, the Celts were allowed a chance at the Lakers’ 2018 pick, if it fell between spots #2 - #5 (NARRATOR: IT DID NOT), or either of the Sixers’ and the Kings’ picks in 2019, depending in part on whether the more favorable of the picks winds up first-overall (NARRATOR: THE SIXERS’ PICK WILL NOT).
    Taken altogether, the Kings’ 2019 pick looked quite appetizing from afar, and either the Sixers or the Celtics will get to chow down on it, unless they manage to leverage the pick to swindle somebody else.
    Plot Twist!
    What if (gasp!) the Sixers’ pick winds up the more favorable of the two? What if (double gasp!) neither of those picks are of lottery quality after all? It’s early in the 2018-19 season, but the Kings (5-3) are doing all they can to stick it to both of those teams. They could claim their fifth-consecutive victory today at State Farm Arena against the Atlanta Hawks (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; NBC Sports California in SAC), a team that’s not quite ready for primetime.
    The Kings have been treated like royalty on the road lately, sweeping back-to-back games at Miami and Orlando before leaving the Peninsula for the ATL. Like the heat that will arrive here at the Deductible Dome on Saturday, coach Dave Joerger’s Kings were provided ample time and rest to prep for today’s meeting.
    Clash of the Titans! Besides a 2 Fast, 2 Spurious track meet between the league’s highest-tempo teams being a probable theme, keyed by young guards De’Aaron Fox (17.5 PPG, 6.9 APG; listed probable with a back strain) and Trae Young (19.1 PPG, 6.6 APG), raise your hand if you anticipated a head-to-head between Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Len as key to the outcome of any NBA contest.
    It was just the Cavs again, but Len had another smooth offensive outing at The Q on Tuesday. He posted a perfect day from the field (9-for-9 FGs, incl. one 3FG), and contributed pairs of blocks and steals plus nine rebounds to go with his 22 points.
    Finishing shots at and near the rim remains a problem for the Hawks (10th in FGAs per game within 5 feet of the basket, 18th in FG% on those shots), but it’s hard to blame Len (72.2 FG% at-rim, 20.0 FG% elsewhere). Three of Young’s four dimes in Atlanta’s 136-114 defeat came from dishes to Len at the hoop, the final pair threatening to make the final score a single-digit affair in the final quarter.
    Cauley-Stein (17.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG) has grown more consistent, a regular double-double machine of late. Willie hasn’t been much of a deterrent around the rim, but now he’s got lottery stud Marvin Bagley (team-high 1.3 BPG) around to help him out. Kings leading scorer Buddy Hield (18.9 PPG, 44.7 3FG%, 6.1 RPG), Bagley and recent arrival Nemanja Bjelica (career-high 15.1 PPG and 6.5 RPG) are all helping Sacramento terminate opponent possessions as well as they have since the days when Boogie was trying to plug the dam by himself.
    If there has been a chink in the Kings’ armor in the early going, it has been abysmal free throw shooting, a league-worst 64.3 FT% that was only marginally better in their five away games (64.8 road FT%). They’ll get ample opportunity to improve that mark tonight at The Farm, where they have lost 11 straight games as a franchise, especially if a swingman hydra continues to play as it has.
    Kentean Princemore (7.3 personals per game; Taurean’s 3.9 ranking 5th in NBA after fouling out Tuesday for the second time this season) hasn’t been shy about hacking. But Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce will want Princemore to be more judicious and strategic about who and when it’s fouling, as it often disrupts the desired flow of Atlanta’s fastbreak and transition offense.
    Getting Princemore (6.3 TOs per game) to cut down on turnovers committed on drives (Atlanta’s 10.5 TO% on drives a league-worst) may not solve all of the Hawks’ offensive woes, but it can go a long way in keeping opponent leads from getting out of hand.
    More spot-up jumpers or, better yet, swinging the ball around the horn for hockey assists, are often better options for Atlanta’s starting two-headed wingman (4 assists, 9 TOs and 11 personal fouls @ CLE). Until Princemore figures things out, look for more net-positive contributions from reserves DeAndre’ Bembry (3-for-6 FGs, 4 assists, 1 TO @ CLE) and Kevin Huerter (3-for-4 3FGs).
    Having feasted lately on Dirty South Division opponents like the Hawks, Sacramento’s schedule gets much tougher after today, including a visit to unbeaten Milwaukee this weekend. On the other hand, the Kings’ most-efficient offensive player, second-year guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (out, arthroscopic knee surgery), is likely to return to action soon. Might Ainge get denied a juicy draft pick? It couldn’t happen to a nastier guy.
    Ainge, himself a former King back when the Celtics elected to enter the 1990s with Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney, was seething in the summer of 2017 when a pre-draft workout in Norcal was canceled by Josh Jackson, while he and the Celtics staff were in mid-flight. “Flew across the country, are you kidding me?”, whined Beantown’s GM. “I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.” When asked what he did with his suddenly free time, Ainge sneered. “There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.” Stay classy, Boston front office.
    Sacramento doesn’t yet have the look of a winning NBA team, but in the cutthroat Western Conference, hovering anywhere near the .500 line could mean teasing for a playoff spot by season’s end. I doubt anyone in the East, outside of Philly or New England, would terribly mind that, especially if it means some lottery whore has to settle for a pick in the teens or twenties next summer, if at all. How’s your finger feeling these days, Danny? If you like, we have another finger we can offer you.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Just for that, playa, YOU get to go one on one with THE UNDERTAKER!”
     
    Whether you’re a Hue, or a Lue, it’s true, you’re feeling pretty blue.
    Despite arriving from altogether different paths, brutally misguided ownership and fumbled mismanagement greased the skids for lost jerbs of two Cleveland coaches. That’s right, Blatt – excuse me – Black Sunday and Black Monday came a tad bit early to the shores of Lake Erie. While the irascible Gregg Williams becomes the latest lackey to try revving up the Factory of Sadness, the shakeup on the hardwood leaves one familiar face to Atlanta Hawks Nation in a bit of a pickle.
    As the Hawks make their swift return to Quicken Loans Arena, the scene of a crime they committed just nine days ago to set Tyronn Lue’s ouster in motion, Larry Drew takes over as the interim coach for the Cavaliers (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Ohio in CLE). At least, he kinda will, so we think.
    If there’s anybody outside of Montreal who knows a thing or two about screwjobs, it’s Coach Drew. After a mediocre effort running the show under new management, the longtime Hawks assistant and ex-head coach got the “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” treatment from Danny Ferry in 2013, as the latter had an eye on replacing him with his bud Bud from San Antonio.
    Given a chance to linger around the Hawks War Room until he got his new gig coaching the Bucks, supplanting interim coach Jim Boylen, Drew soon stuck it to Ferry. He encouraged his new brain trust, led by GM John Hammond, to swipe little-known 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo right out from underneath Atlanta on Draft Night 2013.
    Taking over a bold-faced tankjob effort commanded by the likes of Brandon Knight and Ramon Sessions, John Henson and O.J. Mayo, Drew was ready to start reaping the rewards after Draft Night 2014, when the Bucks snagged Duke superstar Jabari Parker with the second-overall pick. Oh, but about that…
    Bucks owner Marc Lasry wanted his palsy-walsy Jason Kidd to take over the rebuild, working around Hammond to woo the soda-spiller from Brooklyn and unceremoniously dump Drew. While he never established a winner with the Bucks, it should be noted that Hammond would eventually leap at the first opportunity, parlaying the draft advice he wisely took from Drew into a cushy executive gig in sunny Orlando. Drew, however, was left out in the cold in the summer of 2014. That was until David Blatt offered up a lifeline.
    The new Cavs coach, Blatt already had the NBA’s highest-paid lead assistant, in Lue, to help raise up the neophytes on the roster. But plans got accelerated when it became clear that LeBron James and, soon, Kevin Love were coming to The Land, so Blatt wanted reinforcements among his staff.
    As a Hawks assistant, Drew coached Lue in Atlanta, from the point guard’s arrival in 2005 through the Bibby trade in 2008. Drew was also on the Lakers staff during Tyronn’s rookie season, back in 1999. Blatt figured this duo would surely work well together… under him.
    Perhaps unbeknownst to Blatt, James held retired NBA players Lue and Drew in high regard. Very high. So much so, in fact, that despite an NBA Finals appearance, an embarrassing mid-season loss to the champion Warriors was all that LeBron needed to get the shiv out on Blatt. That moved Tyronn and Larry up a chair just in time for luck to strike in the Finals and Cleveland’s championship drought to end.
    Lue gained media acclaim for his ability to kickstart his club coming out of timeouts -- a product, I am sure, of the X-and-O stuff that Larry “Drew” over the years on Lue’s behalf. Drew capably handled the top task last season during Lue’s medical leave, the Cavs winning eight of nine games. Along the way to several NBA Finals, sticking it to the Hawks team Ferry and Bud carefully crafted was a nice extra dose of comeuppance for Lue and Drew. It was all quite a fun run. Right up until LeBron tired of stringing Cavs owner Dan Gilbert along and set foot for L.A.
    Funny thing, if you go into the summer, a three-time reigning Eastern Conference champ, knowing you’re likely to lose James, and you supplant his production (and, sure, Jeff Green’s) with that of a wide-eyed rookie in Collin Sexton, free agent David Nwaba, and Sam Dekker, things aren’t bound to start out terribly well. They certainly won’t finish well if Love, granted a four-year extension just for being kind enough to want to hang around a bit longer, can’t stay healthy year-round.
    Already slow of foot as he is, fluid in Kevin’s toe is going to continue having the franchise face out of action for this game and, probably, well beyond, with Dekker getting his fifth-ever NBA start in Love’s place. I’m not sure what kind of magic Gilbert expected out of Lue, but it can’t be much different than the sorcery the Haslams expected to see by now from Hue.
    Where does all this leave us, with the Drew-lemma? The Conun-drew?
    Gilbert, naturally, wants Larry to just slide over into his dear friend’s seat and pretend nothing else – including the paycheck – needs to change. Jet propulsion isn’t Larry’s forte, yet it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this season is headed for whoever takes the reins from Lue.
    Should he choose to accept this position, Drew knows a dumpster fire bigger than anything ever seen in the Cuyahoga is headed his way. Oh, need it be mentioned, there are four games yet to play against the undefeated Bucks, starring the Greece Lightning kid that he, himself, tipped that clueless team about? A Bucks team, coached by that peevish dude Ferry tapped to take his jerb in Atlanta?
    Never mind Milwaukee, or Indiana, who shot 64.9 percent from the floor and cruised to a 119-107 win on this floor in Saturday’s swan song for Lue. Isn’t this the same Central Division that the lottery pick he tanked so hard for is still in? Only now Parker’s in Chicago, listening to associate head coach Boylan, the guy Drew supplanted in Milwaukee, and one of the Cav assistants Gilbert dumped this summer to save some pennies, while keeping Drew to stick around? Are you jotting all this down, Shakespeare?
    Yeah, if I’m Coach Drew, you bet your bottom dollar I’d be demanding top dollar. Guaranteed cash. And no, none of this “interim” business. If I’m gonna get canned by the end of the season anyway, at least make it clear that I’m nobody’s placeholder. Look at me. I’m the “acting” coach now.
    Oh, and doesn’t he and his agent have to negotiate with the king of subprime lending, the guy who thinks any young fool (sorry, Koby Altman, and you, too, Danny) could do the GM job on the cheap and be happy about it, to get a fair shake? You’d better ask for a second-year option, LD. Double-check the fine print, and the font, before you sign anything.
    Today, Drew has to gather the troops – old fogies like Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson, and J.R. Smith, newbies like Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance and Dekker – rally them around all the One For All and Be The Fight catchphrases, and prepare the Cavaliers (0-6) for a must-win, payback match against… the Hawks. Of, course, Larry, it simply has to be the Hawks. I don’t write the tragedies, man, I just sit back and watch them unfold.
    Tonight’s contest sets a baseline for what the NBA can come to expect from the Love-less Cavaliers going forward, or, how soon some talented college freshmen may choose to add parkas to their winter shopping lists. The Hawks (2-4) are missing a talented body or two, as well. On top of that, they arrive for their first back-to-back of the young season after getting walloped in the second-half last night in Philly.
    This time out, I am quite confident that Drew has a better gameplan, than Lue, to brace for the wrath of Kentean Princemore. Anything is better than just sitting back and watching Princemore (12-for-29 FGs, 4 TOs in Atlanta’s 133-111 win on Oct. 21) jack up shots and driving to the hoop uncontested, while Trae Young (6-for-14 3FGs, 35 points and 11 assists @ CLE; 8 assists and no TOs @ PHI) takes target practice from the outside.
    A gameplan is great, but willful execution is a whole other ball of wax. Upon Hood, Osman, Clarkson and the less-expereienced members of the Cavs (30th in D-Rating and Opponent FG%), Drew needs to expound that if you’re content anticipating that Princemore (8-for-27 FGs, 5 TOs last night @ PHI) will eventually dribble the ball of its foot out of bounds, that the Hawks (37.2 FG% @ PHI) will keep missing all their shots and the rebounds will magically bounce into your arms, then you’d do just as well sitting beside him and letting The J.R. Swish Show take hold.
    What if Coach Drew doesn’t have a trick in his bag to make the Cavs go after opponents defensively? What if slipping up in this game is not the most embarrassing of defeats that lie ahead? What if he, and the vets, all mentally check out? Before November?
    What’s round at the ends, and has the initials for Hawks Nation right in the middle? “OH NO!”
                   
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “EAT A CHEESESTEAK, YOU COWARD!!!”
     
    Yes, we have no Belinellis. We have-a no Belinellis, today!
    I am so sorry, Philadelphia 76ers, that my visiting Atlanta Hawks (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; NBC Sports Philadelphia) can’t be of assistance in your quest to contend for the Eastern Conference banner. Not right now, anyway. But you know what? Check back with Travis Schlenk in a few months. Even after the holidays, he may be in a gift-giving mood!
    The new larval stage for coach Brett Brown’s ballers is called the Grow-cess. They’re not quite done snagging first-rounders from other teams, as newly-named GM Elton Brand could have the Kings’ 2019 and the heat’s 2021 picks at his disposal. But after all their ups, and mostly downs, Philly’s got the sifted lottery fruits of their tanking past – Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz – all healthy, all available, all set to play together from the jump for the first time.
    Sixers fans could have been just fine holding out a couple more years as these youngsters (throw in the injured Zhaire Smth, and fellow guard Landry Shamet, from 2018’s draft if you wish) developed together. But in the middle of last season, Schlenk’s Hawks put a lead foot on Philly’s accelerator, guiding a pair of freshly bought-out NBA vets to the City of Brotherly Shove.
    It’s fair to note that the Sixers were already emerging from their mid-season funk and cementing themselves as a .500 team around the All-Star Break, and it’s reasonable to believe that Philadelphia would have reached their first postseason since Brand was on the Sixers’ roster, back in 2012, without Marco Belinelli and, shortly thereafter, Ersan Ilyasova washing ashore on the banks of the Schuylkill.
    But without that pair, it’s hard to envision last year’s edition becoming much more than first-round fodder. There is no 23-5 run, including a 16-game win streak, to close out the regular season. There’s no Game 1 series-establishing romp over Miami without Ersan and Marco going bananas in the second half. There’s no premature confetti in Game 3 against the Celtics without Belinelli’s buzzer-beating jumpshot momentarily saving Philly’s bacon.
    Even though the Celts ran away in the conference semifinals with a 4-1 series win, there were enough competitive finishes to believe the Sixers could supplant the Raptors and run alongside the Celtics atop the NBA East, especially once LeBron announced he was crossing the Mississippi. No more wait-and-see, the Phuture is now!
    Well, hold the Cheez Wiz. Belinelli scampered back to Coach Pop in San Antonio, while Ilyasova took his talents back to Coach Bud, who’s now in undefeated Milwaukee. They were replaced by, well, Wilson Chandler, whose hamstring has had him out of action to start the season. Oh, and our old friend Mike Muscala, who needs no re-introduction around here.
    Organic growth among the more talented youngsters may eventually yield championship-contention results. But not right now, not just yet. And no, I’m not just talking about the Hawks (2-3). Not with the anemic offense Philadelphia (3-3) has had, guided by a 6-foot-10, 230-pound version of Ason Kidd.
    Ben Simmons is in the gym, working feverishly on expanding his range out to the three-point line. But he has yet to put the results of that offseason work on the NBA court (0-for-0 this season; 0-for-12 last year, incl. playoffs), the point-wing’s reticence likely attributable by one teammate’s father to some kind of Australian-American mental illness.
    Simmons instead continues to dazzle in the same ways he did in his Rookie of the Year campaign, using his height to his decided advantage in the paint (10.6 RPG) while drawing extra defenders and dishing beautiful dimes (7.8 APG, 8th in NBA). But for the Sixers to assert themselves as an upper-echelon team in the East, he must improve his interior scoring (5-for-28 2FGs beyond 3 feet from the rim) and his free throw accuracy (56.0 FT%, equivalent to last season).
    Coach Brown’s insistence on getting Fultz in the starting lineup has 2017’s top draft choice, the one with the notoriously janky jumpshot, playing as the 2-guard alongside Simmons, then shifting to a bench role behind Redick in the second halves of games.
    The “shooting” guard has made half his threes thus far, which would be encouraging if he was taking more than one attempt per game. Fultz (39.2 2FG%) has been solid as a secondary passer, which is great, since what else is he supposed to do with the ball in his hands? Give Fultz a clue, and you’ve got T.J. McConnell right now.
    They’re getting next-to-no help so far from Saric (38.2 FG%; 27.0 3FG%), whose slow start has been ascribed to him wearing himself down for Croatia during the offseason FIBA qualifiers. Among the Grow-cess quartet, the most reliable perimeter threat, as of the moment, just might be Embiid, their MVP-caliber center. And Joel (7-for-28 3FGs) just gets bored standing out there, when he’s not busy trolling fools around both rims (29.2 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2.3 BPG).
    Previously an assistant under Brown, Lloyd Pierce had a front-row seat to the young Clankadelphians for quite some time. The Hawks’ new head coach knows that, until the young guns catch up, the Sixers really go as far as their vets can carry them. Namely, Redick (41.8 3FG%), the sharpshooter who can be a defensive liability at times, and Robert Covington, the D-and-occasional-3 forward (43.6 3FG%) who needs to stay out of foul trouble for the Sixers’ offense (107.0 O-Rating, 20th in NBA) to spread out and find some balance.
    Here at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, Philly barely edged a Charlotte team, 105-103, that was traveling off a back-to-back, a situation quite akin to Atlanta’s failed test at State Farm Arena this past weekend.
    Pierce and his Hawks know the deal, that trying to outplay your opponent at their own game, instead of scratching out your own identity, rarely ends well. That was the case on Saturday, as Atlanta’s offensive leaders engaged in too much one-on-one and isolation shooting, allowing Zach LaVine’s and Jabari Parker’s Bulls to hang around until they ran away with the sloppy 97-85 victory at The Farm. It will be the case today, again, if all they can respond to Embiid (who Pierce expects to hear a lot from during the game) with is more boorishness.
    When returning Big Five alum Omari Spellman (0-for-5 FGs) leads your team in assists, with four in under 15 minutes off the bench, you know you’re setting yourself up for trouble. Ball movement is essential for Atlanta tonight, particularly among the starters (NBA-worst minus-21.7 Net Rating in 1st Quarters), to avoiding settling for well-contested shots in the halfcourt. Aside from the roving Covington, Philadelphia has been gun-shy so far (11.3 opponent TO%, 29th in NBA) in prying the ball free from opponents.
    Spellman’s 8 rebounds versus Chicago were only behind benchmate Dewayne Dedmon (13 points, 13 boards, 5 blocks), who is likely to soon reclaim his starting center gig in lieu of the occasionally flummoxed Alex Len. The Hawks will need more than Spellman’s fellow Big Fiver DeAndre’ Bembry (3 steals vs. CHI) forcing shooters off the perimeter and getting stops on the defensive end.
    You can’t choose your parents (right, Muskie?), but you do have a say in the type of person you to whom you get hitched. A disaffected ex-Sixer fan, PoppaWeapon3 averages about three keystrokes per year, never using a computer and rarely even using a phone, smartphone or otherwise. So believe me when I tell you, PW3’s progeny had a grand old time this spring, going through the blow-by-blow of how burner accounts work, and how the poor Colangelos got burned by using them.
    Patience is a virtue, yet Philly phans are not well-renowned for such virtuosity. The clamoring, maybe even a bit of boo-bird chirping, will get louder as the season wears on if the 76ers continue to tread water in the Eastern Conference standings through mid-season, and the front office will be sure to hear it. This was a situation created by Brand’s predecessors, but it is one a relevancy-starved fanbase will expect him to fix. So, Elton, if you find yourself in a pinch around February, be sure to holla at ya boi. Travis just might have the hook-up!
                   
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3