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  1. Wise pick, “Cris” Broussard! Get to da choppa! Forget about Predator, if I had to pick an 80’s Ahnold movie for the many deposed head coaches of tonight’s Hawks opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), I’d have to go with Raw Deal. In that flick, during a catty exchange between Schwarzenegger and his Aqua-Netted damsel du jour, she tries him with some Tank Fan logic… “Losing builds character!” But he claps back with, “Winning improves your wardrobe!” Despite winning, and often exceeding reasonable expectations, Lionel Hollins, Dave Joerger, and David Fizdale barely had time to load up at JoS. A. Bank by the time the Grizzlies’ axe came for them. Hollins guided the Blue Bears to their best-ever regular season finish, 56 wins, and their first trip to the conference finals, as a 5-seed, in 2013. Alas, his contract expired and wasn’t renewed, due in part to the cardinal sin of getting swept by Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. Joerger took just two seasons to get the team back to 55 wins. But one series victory over the course of three seasons wasn’t enough for a Memphis management team whose Commitment to Excellence is ringing hollower than anything you’d see on an Oakland gridiron these days. Fizdale thought he had the town wrapped around his finger following his first full season, in which his fiery 7-seeded Grizzlies took Pop’s Spurs to the brink of elimination in 2017’s opening playoff round. But along the way, he fell out with Memphian Marc Gasol, the stretchy pivot player who, by the year, is becoming more of a local civic mascot than an NBA All-Star candidate. The plop-plop that relieved Coach Fiz of his duties came just 19 games into last season, not long after Mike Conley went down and out (for the season, we would later discover) due to a heel injury. Conley’s planned replacement was Mario Chalmers (“???”); Gasol was to be relieved by the undersized Jarell Martin. But somehow, the failure to conduct alchemy that would turn this weathered Grizzlies outfit into an annual Finals contender fell squarely upon the head coach. As has become custom around here. You could almost make a good blues song about it all. I tried, but I couldn’t think of anything that rhymes well with J.B. Bickerstaff. “Oh, baby! Mmmm… gimme some o’ dem Bickerstaff Blues!” For Coach J.B., whose initials somehow don’t stand for “Junior Bernie”, the feeling of standing on shaky ground can’t be unfamiliar. Bickerstaff enters his third season as an NBA head coach, but for the first time, he has kicked off the season in that top-dog role. He has twice been the beneficiary when GMs/owners got a quick case of cold feet, in 2015 with Houston (when Kevin McHale got the early heave-ho) and last year after taking the reins from Fizdale. He certainly knows how this goes as well as anybody. Robert Pera, the owner who himself was an uncertainty to hang around the Volunteer State this time last year, signed Bickerstaff to a three-year deal after the 2016-17 season concluded, despite the thin and injury-riddled Griz going 15-48 under the coach’s watch. But Pera set the bar absurdly high, even with the health status of the returning perennial near-All-Star Conley, and Gasol, still up-in-the-air, even before his organization knew what they would do with the #4 pick in the NBA Draft. “I see no reason why we can’t return to being a 50-win-plus team,” Pera boldly declared to Grind City Media, the team-run media outlet. And no, he’s not talking about a “process,” he means, by April 2019. He added, “I have confidence in (Bickerstaff) to be that centerpiece of the culture we want to build.” We’ll get to see just how long that confidence wavers. Chandler Parsons was not Bickerstaff’s fault. Neither was Ben McLemore. Stringing along JaMychal Green in 2017 restricted free agency to the point where the scrappy young pro was sapped of motivation, just when the team needed someone to fill in for departed icon Zach Randolph, wasn’t a coach-created problem. Nor was keeping a red-hot Tyreke Evans around for a pointless close to last season. Nor was rewarding former Hawk Shelvin Mack this summer after a disastrous run in Orlando. Nor was relying on Chalmers last year to do what they expect Mack to do this season. Having next-to-nothing to show for three first-round selections between 2014 and 2016, or any first-rounders since Conley was taken back in 2007, can’t be laid at Bickerstaff’s feet. Or, to clarify, shouldn’t. The myriad of draft and free agency blunders this franchise has made has a common thread, and it’s not some sideline taskmaster. It’s Chris Wallace, the general manager who gets to thrive off the past success of Gasol and Conley, and the mystique of having some hand in setting the foundation for the Celtics’ last championship. In a world where What Have You Done for Me Lately has become the norm, Wallace, and his sidekick stat-head boss John Hollinger, stand out as inexplicable exceptions. In this space, I’ve long tied Wallace to the whipping post just as I have his welcome-overstayed peers in Washington, Sacramento, and Chicago. But none of my bi-annual griping should be seen as a suggestion that Memphis should pull a Suns and start pink-slipping people in the first month of the season. I’m just saying that when the knee-jerk reaction comes, and you can rest assured it will, you can be sure it’s the coach that gets the Raw Deal. What happens when Gasol sours, again, this time because lottery pick Jaren Jackson, Jr. is deservedly gnawing away at the soon-to-be 34-year-old’s floor time? When summer free agent gamble Kyle “Slow-Mo” Anderson, filling Memphis’ oft-vacant swingman role, fails to deliver here, at the FedEx Forum, by elevating his level, and pace, of play? What happens when an overreliance on Mack, Parsons, human lunchpail Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi, and the “Brooks Brothers” (Dillon and MarShon) to keep Memphis in games offensively, has exactly the effect everyone ought to expect? Wait, wait, don’t give away the ending, Memphis! Just promise me that, this time, it will involve some bad dude in a helicopter, a grenade launcher, some C-4, and Schawrzenegger in a beret, slowly walking off as he lights his cigar. By the way, how does a Washington Wizard play a part in this revolving Shakespearean tragedy? Bradley Beal isn’t the first misguided soul to overestimate the value of Jeff “Almost Like LeBron” Green. Wallace and the Grizzlies departed with a loosely-protected (top-8) draft pick, in a 2015 three-team deal to bring Green, from Boston, into the fold, where he quickly became the second-best J. Green on Memphis’ roster. They tried to recoup some value a year later, by getting a lottery-protected 2019 first-rounder in swapping Green for the Clippers’ Lance Stephenson. Oh, but then they gave that pick away, too, months later, to – you guessed it -- those same Celtics. That pick was relinquished for the rights to rent second-round rookies Deyonta Davis (discarded, along with McLemore and another second-rounder, this summer for Temple) and Rade Zagorac (just flat-out discarded, before last season started). Does Danny have some compromising pictures of you that we (don’t) need to know about, Chris? The looming probability of putting yet another lottery pick (9-through-14, this time) into Ainge’s hands could quickly change the calculus for the Grizzlies (0-1), particularly as the sobering reality of a not-50-wins season, or even a playoff spot in the Wild Wild Western Conference, comes into view. Who gets burned at fire sale time? Does Memphis find takers for some of the veteran contracts? Can they make deals without further tampering with their future? So long as Wallace continues running the show, I have a lingering suspicion about how this phase ends. Wallace will probably be here, regardless, as local reports suggest he’s been reduced to a media figurehead in lieu of Pera’s guys, including the G-League GM. But his and Hollinger’s long-term job statuses may have been buoyed by the second-biggest Atlanta Compromise in history. ESPN draft insider Jonathan Givony reported that Travis Schlenk and the Hawks’ front office was dead-set on drafting Jackson, but Atlanta’s fan-frenzied ownership clamored for the showmanship that Luka Doncic could provide. Splitting the baby, reportedly, is why Trae Young is rocking the three-tone triangles, while Triple-J dipped to Memphis. Surprising many with his jumper, Jackson outshined Young, and everybody else on the SummerHawks, in their teams’ July exhibition matchup. The 19-year-old rookie cooled shortly thereafter, and is he expected to be brought along slowly as a backup behind Green and Gasol. That is, except on nights when the Grizzlies are getting grounded-and-pounded inside. Wednesday’s season-opening game found Memphis getting gashed in the paint, 60-16, on the road in Indiana. Gasol was unable to even show up on the scoreboard until the third quarter, where he contributed all his (team-high!) 13 points in a resounding 111-83 defeat. Jackson chipped in 10 points, most of his offense coming from the free throw line (2-for-6 FGs, 6-for-6 FTs). Giving up all those interior points wouldn’t have been so horrific, had the Grizzlies been capable of shooting above 30 percent from the field (29.8 team FG%) themselves. Finding a perimeter defender to cool off Bojan Bogdanovic (3-for-3 on threes, team-high 19 points for the Pacers), would not have hurt either. Fortunately for the Grizzlies (for Bickerstaff, really), they return home to face the Hawks. Or, at least one would think they’re fortunate. Some people have “bad hair days”, but Atlanta had itself a “bad hair quarter” in the second frame of Wednesday’s tipoff game. Hemorrhaging 49 points along the way to a 126-107 loss, the Hawks (0-1) had the Knicks looking like the Harlem Globetrotters before halftime. I could swear I saw Curly Neal assisting Tim Hardaway, Jr. on some of his 31 points. Hasty shot selection, wild passing out of traps, and deficient transition D combined to allow the Knicks to sprint away in a New York minute. You will often hear coaches talk about young players improving their games “once the game slows down for them,” but that notion is merely figurative for Coach Lloyd Pierce. Pierce wants his charges to charge ahead with a high-tempo (ATL-NYK second-highest pace of the season-openers, behind only LAL-POR), but understands that driving full-bore along the learning curve at this speed will lead to some hair-raising hairpin turns during games. The T-n-T duo of Trae (5-for-14 FGs, 5 assists, 4 TOs, minus-20 in his official debut) and Taurean (7-for-15 FGs, 6 assists, 6 TOs for Prince, minus-23 @ NYK), may literally get to see things “slow down” tonight, if Conley and Memphis (MEM-IND second-slowest season-opener) play a lot of keep-away with the rock. With Conley and the high-post-passing Gasol setting up plays, and Bickerstaff espousing the values of player movement and quality reads in lieu of putting the ball on the floor, Memphis intends to again keep turnovers low (7 TOs @ IND), which could present a sizable advantage against a Hawks squad (24 team TOs @ NYK) that is still getting acclimated. For the Grizzlies, it is a matter of taking advantage of any miscues and defensive lapses by this young Atlanta team, not allowing them to hang around for four quarters. After suffering a 44-point paint deficit two nights ago, if you’re not building an interior advantage versus a Hawks team that’s rehabbing of trio of big-man ankles (John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, probably Omari Spellman) and pressing Prince and two-way stalwart Alex Poythress into 4-man duties, you’re doing it wrong. They’ve got six road games among the first nine on their schedule, including visits to Utah (twice) and Golden State. But this home opener at the Grindhouse, against the half-baked Hawks, is almost custom-made for the Grizzlies to lick their wounds after stumbling out of the gate in Indy. If they find a way to blow it tonight in front of the home crowd, and then fail to turn it around anytime in the next couple weeks? You know how the saying goes, J.B. -- “Hasta la vista, baby!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  2. Return of the... King? Temple... of Doom? ~lw3
  3. Good luck, J.B.! ~lw3
  4. Look what you made look what you made the Grizzlies do, Hawks... ~lw3
  5. “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 View full record
  6. It’s going DOWN in the Mississippi! There’s a Ti-tank-ic clash in store for tonight! The least of the East, our Atlanta Hawks, are flying low, and preparing to tangle with the worst of the West, those Memphis Grizzlies (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in both ATL and MEM). As the Highlander famously quipped, “There Can Be Only One… First-Overall Pick”. As suggested in a pregame thread a couple weeks ago, the fate that recently befell David Fizdale could very well have been visited upon Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, had incoming exec Travis Schlenk succumbed to his owner’s wishes and fought to keep last year’s corroding core intact. Sub-mediocrity plus miserable, moping vets doesn’t do much to help coaches avoid the pink slip. Instead, Coach Bud rides into town with a three-game losing skid and oodles o’ job security. In Coach Fiz’s wake, there’s J.B. Bickerstaff, who finds himself in a strangely familiar position. He slid over to the big chair when Houston, fresh off a 56-win season and a trip to the 2015 Western Conference Finals, panicked after a 4-7 false start (coincidentally, concluded by a 26-point loss in Memphis) and canned Kevin McHale. He managed to get Harden and Howard’s Rockets back to even keel (41-41) despite several injury absences for Dwight, and even stole an opening-round playoff game from Curry-less Golden State. On a team that, like the Hawks, wanted to get younger (buh-bye, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Vince Carter), yet had no intention of regressing, Coach JB has a bigger hole to climb out from, and a much tinier ladder than he had in H-Town. Since the outset of Memphis’ first ten-game slide, the Grizzlies have been off-track without their conductor, point guard Mike Conley. Centerpiece center Marc Gasol (career-high 3.0 TOs/game) prevailed in his battle of wills with Fizdale, but inherits much of the responsibility for quarterbacking successful plays, especially without Conley (Achilles) around. GM Chris Wallace and the Grizzlies’ managerial brass did neither the outgoing or the incumbent coach many favors. In the past decade, Memphis has wasted first-round draft picks (Hasheem Thabeet, Xavier Henry, Dominique Jones, Tony Wroten, Jordan Adams, Wade Baldwin… only backup forward Jarrell Martin remains), engineered questionable deals (e.g., drafting-and-trading Kevin Love, essentially, for O.J. Mayo) and made even more questionable free agent decisions (Chandler Parsons, Rade Zagorac). The resultant roster entering the season consists of tentpoles Gasol and the injured Conley holding up a sagging cast of veterans desperate to show there’s something left in their tanks (Tyreke Evans, Parsons, Mario Chalmers, Brandan Wright) and youngsters still trying to figure out where to fill up (Ben McLemore, Martin, Andrew Harrison, James Ennis, Deyonta Davis). Still, some are finding ways to make the most of their opportunity. The Grizzlie with the second-most NBA starts this season? How about swingman Dillon Brooks, the former Oregon Duck selected in the second-round of this year’s draft, four picks after former teammate and Hawk guard Tyler Dorsey. Brooks is averaging a whopping 28.0 minutes per game. Both Fizdale and Bickerstaff have been pleased with Brooks’ (relative) on-ball defensive effort, and it didn’t hurt his case when he contributed 19 points and four steals in his regular-season debut. He’ll be dressed to impress with Dorsey watching mostly from the sideline. Strung along all summer as a restricted free agent before settling for a front-loaded two-year deal prior to training camp, power forward JaMychal Green is also taking initiative. His 15 points (3-for-4 3FGs) and 15 rebounds on Wednesday nearly got Memphis out of its offensive doldrums, during a 93-87 road loss to the Wizards. Without Conley around, the Griz need unusual suspects like Brooks, Green and Harrison (20 points, 7 assists @ WAS) to do the heavy lifting on what remains the league’s most stilted, bearish offense (30th in pace, NBA-low -10.7 net rating). Despite the new coach’s vow to open things up, the only teams during Memphis’ last nine games under Bickerstaff, with a worse offensive efficiency are Dwight’s Hornets and… oh, whaddya know… the Pistons! Nobody remind the Hawks (6-22; -8.2 net rating last nine games, ahead of only Memphis) about last night’s proceedings against the visitors from Detroit, where Andre Drummond unlocked Wilt The Stilt mode, and the best shooter in The Highlight Factory picked up $10,000 for his trouble. “I hope the Philips Arena staff took that lid off the rim,” joked Hawks’ salary-leader Kent Bazemore (2-for-10 FGs vs. DET) after doubling up the bucket total of “Norman from accounting”. The sole Hawk players to find the center of the basket routinely last night, Ersan Ilyasova (10-for-14 FGs) and poster-meister John Collins (7-for-10 FGs in a limited 20 minutes), rarely shared the floor. For now, Collins and Ilyasova (58 minutes together this season) may have to play more in tandem as offensive threats, so opponents like Detroit cannot simply pack the paint and limit Dennis Schröder (2-for-5 2FGs) from making hay inside. From Jarrett Jack to Jose Calderon, the defensively stagnant Schröder (next to last in Defensive RPM among active NBA players) must be tired of getting young-fella’d by one elderly court-caddy after another. But he’ll have to deal with infamous SNL punchline Mario Chalmers often tonight, especially if Conley and Evans (sore hip) are no-goes. Dennis and the Hawks have been stymied by a lack of floor leadership in recent days, especially on lost assignments in transition. The Pistons got back on their defensive assignments and clamped down on the Hawks in last night’s 105-91 win, allowing Atlanta just five fastbreak points. Another low-possession, shot-clock-draining, halfcourt back-and-forth tonight would suit Gasol (career-low 41.8 FG%) and the Grizzlies just fine. It is on Schröder (10 assists, 2 TOs vs. DET) to dictate the tempo of this contest, at both ends of the court, if the Hawks intend to establish an advantage. It is essential for he and his teammates to get inside with the rock, and earn trips to the line versus a Memphis team whose defensive identity has devolved into Grit-and-Grab (22.8 personal fouls and 24.8 opponent FTAs per game, 3rd-most in NBA). The final score on Thursday again belied the scale of the blowout during most of the contest, but Atlanta did not help its cause by missing ten of their 26 free throw shots in front of a friendly home crowd. I haven’t kept track, but this feels like the fifth Star Wars Night featuring the Hawks as a visitor. With the Celtics arriving for a run tomorrow, and a trip to Oakland to put up with the Warriors afterwards, these Grizzlies can be expected to drill down tonight, eager to use this game as one more firebreak in what is becoming a disastrous season. Look for Memphis fans, with honeybuns attached to their ears, clamoring from the stands: “Help us, Atlanta Hawks. You’re our only hope!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. “I Mean… they’re no Three 6 Mafia, but…” Range/Rain Drops! Drop Top! Did our Hawks finally make the Flops Stop? Despite some soul-crushing defeats to some quality opponents, our Atlanta Hawks haven’t managed to lose a game by double digits in a few weeks now. They’ll have a chance to firm up playoff positioning with a pair of home games against hungry Western Conference opponents, beginning tonight with the Memphis Grizzlies (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM). Portland’s wannabe rhyme-spitter Damian Lillard ought to be a bit miffed that he’ll miss out on tonight’s entertainers by just a couple days. Maybe I’m old-fashioned (maybe… ha), but I couldn’t fathom ever being interested in hittin’ the club with my parents’ siblings, nevermind taking the stage together as a rap outfit. But Uncle Takeoff is just close enough in age to his nephew, Quavo, and Quavo’s cousin, Offset, that the trio can pull it off. Together, as Migos, tonight’s halftime act has taken the world by storm. If you’ve ever scratched your head at the Dab craze, or the inability for people to avoid screaming “Versace!” less than 18 times in succession (or “Hannah Montana!” less than 8), then you have the Y.R.N. (Young Rich… Neighbas!), from the hardscrabble six-lane median-separated streets of Lawrenceville, to thank for your itchy dome. It’ll be easy for the Hawks (37-30) to be preoccupied by the cult-scale attention directed tonight toward our Northside superstars, and even more unfocused on the Grizzlies after catching them in hibernation mode just days ago. This won’t be the same opponent that dropped its fifth consecutive game with a 107-90 loss at home to Atlanta on Saturday. Since that defeat, Coach David Fizdale rejuggled the starting lineup to include vets Tony Allen and Vince Carter, the latter a necessity once the disappointing Chandler Parsons (partial meniscus tear) was likely lost for the remainder of the season. Back in April 2003, Michael Jordan bid farewell to Miami with 25 points, and no player over the age of 40 had scored at least 24 points in an NBA game since. That was until Carter unveiled his impression of Half Man, Half Reggie Miller (8-for-8 FGs, 6-for-6 3FGs) and added three steals as Memphis surprised resurgent Milwaukee 113-93 on Monday. If you know Allen, you know offense ain’t his feng shui, but he wasn’t too bad (6-for-10 FGs), either. Memphis (38-30) flew in last night on a red-eye from the Windy City, and hopefully their arms are a bit tired. They grit-and-grinded the Bulls on the interior, holding trade-deadline target Jimmy Butler to just 4-for-16 from the field, and the whole Chicago team to 23-for-63 2FGs, 41 second-half points, and 15 free throw attempts. It’s a far cry from the 50% Memphis allowed from the field, the 61 bench points ceded to the Hawks, and the 26 freebies granted to Atlanta on Saturday without Dwight Howard even joining the fray. The Griz began this season surging on the strength of an 8-0 start (2-4 since) on the second nights of back-to-backs just like this one. Back to reppin’ their grit-and-grind Culture, they hope a third-straight victory will prove they’ve got their mojo back just in time for a final frenzied playoff push. Allen and Carter hope to make open looks harder to find for wings Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, Birthday Boy Junior Hardaway, and Taurean Prince, the latter contributing a team-high 17 points in a balanced effort on Saturday. That Atlanta quartet had the nets smokin’ like a cookie in the hot box, sinking 10 of their 18 three-point attempts and taking a lot of pressure off of Dennis Schröder (16 points, 8 assists, 3 steals @ MEM) and Paul Millsap (16 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists) to carry the scoring load. Memphis’ sole offensive bright spot on Saturday was forward JaMychal Green, who returned to the starting unit and contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds. Not having to go against the Hawks’ small-ball lineups from the outset today, he and Marc Gasol (27 points, 6 assists @ CHI on Wednesday) will try to ensure any points Millsap and Howard earn come from the charity stripe. Atlanta’s frontcourt duo was 7-for-16 at the free throw line in San Antonio, the Spurs effectively Offsetting their 8-for-18 field goal shooting. Despite sound on-ball interior defense, the Grizzlies only managed to force a season-low 5 turnovers from iso-heavy Chicago last night, including just two steals. Mike Conley (27 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists @ CHI on Wednesday) will be out to make amends for his subpar showing (5 steals, but 1-for-7 3FGs) against Schröder and the Hawks on Saturday. Despite 18 turnovers forced by Memphis, they converted those into only 13 points. Conversely, the Hawks turned the Grizzlies’ 13 turnovers into 25 points, 13 in the first quarter as they built up a 33-15 advantage, and need to push the pace in transition against the Grizzlies’ hopefully tired legs. Schröder was judicious with the rock in San Antonio (10 assists, 2 TOs, plus 10-for-18 2FGs), but after six turnovers in Memphis over the weekend, he cannot afford for his neck and his wrists to be so sloppy tonight. Atlanta benefits from being one of just three Eastern Conference clubs currently at least three games above-.500 at home and on the road this season. But after a spate of underwhelming performances on their home floor, they need to give us Philips Arena faithful something worth looking at during the games -- a little Dab won’t do ya. They’ll perform much better if they acknowledge it won’t be so simple to knock the Grizzlies out like Fight Night. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “Cry Me a (Mississippi) River…” May I present to you The Worst NBA Free Agent Contract from the Summer of 2016? Before you start typing B-a-z… know that there’s at least one guy whose deal is way worse, and he doesn’t suit up for your Atlanta Hawks. Courtesy of tonight’s opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies (9:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL and MEM, 92.9 FM in ATL), I present to you the max contract of one Mr. Chandler Parsons! Yes, Kent Bazemore shoots only 34.3 percent from the three-point line, a value not helped by going 1-for-4 in last night’s win over the Raptors in Atlanta. But imagine if he shot worse than that (34.0 FG%, 26.4 3FG%) from the whole entire floor! Yes, Baze is an overeager defender (1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG) that gets burned by talented stars (minus-42 during three homestand losses) on occasion. Yet, imagine if he was never associated with the notion of defense (0.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG) at all! Yes, Kent claims he has been recuperating from knee soreness since the offseason. Still, imagine if your starting swingman’s career, through three NBA towns, has been defined by his inability to bounce back from injuries. Imagine if he hadn’t played more than eight consecutive games this season, missing 32 of your 65 games, contributing over 20 minutes in barely half of those 33 games, and 25 minutes in just one (contributing two points in that one game, at Brooklyn). Yes, Bazemore was handed a four-year, $70 million deal last July (year #4 a player-option gimme), and the early returns have not been promising. But imagine if Bazemore was playing worse than he is currently, and was owed $72.3 million in the NEXT three seasons alone! Guaranteed dough, with no options either way. To say nothing of the $22.1 million he would be raking in this year, the 15th-highest salary in the league. Imagine, further, if one of his teammates is the NBA’s second highest-paid player, after signing the biggest contract in league history last summer, and if another teammate makes just a shade less than him. And imagine if a four-game losing streak dropped their team down to 7th place in their conference. Imagine if that third loss was at home, against Brooklyn, by 13 points. Such is the life for Mister Parsons these days. What do you have to say for yourself? “I suck right now. There’s no sugarcoating it,” he told postgame media after making one basket in 20 minutes of last Saturday’s 123-108 loss to the Rockets, who have been doing quite fine without either of Parsons or Dwight Howard in their rotation. A longtime DM target of over-excited Twitter followers, the part-time fashion model and full-time “Ho Hound” (as deemed by ATL reality star Todd Chrisley, whose daughter is dating Parsons, after he dumped his former Victoria’s Secret model girlfriend over the winter) has elected to shut down all his social media platforms. This, after posts about his All-Star Break trip to Cancun drew Grizzlies fans’ ire, and his play since then (10-for-35 FGs post-Break) showed the time off didn’t help much. But the hard reality for Memphis (36-29, 14-15 since January 1), and first-year coach David Fizdale, is they have little choice but to trot Parsons out there. With persistent soreness in his own knee, Chandler sat out of Thursday’s home game against the Clippers. The resulting 114-98 deficit proved to fans that the Addition By Subtraction rule doesn’t apply here. Without Parsons, Fizdale’s alternate options at the wing include James Ennis, Andrew Harrison, or long-in-the-tooth Vince Carter and Tony Allen. Parsons serves the team not only as a 6-foot-10 swingman but also as a small-ball four. Just as Bazemore can miss shots and try-to-defend at three positions, Parsons can miss shots and not-defend at three spots on the floor. Versatility has its price. “I’m just going to continue to work, continue to grind,” said Parsons. Oh, yeah, about the “grind” thing. With a couple championship rings on his fingers from his Miami assistant coaching days, Fizdale is taking great pains to indicate that the “Grit and Grind” philosophy isn’t going away, but that for Memphis to ascend to higher heights, the status quo regarding past coaches’ rotations needs to be directed to The Round File. He’s bending over not backward, but forward, to assert his point. “That’s the problem, the whole image of this group is that if we’re underdogs and don’t win it, that’s okay. No!” contended Coach Fiz. “I won’t settle for that. I’ll continue to shuffle (lineups) until I find something that works best, that gives us the best chance to hold the trophy. And if people don’t like it, they can kiss my (synonym for donkey).” Nobody’s out to apply pucks to the posterior of Fizdale, but they will apply a foot or two if his team cannot shake their current slide. It does suck that the team with the NBA’s sixth-highest salary base is struggling this late in the season, but one similarity they share with the Hawks (also 36-29) is they are leaning on their longstanding veterans to help pull them out of their rut. “The teams that don’t have a culture, they will break in moments like this,” said Coach Fiz. “The teams that do, they weather this stuff, and they’re better on the back side for it. I’m expecting this team to be better on the back side for this.” Fizdale seems laser-focused on backsides. Memphis needs a quick turnaround to avoid being stuck in the 7-seed position, first-round fodder for either Kawhi’s Spurs or the returning KD’s Warriors. Opening the playoffs as a 6-seed in Harden’s Houston doesn’t sound too hot either, even for a Memphis team that built its NBA identity as The First-Round Underdog That Could. A win tonight would go a long way toward a more desirable 4/5 matchup with the similarly gritty but under-experienced Utah Jazz, who are currently 5 games up on Memphis with 17 left to play. Our Hawks finally caught a break from the constant three-point bombardment last night, with Toronto clanking 21 of 25 attempts. Might Atlanta be charmed enough to make it two games in a row? The Grizzlies went 7-for-20 on three-pointers in the loss to the Clips, 3-for-15 if you removed bench guard Troy Daniels (13 points in 16 minutes) from the equation. Money Mike Conley (team-highs of 40.8 3FG%, 1.3 SPG and 6.2 APG) is doing all he can to hold up his end of last summer’s free agent non-bargain. But the depth challenges have been troublesome, at his positions and others across the lineup. Behind him on the depth chart is rookie Wade Baldwin IV, who gets only 12.9 minutes per game more than Wade Baldwin III. After Conley and center Marc Gasol (career-highs of 20.4 PPG and 4.4 APG), Memphis’ next leading assist man is Andrew Harrison (2.8 APG), a 2015 second-rounder getting his first taste of NBA action this season. Last month’s vet addition was roasted on Thursday by a fan who missed a car-winning halfcourt shot. “Still had as many points on one less shot than Toney Douglas (2.7 APG, 16.7 3FG% in 21 games) tho”, the fan tweeted. To help Fizdale get the Grizzlies offense (18th in O-Rating) off the ground, Gasol is taking the 2014 Paul Millsap approach to shooting three-pointers out of the blue. A longtime solid long-range two-point shooter, Gasol shot just 12-for-66 in his first eight NBA season, but has lofted 228 shots from deep this season, and is hitting them fairly well (38.6 3FG%; 39.3% since the All-Star Break). Gasol will try to lure Howard out of the paint to contest, but is more likely to have Paul Millsap switching to cover him and make not only his shots, but his pinpoint passes, tougher to execute. Millsap’s fullcourt activity will be crucial for the Hawks to pull off wins on back-to-back nights for the first time since mid-January. Zach Randolph (team-high 8.3 RPG) was benched at the outset of the season to allow JaMychal Green (7.3 RPG, second-most on team; a Randolphian 20-and-10 @ HOU last week) a chance to step up. Now both Green and Z-Bo share the pine; the booty-offering Fizdale has turned in recent days to Brandan Wright, the butt of many local jokes after appearing in just 23 games over the past two seasons. Millsap played 36 minutes (7-for-13 FGs) in the win over Toronto yesterday. But with Conley blanketing Dennis Schröder (last 7 games: 21.9 PPG, 5.4 APG, 50.9 FG%, 96.4 FT%), Allen and Carter trying to keep up with Junior Hardaway (3-for-5 3FGs and six assists vs. TOR; 20 straight games of double-figure scores), and Gasol desperate to keep Howard (8 straight games of double-figure rebounds) away from the rim, Sap’s offense against Memphis’ unsteady rotation of power forwards could give Atlanta a needed edge. Memphis desperately needs a win tonight at the Fed Ex Forum, and on Monday versus red-hot Milwaukee, to salvage their own homestand. Atlanta knows all about that kind of pressure. Which team can control the tempo to their liking and “grind” out the win? The postgame Baze Gazes are indeed very costly, but require not nearly as pretty a penny as a Parsons Pose. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. Get ready, JaMychal! ~lw3
  10. A remnant from our Joe Trade is back in the league, at least for a 10-day cup of tea. ~lw3
  11. “FIRST TEAM ALL-OFFENSE!” Can somebody bottle and sell whatever Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger is drinking? Flying into Atlanta for this evening’s game against the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL; Fox Sports South in MEM) after an overtime thriller against whatever’s left of the Pelicans, the Grizzlies (39-26) are 8-4 since the All-Star Break and still in the Western Conference hunt, despite missing just about everybody who was ever anybody. Joerger can’t even sit down, he’s coaching his (bleep!) off! The bad juju began when Mister Memphis, Marc Gasol, had to shut it down for the season after fracturing a bone in his foot. His backup, Brandan Wright, just came back from injury when he sprained an MCL and he’s back on the IR. The Grizzlies made deals to try and compensate, but one of those acquisitions, Chris Andersen, is still questionable with an injured shoulder. Another former Heatle from earlier this season, Mario Chalmers played heroically at times, but now he’s been waived after tearing his Achilles. Also questionable? Z-Bo. Zach Randolph has missed his last three games with a knee injury. We won’t get to see a matchup of Amnesty Survivor finalists, as Mike Conley remains out indefinitely with a foot injury. Half-Man, Half-Hurt a Lot, Vince Carter bowed out early in last night’s game after aggravating a calf. So, what’s left? Joerger has had to field a crew that would work well when it’s time to put together a remake of The Warriors. Matt Barnes led the way with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists last night. Shutdown corner Tony Allen put up a season-high 26 points and added 5 steals as the Grizzlies shocked the Cavs in Cleveland on Monday (the Hawks should note, that game was the back end of a home-road back-to-back). Off the bench last night, Lance Stephenson came through with an ear-blowing 33 points, and even former Hornet P.J. Hairston is logging major minutes. Upstart JaMychal Green (season-high 21 points and 10 boards last night), rookie Jarrell Martin, and journeyman Ryan Hollins are enjoying the sudden bost to their floortime. D-Leaguer Briante Weber virtually walked in off Beale Street and contributed 10 points and 7 assists as a starter. What this skeleton crew is allowing Joerger to do is to push the tempo in ways he could not with Randolph and Gasol around. The wins over the Pels and the Cavs featured the Grizzlies (28th in NBA for pace) playing at a pace of about 100 possessions per 48 minutes, something that’s occurred just 4 times this season, usually due to the opposing team. In their eight highest-paced games, Memphis, like Atlanta, is 7-1. They also held a halftime lead against the Celtics on Wednesday before Chalmers got hurt and their legs finally gave out. In theory, the Hawks should have the energy edge with a day off after falling short in Toronto, on top of the health and depth advantages. In practice, will they have the hunger edge? Memphis would love to get their first sweep of back-to-back games since Thanksgiving, something Atlanta is hoping to gain with this weekend’s home matchups with the Griz and Pacers. All-Star Paul Millsap (2-for-8 FGs vs. TOR) has to make his presence felt as a rebounder and a scorer. The loss in Toronto dropped Atlanta (36-29) to 2-15 when they achieve a total rebounding percentage of 43% or less. The Hawks are now also 3-14 in games with an effective field goal percentage of 47% of less. The more effective Millsap and Al Horford are around the low block, the more help they will draw from Barnes and Allen, and the more shooters like Kyle Korver and Tim Hardaway, Jr., can breathe. Allen and Barnes will scratch and claw for turnovers and drawn fouls, so composure will be essential for Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha to keep the Hawks focused. The wings must also minimize transition buckets against Joerger’s harder-charging crew. The Hawks have also gotten away from quality ball movement. The assist percentages in the win over Utah and the loss to the Raptors were below 50 percent, two of just four such games this season (1-3) for Atlanta. Chalmers was the hero for the Grizzlies in Cleveland, but he’s gone now, and the Grizzlies have not had to turn to Weber on back-to-back nights until today. Former Spur guard Ray McCallum has been signed and is likely to be rushed into action tonight, along with center Alex “One N” Stepheson. The difference in floor leadership between Atlanta’s Jeff Teague and/or Dennis Schröder and Memphis’ meager options needs to be obvious on the floor tonight. Atlanta has to give the Grizzlies reasons to consider hibernating. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. Looks like our fellow southern teams are making moves! ~lw3
  13. http://www.commercialappeal.com/columnists/chris-herrington/Pick-and-Pop-Thoughts-on-Marc-Gasols-injury-368299901.html https://sports.yahoo.com/news/why-marc-gasol-remains-the-heart-of-the-grizzlies-202536847.html ~lw3
  14. “Puh-leeze! I’ll never be a backup to this tubby guy!” Road Warrior Hawks? Or Road Kill? After blazing to a 4-0 road start, the Atlanta Hawks have dropped their last four away from home. It gets no easier as they head to a back-to-back post-Thanksgiving set, heading straight to San Antonio tomorrow after a little bear-wrestling with the Memphis Grizzlies tonight. After Golden State and the Spurs and Cavs, parity has been strong throughout the league: only nine teams sit at 3-games-or-more above .500 at this stage of the season. The Grizzlies (9-7) look to trade places on that list with the Hawks (10-7) as these teams have been moving along contrasting trend lines. Up until about ten days ago, if you needed to talk to somebody about a scheme that no longer seemed to work, you could belly up to a bar on Beale Street, where Grizzlies fans were singing the blues. The Grit and Grind philosophy of the past near-decade was giving way to getting Grounded and Pounded. Through November 16, Memphis’ 53.3 opponent eFG% was the highest in the league. Only the stuck-in-mud Pelicans and the fizzling Rockets had a worse defensive rating. Opposing teams found success running against the Blue Bears, who seemed stuck in hibernation (16.7 opponent fastbreak PPG, 3rd most in NBA). The minus-6.3 PPG differential in the fastbreak department made up the bulk of Memphis’ average 6.4 PPG deficit through the first 12 games. Head coach Dave Joerger hasn’t necessarily fixed that defensive issue (17.3 opponent fastbreak PPG after Nov. 16, 2nd most in NBA) but he is insisting on pushing the ball more on the offensive side (19.3 Memphis fastbreak PPG after Nov. 16, 4th in NBA). They needed better defensive rebounding to spark their transition play. Memphis was the 12th-worst team in defensive rebounding percentage prior to November 17, and since that time, they’ve been the league’s best (84.0 D-Reb%). It’s more impressive of a turnaround when you consider the Grizzlies have been playing without both Zach Randolph (sore knee, missed past four games) and Brandan Wright (sore knee, missed last eight games), and first-round rookie Jarell Martin (broken foot) was sidelined for the season before training camp started. Joerger has turned to the Greens (Jeff and JaMychal) to fill in at power forward for Randolph and help take some of the pressure off All-Star center Marc Gasol (career-low 6.9 RPG). Z-Bo remains questionable for tonight’s game versus Atlanta, and if the Grizz will be happy if they can get away with continuing to rest his continually achy knee, ahead of a gimme on Sunday versus visiting Philadelphia. Gasol attributes his own funk to a lack of offseason basketball, as he worked out but eschewed participating in international competition for the first time with Team Spain, and believes the rust is finally coming off. Memphis started off 3-6, but has since won six of their last seven games. Part of that spark involved a riverboat gamble in taking Mario Chalmers off of tax-saddled Miami’s hands. They figured Chalmers (36.8 FG%, 87.2 FT%) would be a better option for perimeter scoring and defense than Beno Udrih, who was packaged to Miami along with center Jarnell Stokes, and thus a better complement with Mike Conley when the Grizzlies elected to deploy a smaller backcourt. Memphis also received former Hawks draft-and-tradee forward James Ennis, who is being brought along slowly. The turnaround since the trade has averted a further shake-up of either the coaching staff or the roster, at least for the time being. Conley has boosted his own scoring, averaging 20.1 PPG in his past six games while shooting 54.9 percent from the field (12.5 PPG and 34.7 FG% in the prior ten) with a superb ratio of 6.2 assists to 1.0 turnovers per game in this recent stretch. He’ll make for a fascinating duel at point guard against Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, whose 6.4 APG ranks 13th in the league and a shade behind Conley. With Conley, plus Tony Allen and Matt Barnes doing their Thing 1-Thing 2 impressions on defense for Memphis, ball control and shot selection will be crucial for the Hawks. After a stretch of underwhelming performances by guard Dennis Schröder (21.7 FG%, 2.7 APG, 2.7 TO/G in last three games), head coach Mike Budenholzer may turn to Shelvin Mack first off the bench, if not tonight then certainly tomorrow in San Antonio. Countering Allen (3.8 steals per 100 possessions, 3rd in NBA), Thabo Sefolosha (3.4 steals per-100, 6th in NBA) has been superb defensively, but has also found a comfort zone on the other end of the floor, shooting 70.8 FG% in his last three appearances while getting 1.3 SPG and 1.3 BPG. His ability to make Allen and Barnes pay for veering away from him to cover Kyle Korver (61.1 3FG% last four games) could be instrumental in the Hawks bouncing back from their disappointing performance in Minnesota. Sefolosha could also benefit if Kent Bazemore (ankle, questionable for tonight) returns to action soon. Either of Bazemore or Sefolosha would be a boost to woeful bench play for Atlanta, which reared its ugly head (5-for-25 FGs, four assists, six turnovers) in Minnesota. On the season, the Hawks’ 28.8 bench PPG is 7th-worst in the league, compounded by a disappointing ratio of 7.9 assists to 6.0 turnovers per game. The Hawks won’t discontinue their slide down the standings if they continue to experience uneven play by its reserves, if they continue to fail in producing turnovers and converting them into points, and if they find themselves more dependent on defensive rebounding from Korver (9 @ MIN) than its centers (Al Horford and Mike Muscala combined for 6 @ MIN). Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. Did Fisher flop when Barnes faked a punch at him? Inquiring minds want to know! **cue soap opera organ** ~lw3
  16. And so, it begins. ~lw3
  17. http://www.commercialappeal.com/sports/grizzlies/griz-morning-after-suddenly-chemistry-is-off ~lw3
  18. That'll keep his buddy Marc Gasol happy. ~lw3
  19. It's not looking good for a guy who was very close to making the Hawks last year. http://www.myfoxmemphis.com/story/25719029/memphis-grizz-free-agent-james-johnson-arrested-for-domestic-assault ~lw3
  20. Tamoxi-what? It's all Greek to me... http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2014/apr/18/grizzlies-calathes-suspended-20-games-violating-nb/ ~lw3
  21. http://clnsradio.com/boston-celtics-news/item/8701-courtney-lee-confirms-trade-shares-grateful-words-on-time-in-boston http://instagram.com/p/izq75CqiLr/ http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/10247719/boston-celtics-looking-trade-courtney-lee-memphis-grizzlies-jerryd-bayless ~lw3