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  1. 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 (UPDATE: not-so-much, see next post below) 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 View full record
  2. “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, NBATV everywhere else), 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 (UPDATE: out for tonight, see next post) 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 (UPDATE: not so much) 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 View full record
  3. ***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 View full record
  4. “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 View full record
  5. “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 View full record
  6. “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 View full record
  7. “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? What good is all that top-end speed, John, if you can't get out of your own way? 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 View full record
  8. (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 (7:30 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 View full record
  9. “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 View full record
  10. “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 View full record
  11. “SPIN MOR CHIKN!” There’s a first time for everything, I reckon. Yet I’m going to try getting through this game preview of the Atlanta Hawks and the visiting Chicago Bulls (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL) without tearing to shreds one of my favorite NBA management punching bags. That’s right, Garpax… you can call it a “rip-prieve”! The bad news for fans of the Bulls and the Minnesota Timberwolves is, when the ever-scrutinized managers of those clubs trade with each other, somebody has to come out on top with a “win”. Ask any bitter ex-NBA commissioner -- it’s rarely easy to glean a fair return when your young All-Star talent wants out. Especially, in this case, one who had already worn out his welcome in the locker room, just two seasons into what would certainly wind up as a four-year, $72.5 million extension deal. But the monster known as John Paxson and Gar Forman, attached at the hip, put their two heads together. They realized their old friend Tom Thibodeau was willing to make a devilish deal to scooch his unaccomplished roster into perennial playoff contention. Out went superstar sourpuss Jimmy Butler, on Draft Night 2017. In came beleaguered young lotto-pick guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, plus a seven-foot lotto-pick forward in Lauri Markkanen, the latter swapped for a rookie center with lingering foot problems that can’t seem to get onto an NBA floor. Butler’s addition helped Minnesota earn a pair of postseason home games, their first since 2004, after barely squeaking into the playoff on their final night of the 2017-18 season. They also got a massive headache, with a discontent Butler, a pair of butt-hurt first-overall draftees, and a tone-deaf Thibodeau leaving the Wolves hustling backwards into this new season. As for Chicago, the ACL tear LaVine suffered with Minnesota already had last season as a dream deferred. While LaVine rehabbed for a return after the All-Star Break last season, Dunn emerged as a solid defensive guard and ballhandler. Markkanen strung together enough threes, rebounds, and dunks to earn himself an All-Rookie First Team honor. Despite all the losing, the chemistry problems began to sort themselves out under the watchful eye of Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. After punching his way up the depth chart, third-year pro Bobby Portis proved to be a serviceable big man around the glass. Portis’ growth, the Markkanen acquisition, and a pair of seemingly smart first-rounders from this year’s draft (the pride of Pace Academy, Wendell Carter, and Chandler Hutchison) are giving Bulls fans hope that there is, indeed, somebody competent at the wheel in the Windy City. Now, if only Hoiberg could get all his Bulls in the pen together. Coach Fred announced during training camp that Garpax’s big offseason get, Milwaukee restricted free agent and Chi-town native Jabari Parker, would be coming off the bench in hopes of an offensive spark. The bad juju seemed to follow that decision. Markkanen suffered a severe elbow sprain, in camp, that will likely continue to keep him shelved well into next month. After missing the first pair of games for personal reasons, Dunn returned just in time to suffer an MCL sprain that has him out of action for a similar span. Not to be outdone, Portis suffered a similar sprain during the first win of the season for the Bulls (1-4), a 112-110 home thriller against the Hornets, and he will likely be sitting for some time as well. 2016’s low-lottery pick, swingman Denzel Valentine, has been out all season with an ankle sprain. I’d be tempted to note that the Bulls could have upgraded their depth during the offseason by doing something with the contracts of Robin Lopez, the grungy mascot bully relegated to third-string behind Cristiano Felicio, and Omer Asik, the apparition whose contract got waived just this past week. But, again, this is a “rip-prieve”! RoLo’s deal, signed with the nyuk-nyuk-Knicks back in the summer of 2015, mercifully expires after this season, but his play thus far makes it hard to see a contending team willing to take the $14.5 million contract off Chicago’s hooves before the trade deadline (Milwaukee says they have enough Lopezes, thank you). Adding Parker to a club that already hoped to rely upon LaVine and Markkanen for major minutes, this was bound to be an uphill climb for the Bulls’ defense. That was even before Dunn and now Portis bowed out with injuries. Bulls opponents are already lofting nearly 40 three-point attempts per game, a league-high. Only the Hawks’ most-recent vanquished foes, the Cavs and Mavs, have seen more of those threes go through the hoop than Chicago (13.8 opponent 3FGs per game). Now, on the second night of a back-to-back, after watching Kemba Walker (5-for-10 3FGs, 30 points in Charlotte’s 135-106 payback win) have another field day, the Bulls (120.5 D-Rating, 2nd-worst in NBA) face a team whose head coach thinks 40 perimeter shots per game is miniscule. Thus far, only Coach Bud’s Bucks are sinking more threes per contest (16.0 3FGs/game) than his former team. Of the top-20 NBA teams in three-point attempts, only Lloyd Pierce’s Hawks (37.8 3FGAs/game) have been hitting above a 40 percent clip. LL Cool P, demanding a breakneck tempo (NBA-high 109.0 pace), wants Atlanta’s attempts to get closer to 50 than 40. He’ll be leaning on Trae Young (NBA rookie-high 21.5 PPG & 7.5 APG) and his vet backup Jeremy Lin to push the pace, wear down the Bulls early, and set up quality perimeter chances for all their teammates. Healthy for the first time all season, Daniel Hamilton (shoulder) may have a role in the second half if he is activated. Lin (12.8 MPG, lowest among the Hawks’ active non-two-way players), whose early struggles compelled Pierce to rely on his wings to key the monumental comeback against the Mavs on Wednesday, will try to mimic the vintage night the Hornets’ Tony Parker enjoyed versus the bare-bones Bulls (7-for-11 FGs, 8 assists, one TO in 19 bench minutes) last night. The vastly-improved Cam Payne, pressed into starter’s minutes, and ex-Hawk Justin Holiday will try to fill in the offensive gaps alongside LaVine (29.8 PPG, 5th in NBA; 3rd in NBA Usage%), the off-guard is high-scoring but may want to trade off some of his high-flying paint plays for more perimeter chances (42.4 3FG%). Parker (19 points @CHA) still dutifully comes off the bench, although Hoiberg may be tempted to change that soon if the losing continues. Try all they might, there are simply not enough high-percentage, high-scoring opportunities for LaVine, Parker, and the Bulls to overcome their many defensive lapses. Even if they do force errors from Atlanta (16.1 TO%, 5th-highest in NBA) into quick points at the other end, it feels as though that just plays into Pierce and the Hawks’ hands by leaving Atlanta ample time on the game clock. Chicago will need to produce transition points from their wings in the three-point corners, much like the treys Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince (combined 8-for-20 3FGs, 5 corner threes) used to feast on Dallas during the Hawks’ 111-104 comeback victory. The question, with Payne, Parker and LaVine focused on scoring, is whether their bigs can haul it down the court and effectively dish the rock, too. “We are live from Allstate Arena!” Ugghh. ESPN’s Mark Jones got Wednesday’s remodeled arena unveiling off to a bad start for the Hawks (2-2), but the team and their fans eventually made themselves feel right at home, at just the right time. Coming into this game with a rest advantage and momentum, there is no reason Atlanta can’t get off on the good talon against the Bulls. Chicago’s managers get a reprieve today. But that doesn’t mean the Bulls on the court should. Rip and Run! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. "Future" is Bright! Turn On The Lights! Tomorrow Starts Today. That’s the slogan for the basketball grand opening at the re-christened State Farm Arena, home of your Atlanta Hawks. Tomorrow Starts Today is all about laying a foundation, right now, for something huge, attractive, and fun, down the road. Tonight’s hip-hop headliner offers an ideal example of what the Future can hold, when one commits to laying the proper groundwork now. Let’s praise T-Boz as just one example. Tionne Watkins already had her hands full, making it big with the ground-breaking girl group, TLC, in the early 1990s, but she had even grander plans in mind. Around the same time that a bunch of attention around town was directed to the inflammatory relationship her stage partner had with a local football star, Watkins, a budding producer, was kindling sparks of a different sort. At a southside Atlanta beauty supply shop, it was T-Boz who introduced Pat “Sleepy” Brown to her colleague Rico Wade. Those two soon paired with Ray Murray to form the Organized Noize production team. Watkins helped facilitate the relationship between this trio, who toiled around the clock cranking studio music out of an unfinished basement with dirt floors (a “Dungeon”, if you will), at Wade’s mother’s house in the shadow of Atlanta’s Federal penitentiary, and the understandably skeptical folks at the powerhouse LaFace Records label. No T-Boz, no Organized Noize. No Organized Noize, no dungeon. No dungeon, no Dungeon Family. No Dungeon Family, maybe, no Goodie Mob? Maybe, no Outkast? No Southernplayalisticadillacmusik? No “Soul Food”? Certainly, no “Waterfalls” watershed moment for TLC. Maybe, amid all the jibber-jabber about East versus West coasts, “The South Got Somethin’ To Say,” never gets famously said at The Source Awards? Maybe, “Dirty South”, never becomes the catch-all catchphrase that bonded this artistically rich region of the country? One could stop there, in the Roaring Nineties of Atlanta, but the ripple effects continued outward. Wade, you see, had a cousin. One who was just one among thousands of local tweens caught up in the dopey dope game of the 1990s, but one who Rico brought under his wing to learn the ropes of the music biz. Like another next-gen artist of the collective, Killer Mike, who grew to prominence out of his collaborations with Outkast, cousin Nayvadius was given ample room to carve out his niche. Styled as “The Future of Rap” by the Dungeon Family’s G-Rock, Nayvadius picked up the Auto-Tune mechanism – seen as well-worn in the R&B/Hip-Hop game by the turn of the last decade – and mastered his rapping style around it. He created a distinctive club-banging sound, one that connected his hard-edged, purple-drank and Percocet-fueled lyrics in ways that sounded fresh to mainstream head-nodders of the 2010s. He reps for the “low life”, as he was, making it big and living large and in-charge: “Used to have no money for a crib. Now my room service bill cost your whole life.” Talent, ambition, perseverance. That’s what it took to create Organized Noize. That’s what it took to carry it three decades forward, and counting, so long as T-Boz, her friend Rico, and his cousin Nayvadius, who now produces as well, got something to say about it. It’s 2018, and while the latter, performing as Future, serves as the pregame and halftime entertainment before a packed State Farm Arena crowd, you might be watching from above while enjoying a haircut at Killer Mike’s newest SWAG (Shave, Wash and Groom) Shop. “I’m the one that’s livin’ lavish, like I’m playin’ for the Mavericks!”, Future spits famously on 2015’s “March Madness.” The sense of cozy extravagance that Mark Cuban has concocted over the decades for the Dallas Mavericks under his employ – for the fellas, at least – is one Tony Ressler admires and emulates. Ressler hopes to be able to proudly say that his investments, with a few kind dashes of public subsidy, laid the groundwork for the luxurious future of not only his Atlanta Hawks, who happen to host the Mavs this evening (7:00 PM Eastern, ESPN, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), but its fanbase, one that has long been slow to grow, and the hardscrabble environs that surround his stadium. As it was in trying to get the Philips Arena refurbishment plans off the ground, fostering a lavish experience around the basketball team itself will take talent, ambition, and perseverance. Ressler has entrusted Travis Schlenk to find the right blend, and the Hawks executive has given many fans the sense that he is just beginning to get that talent part locked down. Schlenk called the 2017 draft-day audible that brought John Collins (ankle, out of action for a couple more weeks) under the Hawks’ wing. In 2018, unwilling to be tethered fully to the designs of GMs past, Travis and head coach Mike Budenholzer agreed to part ways, allowing the former to bring in his own guy in Lloyd Pierce. Meanwhile, Schlenk’s draft compromise with Hawks ownership, reportedly (and ignoring Ressler’s subsequent, colorfully adamant protests regarding said reports) allowed the owners’ favorite Luka Doncic to head to Dallas, for the price of another potential lottery pick, while Trae Young suits up for Atlanta. After just a few games of Young and Doncic playing with their respective, uphill-climbing squads, neither Hawks nor Mavs fans are complaining much about the early returns. Luka is already, hands down, the top player. In soccer, that is. 33-year-old Croatian midfielder Luka Modric is the toast of FIFA, just last month beating out Ronaldo and Mo Salah for the federation’s award of the world’s best men’s player while holding it down for Real Madrid... yes, the same athletics organization that helped give rise to the teenaged Serbian sensation, Luka Doncic. If you still have doubts that the sports world is about to get ridiculously overrun by Luka-Mania, go get a look-see at Luka Samanic, the 6-foot-10 power forward from Zagreb and Ljubljana (Doncic’s hometown) who MVP’d FIBA’s U18 European Championship. Brace yourself, the Luka(s) are coming! Did you waste an otherwise beautiful summer fussing over which NBA franchise took “the” right player, “the” future superstar, over who “won” the draft-night deal? You just don’t argue anymore. You just don’t argue anymore. You just don’t argue anymore! This pair of rookies, currently leading their class in scoring, acknowledge their forthcoming NBA histories will be inextricably tied to one another. The youngsters not only embrace but appreciate that fact, and they appear to greatly admire each other’s skills and resolve. At worst, envision this budding rivalry, if one must call it that, as a rap battle, one in which two esteemed talents, in the quest to one-up one another, manage to make an even bigger name for each other than they could make for themselves alone. Them boys up to something! Unlike Luka, Trae’s smaller frame doesn’t allow him to live on an upper floor, so to speak, when making forays into the paint. But it’s Young’s estimable court vision and IQ that can help propel him to a figurative upper echelon in this league. His last game, on Sunday evening against a shell-shocked Cavaliers club, offered Hawks fans a satisfying glimpse of what could be to come. Luka (18.3 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.3 TOs/game, 43.5 FG%, 61.5 FT% through 3 starts) may indeed become a rockstar around the Metroplex. But they’ll be making “Trae Songz” around the ATL in due time, if the Hawks’ ballhandler continues to dazzle with the flair of his artistic passes. Young, balla, move that rock! A highlight facilitator like Young (23.0 PPG, 8.3 APG, 2.7 TOs/game, 51.9 2FG%, 39.3 3FG%, 80.0 FT% through 3 starts) attracts not only fans, and not only opposing help-defenders that free up reliant teammates, but, down the road, NBA stars who would very much enjoy taking a few rides in a banana boat with him. The face of Trae’s franchise serves as a color commentator, calling out Young and his teammates’ heat checks. Conversely, the face of Luke’s franchise is still collecting checks (Future would agree; when in doubt, always chase a check). Dirk Nowitzki (ankle surgery) sits on the shelf along with Harrison Barnes and ex-Hawk Devin Harris (hamstring strains) for the moment. But the Germanator, who essentially got the Euro-craze going in the NBA, is already an ideal mentor for Doncic’s acclimation. The future Hall of Famer will be of even greater benefit, at least in Mavs coach Rick Carlisle’s offense, when he and Barnes return to finish plays keyed by Doncic. Until then, he and Dennis Smith, Jr. will spend their time perfecting lobs in the direction of free agent pickup DeAndre Jordan (17.0 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2.3 BPG) and kickouts to Wesley Matthews (only NBA player with 125 made 3FGs in each of the last 8 seasons). In an NBA world where 120 is The New 100, Jordan serves as a last line of defense for the Mavericks (120.4 D-Rating, 3rd-worst in NBA; 117.2 O-Rating, 3rd-best), which can work if they can keep their opponents, like the Hawks (2nd in pace, 5th in eFG%) from engaging them in a track meet. Returning from injury, Hawks center Dewayne Dedmon can help Atlanta keep Jordan and the Mavs (6th in O-Reb%, 5th in and D-Reb%) from dominating the glass. One can only hope that all the Doncic hype hasn’t already relegated Dallas’ 2017-18 wunderkind to obscurity. Smith’s first games as an NBA player, much like Young, also brought statistical comparisons to league greats. Dennis’ 142 points and 49 dimes in his first ten career games were topped only by LeBron and Kyrie, as players aged 19 or younger, in their respective rookie campaigns. He has had his struggles in the early going, particularly when he cannot draw trips to the free throw line. Despite the Mavericks winning their second-straight home game, against Chicago, on Monday, Smith (3-for-15 3FGs so far) shot just 2-for-11 from the field and produced just three assists in a season-high 30-plus minutes of play. He was minus-19 against Devin Booker’s Suns in the season-opener. He’ll need a complete, impactful effort to help cool off Young and the Hawks (1-2) tonight. With pressure provided from Matthew and Dorian Finney-Smith, Smith’s team can also benefit if they can keep live-ball turnovers to a minimum and gains the edge in the transition scoring department (plus-8 PPG off TOs, 3rd-best in NBA; Atlanta’s minus-7 PPG 5th-worst). Talent, ambition, perseverance. It begins with a catalyst with an eye for bringing the right talents together, like T-Boz. Like Wyatt Durrette, a Kennesaw bartender who brought a fiddler and vocalist named Jimmy De Martini in touch with guitarist/singer and restaurateur Zac Brown, helping form the foundation for one of country music’s greatest bands. You can enjoy the band perform the national anthem tonight, while dining at Zac Brown’s newest social club. Imagine, no Durrette, no “Chicken Fried?” No “Toes”? Whether Schlenk is the catalyst that puts the Hawks on the path to becoming a primetime NBA draw remains to be seen. But after seeing what a Trae Young-directed roster, with rookies like Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman on the come up, with Taurean Prince finding his groove, with Coach Pierce helping them all gel, has the potential to accomplish together, the Topgolf-swinging fans at State Farm Arena could happily get Used To This. A few more seasons of bonding, and Hawks fans could become the “gang members” looking askance at all of Atlanta’s new “tourists” in the arena, asking, “Where Ya [Bleep] Was At, Dawg? Tomorrow Started Yesterday!” When it comes to the Future of NBA championship glory, will it finally be the Atlanta Hawks who have something to say? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. It’s only crazy until you Do It. As far as I can tell, Rudy Wanderone never even spent a minute in the Gopher State. He was an immigrant New Yorker. During the Great Depression, Rudy did what many a young Manhattanite aspired to do during the Roaring Twenties. He became a pool shark. And a darned good one, too. Taking his trick-shot skills on the road, Rudy got well into his adulthood, relocating to D.C. and later Illinois and Virginia, craftily separating marks from their money at the billiards tables. Gaining a low-key notoriety among those in the know, the burly Wanderone was just fine adopting the sobriquets he was given along the way: “New York Fats,” “Broadway Fats,” “Chicago Fats”. Then came The Hustler. The 1961 adapted film starred Paul Newman opposite the stocky Jackie Gleason, in a pool-styled predecessor to the Rocky-Apollo Creed skit. The antagonist that Gleason played from both the book and the flick, depicted as the hands-down best pool player in America, went by the name “Minnesota Fats.” Believing with all his heart, that the character was based on him, Rudy Wanderone didn’t ask for permission. He adopted that fictional moniker for himself, just in time for book deals and a viewership eager to be entertained as the Golden Age of Television reached its sunset. Turns out, that was a wise, profitable move. Over a half-century later, ask around about the greatest men’s billiards player of all time, and you’d find most folks would be pressed to recall the exceptional, but dry, Willie Mosconi. If you needed to win on “Super Password” with the secret word, “Fats”, start with “Minnesota…” and your gameshow partner isn’t likely to guess “Timberwolves?” Minnesota Fats became America’s Pool Player, even though he never actually won a formal billiards championship. He remains known as such decades after his passing; many people thought that was his birth name. Using his wit and guile to belie a boastful, competitive spirit, he successfully promoted not only his own persona but the game he loved, lifting it out of smoky gambling halls and into the living rooms of the mainstream. It’s time for somebody else to be globally renowned by the first-name Minnesota. Kevin Love was well on his way to becoming the second-greatest Timberwolf named Kevin of all time. That was, until Akron native LeBron James got homesick, looked around Cleveland, and suspected a future that included Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett was likely to be a murky one... after all, I mean, what does everyone think LeBron is, a babysitter? James donned his Super Secret GM hat for his second go-round with the Cavs, and he grabbed a three-time All-Star from the T’wolves via trade, to help Tristan Thompson chase his and Kyrie Irving’s misses. By that time, Love was the preeminent rebounding forward in the game, at the ripe age of 25. He was also just beginning to display a pleasant perimeter stroke and a smooth passing touch he spent many years honing. In his final season with the Wolves, Love earned All-NBA Second Team, averaging well over 25 PPG, over 12 RPG, and a career-best 4.4 APG. The rub was just that his Minnesota team, much like the one that surrounded Kyrie, was wretched, his Wolves topping out at 40-42 and nine games out of the playoffs in the West. Joining LeBron in Ohio was supposed to fix all ills. It certainly did fix the “not making playoffs” issue. But it created new ones for Love. Kevin got his ring in 2016. But shortly after arriving in Cleveland, it did seem like “Kevin” had become his middle name – and “Blame” his first. Clevelanders tentative to heap criticism on The King, who was kind enough to bestow his presence upon a perpetual lottery team after winning titles in Miami, or face-of-the-future Irving, found convenience in turning a lot of their scorn onto Love, who was decidedly (perhaps, too comfortably) the third banana. Some teammates weren’t all that far behind the fans. Moments which directed a high degree of the unforgiving spotlight towards him, like the Kyrie-free contest against Luke Babbitt and the lowly Atlanta Hawks in November of last year, brought about panic attacks for Love at the worst possible times. Dealing with them, undiagnosed and untreated, brought forth internal team dissension that was no longer possible to obscure. A disappointing loss? Blame Kevin Love. “When,” fans would ask each other, loudly enough for him to hear, “are we finally going to see Minnesota Kevin?” Congrats, Cavs Nation, you are getting your chance. Like another guy once regaled as The King, LeBron Has Left The Building, probably for good this time around. Kyrie read the tea leaves a season early, and skidded across the flat earth all the way to Beantown. That essentially leaves Kevin Love as the face of the Cavaliers for today’s home opener at Quicken Loans Arena. That could be a good thing for the Hawks’ opponent this evening (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Ohio in CLE), if one chooses to look at it that way. Love returns with greater peace of mind, now getting treatment for his illness, and with a new, four-year, $120 million contract in his pocket. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, the Cavs are going to need their 30-year-old star to play like “Minnesota Kevin” if they are going to return to the playoffs. Post moves to attack the rim, boxing out for defensive boards and making Wes Unseld-style outlet passes to ignite breaks, drawing extra defenders and kicking the ball out to open shooters. Most importantly for Minnesota Kevin, not hesitating in deference to superstars who no longer roam The Land. LeBron’s Leftovers on coach Tyronn Lue’s squad would be smart, though, to ignore what any Kartrashian spouse has to say, particularly about their team still being the defending conference champions until further notice. Sears was a prominent department store for quite some time, too. But nobody’s deluded into thinking they’ll be around for much longer. The immediate challenge for Love is that he gets to play in The Land of Fatally Flawed Toys. Fellows like J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver, George Hill and local native Larry Nance (questionable, ankle) were never going to be headed to Cleveland without LeBron’s explicit blessings during the annual runs to The Finals. Heck, Thompson would probably have been long gone, too. Now they all remain, defensive deficiencies and all (26th in D-Rating through two games, worse than Atlanta’s 24th), left to the whims of T-Lue and Larry Drew to make work as the reformulated Pips, behind Love’s Gladys. With James gone, and Nance (questionable, sprained ankle) and Dekker (head injury @ MIN) dealing with early injuries, 2015 second-rounder Cedi Osman evolves from a Cool Story Bro to an actual starter on this roster, one which struggled to stop pretty much any Raptor (what a difference a few months make, eh?) during their 116-104 opening loss in Toronto – four team steals, zero blocks. Lottery rookie guard Colin Sexton, plus big men Ante Zizic and Sam Dekker, essentially spackle the final holes among the reserves. In Friday’s consternation-filled home tipoff for the T’Wolves, Love offered fans for both teams a glimpse of the Minnesota Kevin of yore – 25 points, 19 boards (17 defensive), 7 dimes. While he continues to feast from drawing fouls and getting to the charity stripe (10-for-10 FTs @ MIN), he suffers in a vein similar to Hawks rookie Trae Young. Opposing defenders don’t respect Love’s floormates, bringing double-teams his way all over the court. That leaves Love a high-volume, low-efficiency shooter (6-for-19 FGs) who needs complete games from Osman (career-high 22 points, 8 assists @ MIN), Thompson (7-for-9 FGs, 4 O-Rebs @ MIN), and others off the bench, for his team to stay in the running most nights. With Love (16 third-quarter points) leading the charge, Cleveland (0-2) dropped 41 points on the Wolves in the third quarter, yet still fell by a 131-123 score. His team-high 21 points two nights before (5-for-18 FGs, 10-for-14 FTs @ TOR), and Osman’s 17 points and 10 rebounds, proved futile against the Raptors. The Cavs (five team steals, three blocks @ MIN) need to manufacture stops, and it’s not likely that they’re missing the defensive inputs of Smith (sore elbow) and Nance any more than Atlanta has tried to impede foes without ankle-hobbled frontcourt starters John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon, among others. For all their woes on defense, especially around the perimeter (42.4 opponent 3FG%, 5th-highest in NBA), the Hawks’ offense under new coach Lloyd Pierce is showing signs of life (54.3 eFG%, 10th in NBA). That is, when they’re not committing copious unforced errors (league-low 1.07 assist/TO ratio; 19.6 TO% and 26.0 opponent PPG off TOs, 29th in NBA). Whether the Cavaliers will take an active role in forcing errors out of Atlanta (0-2) remains to be seen. Minnesota Kevin leading the way to victory today, and more often in the months to come, might prove beneficial for both the Cavs and the shorthanded Hawks (2019 top-10-protected pick, from the 2017 Korver trade) in the long run. But if Hill and Sexton fail to get help prying the ball out of Young’s deft hands, will it be the Cavs that find themselves getting… snookered? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. “And then, Trae asked Vince, ‘Was Freddy Weis the dude that went on to coach Notre Dame?’” September 25, 2000. Where were you, on that fateful day? Do you remember? Sorry to get so Earth Wind and Fire-y with you to start the 2018-19 Atlanta Hawks season – as usual, it’s a bit of a sidetrack. While last season’s opening gamethread (the one that concluded with a foretelling thought, “Wait, where did they all go? They were just here!”) began with a now-mythical skyscraper in Midtown, this season’s first game preview kicks off just over 18 years ago, almost directly across North Avenue, in a nondescript barbershop. I snuck out of work on that early autumn afternoon (no, it wasn’t a cloudy day, EWF fans), fitting into the schedule of the gentleman who seemed competent at doing anything with the Brillo pad that passes for hair above my eyebrows. He, like many native Atlantans, was a huge NBA fan, and not at all a Hawks fan. An unrepentant Sixer fan myself at that point, I had fancied myself a Hawks sympathizer, still years removed from becoming a Hawks evangelist. “At least you got excitement up there in Philly,” explained the barber, as he tried, as best he could, to lineup my crooked forehead. “We need an A.I. around here, like you got. A Kobe, a J-Kidd, a Grant Hill, That Fella (like many, he used other vernacular for “Fella,” I’m just cleaning it up here) that puts teams on their back. That Fella you know will try to do something spectacular, just to put his imprint on the game.” The Starks jersey above his crisp, long white tee let you know where this Adamsville resident’s bread was buttered. No, years of the steady but staid Steve Smith didn’t pass muster, and Jim Jackson felt like Smitty warmed over. Smith’s effective replacement on the Hawks, Isaiah Rider, proved to be off-kilter yet somehow amazingly on-brand. We once had That Guy, y’know, but we traded him away at the worst time. Any cutter in the shop, when the occasion called for it, would remind you of that factoid. A poster of That Guy, eyeing the hoop in mid-air, hung in the back of the shop, in his memory. “Now, that boy from down there in Daytona…” the clipper man added while applying alcohol and giving directions while pretending not to know his name, “That young boy that went up there to Chapel Hill. Maaaaan…” He needn’t add much more. 2000, anno dominique, was becoming quite the banner year for Vincent Lamar Carter, Jr. Having averaged over 25 points per game in just his second pro season, “Air Canada” was taking multiple nations by storm. With help from his newfound cousin, Carter helped guide Toronto to its first-ever playoff year. Contests featuring the team from the lightly-regarded NBA outpost of Toronto had suddenly become appointment viewing, “Must See TV.” Along the way, the high-flyer landed in Oakland for the NBA All-Star Game. His exploits there, at what in recent years became a dying Dunk Contest, had jaws dropping, commentators running short of adequately descriptive words, camcorders running out of tape. “It’s OVER, Ladies and Gentlemen! Let’s Go Home!” The Mystique of Michael was finally beginning to wear, and hoop heads were yearning for somebody to pick up that mantle and take off. As the 2000-01 season neared, Carter was more than ready to fill the bill. But first, there was some Dream Team business to attend to, halfway across the globe, in Sydney. I gave my man dap, and a tip, just as his landline phone started ringing. Without a response, the phone rang again. My barber checked the caller ID, and dialed back using his fancy flip-phone, show-off that he was. As I departed, I grabbed just a snippet of his conversation: “Say what now? Hol’ up, wait, slow down… you heard Vince Carter did WHAT?” You must recall (if you’re old enough to do so) that there was no “dot-com”, really, not the way we know it today. No Tweeter, no Facechat or Snapbook or whatever, nothing with near-instantaneous online feedback of events that weren’t being aired and VCR’d live. Word-of-Mouth required actual mouths; it didn’t involve text unless you bothered to check your AOL account. If you had a real “smart phone,” like one of those newfangled BlackBerry joints, it might be able to tell you the weather forecast which, belaboring the point, was useless in September. Having just survived “Y2K”, heck, we were all just relieved our alarm clocks and wristwatches hadn’t imploded. During the Olympics, Team USA Basketball was a primetime show, so watching rounds of action that occurred a half-day away simply had to wait for a few hours on tape delay. Unbeknownst to most of us Yanks, on September 25, 2000, A.D., there were folks scattering around The Dome in Sydney like streetball mixtape attendees. They were breathless, desperate to relay to outsiders, as best they could, what they had just witnessed, clear out of the blue. It would take a lot of reach-out-and-touch-someone reverberation to make clear to us Statesiders that Something Had Happened. “Team USA did win their preliminary round with France, to wrap up group play,” the voice from 790 AM blurted through my Sony Walkman during their routine half-hourly update on my walk home. “BUT… we’re being told, you are going to want to catch the replay of this game, tonight. Vince Carter did… something in this game that was so spectacular, we’re not going to spoil it for you. Trust me, if what we’re being told is true, you are going to have to see it for yourself.” Okay, so, probably some big, impressive slam then, I thought. Whoop-Dee-Damm-Do. What could be so earth-shattering about that? America’s infatuation with not merely His Airness, but the Space Program, was winding down. My great-grandparents had Kitty Hawk; my grannies and parents had the awe of the Boeing 747, and The Man on The Moon. Testing the limits of human flight and gravity defiance, by then, was confined to how far anyone (Michael, really) could elevate from the ground -- pure will, aided solely by the latest in athletic gear technology. As can-do Americans, we were about done with clearing orbs beyond the stratosphere. The unfortunate domepiece of 7-foot-3 Frederic Weis would have to suffice. The Moment itself was purely improvisational, a spur-of-the-moment decision off an early second-half steal Carter made as just about everyone on the French squad, aside from the lead-footed Weis, were headed to the other end of the floor. Vince could not have preconceived what was about to transpire. No one, fathomably, could. Once it aired here, you likely had to adjust your antennae, and maybe even the vertical on your telly, to make sure what you witnessed was authentic. The only thing more stunning was that Vin Baker, of all people, was an Olympian standing right there to offer testimony. As far as Olympic feats went, this was about to be the Fosbury Flop for a whole new generation. Propelling himself, his momentum carrying him into the air off just one foot, its toes barely breaching the quadrilateral paint. His imposing human hurdle, already posted a healthy six feet from the basket, shrinking only to 7-foot-1 to flinch while instinctively cowering beneath him. Reaching down with the other arm, nearly fully extended, to post a helpful hand atop the behemoth’s shoulder. Soaring, with the ball cocked far behind his head, to windmill emphatically, leaving the breakaway rim, the arena, and its inhabitants quivering in the wake of what amounted to… two points. Should it be called an And-1? The refs were too shook to even take time to think about what minimal contact there was. How can one even classify this as a “poster,” unless they were blessed with walls in their house that were over fifteen feet high? This was a freaking mural dunk. A 6-foot-6 shooting guard had just created a Banksy, at least one that would never shred itself within the consciousness of sports fans. Up until The Year of Vince Carter, the deadly crossover had overtaken dunking as the in-game highlight of choice among the vox populi. But after this sensational slam, people kind of lost their heads. Dunk Contests, at all levels of play, were back en vogue, participants vaulting over chairs, tables, a person, a mascot, a whole bunch of people, a bunch of mascots, motorcycles, cars. Somebody made a whole semi-pro league out of dudes with bike helmets, posterizing each other with the aid of trampolines embedded in the floor. And he got multi-year TV deals out of it. At the NBA level? Sure, maybe you’re super-raw, maybe you can’t throw a shot into the ocean, maybe you struggle to stay in front of a mannequin, maybe you can’t even pass gas skillfully, to say nothing of a ball. But, say, can you leap tall people in a single bound? Rodney White, Fred Jones, Kirk Snyder, Josh Smith, Gerald Green, Hakim Warrick, Tyrus Thomas, Nate Robinson… welcome, fine sirs, to the first round of the NBA Draft. Aside from France, who was quite inured to the feeling of defensive resignation anyway, news of this eye-popping, Freedom-frying event brought delight throughout the globe, nowhere more so than the folks in offices back here in Beaverton, Oregon. As the afterglow of MJ waned, Nike was rapidly losing clout in the basketball universe. Among NBA players and hoop fashionistas alike, the Swoosh Crew was losing market share to the likes of Reebok… Reebok!... AND 1, adidas, and Fila. They wooed Carter away from Puma… Puma!... earlier that year. But they needed to come up with something gimmicky, like the Reebok Pump, but practical and not comical, to make his shoes marketable to the general populace. Enter the “springs”-loaded Nike Shox BB4, which did… BOING!... exactly what it was advertised to do, at least on Carter’s feet, which was all that mattered. Just like that, as shoe stores were swimming in sales orders for Shox, Nike became globally renowned for something other than Air Jordan (and Air Penny). At the other end of the continent, the hullabaloo in Manhattan was a lot less palpable. Fresh off a second-straight conference finals appearance, the great minds at the offices of the New York Knickerbockers (oh, did I yet mention we’re playing the Knicks tonight? Yeah, the Knicks… 7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, you’re welcome) had, just a year before, used their highest first-round draft pick in eight years not on hometown hero Ron Artest, but on this particular Frenchman, Frederic Weis. Sacre Bleu, y’all! Convincing New Yorkers that Monsieur Weis would become Patrick Ewing, version 2.0, and not Laughingstock Stiff, version infinity.0, was going to be a hard sell even before the Games of the XXVIIth Olympiad. But, after… this? Perhaps realizing that he, like Vince, was in over his head, Weis would never dare cross the Atlantic Ocean to don the blue-and-orange. Over the ensuing dozen years, the team that gambled on drafting him, the Knicks, would never win the Atlantic Division. The 2000’s date that would live on in infamy, the September day many a Timberlands-clad New Yorker would long remember with disdain, sure as heck looked like it was gonna be “Nine-Twenty-Five”. Thanks a lot, Vince Carter, you schmutz! After losing a decisive Game 5 at home, in the first round of the 2001 Playoffs to, coincidentally, Vince’s Raptors, the Knicks formally began their descent into the abyss, impeded only by a single-season run under Carter’s old coach, your friend and mine, Lenny Wilkens (do NOT bring his name up in The Shop around here, lest you wind up looking unwittingly like Dennis Schröder). By the time they finally won at least 50 games, claimed a division pennant, and prevailed in a playoff series, yet another ex-Hawks coach, Mike Woodson, would be running their sideline. Even Linsanity had already come and gone by then. Linsanity, born right here at Madison Square Garden seven seasons ago, was a small-guard derivative of Vinsanity, which had already been a force to be reckoned with from Carter’s initial Raptor years. But the reaction to this audacious Olympic feat went well beyond anyone’s grasp of Vinsanity. This was more like Vinsandemonium. The signature moment of Vince Carter’s career, of his athletic life, never occurred on an NBA stage. Thus, every NBA season that followed for Carter, every highlight play, every game, every contract, every injury setback, every outcome for every team, would get juxtaposed, unfairly, with one fleeting moment of majesty on September 25, 2000. For Vince, I imagine, the curse was worth the blessing. Where were you, way back then? Turns out, Carter wasn’t the only American rocking the rims and going up over Down Under in 2000. Swing west around the coastline from Sydney, about a half-day’s drive away, to the modest South Australia town of Mt. Gambier. There, an athletic, 24-year-old Californian, who once starred in college at Santa Clara U., was wrapping up his latest semi-pro season with a brief stint in the Southeast Australia Basketball League, dropping nearly 20 points per game on unsuspecting opponents’ heads, albeit in a more customary fashion than Mister Carter. Playing for the Pioneers not far from the Australian outback, Lloyd Pierce wasn’t drawing the oohs and aahs he might have hoped for, particularly way back home. His former backcourt running mate with the Broncos in college, Steve Nash, had completed his fourth NBA season, and even he had yet to break out as a full-time starter, much less a star. Absolutely no one was curious whether Nash’s former teammate should be on an NBA radar. Between stints in Mexico, a Pro-Am league in San Francisco, one in Montana, and here, in the distant continent of Australia, there was no telling when Pierce’s NBA odyssey would begin, if ever. But Lloyd eventually returned to Santa Clara as an assistant coach in 2003, right on time for Nash’s meteoric rise to stardom. And he caught his big NBA break in 2007, becoming a player development coordinator for LeBron James’ first defending Eastern Conference champions in Cleveland. When it comes to the player development of LeBron James, Steph Curry, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Pierce represents the singular space on the Venn diagram. Instead of the itchy, flaky czar of the whiteboard, Mike Budenholzer, the stern yet smooth-talking Pierce is the one guy Travis Schlenk (a video coordinator for the Miami heat, back when Vince performed “Le Dunk de la Mort”) will put his (owners’) money on to nurture the upstarts on this Atlanta Hawks roster. With his globe-trotting basketball experience, there are few better suited than Pierce to literally talk “Turkey” with military-brat-turned-jumping-jack forward John Collins (59.8 2FG% in 2017-18, 6th in NBA). Growing up in and around servicemembers is often a great way to foster good active listeners and leaders of men, and a lot will be expected of John The Baptist (out for a few games, after a minor ankle procedure) to soak up the tutelage and lead by example, on and off the court, in his first season following up on a promising All-Rookie 2nd-Team campaign. Having an Old-Head Gang member like Carter around can’t hurt. Is it even fair to call Jeremy Lin an O.H.G., alongside the quadragenarian Carter? Lin himself once aspired to the great heights Vince was reaching on SportsCenter on a nightly basis. Alas, while Carter was trying to hurl himself over heads back in 2000, Jeremy faced quite a hurdle of his own… figuring out how to wrap up violin practice, so he could join his junior high school hoops team in time for the second halves. Between Lin and Carter, who knew his way around a tuba in his own scholastic days, there’s no telling how much great music they could make together. This is a pair of vets whose experiences and voices will serve more as a symphony, and less like a cacophony, for the youthful Hawks, particularly those future stars with quite a bit on their plates already, when adversity strikes during the season. How youthful? Do they make BB4 Shox in a Kids’ Size 7? Fresh off a career hooping at Texas Tech with a two-year-old in tow, Rayford Young surely had to be posing the question, on the day when Vince took flight. Like Coach Pierce, Ray went on to do the globe-trotting pro thing, leaving his high school and college sweetheart, Candice, to tend daily to baby Trae. Also like Pierce, Ray went on to become a D-1 grad assistant, in this case at Oklahoma. These days, his son is out here making draft caps and suit shorts a fit. While many in the Hawks Universe will have immediate, lofty expectations for their newest lottery plum, Atlanta’s first Top-5 draftee rookie in over a decade, Ray Young will not be the kind of NBA family member either openly fretting about Pierce’s coaching decisions, or encouraging his college-supernova kid’s head to overinflate in the pros. You do get the sense that other NBA pros, who have watched the ascension of Trae Young (2017-18’s NCAA D-1 leader in PPG and APG, a unique accomplishment for any collegian) at Oklahoma, to be genuinely pulling for the kid. Not so much to best them, individually, in head-to-head competition, but just to see his offensive ambrosia ripen to a point where it sticks in the craw of those who, for a variety of reasons, are his fervent detractors. There were folks jealous of the Sooner freshman’s hype, especially versus subpar collegiate competition. There are those who must continue to believe Trae will never reach the dignified level they ascribe to his draft-night trade partner, Luka Doncic, or to bigs like Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Marvin Bagley III. Or, heck, even to Schröder, the wunderkind who Atlanta dispatched to Oklahoma City after mixed-bag results in his first season as the full-time starting floor leader. Like most rookies, particularly those on rosters stripped of any experienced talent in their primes, Young is sure to have his share of struggles, and Told Ya So Twitter stands at the ready when those moments arrive. But the good news is, his long-term ceiling is well above his floor, the likelihood of achieving Traesanity far greater than Traegedy. Iverson, Nash, Curry. These are not players to simply mimic on the court, but superstar guards who had to toil through years of adversity, in some cases well before getting a college scholarship, before achieving success and MVP-level greatness in the pros. With the proper coaching and outside support, they built their status up from mythical to legendary levels. “Legendary” is not where Trae is now, but if all goes well, that is the scale of what he can aspire to. Everybody is The Next Somebody, until you create that exceptional aura of greatness, where somebody gets labeled The Next You. Bello. Acuña. Young. Behold, the potential future of sports greatness for The ATL. All are pressed into finding ways to shine now, before they hit their respective drinking ages. Unlike the first precocious pair, though, there will be no carefully-monitored grooming of Trae’s skillset in developmental leagues. No, following a couple weeks of summer league ball, Young gets to cut his teeth playing directly versus the likes of floor-leader names like Kemba, Wall, Dragic, Kyrie, Lowry, Curry, Westbrook, Lillard, Conley, CP3, etc. High-tier lottery guards with budding promise from seasons past (D’Lo, Dunn, whoever new Knicks coach David Fizdale elects to start tonight, Fultz, DSJ, Lonzo, Elfrid, Fox) have their future matchups with the highly touted Young pegged on their respective calendars, too. The fun part? With many promising-pick guards, other highly-regarded skills are well established entering the league, but, “wait a few years, and let’s see if they can build a steady jumpshot,” becomes the caveat. Not so with Trae, who has the form and the range down pat when it comes to his jumper, and he only needs to work on timing and its application versus top-notch defensive competition. As many of a lottery pick can attest, no matter your age of entry into The Association, these days, the book is written and sold via our future neighbor, Amazon, about you after just two NBA seasons, if you haven’t turned the corner toward All-NBA-dom. Flounder any longer than that, no matter your position, and you become a cast-off, a lost cause, a fella like Alex Len (the sixth-eldest player on this roster, Len turned age 25 in June). Pierce and the Hawks’ developmental staff understand the challenges ahead revolve around ensuring his younger players don’t get caught up in the WYSIWYG perceptions of pundits and fans. That’s inclusive of not merely the new rookies, namely NBA Combine standout Kevin Huerter and NCAA champion Omari Spellman, but the mainstays, still here in the aftermath of this summer’s Budenholzer Bailout. Taurean Prince, who was just kicking off second grade during Carter’s most reputable play, grabbed the Tank Bull by the horns during the back half of last season with the Hawks. In his sophomore campaign, he emerged as a double-digit scorer (19.0 PPG, 41.2 3FG% post-All-Star Break) while shooting above 80 percent from the free throw line for the first time in his college or pro histories. To continue rounding out his game, Prince (69th among 75 qualifying small forwards in 2017-18 Defensive RPM, as estimated by ESPN) needs only look to another NBA player, one who couldn’t wait to attend Pierce’s introductory press conference as Atlanta’s newest head coach. The Sixers’ Robert Covington was like many undrafted talents from small-conference schools, players who no one foresees breaking into the league, to say nothing of becoming a full-time starter and earning All-NBA Defensive First Team honors by the end of their fifth pro season. Defense is supposed to be Pierce’s passion, as Covington (1st among SFs in DRPM for the second consecutive season, 3rd among players overall in 2017-18) happily attests. Of course, such was the case with Coach Bud, too. Budenholzer’s growing trust level with Taurean was commensurate with the swingman’s commitment to on-ball and team defensive precepts. Prince’s focus on improving at that end of the floor, perhaps becoming more of a vocal leader in that regard, while continuing to make strides as a secondary passer, could prove critical in abbreviating Atlanta’s turnaround plans. And then, there’s Mister Just Happy to Be Here. Kent Bazemore has suffered the slings and arrows of Hawk fans, many “lam-Baze-ting” him, at turns, for not doing enough (because of his contract) and doing too much (again, because of his contract). But you’re not going to catch Baze (one school grade behind Lin, when Vince was grazing somebody’s scalp in mid-air) gazing with disdain at negative fan commentary. Nor will Kent be quibbling over playing time, which may diminish at the wing spots as Huerter and DeAndre’ Bembry pick up the pace. The final remnant from the Peak Hawks season of 2014-15, Kent has an eye on his next contract deal. If all goes well building from what was arguably a career season in 2017-18 (12.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 39.4 3FG%), Bazemore could opt out of his pricey single-season option next summer, in search of a more sustainable long-term deal. For however long he remains in Atlanta, the civic-minded Bazemore has enough experience on and off the court to teach the yung’uns what not to do. Unlike Prince, the willingness to guard and help-defend has never been an issue for Bazemore. It’s when the pair, and their teammates, are heading the other way where the Hawks now have potential to make their mark. For all the talk about pace-and-space during the Coach Bud era, last season’s swan-song Hawks (8th in pace) under Bud’s watch compiled barely over 10 points per 48 minutes on the fastbreak (21st in NBA), as per NBA Stats. Fastbreak scoring for Atlanta (3rd in preseason pace) was up to 14.0 points per-48 during exhibition play this month (14th in NBA). Theoretically, four extra points-per-48 would be enough to raise the Hawks’ woeful offensive efficiency (26th in NBA O-Rating last year) out of Lottery Land, and into parity with many of the league’s mid-tiered playoff contenders. Like Coach Bud, Pierce draws from coaching philosophies where maximizing possessions, in search of higher-quality scoring chances, is paramount. But the new head coach will not be pushing Young, Lin, and Daniel Hamilton to merely rush into halfcourt sets, with wings scurrying out to the corners. Pierce wants his floor-leading guards to push the rock in transition, not simply off opponent’s live-ball turnovers. But success is predicated upon Bazemore, Prince, and bigs like Collins, Spellman, Dewayne Dedmon, Miles Plumlee, Justin Anderson, and Len, finishing off pinpoint passes with scores at the offensive end, preferably around the rim. The more proficiently the supporting cast finishes plays on quick-hitter possessions during games, the less likely Heroball will be needed out of their lotto rookie at the ends of them. As for New York, the new brain trust at the Knicks (Kings parachutist and current GM Scott Perry, and team president Steve Mills) is wholly disinterested in hearing about the organization’s many swings-and-misses of the past -- Weis, Allan Houston, Amar’e, Starbury, Sweetney, Larry Brown, Zeke Thomas, Fisher, Hornacek, Phil and the Melodrama, the recently dispatched Joakim Noah, and much, much more. Instead, Perry and Mills want fans to focus on the future, specifically the recent draft picks that were rocking diapers during Vince’s athletic prime. French guard Frank Ntilikina, then age 3, had not even left Belgium by the time the rest of the world learned who Weis was. Fizdale has been left waffling on where to play the Belgian native, but it appears Coach Fiz has settled on starting Ntilikina at the wing alongside Tim Hardaway, Jr. After averaging a career-high 17.5 PPG, the former Hawk Hardaway and his fellow Wolverine alum Trey Burke will carry much of the scoring load for New York until the team’s upstarts emerge consistently. Or, at least, until a mythical Unicorn can return to form. He’s not quite Godot, but fans and teammates alike eagerly await the arrival of Kristaps Porzingis during the back half of the season. Hope springs eternal for the young 7-foot-3 star (torn ACL) to return better-than-ever, and his rehabilitation will be worth the wait, even if it extends into next season. In the meantime, with Porzingis and second-year pro Luke Kornet missing time, there should be plenty of minutes available for rookie picks Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Another literal diaper-dandy back in 2000, Knox displayed enough glimpses of promise during summer league and preseason to get the Knoxsanity train rolling early. Enes Kanter, an offensive specialist (NBA-high 16.6 O-Reb% last season; career-best 68.3 FG% around the rim), and Robinson, a defensive stopgap, have enough of the troll gene instilled within them to help the Knicks be disruptive around both rims. But these bigs are usually unable to play (well) alongside one another. Whichever is on the court, the Hawks have an offensive game plan in mind to exploit a Knicks team that is only now hoping to show (2nd in preseason SPG; 29th last season), under Fizdale, that they can and will pressure ballhandlers. Attacking Kanter off the pick-and-roll, drawing the rookie Robinson out of the paint with perimeter shots to free up cutters (27th in defending cut plays last season), and generally boat-racing them both in transition, should open plenty of possibilities up for Atlanta to get buckets or earn trips to the free throw line. Len, filling in for the injured Dedmon, Spellman and Plumlee are likely to have active roles in igniting the Hawks offense, over the course of their first 48 minutes together. Individual game and season outcomes for the Knicks have no bearing on attendance at The World’s Most Famous Arena, where New Yorkers have turned attending, despite perpetually dampened expectations, into a rite of passage. Not so back home in Atlanta, where the Hawks moved a half-century ago from St. Louis, and seemingly brought much of the Show Me State along with them. Atlanta’s owners and figureheads are hopeful a revamped, swankier, and airier nest for the Hawks will draw a lot more people through the metal detectors, willing to flex their spending power on tix, grub, haircuts, beer and gear, on a nightly basis. Like my barber at that time, those who recall the debut of this very arena, during the 1999-00 season, beg to differ. Replacing the rusty Omni was nice. But you were going to need a more reliable draw than Bimbo Coles to get standing room only over 40 times a year. This Hawks regime understands that, if you’re going to fill up the Farm, you need players who at least look the part of flashy, highlight-making, competitive NBA stars. If you’re going to pursue those talents and use them to help you attract similar super-teammates, it behooves you to acquire them while they’re still reasonably cheap and, well, Young. Otherwise, you wind up with a lot of hoop-fanatic Atlantans who don’t stay, or even become, True To Atlanta. Folks like my hair-clipper from 18 years ago, whose premonition as I sat in his chair, regarding the second-oldest opening-night starter in league history, proved prescient. “We don’t go after legit stars here… not until it’s too late and they’re way past their prime,” the barber advised, adding a dash of wry humor as he poked me with the back of his pick. “By the time the Hawks get (fellas) like them boys up north, up there in Canada, they’ll probably be pushing 40… and, hey, ((chuckles)) hey… they’ll probably start ‘em!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. 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
  16. “YOU PLAY TO LOSE THE GAME! HELLO?” This is it! The Recess versus The Process! Our Atlanta Hawks get their final run in, against (maybe) Ben Simmons and those wascally Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBC Sports Philadelphia). We’re going to use this, the final gamethread of this glorious 2017-18 season, to raise the subject you’ve come here to read about… me! You see, it’s still April, the dogwoods have yet to bloom, we’re only 80-some gamethreads in, the season has already drawn to a close and, now, I don’t quite know what to do with these hands. The boss lady in the glorified cubicle nearby has a few ideas, to be sure. But among the many perversely wonderful things about this 2017-18 campaign is that, for the first time in many years, the last gamethread can actually be The Last One. I’m not having to wrap these things up prematurely, hoping against hope that our Hawks’ final playoff loss might turn out a different way. So, first things first, I’d like to thank the Academy… whoops, wrong notecard. Since essentially Halloween, I’ve had ample time to contemplate how I am going to use the extra month of free time that #LotterySZN bequeaths upon me. So here’s how I intend to spend it, and the offseason that starts just hours from now. Not far from the Potemkin Village situated outside the Bravos stadium, somebody opened up an indoor skydiving facility. I’m totally trying that. Back in my drunken fratboy stage I was just another Jager shot away from trying the real thing, but common sense prevailed just in time. A more gravity-bound idea is the Top Golf spot closer to home, where I can perfect my swing in time to school fools once the new one at Highlight Factory ver. 3.0 is ready. (Most Atlanta Hawks ad ever: “Come see the SECOND biggest arena transformation in NBA history! Check that… Killer Mike just said WHAT? THIRD! The THIRD biggest transformation…”) I probably could use a spa treatment. No, not those “spas” on Cheshire Bridge with Pacific-sounding names where you enter from the back. A legit spa, where they lay cucumbers over your eyelids and stuff. I was told I need more Vitamin B in my diet, anyway, so that might be a two-fer. I’m not certain what “exfoliation” entails but, hey, YOLO. Fishing sounds nice. Maybe a little snorkeling would do the trick, too. But no way will anybody catch me on anything named “Chattahoochee” or “Lanier”. There’s Loch Ness Monsters in them joints. Folks getting swallowed up there on the regular. If the water body is more than ten times as wide and deep as my bathtub, no thanks, I’ll pass. Pottery. Poetry. Yoga. Helping little ol’ ladies cross streets. Big ol’ ladies helping me cross streets. Rescuing puppies. Frying hush puppies. Yeah, that’s a good start to a playoff-free springtime. Now, allow me to share what I am NOT going to do. We don’t know how many times we’ll get this extra time off. Certainly, with the way Mike Budenholzer has demonstrated he can coach a turnip to turn up, there’s just no telling how momentary our Recession is going to last, once more lauded young basketball talent washes ashore. This forthcoming free time is precious for me, as I trust it shall be for many of you in the Squawkosphere. So believe me when I disclose that, as Your Friendly Neighborhood Co-Moderator, I shall not be wasting precious moments under the Georgia sun dilly-dallying with some of you and your petty interpersonal Hawksquabbles, over woulda-shoulda-coulda, over foregone lottery odds, over foregone draft choices, over missed opportunities at your coveted free agents, over who on this dear roster gets to stay and who has to go. Brewing on other sites, I’ve already seen from Hawks fans what I call Absolutism, not necessarily the result of too much Swedish vodka on the brain. “If the ATLHawks don’t lose the game on (pick any day that ends in the Letter Y), I am DONE with this Treadmill team!” “If they DON’T draft (top-ten talent they’re obsessed with), that’s it, I am THROUGH!” “If they DO draft (top-ten talent they don’t trust), that’s it, I am THROUGH!” “If they don’t get (random player… okay Baze) outta here, I am OUTTA HERE!” “If they (pursue, or don’t pursue) (free agent), my fandom is OVER! KA-PUT! FAREWELL, CRUEL WORLD! Disgusted Hawks fan, OVER AND OUT!”… ((not even 48 hours later))… “Oh, and ANOTHER thing!...” We’re Hawks fans, many of us Atlanta Sports fans to larger extents. We do healthy, informed Skepticism as well as anybody in this hemisphere, for good reason, and that’s fine. But, please, refrain from the Absolutism that mandates of Budschlenk, or our fragile fanbase, “my way, or the highway!” I-285 is congested enough as it is without any more miffed Hawks fans going round in circles. Discussion is great. Differing is valued. Debate is encouraged. But, I’m sorry, Discord is not on the menu this summer. There’s no appetite for that. Most of you have had months of practice in these forums to know whose rhetoric gets all subcutaneous with you, who you can disagree with without being disagreeable, who you can ignore without acting ignorant, and which personal accusations are verboten around these parts. @AHF, @PSSSHHHRRR87 and Yours Truly have no intentions to mediate tugs-of-war between parties who should already know when, and how, to let go of ropes. If I’m doing any babysitting between now and October, it’s because my buddies and their significant others need a weekend break for fun and frolic. If I’m doing any refereeing this summer, it’s because Lou Williams or 2Chainz is chewing me out over a block/charge call in the AEBL. Your mods and I will not be coming onto this site every other day to dish out warnings, timeouts and Banhammers because somebody decided to respond to perceived boorishness with more of the same. Every off-season there is a ridiculous Squawkpurge that ensues due to unnecessary interactions, and last summer was arguably (and sadly, it’s arguable) the very worst we’ve ever seen. Review the Golden Rules on this here site, and if you feel the urge to issue an inappropriate response to somebody, follow the guidance the soon-to-be-overmatched Pac-12 coach above advises his young charges… Don’t Press Send! The next six months can be pleasant, if we all choose to make it so. Enough of all that drivel. Before I go off and ask Alexa for hammock instructions, I want to thank Coach Bud, the staff, and every one of the 87 players that suited up in a Hawks uniform, for an intentional losing season that was about as well-done as I could have hoped. This was not a 15-win team that won 25 games (oops, I gave away tonight’s outcome too soon. Pretend I said 24!). Certainly not in this LeBronference. Au contraire, this was a 30-win team, 35 at the max, that was poked and prodded and pulled down into 25-ish territory four our long-term benefit. To a tank fan, 25 wins only looks disturbing when somebody else has 20, or 24. Now, if you truly wanted to get to a baker’s dozen and stop, what you would do is, you’d hire Isiah Thomas, or Phil Jackson, or any exec with an overinflated sense of entitlement and accomplishment, to run your company. You’d let him dump Coach Bud, and his collection of whiteboard braniacs, in the summer of 2017, then replace them with a staff that knows only so much as to question their players’ guts, or other vital organs, and not much more. If you prefer, you can wait until the season starts, then pull the chair out from under the incumbent coach you were so enthralled with just months before, a la Phoenix and Memphis. Speaking of overinflation, you stack your roster with Michael Beasleys and D.J. Augustins of the world, single-minded players for whom the full box score matters not nearly as much as their individual lines. Add Joakim Noahs and Bobby Portises, so when they predictably fly off the handle and threaten to harm someone, it’s their own teammates and staff, not just some random schmoe in a Buford Highway parking lot. Swing deals for the Dwight Howards, ensuring your most lead-footed highway drivers are the ones angling for 30+ minutes a night. Put the ball in the hands of guys for whom, once adversity strikes and the 40-point losses roll in, running to Twitter and asking for a way out sounds like a splendid idea. Add in dashes of G-Leaguers, two-ways and ten-days that will hesitate to hustle, or make a basket, or a stop, for fear their participation might spoil the fans’ draft hopes. Need it be noted that, among the NBA players cited in the preceding paragraphs, despite their teams’ best efforts, none of them outperformed the Hawks in the upside-down standings? Need it be mentioned that none of those teams had to plummet farther than Atlanta did from last season to his one? Look at the respective sidelines, the way these Hawks players pull for each other even during downturns and losses, and you would think it was those other teams circling the drain for last in the NBA East. We’ve seen disastrous resets around this town before. The Babcockian variety, where Isaiah Rider, Glenn Robinson, and Antoine Walker get trotted out by the salespeople as if to say, “THIS is the turnaround, folks. Lock in your seats and get in on the ground floor, while you still can!” I credit this staff for not going that route, where the “ground floor” turns out to be a sub-basement with broken rungs on the ladder. Instead, the Hawks gave Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Dewayne Dedmon a chance to show us what 32-50 might look like, three of those players missing critical time while wearing themselves out along the way. They allowed John Collins to build up his playing time gradually, rather than throwing their most efficient player to the proverbial wolves from the outset. They allowed Schröder, Prince, Malcolm Delaney, Mike Muscala to play their way out of, into, and again out of funks, some of epic thread-worthy proportions, gaining valuable tutelage both on and off the court. They acquired veterans like Miles Plumlee and Luke Babbitt, once thought to be useless, and found a way to render them useful. Surging at season’s end, Prince (25.3 PPG, 4.7 APG and 52.4 3FG% in last three games; Atlanta 3-2 in last five games) has been less Bob Sura, the shelf-lifed nine-year vet who nuked the 2005 Hawks’ lotto chances (Atlanta 6-5 season finish) for a shot at one final free agent contract, and more Zaza Pachulia, the player thrust into starts as a young Hawk due to circumstance, whose late 2006 run (Atlanta 4-5 season finish) heralded his practicality for Atlanta’s next playoff string, one that began two seasons later. Around mid-season, the Hawks eased Babbitt, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli on to (at least momentarily) greener pastures. By the time Ilyasova drew his final charge as a Hawk, Atlanta was sitting at 18-40. With a win tonight, they check in with a slightly worse finish (7-17, 6-18 if they lose). Thing is, much of the time, they looked pretty good doing during the downturn, even with Schwab-stumping surnames like Dorsey, Lee, Morris, White, Cavanaugh, Magette, Cleveland, and Evans (and you, too, Bembry) blending smoothly into the rotation. The first year of the Recession under Coach Bud’s stewardship has been unwaveringly functional, the staff never allowing dysfunction and disinterest to take hold among the rank and file. Illustrating his staff’s moderation of the team’s success, the Hawks (24-57) made it to tip-off of the final game of the season without winning three consecutive games at any point. Even with adversity baked in, they never reached double-digits in terms of losing streaks, either, enduring one eight-game stretch in October-November, and one six-gamer in February-March before hitting the skids for five games to conclude last month. In the right-side-up standings, I peer up at every one of the East’s fellow cellar-dwellers – from Detroit and Charlotte to the NYC teams, Chicago, and Orlando, and I find myself, as a fan, unenvious of all of them. Do they have potential championship-caliber stars on their squads? Sure, some do. Do any of them have management regimes that give their fans reason to believe such glory is right around the corner? That would be a no. As it stands, the odds are pretty good the Hawks will select a top-tier talent ahead of all but maybe one of them this June. The sole exception? The franchise that was handed Shaq, C-Webb (if they wanted to keep him), and Dwight on a platter and has as many NBA titles as we do. (Sorry, but if we’ve decided that a single conference final trip doesn’t matter around here, then coming up short repeatedly in NBA Finals will, too. With all that fortune, where are the rings?) Should I be tossing and turning at night that the division rival who got a young Tobias Harris for a song, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, and Jonathan Isaac with top-6 picks, Dario Saric and Domantas Sabonis with top-12 picks, only to squander most and fail to adequately develop them all, will be beating us over the head four times a year with some future Hall of Famer we should have super-duper-tanked for? Perhaps. But I’m not. Sorry, John Hammond, but Larry Drew isn’t around to save you this time. Chris Wallace and John Hollinger got anything special up their sleeves? I have my doubts. The last time Memphis lucked out with a Top-3 pick (2009), they took Hasheem Thabeet. The 4-spot in the lottery that year, OKC, and the team that drew the 7-spot, Golden State, assuredly had fans that were peeved that they couldn’t stink up the joint enough to improve their lottery odds to the Top-3. Rest assured that fans of the Thunder, who leapfrogged two of the Top-3 clubs at lottery time, and Travis Schlenk’s Warriors, got over it soon enough. Memphis? Not so much. And their draft record hasn’t been much better since. Has Ryan McDonough done enough in this league to make you worry about a missed opportunity? The raw Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson haven’t proven to be the swift turnaround specialists they were once touted to be. Phoenix’s fellow Top-Fiver Alex Len has been no great shakes, either. It’s a good thing low-lottery prospect Devin Booker has panned out, at least on offense, enough so that Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton relishes the prospect of pairing with him. But who appears to be a sure thing to me or you, could very well look like somebody inferior to Bender in McDonough’s estimation. Maybe I should lose sleep over what the Suns might do before the Hawks can pick. But I’ll probably be snoozing with cucumber slices above my eyes instead. I’ll try not to snore too loud. I’m not losing sleep that Phoenix or even Memphis can draft-and-stir their way back to championship contention anytime soon, especially in the treacherous West where these would-be All-NBA upstarts have to bump heads with the Currys, KDs, Hardens, Westbrooks, Lillards, Davises, Boogies, Jokics, KATs, and maybe someday Kawhis out there. And don’t let LeBron start feenin for Hollywood, too. Do these teams even know who will be their head coaches, yet? Winning the Draft Lottery outright would be sweet. Still, I’m almost hoping a couple of these particular clubs get to pick ahead of the Hawks, if only to save us from ourselves (where have you gone, Bill Russell?). The peak of PoppaWeapon3’s Sixers fandom came in 1986, when Philly bumped lucky-ducky Boston aside to win #1 in the Draft Lottery. Neither team had to tank to get in the lotto mix, they just had to snooker some other teams, like the San Diego Clippers and Lenny Wilkens’ Sonics, into giving up their future picks. But just a few weeks after the Lottery, Philadelphia’s Harold Katz and Pat Williams got cute. Out goes the chance to draft Brad Daugherty; in comes Roy Hinson. Roy. Hinson. Oh, and out goes former savior Moses Malone on the same day, too! In comes the broken remains of Jeff Ruland. One would think Williams, who bailed from the Sixers later that year, then wound up running inaugural Orlando, would never be granted such lottery fortune again. PW3 Never Again’d the bridesmaid-aspiring Sixers from that summer day forward. “Trust” that -- he reminds me of it weekly. The Process, for guys like him, are now three decades in the making, and counting. Maybe Simmons, Saric and Joel Embiid will be enough to finally melt the ice. Simmons (questionable, tummy flu) and Embiid (out, fractured orbital bone) display tremendous handle and touch in just their first and second seasons, respectively. Mix in Saric, D-and-3 specialist Robert Covington, 2017 first-overall pick Markelle Fultz (1st career start tonight, if Simmons is a no-go), and a bevy of shooters including JJ Redick, Belinelli and Ilyasova, and as MJ might say, the ceiling is the roof. Baseball aside, the sports vibe is as high as they’ve ever been around the City of Brotherly Shove, with parades for Nova and the Iggles in recent months, the Flyers back in the playoffs and the Sixers (50-30) rolling on a 14-game streak, looking like they plan to go on an even bigger tear. But the older fans have seen enough stories like this before -- Barkley’s Sixers, Lindros’ Flyers, Cunningham and the 46 Defense’s Eagles -- to know how quickly it can all unravel and evaporate with one or two less-than-fortuitous postseason ventures, and with a few poorly-timed injuries. Not that he needs it, but Coach Bud has a colleague who he can turn to for advice on how to expertly endure organizational turnover and young rosters in flux. Sixers coach Brett Brown patiently guided this club out of the Process age, and they have a good chance of adding (via the Lakers) one more plum lotto pick to the mix this summer. The Process, we’ve been told by Brown, draws to a close in 2018. At this new tier with wildly heightened expectations, but with Embiid’s early return a wild-card, the new challenge for Brown is to ensure that his Sixers don’t devolve into Processed Meat. He knows Phickle Philly Phans can shift from “Whoo!” to “BOO!” in an instant. The Sixers have two bugaboos, turnovers (NBA-worst 16.2 TO%, slightly worse than the Hawks’ 15.5%) and a propensity for fouling (22.1 personals per-48, 3rd-most in NBA; opponents shooting just 74.5 FT%, 29th in NBA), that could haunt them like the ghosts of Boston Garden at playoff time. They don’t need Simmons or Embiid on the floor (7.1 combined TOs, 5.9 PFs per game) to begin repairing those issues today. But veterans Ilyasova and Amir Johnson can help demonstrate what good discipline could look like on the floor while the headliners sit. Any live experimentation Brown wishes to conduct is likely to happen tonight against the Hawks, as the Sixers travel home tomorrow to meet Milwaukee, a possible postseason opponent. Finishing the regular season ahead of reigning conference champ Cleveland (50-31) would be quite an accomplishment, especially useful if there’s a Conference Final in these teams’ immediate future. But getting gameplans ready to make a splash in the opening round is more important than looking too far ahead. If you haven’t had much enjoyment as a Hawks fan this season, I can only hope you at least tried to have some. I know I did, way more than last season, although I acknowledge the team’s pragmatic, incremental approach to 2017-18 suits me better than others. Balancing the desire to compete with the desire to tank was at once exhilarating and nauseating, but no different than any rickety thrill ride one would find at Six Flags. At Philips Arena, all the half-court fan shots, concerts, cricket tacos, and Hot Sauce breaking ankles were entertaining enough to pass the time. I know I will at least try to enjoy the offseason as well, right on through the draft, free agency, Summer League and training camp, and I look forward to your help, Squawkers, in making it a pleasurable adventure. Anybody ever try zip-lining? It helps to already be a Hawks fan, but I’d better check with my cardiologist first. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  17. “Oh, no! We’re actually gonna win!” Our Atlanta Hawks Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Al Horford of the Boston Celtics (1:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN New England in BOS). Hi there, Al. Our former multi-year All-Star center bailed on Atlanta for Boston, largely, because he wanted more global acclaim without all the critical attention. He could be a $25 million man without being a $25 million scorer, and he wouldn’t have to up his $15 million rebounder game, either. Up until now, the whole shtick has worked well for him. His PER (as per basketball-reference) is the lowest it has been since his second NBA season. His current rebounding rate is a mild uptick from last season’s career-low. Yet, thanks to his choice to don this clover-green basketball jersey, toiling under the auspices of a highly respected coach-GM combo, he has never been lauded by the NBA fanbase more. Horford went into the playoffs last season looking forward to making a run at LeBron with his running buddy, Isaiah Thomas, handling the scoring load. A calendar year later, he enters the postseason without not only his free agent salesperson, but Thomas’ functional replacement, too. Kyrie Irving’s knee procedure leaves Boston without its only 15+ PPG scorer (second-year pro Jaylen Brown averages a team-high 14.4 PPG; rookie Jayson Tatum’s 13.9 PPG is right behind him). Lost in the season opener, 2017 off-season prize Gordon Hayward (ankle, tibia) won’t be around to fill in the gap. Coach Brad Stevens’ club will continue to rely on stifling defense, particularly around the perimeter, to carry the day. But even the defense is taking a hit, as guard Marcus Smart (thumb) will likely miss the opening playoff round. Rookie backup big man Daniel Theis (knee) is done for the year, and Guerschon Yabusele may be questionable after tweaking a knee in Friday’s 111-104 win here at TD Garden against Chicago. Working on Horford’s sharp-shooting craft began in Atlanta, and Boston has benefitted by him perfecting his outside jumper under their watch (43.2 3FG%, 7th in NBA). But with diminishing scoring, defense, and depth around him, the Celtics will need Horford to morph more into a 20-and-10 guy than ever before, once the playoffs begin. Thankfully, that’s not of immediate concern today at the Gahden. He is also the team’s top-remaining assist-man (4.7 APG), so doing it all will be essential at playoff time. Even if Horf gets to play today against his old team, Brad Stevens isn’t going to take too many risks at this point. Don’t expect to catch him wrestling with Miles Plumlee for 50-50 balls. “We’ll probably be judicious with minutes,” Stevens told shootaround media on Saturday. The C’s (54-25) have locked down the #2 seed in the East. With three games upcoming in the next four days, it is purely a matter of sorting out rotations and building positive momentum as the regular season draws to a close. Boston will also lean on the “Oh! Jays” more than they had hoped at playoff time, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While Horford and rookie Jayson Tatum rested on Friday, second-year pro Jaylen Brown scored his career-high 32 points to help fend off the visiting Bulls. Also helping the Celts avoid a worrying third-straight defeat, backup big Greg Monroe notched his second career triple double. Brown and Tatum will have ample opportunity, at least in the early stages, to do what Otto Porter, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards could not. Specifically, they’ll have to cool down the inside-outside wing combo of Taurean Prince (6-for-11 2FGs @ WAS on Friday) and sixth-man Tyler Dorsey (4-for-8 3FGs @ WAS), who helped the Hawks trip up a Wizards team that was doing itself no favors. Up front, it’s hoped that John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon, each with a double-double and at least three dimes on Friday, will have a Morris twin around to defend them for at least a half. Marcus will be out trying to compensate for getting tossed on Friday, forcing Stevens’ hand in playing more of Yabusele, Semi Ojeleye and Aron Baynes than the Celtics coach would have preferred. For now, Stevens hopes he can count on the likes of Jabari “Don’t Call Me Larry” Bird and Kadeem “Don’t Call Me Ray” Allen to provide positive production in the backcourt. Bird and ten-day contractor Jonathan “Don’t Call Me Boobie” Gibson won’t be eligible for the playoffs, so days like today are where they will be expected to cut their teeth. Gibson, a 30-year-old point guard called back home from the Qingdao Doublestar Eagles, checked in during the fourth quarter on Friday and riled up the crowd with nine quick points, including a three-pointer to snap an 86-86 tie and provide the Celtics, and their fans, some welcome relief. In the short-term, Boston hopes these guards will be effective enough to preserve the necessary floor time from “Scary Terry” Rozier, who now starts in Irving’s place at the point. It won’t be put on Horford today to pull off a victory. But it will be time, very soon, where his enhanced play will be vital to Boston collecting four wins in seven games, several times over. For better or worse, this 2018 postseason will be where he gets to make a name for himself, where no one else can help make the name for him. Have fun in the playoffs, Al. Take care. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  18. “Hey, John Vall, me and Huncho gonna get our offseason vorkout started early. Join us vhen you’re freed up in a couple veeks!” We’re almost done! Our 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks season nears its end as they visit the 2015-17 Atlanta Hawks. Pardon? Oh, actually it’s the Washington Wizards (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington) that will participate in the Hawks’ final intra-division fun-run. Maybe it’s the Friday Happy Hour beverage. But I do get the vibe that the Wizards’ course is currently charting our old one. Coach’s-pet All-Stars; veteran starters that seem increasingly beyond their sell-by date; high hopes, for a young talent, that are growing sour; patchwork bench contributors (including Mike Scott) that provide an occasional spark but not much consistency. Led by a former Coach of the Year award winner. A regular season record, and postseason outlook, that belie the players’ boundless expressions of self-confidence that THIS year will somehow be different. Current Pacers reporter and former Wizards correspondent J. Michael tweeted, after reviewing a lackluster effort in the clutch by John Wall and Bradley Beal, during last night’s 119-115 loss in LeBronopolis, “…when you demand more and crave more (attention) – and they got it this season – you’ve gotta make good on it. Otherwise it sets you back even more.” Now in their sixth season together, The Best Backcourt in the East has long had little trouble talking the talk, but it’s walking the full walk that has proven to be problematic for this duo. Fans of the Wizards will now wait an inexplicable 40 years for their team to reach 50 wins in any one particular season. It’s also likely that the wait for a trip to a Conference Finals will stretch into decade number five. This, despite the plethora of injuries befalling the Celtics, and the shifting sands in Cleveland. One would think that if any NBA team would know how to capitalize by now, it would be the one from the District of Columbia. Here they are, at 42-37, going through the motions, bearing a huge payroll for a probable first-round exit, with its top six salary recipients returning for 2018-19 and with Wall’s salary doubling the season after that. Following Hawks-fan parlance of yore, is it past time, perhaps, to begin blowing this roster up? Not if you’re Ernie Grunfeld, somehow still there in an executive capacity. They’re holding out hope that LeBron jumps out West this summer, and that the only comparable superstar that ever jumps East will come because the Wizards hired the player’s former lunchlady as the Director of Team Nutrition. I made that last part up. I think. If there is a single thing the Wizards accomplished in 2018, aside from maybe wresting the Southeast Division title away from Miami, it is putting to bed the notion that this cluster of Wizards is in some way “better” without Wall on the floor than otherwise. One of their pan-flashers, Tomas Satoransky, will fill in for Wall as he rests and remains in and injury-management mode. Post-surgery knee soreness has caused him to miss half the season. But there were times when fans, and at least one player (we see you, Marcin Gortat) felt like Wall’s absence made the rest of the team’s heart grow fonder. Of one another. The last two meetings with the Hawks (22-57) allow a glimpse at what Marcin, et al., were thinking. On December 27, Wall had 11 assists, but was otherwise non-existent over the course of 33 minutes and the host Hawks won it going away, 113-99 on the strength of the Not Best Backcourt in the East, Dennis Schröder and Marco Belinelli. A month later, with Satoransky in for the re-injured Wall, a balanced effort (six players, including Scott’s 19 points, in double figures) led to a thrashing of the Hawks on the same Philips Arena floor, a 129-104 win for the Wizards. That sparked a five-game streak, but in the middle of it, Gortat flubbed an attempt at damning with faint praise, a tweet that had Wall telling his center to shut his pierogi hole. All told, Washington with Wall was 25-17 before his latest return last week, 16-17 without him. But even with him back on the floor, the Wizards aren’t showing signs of an uptick in winning play. After dusting off Charlotte at home one night before, losing by 19 in Chicago (Wall DNP’d for rest) had to be the day’s biggest April Fool’s joke. The Wiz were no match for the Rockets, losing by 16 in Houston two days later. Then last night, in what Wall hoped would be a statement game in Cleveland, Washington allowed 39 opening-quarter points. They surged ahead of the Cavs by 17 midway through the fourth, thanks to some nifty passing by Beal and Satoransky, and a scoring spree by Scott. But, much like the season, or their recent history, once Washington gets something going, they can’t sustain it when it counts. That 17-point lead was gone in the space of six critical minutes. Wall finally found his scoring touch last night, but his habit of wild circus shots and wilder passes (leading to turnovers, 18 in his past 3 games) off his frantic drives to the hoop must cease before the first-round opponent gets here. Fortunately, the Wizards won’t have to deal with a Kyle Lowry tonight. And the only Cleveland that matters today is Antonius (available to play), coming off the bench behind Hawks backcourt starters Damion Lee and Isaiah Taylor. Taurean Prince (sore back) will also be around to make things interesting for Atlanta. Like the Wizards, Grunfeld is probably not going anywhere, yet again. If he is seeking my advice about the way forward going into 2018-19, I’ve got just one word for him. It’s four letters, beginning with a T and ending in K. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  19. Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool! Brain freeze! I’ve grown comfortably numb in the afterglow of last night’s thrilling Tankwin by our Atlanta Hawks over the Miami heat. Instead of a semi-cogent game thread for the rematch at Philips Arena tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA), I’m just going to roll into Stream of Consciousness mode and see what flows out of that. Apologies in advance. Who wants a shiny arena banner? Anybody? Remember back in the day, when division championships meant something? Now that the league has taken away a first-round homecourt guarantee, it’s just fancy-schmancy window dressing. The heat and the Wizards, neck-and-neck at 42-36 apiece, are more concerned about avoiding LeBron – oops, did I say that out loud? I meant playoff positioning – than besting one another for the Dirty South Division title. The Hawks might have a say in who ultimately claims the Southeast. But, hopefully not. Of more pressing strategic interest for Atlanta: do you want probably-playoff-bound Milwaukee to get a 1st-rounder this year, or not? The Bucks’ draft pick to the Suns is 17-30 protected, and my favorite burnt-orange-colored website, Tankathon, has the Bucks at #17, their 42-36 record tied with the Hawks’ next two opponents, Miami and Washington. Our ideal strategery would push the heat and Wiz out of the first two non-lottery slots, making room for Milwaukee (You’re welcome, Phoenix! Don’t be greedy with all them picks. Let us hold somethin’!) at #16, and our dear Thibobullves at #15. Players Only! Shaq the analyst displayed his soft spot for big men last night, in commenting on heat pivot Hassan Whiteside’s travails of late. “He has a legitimate beef,” Shaq said last night on TNT while inadvertently making himself hungry. “He made the comments, ‘hey, there’s a lot of teams that want a center.’ He is correct. But he needs to understand strategy. If I was him, I would say, ‘O.K., I’m going to [let] Coach [Spo] do what he do. But I’m going to get a rest!’ Because, playoff time, when the game slows down, they’re going to need you, big man… I know, as a player, I didn’t win championships until I had 15, 20 games off.” Not entirely true, as it was more like 5-10 days off during his first Laker title years, but it’s a nice tale to tell. Whiteside finally being able to make a meaningful play at the close of the game did wonders for his psyche. Somebody went after Dewayne Dedmon’s rib (Shaq: “mmm, ribs!”), which might become the most fortunate circumstance involving a rib since the days when Adam loafed around the desert leaving toilet seats up everywhere. Dedmon’s questionable to play tonight. G-League superstar Tyler Cavanaugh will be available to sop up minutes so it won’t be all put on Miles Plumlee and Mike Muscala in the clutch. Say, does Hassan like Barbeque Chicken? Don’t ask Shaq, at least not until I get ahead of him in line at Fat Matt’s. By the way, I’m only half-serious, Miami. You’re not obligated to have another late-game “clutch.” The Miami Herald notes the heat’s 52 games with a five-point margin with 5 or fewer minutes to play leads the NBA. “I don’t know what it is,” said Dragic after last night’s scramble-from-behind, skin-of-their-teeth 101-98 victory. I’m hoping [Wednesday] is not going to be close, but you know, that’s us.” Cavahellyeah brought along some of our favorite Bayhawk pals with him, including Andrew White (I don’t like using Jr. or III, IV or the like, unless Daddy played in the Association, too. Andrew White works just fine until Andrew White IV gets here), 10-day contractor Jeremy Evans (welcome back!), and Josh “Yung Bud” Magette. I know they’ve got some crazy playoff stories from Fort Wayne to share with the rest of the crew before they head back. Evans, 30, has averaged nearly a double-double up Nawf (naw not dat way, DAT way) for the B-hawks and has earned himself another quick sip of NBA tea. He and Chris McCullough (wait, Erie got him too? Sheesh! Don’t hurt ‘em, Malik Rose!) could get a nice dunk contest going. Is John Collins well on his way to becoming what we all imagined Al Horford would one day be when he grew up? Rebounds without the flinching, threes without the jab-stepping, infrequent turnovers without the clapping. Develop those passing chops (Shaq: “mmm, chops!”) and I say it’s a wrap! (Shaq: “mmm, wraps!”) Taurean Prince still seems to be in good spirits! On the Hawks’ leading scorer from the past two Atlanta-Miami matchups, Mike Budenholzer pulled out the dreaded “Coach’s Decision” card ten minutes into the game, jussssssssst in time to affect the final outcome. I’m always got my eye on Taurean the DeLorean (all 78 games played), who seemed to be running low on fuel lately (17 total points and 11.1 3FG% in two games prior to last night), to see if he’ll pull a Whiteside on Coach Bud in the media (we still have media, right?) after a short-hook. Thankfully, Taurean keeps the banter between them on the sideline. Atlanta is 3-15 when Prince gets crowned with less than 25 minutes, including 0-4 when he gets under 20 of them. Nice! For all his struggles getting it going all season long, it was kinda nice seeing DeAndre’ Bembry back and mixing it up out there! Rebounded well, got some steals, dished a few dimes, hit a three, and everythang. Had a few too many turnovers, but, hey, you can’t just go from 0 to 60 in… okay, that was bad, nevermind. Bembry (abs) and Antonius Cleveland (ankle) are each listed as probable for today, but I’d really like to see what Cleveland could do in his NBA debut before the home crowd tonight. C’mon Coach Bud, give our NBA virgin the AC Greenlight! Okay, that was somehow even worse, sorry. Just get on out there and break a leg, Antonius! Broadway-style, that is, not like Tony Finau. More like Fin-owwww, amirite? Okay, okay, sorry! That was really sub-par. Ohhh, while I got my mind on the links, congrats to Malcolm Delaney, 2018 Hawks Masters champ! Those Red Jackets are a nice look. If the heat are legitimately trying to do more than simply show up as a low-seed for the first round of the Playoffs (0-5 in postseason series history under such circumstances), they have got to show they can beat teams at least as intentionally underwhleming as the Hawks (22-56) when they’re away from their own comfy confines (I don’t miss the “White Hot!” T-shirt white-outs, not at all). The only playoff-probable clubs with worse away-game records than Miami (17-22) are both in the West: Minnesota (darn it, Thibs!) and the Spurs (gasp! I wonder Kawhi that is…) How does one know, for certain, that a restaurant's She-Crab Soup is 100% feminine? Dare I ask? Stuff like this keeps me up at night. (photo credit above: the supreme @DOLLAONE on Twitter) Happy 404 Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  20. heat center trying to read the Hawks’ pick-and-roll scheme. The Miami heat have no reason to mess around. Winning either of two back-to-back games against our Atlanta Hawks, beginning tonight with the good guys down in South Beach (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA) before returning to play here, or another loss by the Pistons, would be enough to secure a playoff spot for just the second time in the four seasons since Mr. Not One Not Two skipped town. Everyone, aside from Do-It-Yourself Dion Waiters, is healthy enough to suit up for coach Erik Spoelstra, tonight and tomorrow. Following a Tank-busting overtime home loss to Brooklyn, Miami (41-36) has also had two full days off to rest, recalibrate and prepare for whatever Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has up his sleeve. So, why is the team’s highest paid player deciding that now is a good time to make himself the center of attention? “Why we matching up?”, notoriously brooding big-man Hassan Whiteside complained to media outlets, following Saturday’s 110-109 loss to the Nets at AmericanAirlines Arena, when Coach Spo countered Coach Kenny’s small-ball lineups with one of his own. “We got one of the best centers in the league,” Whiteside asserted to the postgame microphones, quite self-assuredly in third person before again begging the question, “Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bull(Shinola!). It’s really bull(pucky!), man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. (Shucks!). That’s bull(chips!).” Whiteside had returned to action in just his second game after missing most of March with a strained hip, and Spoelstra was already being cautious by restricting him to under 20 minutes in the prior game. But if Hassan sincerely wanted to be in the Nets game at crunch time, he didn’t help matters by calling for a sub just under five minutes into the start of the game. Instead of Whiteside, who sat through the final quarter plus OT on Saturday, and rookie Bam Adebayo (DNP-ankle, but available today) Coach Spo relied on his floor-spacing Fabio, Kelly Olynyk, to relieve James Johnson at the 5-spot. That irritated Whiteside enough to disrespect his head coach’s “authoritah.” “I don’t know if it’s because I was on a minutes restriction,” Whiteside continued, characteristically digging himself a deeper hole. “The minutes have been like that all year.” When queried whether this issue made him question his future with the heat, Hassan (two more seasons guaranteed for $51.5 million) couldn’t resist chomping on the bait. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” This is no way to head into April, as your team sizes itself up for one of Boston, Cleveland or Toronto in the first round. Before Whiteside could infest the rest of the locker room with his ball-so-hard attitude, Miami wanted to fine him. Along with the undisclosed payment from Whiteside came a begrudging apology. “…I could have handled it different,” Whiteside explained to the Palm Beach Post and the Miami Herald after practice on Monday. “But I got so caught up in wanting to get that win. I get real competitive,” he added, perhaps confusing impetuousness with competitiveness. “I really want to be out there. But I just trust coach’s decision.” Spoelstra tried to put a nice face on the whole ordeal with a bulleted response on Monday. “We’re going to help him continue to learn how to be a better professional, how to be a better leader in this locker room, how to be a better teammate and, ultimately, how to be a better winner.” Adding levity to the PowerPoint he conveyed to Whiteside, Coach Spo quipped, “If guys want to throw a few eggs at my car after the game, or T.P. [toilet paper] my house, that’s actually a better way to deal with it than speaking to all of you [in the lamestream media] about their frustrations.” All’s well that ends well in South Beach. That is, so long as tonight’s game ends well for the home team. Even with the levied fine, Miami can expect to endure more moody-blues if they fail to clinch tonight, and if Whiteside is on the bench at any time that the Hawks’ Miles Plumlee is ballin’ outta control. One of the teams that couldn’t use a decent center right now is Atlanta. Dewayne Dedmon isn’t just getting his double-doubles (#14 versus Orlando on Sunday, shooting 3-for-7 on threes, five double-doubs in his past seven games) by parking himself around the post and demanding the rock. As sketchy as the Hawks’ overall offensive efficiency can be (99.8 March O-Rating, 3rd-worst in NBA) with so many moving parts, it improves when Dedmon’s paired with John Collins, whose surefire 58.5 FG% (6th in NBA) is presently the best shot accuracy by an NBA rookie since Otis Thorpe in 1984-85. Collins and Dedmon with the standard starting backcourt (Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schröder) produced a positive +8.1 Net Rating (109.9 O-Rating) in 118 minutes together. Replacing Dedmon and Collins with Ersan Ilyasova and the lumbering Plumlee, Atlanta’s efficiencies plummeted to minus-7.0 Net and 100.2 O-Ratings, in thrice the floor time (352 minutes). Hopefully, Hassan is taking notes when he’s not in the game. The struggles for Whiteside (career-highs of 19.9 points, 16.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals per-36; 25.6 MPG, lowest since his magical renaissance in 2014-15; 54.4 2FG%, lowest since 2011-12) beyond the boxscore is exemplary of Today’s NBA, where the Howards and Drummonds of the world are having a hard time coping with their growing disutility. The seven-footer blessed with a 7-foot-7 wingspan aches to dominate with his post-up game, at a time when the number-crunchers suggest that even a decent day exploiting mismatches around the rim can prove to be under-efficient for the larger team offense. Miami has a tepid 104.6 O-Rating (19th in NBA; up to 109.1 and 11th since the Break, mostly without Whiteside available) and moves up-and-down the court with a bottom-five pace (97.6 possessions per-48, 26th in NBA; up to 17th since the Break). It wasn’t like there was some behemoth tempering the heat while Whiteside looked on. It was Brooklyn’s swingmen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, flummoxing Miami counterparts Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow. Relying on the pick-and-roll, featuring James Johnson in tandem with Goran Dragic in the fourth quarter, helped Miami narrow the gap and force overtime in the first place. Winslow sunk a three-pointer to give Miami a 37-26 lead on the Nets early in the second quarter. Tellingly, Miami didn’t convert on another one for the remainder of Saturday’s contest (0-for-7 3FGs, after starting out 7-for-10), including OT. Failing to LTMFF won’t fly if they expect to make any pleasant noise in the playoffs, and Spoelstra recognizes Whiteside can’t help in that department. Ellington went full Ogunbowale on the Dennis Schröder-less Hawks when they last visited Miami, saving the Whiteside-less heat’s bacon by contributing 19 second-quarter points while nailing 6 of 8 threes in a 104-93 win. But it wasn’t exactly Wayne’s World when the heat (again without Whiteside; also missing Goran Dragic, James Johnson, and Winslow) played in Atlanta two months later. Ellington ran into foul trouble and shot just 1-for-6 from the field, and the shorthanded heat (7-for-25 3FGs) proved to be no match for Schröder and Taurean Prince, the swingman who played less like a frog (team-highs of 24 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, a DiVincenzoan 4-for-7 3FGs) in his Hawks’ 110-104 victory. Despite 7 critical turnovers in the October meeting, Prince balanced things out with a game-high three steals plus team-high scoring (20 points) in that contest as well. Vital to victory for Miami, today and tomorrow against Atlanta (22-55), will be clipping the Hawks’ wings (including Prince and Tyler Dorsey, whose 19 bench points helped subdue the Magic on Sunday) while finding some consistent offensive attack at the same position. Richardson, Ellington Tyler Johnson and the returning Dwyane Wade shot a combined 13-for-38 from the field against the Nets. Another player who knows a thing or two about airing his grievances through the media, Dragic (2 assists in 39 minutes, 4 TOs vs. BRK; DNP @ ATL on Dec. 18) must be a better facilitator, finding shooters and passers in position to finish perimeter plays off his drives. Miami is 5-2 when Dragic (25.5 assist%, lowest in his Miami-era) registers 8 or more assists. But the fact that this sample represents less than a tenth of the first-time All-Star’s 72 appearances is the rub, Whiteside aside. It’s on the heat to put hard-charging Detroit firmly in the rear-view mirror, and build positive momentum toward the playoff’s opening round, preferably in a way that better incorporates Whiteside as he returns to full health. Spoelstra will need all the time he can to craft a winning strategy against far more arduous opponents than the Hawks. He can’t be wasting precious time scrubbing breakfast off his car. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  21. Sorry, Orlando. Y’all had y’all’s turns already. TANK WARS! It’s the final head-to-head Tank Battle for our Atlanta Hawks. They won’t have another chance to tack onto another Tankompetitor’s win tally after today’s game against the Orlando Magic (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida). I’m on travel today, but you all know the relevant particulars, ahead of this game. We already know the Prime Objective. Hopefully, our Competitanking Hawks do, too! This one's not for all the marbles, but it is for a LOT of ping pong balls! Happy Easter! And Let’s Go Magic! April Fools! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  22. Hawks opponent trying to keep up with Isaiah Taylor. Oh, Benjamin. Benjamin. You know not what you have done. Not yet. But, thank you. This week has been seminal in progress for our Atlanta Hawks, who return from a way-too-eventful road trip to host Ben Simmons and the rolling Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Philadelphia). Like another Bennie Boy from Philly, Simmons has discovered the key to draw lightning in a bottle (or jar, if you prefer), producing an electricity that us Tank-era Hawks fans heretofore didn’t know existed. With noted exception to our esteemed Squawkfriend Spud2Nique, and many of you other folks out there, I already have a low tolerance for the Game Stop Boys in our midst. Workdays aside, I am fortunate to live a mostly peaceful existence, up until from roughly 11 PM to 3 AM at night. That’s when my neighbor hops on the PlayStation and my walls are suddenly vibrating, as he gleefully blows something/body up to the enhanced effect of his Dolby Surround Sound system. I think his new wife is totally down with it, too. Man, what a trooper. We’re cool and all, as they’re otherwise responsible peeps. Besides, I get their dinnertime walls rattling, in turn, each time I bellow, “IN DEE FACE!”, anytime John Collins throws one down on fools’ noggins. Or, “AND ONE!”, for every successful Dewayne Dedmon post-up, whether he’s fouled or not. Or, “GOT HEEEEM!”, whenever Dennis Schröder (doubtful, ankle) breaks the appropriate sections of somebody’s legs as he drives for the hoop-and-scoop. For all the popcorn ceiling the neighbors have shaken into my hair, it all evens out. Still, it would be swell for the folks next door to occasionally go to, like, sleep, the way normal homo sapiens with 8-to-6s tend to do. I also grow especially irascible with the button-pushing Ninjas, online, who ought to be Rated I for Immature. This week, Master Simmons hit the irritation sweet spot on both counts. For that, he gets promoted to the next level. Don’t worry about staying up late, Simmons assured Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. As Tuesday night turned to Wednesday morning, Ben’s appeal was that Towns’ Wolves were “only playing the Hawks” later that day. Bear in mind, barely 24 hours prior, the Wolves were “only” playing the Grizzlies at the Target Center, yet Minnesota could “only” watch as Memphis ended their umpteen-game losing streak. Keeping up with current events is hard when you’re on the X-Box all day. Consider, also, the Sixers (44-30) had just waxed the Wolves in Philly (Simmons with a 15-12-13 triple double, his 10th on the season, 3rd in NBA) two days before that. Why are you two boys even…? You’re absolutely right, @hawkman. Dang Millennials. Then, as Towns was getting his LiAngelo on (56 points, 16 rebounds) courtesy of our lively Atlanta Hawks youth team on Wednesday night, Simmons was all too happy to chime in. “Told ya,” he Insta’d KAT. What are you, 12, Bennie? Were it at all possible, Towns would remind Simmons that his Wolves needed every bit of his franchise-record 56 to outlast “only” a Hawks team that, with all respect due to the visitors on the floor, wasn’t trying all THAT hard, and for good reason. Karl-Ant goes 2-for-8 from deep instead of 6-for-8, and that game is in overtime, and my hairline gets that much closer to resembling Thibs’. Sure, KAT, like fellow Minnesota legend MTM, can turn the world on with his smile. But if he drops “only” 40 on “only” the Hawks, and the Wolves lose to two lottery squads in the space of three nights, with possibly the first NBA Playoffs in 14 years hanging in the balance? No, Minnesota, you’re NOT gonna make it after all. Towns could try explaining all this to his play-buddy Simmons. Alas, he’s limited to 280 characters, so… Simmons’ antics don’t really amount to poking a bear or enraging a bull. Trolling the Hawks is the NBA equivalent of cow-tipping of the highest juvenile order. What Simmons has yet to discover is, you keep messing around with Atlanta, and you eventually find yourself squaring up with a heifer of the “Kung Pow!” variety. Simmons only needs enough sense to ask around the NBA universe a bit. All our heroes need a foil. For all his unenumerable powers, try to imagine Superman zipping around the globe getting cats unstuck from trees, freezing back our ice caps, and helping little old ladies cross streets. Bo-ring! To give a raison d’etre to our daily existence, we all need a Thanos, a Killmonger, a Lex Luthor, a Paul Pierce in our lives. I really admired Poor Paulie, back in the day. Scored lots of buckets, got over the whole nightclub stabbings thing, lugged a once-proud Celtics team as far as he could carry them during Red Auerbach’s final years. He was one of them Bros for which Cool Stories are made, soon to head toward the sunset in JoeJohnsonland as a 30-year-old borderline Hall of Famer requesting a trade to a serious contender. Then, lightning struck. Danny Ainge gets to work. Here comes Ray Allen. Here comes Kevin Garnett. Here wakes up Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo. And, along the path to Celtics Title #17, all of a sudden, here comes Ratface Paul Pierce. The guy who hadn’t won a playoff series in five years becomes a self-fashioned nemesis, an otherwise mature 30-year-old on our floor talking trash, picking shoving matches, placing unwise wagers with our young Atlanta Hawks. Finally getting back to the postseason for the first time in ages was the ice cream. But whooping Celtic tail, three times at The Highlight Factory, was the hot fudge, the forlorn looks on Pierce’s face each time the whipped cream. Y’now what? The cherry could wait. With no rational, underlying justification, Pierce put a target on the Hawks’ backs. And through all the Tebowing on our logo, through all the I-Called-Gaming, all the tricks that joker pulled out of his bag, we laid our target squarely on him. Armed with just Josh Childress at small forward, Atlanta became his toughest non-LeBron adversary along the way to his first NBA ring, in 2008. And The Truth is, he never got himself another one. Our heroes, the 2015 Hawks (and their trusty game clock sidekick) made sure of that. The year in which our Hawks return to the postseason while likely begin with the digits “202”. But whatever the final digit becomes, Bennie Boy will be our fans’ new Public Enemy #1. The one rule Atlanta sports adversaries learn the hard way: don’t come for us, unless we’ve sent for you. You all remember Brandon Jennings, don’t you? Simmons was a mere middle-schooler back when “Feer the Deer” was en vogue, when a 20-year-old Jennings was assured that he was Kind of a Big Deal. He, not James Harden, was All-Rookie 1st Team in 2010. The Hawks, who had already peaked in many minds, were supposed to be a mere speed bump on the way to future glories for Jennings, who accused Atlanta players of coming into Milwaukee “a little bit cocky” for Game 3, and who was eager to make an example of the Hawks just because he felt snubbed for Rookie of the Year. Even having lost an ugly series with Atlanta without Andrew Bogut, the first-overall pick the Hawks missed out on in the 2005 Lottery, and leading scorer Michael Redd, Milwaukee’s future seemed bright with Jennings carrying the banner. Birrrrrrr… what happened to that boy? After all the youthful bristling wore away, these days, the only Fear Jennings engenders involves what happens tomorrow, after his ten-day contract period ends. Does Simmons need a more modern example? How about our latest hip-hopped star, Isaiah Thomas? “Oh! Woe is me! I was passed over! I was picked last!” Who do you think you are, Alpha Kaba? “I’m gonna make an example out of the Hawks in the playoffs. Back up the Brinks truck for me, Danny Ainge!” How’s that all working out for you, I.T.? Which NBA town are you in this week? And is that an armored vehicle or a bus that you’ve been thrown under? All that bluster and gang-banging braggadocio in 2017 from the comedy team of John Wall and Bradley Beal, like anyone that has lived in Atlanta for five minutes has reason to be intimidated by dudes from Raleigh and St. Louis. As far as D.C. cats go, Tyrone Hankerson, Jr. gives Dennis Schröder more pause than these two nitwits. Say, will 2019 be the year they finally get to 50+ wins and a conference final? ‘Cause it sure ain’t happening this season. Say, is there a gang sign for overrated? Simmons could be staying up a full fortnight, playing a game of Fortnite, and should still be able to carry his team past the Hawks at the Highlight Factory. That’s with or without the guy Simmons should be leaving all this social media ragging to, anyway. The Center of the Future, Joel Embiid got whacked upside the noggin by the Backup Point Guard of the Future, Markelle Fultz (there was no hitch in his accidental headshot, so that’s progress). With an orbital fracture and a concussion, Embiid is not only staying home for the Sixers’ two-game road swing that ends on Sunday up in Kembaville, but his return in time for the long-awaited playoffs is now in doubt. But, hey, at least our Hawks helped handicapped today’s outcome, by waiving Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli so the pair could land in Philly’s lap right on time for this refreshing playoff push, one that wasn’t completely a slam dunk just two months ago. Philadelphia was just 24-24 after losing “only” in Brooklyn on January 31. Then came the ex-Hawks. Now the 76ers have won 20 of their past 26, and they can today win their ninth in a row to conclude their March record at a solid 13-3. Coach Brett Brown, I am sure, is mighty grateful to his former colleague, the Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer, and our management staff. Can you put down the controllers for a moment and say, “Thank you, Atlanta,” Ben Simmons? I’m sure you can. Get all the chuckles in while you can, Bennie Boy. For all their momentary, newfound success on the court, this here was a Process that was **this close** to getting CTRL+ATL+DEL’d. That’s because, for every Embiid, there was a Michael Carter-Williams. For every Dario Saric and Fultz, there was a Furkan Korkmaz, and a Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. For every Simmons, there was a Jahlil Okafor, a Nerlens Noel. And none of the so-called success-stories of the moment were of the instantaneous variety. Sam Hinkie, himself, was the Sixers’ third GM in three years by the time he came on the scene in 2013. Once he was pushed into writing his own walking papers, with the team starting out 1-21 in 2015-16, with Okafor and Noel shrinking into nothingness, it was so tempting for Bryan Colangelo to blow the whole thing up. Who knows what kind of Cheez Wizzy mess Simmons could have walked into, had he himself been able to play in his draft year, without upstarts like Embiid or Saric around to carve a path first. Fortunately for Simmons, the team stuck with its high-potential youngsters, and built around them with vets like J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Belinelli, and Ilyasova. They also developed a defensive stalwart, in Robert Covington, so they wouldn’t be giving up more than they dish out. So now, and only now, Simmons got jokes. He thinks his first name is Russell now. I, for one, have been pleased as punch over the on-court production of Collins, the first player currently behind Simmons in Player Efficiency Ranking, and the next player behind Simmons and Donovan Mitchell in Grizzlies guru John Hollinger’s other ESPN-era stats, of Value Added and Estimated Wins Added. That includes being the top rookie in Rebounding Rate (shhh… Erie Bayhawk playoff participant Tyler Cavanaugh ranks 6th, ahead of Mr. Simmons. That oughta look good in 2K19). Johnny Bap’s an upstanding kid. And dude put up with Demon Deacons in the ACC, so who better to muddle through with during a losing season? I know the cheery EXPRESS Men’s model will take all the ribbing and e-snickering in stride, just as he will the favored-team-media snub that’s coming, a few weeks from now, at All-Rookie award time. But he’s taking notes. And when it’s time to make his statement, it won’t be a Snapchat Streak or whatever the cool kids use by then. Once Collins’ Hawks take their turn rebuilding their roster, over the course of this and the next offseason, it won’t be about what’s getting played, but who. Simmons will be looking up, soon, only to find it’s not only the Hawks’ G-League and E-League teams whooping the Sixers’ tailfeathers, but the NBA-league one, too. For now, though, if he sincerely wants the Rookie of the Year award all to his lonesome, he had better do what Mitchell could not, and that’s carry his team to victory against the Hawks. Go ahead and use whatever sliders you need, Bennie. It won’t be on April 11, the season finale when the Sixers return to The Highlight Factory, hopefully with playoff seeding all wrapped up. It probably won’t even be next year. But, Ben Simmons, You Gon’ Learn. Happy Passover! Happy Easter! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  23. “You kidding me?” My dear Minnesota Timberwolves, It is me, the Atlanta Hawks. Before tonight’s scrimmage commences between you and I (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP), I’m stopping by the Target Center to address you, heart to heart. I’m afraid, my longtime confidant, we need to have That Talk. What… ARE we, right now? No, seriously, I thought we had a mutual understanding. A simpatico. A powerful bond, one transcendent of any other NBA teams’ comprehension. I was growing weary of mostly fruitless playoff appearances. You thirsted to grab a quince from the Garden of Postseason, perhaps at some point before the Martians get here. We not only found each other, we co-exist, to chart one another’s destinies. We belonged together. Or, so I thought, until recently. I mean, just imagine, me, with my multiple lottery selections this summer, expertly drafted by Travis Schlenk. And you, with your… whatever that is you’re doing… with your prodigious talent tipping off against mine, plus all the great free agents we’re bound to draw, in the 2020 NBA Finals, the first ever for our lovely NBA cities. That was the dream. That was OUR dream, don’t you remember? By 2020, we’re not supposed to be sitting around watching your promising lottery-protected pick deteriorate into a pair of piddling future second-rounders. By 2020, you’re not supposed to be still mired in the swamp of Secaucus in the springtime, promising your fans, “This time, I’ll be sweeter!” This “thing” is just not working out, this… “relationship,” if that’s what you want to call it… between you and me. I get it, you thought Adreian Payne could someday become your Taj Gibson, so you wouldn’t have to go out and get him yourself. Heh, at one point, I held some high hopes for Major Payne, too. We have each moved on from him. But you, my dearest Timbo, have not yet held up your end of the bargain. You, my precious Minny, are threatening to not be there for me, right when I need you most. Ugh! I can’t even bring myself to friend-zone you right now. I honestly believe we need to start seeing other people. Other people, that is, pulling the strings in your player personnel department. As evidenced by Monday’s disheartening 101-93 loss here at the hands of the “bear”-bones Grizzlies, your coach’s cooking hasn’t been all that great. So, why, pray tell, are you so enthralled with letting Tom Thibodeau buy the groceries, too? You are endowed with my former All-Star point guard, Jeff Teague. You not only have an All-Star center in Karl-Anthony Towns, you let Thibodeau reunite with All-Star Jimmy Butler, and nearly got sixty games out of him. That is, before Coach Thibs ran Butler, as he is wont to do, into the frozen tundra. Why are you not at 45 wins already? Why, as the calendar turns to April, do you need my help to get there? That Jimmy Buckets (torn meniscus, return unknown; NBA-high 37.1 MPG) has become Jimmy Buckled once again was predictable. What is unacceptable is that, by now, the Great Value Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins (20.0 PPG and 5.2 RPG this month, but 44.6 FG%), and Towns (53.3 FG% this month, down from 58.1% last month) haven’t grown defensively under the auspices your handpicked, supposedly defensive-minded coach/GM. Further, that the starters’ over-exertion to compensate defensively is eating away at their collective offensive capacity. (108.5 PPG this month, lowest since November) What’s intolerable is going just 8-9 since replacing Butler in the starting unit with Nemanja Bjelica, 4-7 in your past 11 games. That’s just not working for me, not at all. When will MY needs be important to you? Frankly, the withered Rose you bought wasn’t what I needed. Never mind that it arrived weeks after Valentine’s Day. Derrick Rose (questionable, sprained ankle) isn’t even what you needed. You already had a scoring guard that’s a defensive sieve, in the eminently durable Jamal Crawford. Unlike Payne, you knew what you were getting when you started courting J-Craw last summer. If you weren’t sure, you could certainly have consulted me. Yet now, thanks to your strident insistence on redundancy, your fanbase is turning on poor Jamal, who came in from the warmth of L.A. to grace you with his presence. You don’t deserve him, tbh. Were you aware that, besides Crawford, there is a whole other set of reserve Thibobullves at the end of the bench, sitting on their hands, eager to contribute? How can I trust your commitment to our “relationship” if you can’t even bring yourself to activate Justin Patton, a Riverdale native that’s just a few months senior of my John Collins. You recall, Patton, a center that you selected three picks ahead of mine last summer? How soon we forget. You’re telling me Patton couldn’t be relieving KAT (36.4 MPG last six games, the Wolves 2-4 in that span) by now? That he couldn’t be putting in more productive minutes than Gorgui Dieng (14.0 MPG last ten games) and Cole Aldrich (team-low 2.4 MPG, questionable due to illness) with a little more emphasis toward developing the youngsters? Speaking of youngsters, with your team near the cellar in assist percentage, why is Tyus Jones (career-high 53.1 eFG%), your promising first-rounder from 2015, wasting away on the pine, and expected not to move the ball on the rare occasions he is in the game? Do you really need Jeff to put in 42 minutes just to (try to) outlast the Grizzlies? Were I not already volt green, you could color me unconvinced. If you were sincere about your intentions, you would not be crawling into April with a defensive efficiency (108.9 D-Rating, 7th-worst in NBA) that manages to be worse than mine (108.5 D-Rating, 8th-worst). And my intentions have been clear from the outset, engaging in a tryst with The Process That Dare Not Speak Its Name (okay, fine, Tanking. It’s Tanking, don’t act like you’re unfamiliar with that) to the extent the law allows. Why is your defense still palling around with mine? Try as I might here in Atlanta (21-53), I cannot accommodate you with my long-held playoff spot. You, Minnesota (42-33, 1.5 games ahead of 9-seed L.A.), must earn your own reservation, in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference (15-23 in-conference, decidedly worse than the 19-19 Clippers). And you could be doing so much more to keep our waning “relationship” a healthy one. I understand, you thought you were helping me when you lost to the Suns (twice), the Nets, the Magic, the Bulls, and now the Grizzlies (twice). But I have overrated squads like the Wizards and heat to do that for me. See? There you go again, being redundant. You had one job, split into two tasks. Clinch. Then lose. Win those games (11 losses to sub-.500 clubs; 17 wins, fewest among playoff-eligible teams) and you would have already shaken your playoff hex by now. But here we are. Look, I am trying not to be difficult. I’ve got my pugilist point guard Dennis Schröder on the shelf, getting his sprained ankle in shape for a bracelet he might have to wear down the road. He won’t be out there tonight trying to get comeuppance against his former mentor. Remember my 105-100 “victory” in Atlanta back in January, when Teague shot an inauspicious 1-for-12 from the field? Dennis has been-there, done-that plenty of times already. I’m giving you one more shot to redeem yourself, Minnesota. No Schröder, no Kent Bazemore in the backcourt. You don’t even have to put up with Malcolm Delaney, or DeAndre’ Bembry, or Jaylen Morris. Can you conceivably handle Isaiah Taylor instead? Please, try not to turn Damion Lee and Tyler Dorsey into Tim Hardaway or Wayne Selden tonight. Dewayne Dedmon isn’t taking any days off. But he should be at least a breath of fresh air for Towns, after your center got pushed around at turns by Joel Embiid and Marc Gasol (4-for-7 3FGs, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks on Monday) in recent days. There’s no point in wearing your starters down just to beat me tonight. I’ve let go of the rope. Former Yellow Jacket Marcus Georges-Hunt is over there on Thibodeau’s bench for a reason. You don’t need any fancy scouting report for me. I’m serving up fellow Minnesotan Mike Muscala on a platter for 25+ minutes, some of it alongside Tyler Cavanaugh. If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never know me. I don’t intend to keep you up all night, tossing and turning, as you’ve got real work ahead of you. If all goes as it should, very soon, you’ll go your way, and I’ll go mine. There’s no need for you and I to be back here next year, with you regurgitating your tired, empty promises. Officially, we should be through with one another, as of moonrise today. I bid adieu, and I wish you well in your future endeavors with other NBA partners. But just so we’re perfectly clear: if I’m not walking out of Target Center today with a loss, it’s not me, my darling Minnesota. It’s you. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  24. “But, it was just charades! I yelled… LOW CUT SOCKS!... not, HOLTKAMP SUCKS!” Here’s hoping for a thoroughly uneventful game for the Atlanta Hawks, for a change! Their West Coast swing continues with a visit to the Houston Rockets (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in H-Town), who are out to secure their first-ever (???) 60-win season tonight. The main question is, how easy can the Hawks make this for the Rockets? Houston (59-14) won handily last night at the Toyota Center, a 114-91 victory over the playoff-probable Pelicans that was only contentious as far as the barbs and fouling on the court. Conference Finals Virgin Chris Paul (sore hamstring) was rested for the past two games, and coach Mike D’Antoni would like to DNP a few more key components. But James Harden isn’t inclined to go along with that plan. Harden (NBA-high 30.9 PPG, 36.2 Usage%, 30.1 PER and .293 WS/48) remains in front of the pack contending for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. But when the Beard peeks over his shoulder, he sees a hairy situation: MVP candidates Cavs’ LeBron James, the Blazers’ Damian Lillard, and the Pels’ Anthony Davis are gaining on him as the regular season nears its end. Even with his Rockets a virtual lock for the Western Conference’s #1 seed entering the playoffs, Harden has no desire to shift to cruise-control. It’s up to D’Antoni to make sure Harden starts, and gets to lead on the floor when it’s time to salt games away. But the reigning Coach of the Year will also strategically massage his marquee player’s minutes. Impressively, Harden is likely to earn his MVP award with a downtick in per-game playing time for the second straight season (35.6 MPG, down from an NBA-high 38.1 in 2015-16). Hawks fans would have hoped for a different season where Houston would pass along their first-round draft pick. But the Rockets, unlike the Warriors, have stayed fairly healthy, and GM Daryl Morey concocted a squad deep enough with veteran role players (now including future Hawks jersey retiree Joe Johnson) that its winning collection of stars and starters don’t have to over-exert themselves, or play too far outside of their comfort zones. Just as Paul (7.9 APG, lowest since his rookie season) has effectively reduced the necessity for Harden (8.6 APG, down from an NBA-high 11.2 last season) to distribute the ball as much as last year, Clint Capela (18 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 steals vs. NOP) obviates the need for Harden (5.3 RPG, lowest since 2013-14) to dominate on the glass. Unlike some former MVPs, you won’t catch Harden (27 points, 8 assists, 9 TOs vs. NOP) wrestling around in the paint with the JaVale McGees and Mike Muscalas of the world when it’s time to vie for a tough rebound. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon (4-for-9 3FGs vs. NOP, 4 assists, 4 TOs) serves as the sole traditional point guard in the rotation with Paul out, and he’ll need help from his Harden (1.8 SPG, 6th in NBA) and his defensive swingmen to get a bead on a rested Dennis Schröder (16 points, 7 assists, 4 TOs @ GSW on Friday; questionable with an ankle sprain). With Trevor Ariza, Joe and P.J. Tucker trying to slow Schröder’s rolls, catch-and-shoot opportunities will abound for Taurean Prince (team-high 20 points, 4-for-8 3FGs, 2 steals, 2 blocks @ GSW), Tyler Dorsey (3-for-7 3FGs @ GSW), Damion Lee and Andrew White. If Dennis is a scratch, that primary dish-and-swish facilitator role would fall to Isaiah Taylor, who moved the ball well against G-State (6 assists, 2 TOs in 19.5 minutes on Friday). Keeping the Hawks (21-52) within shouting distance late won’t be the threes, but the free throws, a factor that has worked well in the Rockets’ favor this year (75.0 opponent FT%, 3rd-lowest in NBA). Atlanta clanked an inordinate 11 freebies on 20 attempts in Oakland on Friday, as much a factor in the Hawks’ inability to continue putting the second-half scare to the Warriors (and Others) as anything else. Mike Budenholzer is fine coaching a beatable team that doesn’t beat themselves, so expect better focus by his Hawks from the charity stripe tonight. For Houston, it’s just a matter of getting the win total into the 60s, and zeroing in on sewing up the 1-seed, as quickly as possible. For Atlanta, it’ll just be nice to not be the backdrop to a lead story on SportsCenter for a little while. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  25. “We love to fly…” “…and it shows!” Commonalities between Dominique Wilkins and Taurean Prince? Both were drafted by the Utah Jazz and later traded to the Atlanta Hawks, who happen play the Jazz in Salt Lake City tonight (9:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain in SLC), before their rookie seasons. Both wear, or wore, a ‘1’ and a ‘2’ on their Atlanta jerseys. And both are coming into their own during their Age-23 seasons with the Hawks, although not for much longer. Taurean crosses into Age 24 a couple days from now, and the Aries suddenly finds himself ramming his way upwards in his young NBA career. Prince elevated his March-long scoring average to 21.5 PPG (46.6 3FG%) by matching his career high, from earlier this month, of 38 points (9-for-13 2FGs, 8-for-8 FTs) during the Hawks’ entertaining 122-117 loss in Milwaukee on Sunday. Over the course of Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s tenure, I’ve had to learn not to freak out and give up too prematurely on the Budwings, who are constantly under development behind the scenes, fine-tuning their unique, individual skills to suit their team’s long-term objectives, and taking plenty of lumps along the way. From Kyle to DeMarre to Thabo to Baze to Timmy, the narrative now applies to Taurean, who has morphed from near-replacement-level talent in January (9.1 PPG, 34.8 FG%, minus-9.6 net rating) to a more reliable offensive cog (63.4 March TS%, 15th among NBA players getting 30+ MPG) during his team’s meticulously planned swoon. With each game in just his second season, Prince is transforming Hawks’ fan opinions from, “If he doesn’t figure out his defensive shortcomings, he’s useless,” to “If he ever figures out his defensive shortcomings, watch out!” It’s on the road where the Hawks turn to Prince (15.2 road PPG and 45.3 road FG%; 12.0 and 39.3 FG% at Philips) to attack inside, and score or get fouled trying. He has been picking his perimeter shots more judiciously away from home (4.93 road 3FGAs per game, 5.76 at home), although the Bucks game was an outlier narrowing that differential (4-for-13 3FGs on Sunday). Atlanta will turn to Taurean even more this evening, as rookie John Collins (Zaza’d in Milwaukee by the Greek Freak, out with an ankle sprain) sits at least this one out. Interior scoring for Prince, Dennis Schröder and the Hawks will be a much harder bargain, certainly, with the stifling Rudy Gobert (NBA-highs of 26.2 Net Rating and 72.1 TS% for 30+ MPG players; 25 double-doubles) holding down the fort for the torrid Jazz (40-30), who aim to stretch their undefeated month to 10-0 tonight. Remember when undefeated calendar months were kind of a big deal? Getting to 15-0 will require Utah to win not only tonight but also at San Antonio, at G-State, and back home versus Boston. That’s a slate that’s not nearly as daunting as it once looked, given their upcoming opponents’ injury issues. And this is a team that went 11-0 right before the All-Star Break, a stretch that began not long after losing Thabo Sefolosha for the season. Utah was 14th in team D-Rating before Thabo was shelved; they’re #1 (97.7 D-Rating) since. Go, Coach Thabo! The 4-Man combo of Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles represent the top four NBA players in Net Rating this month. Former Bud acolyte Quin Snyder is rolling into this matchup without starting power forward Derrick Favors (sore knee), who is having a bit of a renaissance year himself (career-high 58.3 2FG%). The arrival of Rookie of the Year finalist Mitchell (10-for-13 2FGs in Saturday’s close-shave 103-97 win vs. SAC) effectively alleviated Favors from having to step up offensively in the aftermath of Gordon Hayward’s departure, and he has responded with efficient scoring in exchange for a lightened workload. Villa Rican and former Cavalier forward Jae Crowder will be likely to fill in on Favors’ behalf. With Jae closing games in place of Favors, Utah’s 5-man unit has produced a league-best 76.4 D-Rating and 41.8 Net Rating, according to stats reported by the Salt Lake Tribune. Utah has gone a sterling 22-4 since Rudy returned from injury, back on January 19. However, that first 11-game winning run was preceded by a sour note by the Jazz. Namely, a 104-90 loss in Atlanta back on January 22, where the cited quartet of Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles and Gobert combined to score just 29 points while committing 15 player turnovers. The low-paced game remained a tight affair until Schröder and Prince (combined 37 points, 11-for-23 2FGs, 9-for-9 FTs) helped the Hawks break it open in the third quarter. Prince was particularly pernicious scoring off Jazz turnovers, particularly his steals (three) off a sloppy Mitchell and Rubio. The second steal-and-layup gave the Hawks a lead they would not again relinquish, and his dime to Mike Muscala (a probable starter today, in place of Collins; double-digit scoring in 3 of past 5 games) following his final theft opened up a 23-point lead that made Utah’s fourth-quarter scramble purely academic. This time around, Coach Quin will rely upon Rubio to make better decisions with the ball for the possession-hogging Jazz. Backup ballhandler and former Hawks draft-and-tradee Raul Neto is out indefinitely with a wrist fracture. Son-of-a-legend David Stockton is around on a ten-day to help fill the gap. But the Jazz will use the remaining games as a critical opportunity to rework 2014 lotto pick Dante Exum (10 points in 14 minutes vs. PHX, during his season-debut last Thursday) back into the rotation before the playoffs start. Defensive efficiency (115.4 March D-Rating, 29th in NBA) has remained a problem for the Hawks (20-50, seven straight road losses) throughout their latest six-game slide. But when they’re active forcing their foes into mistakes, not just the live-ball variety, Atlanta can have the look of a near-.500 team (6-8 when opponents’ turnover percentage > 17.0%, as per bball-ref). When Taurean makes the right defensive reads and doesn’t get caught out of position blindly fishing for steals (15 in Atlanta’s 20 wins; 54 in their 50 defeats), the final quarters of games can get downright scary these days… for a variety of reasons. Prince may struggle tonight, with the halfcourt lanes closed and one less scoring threat on the floor. But as he figures things out over time, look for Taurean’s gameday film to continue including more Highlight, and less Human. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record