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  1. TRADE SZN! Where is Dwight off to, now? Mozgov (also in this deal) fell out with Coach Kenny and made it public, while Dwight's ex-Magic coach (Cliff) got fired by Charlotte and is back in Orlando now, so this deal makes a little sense for both clubs. ~lw3
  2. Moar Spurz Guyz! ~lw3
  3. Dwight, I am SO sorry. ~lw3
  4. “Next stop… NBA championship glory!” No, Dwight Howard, you’re no Coach Killer! Not anymore, anyway. These days, think of yourself as more of a PBO/GM Manslaughterer. Howard arrived in Charlotte hoping to resurrect his formidable but fun-loving reputation, once more, under the auspices of his trusted coach from olden, more golden days of yore. Now Howard arrives for the final time this season at the Highlight Factory, with the GM who acquired him summarily dispatched, while suddenly lame-duck coach Steve Clifford is nearly on the outs, too. Perhaps coach (and former PBO) Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks can lob Coach Cliff, Dwight, and the Hornets yet another lifeline tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas). This time next week, Philips Arena will be populated to the rafters with countless fans of Final Four hopefuls, and more than a few discerning NBA scouts as well. While March Madness is thrilling for most of us, prognosticating by the seats of our pants and pulling for schools we’ve never heard of before, it must be an increasingly bittersweet feeling for the Carolina Ranger. Seven years removed from a blistering run to the NCAA Championship, Kemba Walker is finally getting All-Star accolades, but seems to be losing his way as the luster from his One Shining Moment wears thin. Hornet/Bobcat fans have learned, as well as anyone, that Tank-and-Stir isn’t a surefire way to NBA title contention. Kemba entered the league with all the well-deserved media hype and, with a college championship ring in hand, took Charlotte by storm, one Dougie dance at a time. The Bobcats didn’t wind up with the worst lottery odds, or the number-one pick, but when Walker landed in their laps, they sure felt like a 49er finally striking gold. Their new Savior was a good soldier, as fans endured the worst NBA campaign (7-59) in recorded history, plus a franchise remake on and off the court, with Kemba at center stage amid it all. There were supposed to be more than five first-round home playoff games in the Queen City by now. Kemba was supposed to be the effervescent talent that puts Charlotte routinely front-and-center on TNT Thursday nights, the lead guard with a dizzying handle and a unique five-letter name beginning with K who draws other superstars to his once-struggling NBA locale for annual shots at NBA Finals. But now, in 2018, Walker looks around him and is certainly scratching his head. That 7-59 tanktastic campaign begat Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a 2012 second-overall pick and fellow NCAA champion, a defensive savant who can never stay healthy enough to resolve his flaws at the other end of the floor. There’s Cody Zeller, the fourth-overall pick from 2013. The golden boy arrived in the Tar Heel State with similar post-March Madness promise. Yet Zeller has settled in as a solid reserve, behind Dwight, with his own sketchy injury history (unlikely to play tonight due to a knee injury). There’s Frank Kaminsky, 2015’s Naismith and Wooden Award winner and NCAA finalist, who has had a career arc that’s roughly the inverse of MKG’s. The season before he got there, Noah Vonleh was the belle of the ball at ninth-overall. He became a near-instant washout. But flipping him to Portland allowed the Hornets to gamble with Nicolas Batum, who stuck around for his big NBA payday but has yet to consistently display the sharp-shooting 3-and-D promise he once flashed as a Blazer (34.1 3FG% w/ CHA in 3 seasons). As Kaminsky was up late this morning, watching Drake and Ninja play Fortnite on Twitch, Walker (22.7 PPG and 43.1 FG%, down slightly from 23.2 and 44.4% last season) must be up wondering why his whole team, that started from the bottom, is still here (in the lottery). He serves as an example of the perils which await lotto-bound teams that forget their work isn't done, once their long-sought Savior arrives via the draft. Kemba knows he isn’t even the first UConn talent that a Charlotte NBA club failed to properly build around. Second-overall pick Emeka Okafor arrived in 2002, and he was subsequently supplemented with top-ten lottery picks Raymond Felton, Adam Morrison, Brandan Wright, and D.J. Augustin before giving up on him. A consistent thread from the prior era, continuing into the current one collected by recently-deposed GM Rich Cho, is most of the Horcats’ choices being swayed by big moments on big college teams on the biggest stage. As all the Dougying around Uptown has given way to Dabbing and, now, just plain Doubting. And as Walker continues looking around, he sees remnants of other teams’ former lottery dreams washing ashore at Lake Norman. Orlando’s 2004 1st-overall pick, Atlanta’s 2005 2nd-overall pick, and Philly’s 11th pick from 2013 and 2014 Rookie of the Year, all collecting checks and biding their time around Kemba, as he prepares for another playoff-less springtime with Charlotte (29-39, 7.0 games behind 8-seed Miami, who swept the Hornets 0-4), his third in the past four NBA seasons. The latter of that trio of once-heralded talents, former Syracuse star Michael Carter-Williams, was supposed to be the kind of steadying backup presence Charlotte gave up on when they traded off first-rounder Shabazz Napier in 2014 for P.J. Hairston. But while Napier is enjoying a career-best season as Damian Lillard’s caddie, MCW lurched his way toward what is, somehow, his worst season ever (career-lows of 36.2 eFG%, 19.5 assist%) before getting shut down two weeks ago for shoulder surgery. Hornets fans hope Carter-Williams’ injury is finally enough of a factor to allow Clifford to begin assigning 2017’s lottery hopeful, Kentucky Wildcat Malik Monk, significant playing time either behind or alongside Walker. Monk has gone from mere spot duty to about 15-20 minutes per game in the past month. But as playoff hopes dim for Charlotte (Tragic Number: 8), losers of six of their past seven games, one should expect a lot more than that. How transformable is this outfit? The next Hornets GM is about to find out. Aside from MCW, but including Knicks refugee center Willy Hernangomez, plus swingmen Jeremy Lamb (questionable for today, back spasms) and Dwayne Bacon, 11 of Charlotte’s 14 highest-salaried players are under fully guaranteed contracts for 2018-19. That’s a luxury-tax-teasing $117.9 million in team salary, including Kemba’s $12.0 million expiring, but not even counting the rookie-scale deal for 2018’s lottery fantasy. If players can’t be moved in the offseason, the Hornets’ next beekeeper will probably be inclined to make a shift along the sideline. But that’s where Coach Bud can assist Dwight with Coach Cliff’s cause tonight. The Hornets’ record would be all the more deflating without three decisive wins over the Hawks (20-48), by a decisive average score of 117.7 to 103.7. Atlanta has been outrebounded 47.3-35.3 during this season’s series as Howard has feasted (62.5 FG%, season-high 18 made FTs on 27 attempts, 19.3 PPG, 14.0 RPG), playing as close to his desired, centripetal style of play as Clifford will allow. When last these teams met here, on January 31, Howard’s 20-and-12 plus the All-Star-bound Walker’s 38 points (6 assists, 1 TO) was more than enough to outlast a Hawks team led in scoring by the now-departed Marco Belinelli (22 points) and the now-shelved Kent Bazemore (25 points). Baze’s and Belly’s teammates combined to shoot 5-for-20 from three-point land, including Dennis Schröder, who could dish it out (9 assists, 1 TO) but couldn’t take it (0-for-5 3FGs) in a 123-110 defeat. John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon made their marks coming off the bench back then. Now in the starting lineup, Dedmon (37.8 3FG%, 2-for-4 past two games) should be able to freely let it fly, particularly with Howard entrenched in the paint to play traffic controller against Schröder, Isaiah Taylor and the Hawks’ depleted backcourt. Miles Plumlee soaking up minutes (and fouls) off the bench should alleviate Mike Muscala (41.1 3FG%, 9-for-13 past three games) from the indignity of wasting energy guarding Howard around the rim. The small guards should find paths to the hoop with Batum and MKG now obligated to take turns trying to hold down Taurean Prince, who has been finding his offensive stride (10-for-21 3FGs, 13-for-14 FTs last two games) during Atlanta’s brief three-game homestand. His Princely sum of 25 points, in Tuesday’s late-game loss to OKC, followed up his career-high of 38 against the Bulls. Including his game-saving exploits in a win earlier this month against the Suns, Atlanta’s just 2-14 this season when Prince scores 18 or more points. But when he and his floormates are engaged defensively (Atlanta’s 7-0 when he finishes with a plus-minus above +10), Taurean is learning that his collectives can compete well, on most nights, against mediocre competition like the Hornets. For Charlotte, who will want to put this game away early once again, they need more than a wavering effort from Walker, who has laid some eggs in crucial games this month. Four days after dropping 31 in Philly, Kemba returned home and managed just five points on 1-for-9 shooting in a loss to the Sixers, his playoff-contending rivals. Last weekend, Walker sunk just four of 14 shots against the woeful Suns at Spectrum Center. He was in for the entire fourth quarter as Phoenix scored 43 points in the frame, narrowing a 22-point Hornet lead to just three during the final minute of play. In past seasons, we’ve hinted here that Budenholzer, a former NBA Coach of the Year with his stature secure here in Atlanta, would lay off the gas pedal against teams whose coaches’ futures might be imperiled. As demonstrated in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, the difference this season is that, with the Hawks now able to focus fully on player development, a collegial Coach Bud easing off the strategic throttle can be of long-term benefit to more than just the opposing team. Don’t forget to send Bud a thank you card this summer, Dwight! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  5. Gents: always wear protective gear before answering the question, "Who is MJ looking to hire?" ~lw3
  6. ~lw3
  7. “NOW, ONCE UPON A TIME, A HAWK AND A HORNET LOVED EACH OTHER VERY MUCH…” We already know the dealio with those Charlotte Hornets, the host Atlanta Hawks’ opponent tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas in CLT) for the second time in a week. So in lieu of scintillating pseudo-analysis, I’m going to take a rare moment (yeah, right) to hop on the soapbox and Squawk about… proper pronoun usage. “We” are Tankamaniacs, for all intents and purposes. This season, “we” are resigned to desiring the team we root for to play hard, but fall short, more often than not, much like last Friday’s nice-try defeat in Charlotte. Our Hawks hung with the Hornets for the better part of four quarters and even seized a one-point lead with under three minutes to play. Our Hawks dared those Hornets to save the day and avert another momentous collapse in front of their home fans. And Charlotte obliged, rattling off 12 unanswered points, with Dwight Howard making crucial stops without (getting caught) fouling, to happily close the proceedings at the Cable Box. Our team’s nightly foes, unfortunately, are not KITT. Opponents aren’t equipped with some Turbo Boost button whenever the occasion calls for it. Sometimes, a somewhat-sucky Dennis Schröder will get trumped by an epically suckier Jeff Teague. Other times, his wayward shooting proves no match for a totally off-kilter Donovan Mitchell. Our team can leave perimeter shooters open all night long, as was the case in the three losses prior to Monday’s win over Minnesota, but they are not obligated to place the ball in the basket for them. “We” know, deep down, that this team, on its worst day, is not the worst NBA team ever designed by man. It is not, structurally, the least-competitive collection of players in the Association, with its Not-Worst coaching and player-development staff guiding the way. We’ve known these things since October. Yet “we” feign surprise and disappointment as we stray further away from 0-82 with each occasional victory, perhaps only because rivals like Orlando seem to be Competitanking harder, keeping their lead players on ice while pushing MVP candidates to post 60-point triple-doubles just to beat them. “We” are Hawks fans, now and into the future. “We” are not the Atlanta Hawks themselves. “They,” the 15-plus-man roster, hear all this “we”, and as far as “they” are concerned, “We” is a Nintendo game console. When “we” talk about how “we” need to lose every game, every night, “we” might as well be speaking French. Oui-oui! “They” are responsible for suiting up and preparing to square up with Warriors of the Golden State variety, not placating us Warriors of the Keyboard variety. “They” are True to Atlanta for as long as they’re here. But there’s that old adage about ensuring you give yourself oxygen, first, before passing the mask on to your neighbors. Individually, to a man, “they” are employed by the NBA, and would like to maximize their value to their future teams, be it the Hawks or somebody else. “They” are being watched and scrutinized by 29 other clubs on a nightly basis, and they don’t benefit from scouting reports that say, “Hey, this fella is a pure Tank Commander. It truly takes effort to suck as bad as him. He’ll be perfect for throwing games and getting our team to 20-62!” “They” would prefer to be around to support next season’s Hawks rookie star, to demonstrate that, together, they could be instrumental in swiftly turning around this intentional recession. “They” want to play right alongside 2018-19’s rook, perhaps come off the bench to give him a breather, to help him properly acclimate to Budball and the pro lifestyle, to fill his Kia up with popcorn and send him on daily Krispy Kreme runs. What “they” don’t want is to be summarily supplanted on the team, or in this league altogether, by him, whoever he becomes, however we acquire his services. “We” need to give Coach Bud and company a break. By most statistical measures, this should be the fifth-or-sixth-worst team right now. But as things stand, the Hawks (15-35) enter today with: The most in-conference losses (24) of any NBA team, including three more than Orlando, who have now gone over a month without their leading rebounder and longest-tenured veteran. The worst road record (4-20) in The Association, two full games worse than the Magicians, who nearly made it three last night. The most losses (14) versus NBA teams currently carrying losing records. That includes Charlotte (20-29), who had no intention of being one, yet would be 13-games below-.500 if not for two rope-releases courtesy of the Hawks so far this season. Despite their we-try-hard motif, 21 losses by margins of ten points or more, only one fewer than Phoenix and Sacramento, and three more than anyone in the East (Orlando, having played just one fewer game than Atlanta, has only 18). According to Playoff Status, the third-worst remaining schedule of opponents (behind only the Wizards and Knicks, neither of whom are pretending they’re not “Tanking”), based on winning percentage. Instead of balling out in the G-League, or overseas, random, unheralded guys named Delaney and Cavanaugh are granted 15-to-20 minutes a night, cutting their teeth no matter the quality of competition. Meanwhile, the team’s best three-point threat from the wing has been DNP-CD’d 15 times already. Everyone from Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, to Malcolm Delaney and Isaiah Taylor are given ample opportunities to dig their way out of their own funk on the live floor, catching the hooks only when they mentally stray too far from Bud’s gameplan. The most obvious potentially-productive frontcourt tandem, including a would-be Rookie of the Year candidate, gets minutes off the bench, because Miles. Plumlee. Is. Starting. NBA. Basketball. Games. This season has been a master-class, conducted by Atlanta’s coaching staff, in how to underwhelm without making it blatantly obvious. They are fostering potential first-or-second-units of worthy NBA talent for the future that can occasionally win games right now, especially when opponents play down to, or below, their level. When opponents get low, we don’t just fight to get lower. That’s commendable, not excoriable. To reach the objective “we” Tankamaniacs ardently demand, the Hawks could have done simply offered some vet-min contracts to “me,” “you,” and “Harry.” It’s not like home attendance would get much worse, anyway. Maybe dish out some ten-days to 2Chainz, Migos and Hot Sauce when they’re in town to liven up a homestand or two. Let Nique draw up some plays where we move the ball from side-to-side, as he’s wont to suggest. And then, just sit back, and hope for the best… or, the opposite. But the Hawks aren’t interested in disposable contributors that can only seem to master the dark art of blowing chunks harder than everybody else. Yes, the degree of difficulty in overachieving will be raised, depending on what Travis Schlenk and “Hawks, Inc.” have up their sleeves in the coming week. But while players like Bazemore improve under our auspices, figuring out how to come through consistently (not comically) in the clutch on both ends of the floor, he raises either his value to current team, or the value of the return from any NBA team that covets his services. All of “them” provide a day-round utility to the Hawks organization that’s greater than the banality of “us” tracking final scores in hopes of the once-in-a-lifetime chance of maybe getting Nerlens Noel, Markelle Fultz, or the upstart SportsCenter wow-maker of the moment. None of “them” should be ruing the days they failed to “Chokafor for Okafor,” or “Yield for Hield”. That task is left for “us”. “We” are free to say, “We needed to lose this game!”, every night. That’s fine, so long as everyone uttering that understands who “we” does, and does not, include. Bidding “adieu” to all the “we” talk until after the game. That’s enough speaking French for today. Because… it is time, once more, for Tank Karaoke! It’s that Ol’ Skool Hip-Hop Edition, baby! Yo, you know how we do out here in The A. We got our Soul Brother #2, DJ Special Ad Wes Wilcox on the Ones and Twos. We got our Dookie-roped virtuoso G-Hill tickling the ivories as only he can. And, as always, Buddie Down Productions on the mic, bringing the bars, and the heat, straight from the street. You head-bobbers all know when to chime in. One. Two. Three. Kick it! Take Ilyasova. Take Ilyasova! **BELLY, BYE-BYE!** Here’s Ilyasova. Grab Ilyasova! **HEY! HEY!** Here’s Ilyasova. Get Ilyasova! **BELLY, BYE-BYE!** Here’s Ilyasova. Take Ilyasova! ((Dip to Verse 2!)) Di-phy-si-cal-i-ty-di-di-di-dah-di-day **AIY!** All you sucka GMs, won’t you offer up some trades? **‘CAUSE?** Here go some “credit” from BUD-One **BO!** Come get your “credit” from BUD-One… To get a great draft pick, I need my team to stink So step up and get fleeced by WHO? **GM TRAVIS SCHLENK!** That’s him! He knows your barely-playoff squad is out here desperate for some **SAVIORS** Our cricket tacos come in Spicy Cajun **FLAVOR** That’s why we got no need for bland Derrick **FAVORS** Stretch out your slop and then we put them all on **WAIVERS** Twenty minutes nightly go to Isaiah **TAYLOR** Don’t need Howard back; that dude is soft as Teddy **RUXPIN** Nicolas Batum? He’s only good for steady **CHUCKIN’** Danny Ainge and Daryl Morey need to quit they **BLUFFIN’** Take Muskie in the morning, Cho; we’ll throw you in a **MUFFIN** My Team Prez woo you so hard, you’d think it was **SEDUCTION** Relieve me of Babbitt, come get Dewayne Dedmon Me second-half rotations you just con’t understond Ty Dorsey over **here**, DeAndre’ Bembry over **there** Clear out the lane, and watch my rook, Collins, get some **AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR!** **Ooooooooooooooooooo-oooh** What’s the matter with you, GM SVG? Don’t you know, you’re desperate, much? What’s the matter with you, GM Presti? Sam, swing a 3-way with Milwaukee Bucks! No, Fournier can’t help you out; don’t be a reacher You’re better off with Baze and his wack UA sneaker That Plumlee gonna get shopped, ‘n Schröder’s hookah bar flopped It’s all blowin’ smoke to meeeee Everybody’s talking ‘bout Delaney’s box score But he’s still playing fine to meeeee RIP Rasual! and Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “Soulless Boy, Kill’em!” “I wanna kill them.” That’s the desire Dwight Howard professed during shootaround to the local rag about his most recent ex-team, the Atlanta Hawks, who pay him and his Charlotte Hornets (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas) a visit tonight. Well, that’s not very hospitable, D12! Unlike the Hawks’ last opponent, Howard (20 points and 15 rebounds in a 109-91 win vs. ATL back on Oct. 20) and the Hornets have been struggling to establish a killer instinct. There’s no better time to start figuring out how, than when you’re sitting five games below the playoff line and facing the prospect, tonight, of finishing closer in the standings to a team with the NBA’s worst record than to the 8-seed. We’re all fortunate nothing literally happened to Steve Clifford to add to his starting center’s “coach killer” persona. Clifford’s a tough guy, as noted by Woj at ESPN: he returned to coach the Bugs against the Hawks in November 2013 just a few days after getting stents inserted. But a lingering sleep deprivation problem, one that long preceded Dwight’s arrival in the Piedmont, produced aggravating headaches that eventually made it impossible for Coach Cliff to function, never mind roam the sidelines in a high-pressure vocation. But Coach Cliff has those headaches beat, or so he tells us. His team has been doing its best to re-induce that malady, both from him and the folks who populate Spectrum Center. Only the Nets and the Hawks have as many home losses among Eastern Conference clubs so far. And my land, some of these losses. Last Saturday night’s wresting of defeat from the jaws of victory, versus division rival Miami in front of the home crowd, had even Yours Truly’s milkshake-sucking vein popping out between my eyebrows. “That’s how you become a team that wins two and loses one, like we have been,” said Clifford to the Charlotte Observer and the postgame media of his Hornets (19-27), who have won six of their past ten games, but haven’t won three-straight since back before Thanksgiving. “Just a total lack of concentration, intensity, technique, and understanding who the hell you’re playing against. It’s terrible. Terrible.” The blow-by-blow of that loss, where Charlotte blew a 10-point lead in a manner of ten minutes, low-lighted by a five-point lead evaporating in the space of four seconds during the final minute, is too excruciating to recollect here. Yet the Hornets could have salvaged the game in overtime, had Dwight not made it his mission to “kill” Miami’s Kelly Olynyk with a senseless foul with just 0.2 seconds remaining. Even with Clifford chewing his team out, the Hornets went out and walked the tightrope just two nights later, sad-sack Sacramento narrowing a 20-point Charlotte lead to just three with 85 seconds left. The Kings got cute with Hack-A-Howard, and Dwight (53.4 FT%; 53.3 FT% last season w/ ATL) made them pay by sinking both freebies. Moments later, his offensive rebound off a way-too-familiar missed jumper from Nicolas Batum (40.8 FG%; 28.8 3FG%), and a defensive goaltend on his putback, saved Hornets fans from wanting to tear the arena down with their teeth. Those nervous fans caught a break Wednesday as the Hornets (minus-5.6 fourth-quarter Net Rating, 26th in NBA; NBA-low 44.7 fourth-quarter eFG%) played from behind for most of the game against the Pelicans. But chances at victory were dashed shortly thereafter, by Dwight barreling into Anthony Davis for an offensive foul, then by a pair of bad passes from Kemba Walker, who senses that his time as the face of basketball in the Queen City is fleeting, despite assurances from His Airness to the contrary. Now the Hornets (6-13 on the road) simply want to wrap-up their homestand at 3-2, before embarking on a stretch of seven away-games in their next eight, including next Wednesday at the Highlight Factory. A key reason they’re even in some of these contests to begin with? Marvin Williams is no more an ugly duckling from the perimeter. The feathery touch on the stretch-four’s jumper has been on display the whole season, the Hawks’ former corner-shot lamppost shooting a career-best 44.4 3FG% (4th in NBA, two spots in front of ex-Hawk Al Horford). Without Marvin’s consistent shot on a squad shooting just 44.2 percent from the field (28th in NBA), defenders would be easily clamping down on Kemba (41.9 FG%, lowest among top-20 NBA shooters) and Dwight (3.0 TOs/game) and getting stops. Walker generally takes care of the ball, but the Hawks (NBA-high 18.7 points per-48 off TOs) will look for Dwight to get sloppy with careless dribbles and excessive physicality away from the play. The Hawks will deploy his trade counterpart, Miles Plumlee, and charge-sponge Ersan Ilyasova to help throw Howard (6 TOs, 5 personals vs. ATL in October) off his game. Charlotte allows the third-fewest points-per-48 off turnovers, in part due to Kemba’s ballhandling, but also because they have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Batum to get back. Carolinian Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince (just 13 minutes in the blowout loss vs. TOR on Wednesday, no assists) can get out on the break, but they should be prepared to find Dennis Schröder (25 points, 11-for-19 2FGs @ CHA in October) and other shooters on the floor as passing options to finish offensive plays with buckets and trips to the line. Lost in Atlanta’s blowout loss to the Raptors on Wednesday was the effort of Rising Star John Collins, who grabbed 16 rebounds and rejected four shots over 26 minutes, generally ignoring the scoreboard as the Hawks cut Toronto’s lead in half to close the contest. He’ll try to show he’s grown by leaps and bounds since last October, when he fouled out of his second game in just over 15 minutes of play. Hawks fans are free to ignore Dwight’s murderous mindset coming into this evening’s affairs. The Hornets aren’t so much obsessed with slaying opponents, these days, as they are merely surviving fourth quarters without humiliating themselves. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. ~lw3
  10. “ARRRGH! LET’S GET THIS, ATL! Oh, hold up, I meant, Houston? LA? Kemba, help… which town are we in???” Two “garbage” teams suit up to face one another today at the Spectrum Center, the Atlanta Hawks visiting the Charlotte Hornets (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas in CLT). “Garbage,” that is, to Hornets hear team owner Michael Jordan tell it. Lamenting, without so much as a whiff of irony, the rush for NBA players to band together and form “super teams,” Jordan explained to SI, “You’re going to have one or two teams that are going to be great, and another 28 teams that are going to be garbage.” I see you over there counting, and no, this wasn’t pulled from some UNC football player’s math-class paper. As disconcerting as this unintended shade might seem to the rank-and-file receiving paychecks signed by His Airness, such an opinion must soothe the ears of General Manager Rich Cho. Despite the Hornets (36-46 in 2016-17) failing to reach the postseason for the fourth time in his six years at the helm, at season’s end last spring, Cho received his option to stick around the Queen City for one more season. It’s his job to make sure that his “garbage” floats toward the top of the Eastern Conference playoff receptacle. And the first rule of middle management is, if you don’t quite know what you’re doing, at least try to look busy. So, you can kinda-sorta see why Dwight Howard is rocking teal-and-purple now. Howard gets to reunite with coach Steve Clifford, who recalls as well as anybody what a dominant force Dwight was back in the day, when he served as an assistant to Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. Howard feels a kinship with his new coach, although stop me if you’ve heard that one before, and feels as inclined to get back to full-time Dwightball as he has in years. Now, I’m not going to entertain the thought that Hawks players broke out in a Soul Train Line Dance upon catching wind of the news, back in June, that their Player’s Choice Award-winner for Teammate of the Year was already heading up I-85. I won’t even amuse myself with the suspicion that the votes were made with some collective dose of half-hearted sarcasm (a la, ex-Laker Metta World Peace), or that perhaps Dwight himself was designated with the choice to pick on behalf of the whole team. But it should go without saying (though it won’t) that the quest to re-engineer Howard into a component oriented for space-and-pace was turning out abysmal for Atlanta. But it’s all good up in Uptown, because here, there is precious little design for space, and precious little demand for pace. All-Star guard Kemba Walker (career-high 23.2 PPG and 39.9 3FG% in 2016-17; 24 points and 6 rebounds vs. DET on Wednesday) is only beginning to explore the outer limits of his shot range, and the team’s second-best gunner from last season, Marco Belinelli (20 points off-bench and 3 steals @ DAL on Wednesday), now rocks Georgia Granite Gray, by way of the Dwight trade. Charlotte was a below-average 19th in pace in 2016-17, and there are no signs they’ll be any less-plodding with Howard in tow. The challenge for the Hornets involves keeping Howard placated all-season long, with copious minutes and post touches, even though Clifford has already advised that he would prefer to turn to Cody Zeller in the clutch. Hawks fans who recall the Hawks’ visit to Charlotte last November, particularly the second-half, when Dwight punked himself right out of the game, probably understand Clifford’s inclination. Lamb. Bacon. Duck. That should represent a scrumptious night out at the charcuterie. What that probably should not signify is the middle trio of anybody’s opening-night NBA starting lineup. Alas, that’s what head Coach Cliff had to trot out before dozens of interested onlookers at Detroit’s new Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday night. He has little choice at the wing spots, because Michael Kidd-Gilchrist remains out for undisclosed personal reasons, and Nicolas Batum’s preseason injury to his elbow ligament has him on the shelf until at least mid-November. The pair would be helping Charlotte play solid defense, keeping Marvin Williams and Howard from having to overcompensate in the halfcourt. Williams found himself spread too thinly on Wednesday trying to defend the forward spots, as Tobias Harris and second-year pro Henry Ellenson had field days in the Pistons’ 102-90 victory. Rarely is a situation so dire that a team needs to turn to a second-round rookie to open the season. But the Hornets can thank Atlanta for including a second-round swap in the Dwight trade. Charlotte moved up to take point guard Frank Jackson, then traded back down to acquire Florida State swingman Dwayne Bacon from the Pelicans, taken one pick before Atlanta used Charlotte’s pick for Tyler Dorsey. Jeremy Lamb acquitted himself well offensively against Detroit, and can be a factor for the Hornets when he’s cutting along the baseline or catch-and-shooting when he’s open. The Hornets have elected to side with Bacon because Malik Monk was less prepared to sizzle as a starting wing. But their inability to slow the Pistons’ roll was evident, as Detroit outscored the Bugs 12-0 on fastbreak points. Dwight and Marvin can do only so much to get back in transition, and Frank Kaminsky can do even less than that. The Hornets are not all that hyphy that another hyphenated player is unavailable. Michael Carter-Williams was acquired over the summer to serve as Kemba’s backup, but his nagging knees are betraying him. Add Zeller (bone bruise) to the mix, and you have a sparse skeleton crew for the home opener. Guard Julyan Stone and center Johnny O’Bryant will have to come up from the third-string to play significant bench minutes. Clifford may switch up at small forward and start second-year pro Treveon Graham in place of Bacon. Coming off a satisfying win in Dallas, the Hawks must bring their A-game again tonight. Dwight will do all he can to get under Dewayne Dedmon’s skin, but the Hawks center must avoid getting into early foul trouble. Keeping up the carnivorous spirit against Charlotte’s depleted wings, both Taurean Prince (10 points and rebounds @ DAL) and rookie John Collins (14 bench points in his rookie debut) should smell barbeque chicken and attack the paint vigorously. Those things should alleviate Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, and super-sub Belinelli from having to carry the freight. Kemba and Dwight will get plenty of touches and shot opportunities, but they are not sufficient as a duo to carry this team by themselves -- specifically, to produce enough offense to keep up on most nights. Pushing the pace and converting turnovers into points would help the Hawks (35 fourth-quarter points in the 117-111 win over the Mavs) play from in front for most of this contest. As for Jordan, he has committed himself to being credited as The Guy that finally resurrected Dwight’s Hall-of-Fame-bound career (the people who don’t think he’s headed to Springfield can cut that out, both of ya). If there’s anyone who can get centers blazing a trail to greatness, it’s Michael. Ain’t that right, Kwame Brown? Kwame? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. Injuries Suck, Exhibit Z... But... maybe not that much of a Buzzkill? ~lw3
  12. (No Meme Photoshopping Required.) Spoiler Days? After pulling yet another trick up their sleeve this weekend against the Cavs, there’s not much for the Atlanta Hawks to spoil tonight, aside from lotto positioning with a loss to the visiting Charlotte Hornets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL). Although re-accommodating their division rivals this evening won’t be necessary, the Hawks have a greater opportunity to be a true spoilsport tomorrow, when they arrive in Indiana for the regular season finale. Who da real MVP, when it comes to the Hawks? It’s got to be all of you diehard fans, who have endured as topsy-turvy a season as supporters of any perennial playoff outfit should come to expect, and will be duly honored throughout 92.9 The Game’s Takeover Night. As just one instance of what you’ve put up with: Kent Bazemore steals a lousy Cavs inbound and goes coast-to-coast on Sunday afternoon, with a chance to expand the Hawks’ long-sought lead to three points in overtime… who among us did not steel our loins in anticipation of a blown open layup? And Baze almost gave us just that! Just as Paul Millsap did from close range with just minutes to go in regulation, and the Hawks down by seven. Sap did go 11-for-11 on free throws, though, he and Tim Hardaway, Jr. making just enough that Kyrie Irving’s closing heave wouldn’t matter. Whenever it gets well past time to rationally expect competency out of this bunch, the Hawks’ competitive spirit pops up, right out from the abyss. There were so many second-half and overtime moments on Sunday where Hawks fans could rightfully point and say, “that’s the game, nobody on the Cavs is incompetent enough to screw this up,” and suddenly, here comes LeBron James, asking us all to hold his beer. A bench corps that could barely score against the Nets leads the charge versus the Cavs out of a 26-point hole. Baze, Sap, even Mike Muscala making buckets, plural, in the clutch... was that real life? We’ll get to see how real this life is soon enough, as the NBA Playoffs tip off in some deity-forsaken Eastern locale this weekend. No passports will be required, as the Hawks are mathematically incapable of facing the Raptors in the opening round. But Boston, Cleveland or, most likely, Washington will find it hard to know what to expect out of a Hawks squad that hardly seems to know what to expect of itself. As per HoopsHype, who have the top two payrolls among Southeast Division teams? Pick up a Kewpie doll on your way out of the fair if you correctly guessed the Orlando Magic and these Hornets. Like the Magic, the Hornets (36-45) are officially in full whiteboard mode, and team owner Michael Jordan will continue to leave the dry-erasing duties to GM Rich Cho, whose contract option was picked up yesterday. The Hornets’ brain trust swung-and-missed on several fronts this season, managing to keep Charlotte from building on last season’s first-round exit, despite a career-best offensive effort by All-Star guard Kemba Walker. They tried to offset the departures of backcourt mates Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee in free agency with Marco Belinelli, Brian Roberts, and Ramon Sessions. Armed with a new multi-year contract in the offseason, Marvin Williams (42.4 FG%, 35.1 3FG%) made his 2015-16 career year (45.2 FG%, 40.2 3FG%) look exactly like a career year. While fellow division foes were signing up Dwight Howard and Ian Mahinmi over the summer, the Hornets pursued the static Roy Hibbert. While their counterparts were trying to firm up their benches for playoff runs with guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and Ersan Ilyasova, Charlotte compounded their mistake by flipping Hibbert and Spencer Hawes to Milwaukee for the barely-useful Miles Plumlee. They’ll have little flexibility with their $103 million roster this summer, with eight of their top-nine salaried players returning under guaranteed contracts, plus center Cody Zeller due for a raise on his extended deal. Further, unlike Wizards fans of yore, Hornets fans haven’t been holding out hope of any hometown hoop heroes signing blockbuster deals this July. Nonetheless, His Errness is leaving it to his GM to finagle a way into contention next year. Cho will have one more season to get it done. Under head coach Steve Clifford, the Hornets’ defensive gameplan could be summarized thusly: pack the paint, don’t foul (NBA-lows for opponents’ free throws and personal fouls-drawn), force opponents into a lot of under-contested threes (NBA-high 31.9 opponent 3FGAs per 100 possessions; Atlanta foes’ 30.4 ranks 3rd), pray they miss (37.0 opponent 3FG%, highest in East), get the defensive rebound (79.7 D-Reb%, 2nd in NBA) and give the ball to Kemba. At the other end of the Spectrum Center, Charlotte’s offense can be boiled down to the ballhandler, usually Walker off the pick-and-roll (NBA-high 12.2 PPG on these plays), pulling up for jumpers, or forcing contact and drawing trips to the free throw line (NBA-high 81.5 team FT%). Further, they don’t willingly turn the ball over (11.5 TOs per game, 3rd lowest in recorded NBA history; 2.02 assist-turnover ratio, 2nd in NBA). If there’s no whistle and no easy path to the rim, they’re instructed to kick the ball out in hopes of a three-pointer from Belinelli or forwards Frank Kaminsky, Marvin, or Nicolas Batum. If they miss, get back on defense (19.7 O-Reb%, 4th-lowest in NBA) and stifle opponents’ hopes for transition scores. Roberts and Briante Weber are most likely to continue playing Kemba’s ballhandler role tonight, as Walker’s sore knee gets bubble-wrapped for the season. If Belinelli’s strained finger keeps him on ice as well, Coach Cliff will lean on Jeremy Lamb and Treveon Graham for spot duty. With Kemba and Marco playing, Charlotte won their last road game on the back end of a back-to-back (in Toronto, back on March 29, with 44 fourth-quarter points). But offensively, the sting is not the same with those guards absent from the floor. Whether they’re legitimately tanking or not, Charlotte will try to keep the pace grindingly slow, in hopes of keeping the final outcome close. Last night, without Walker, the Hornets raced to an 11-point lead in Milwaukee, and was up five points through three quarters before being “held” to 13 points in the final frame of an 89-79 loss. Atlanta (42-38) has struggled with teams that rebound well and protect the ball, and they’ve been held to double-digit scoring in all three losses to Charlotte this season, most recently 105-90 in Uptown back on March 20. With Thabo Sefolosha (groin) upgraded to questionable for tonight, a forthcoming challenge for the Hawks will be to see if their newfound bench production is sustainable and can carry forward into the postseason. In particular, Bazemore (40.5 FG% on all shots as a starter; 38.5 3FG% when he’s not) is finding a bit of an offensive groove off the bench, and can spell either Hardaway (last 3 games: 11-for-12 fourth-quarter FGs) or Dennis Schröder in a pinch. Baze has eleven steals in his past three contests, matching his tally from his prior 15 starts. Hardaway is among eight of the Hawks’ 20 most-utilized two-man units, and his only net negative in the team-scoring column is when he’s paired with rookie Taurean Prince, further tempting coach Mike Budenholzer to keep Timmy in the starting lineup going forward. The two-game Cavs series (11-for-14 FGs) has seemingly re-enlivened Muscala, and Coach Bud will need to know if he can begin relying more on the backup big man when the Hawks have to go with smaller lineups. Millsap’s return formally relocated Ilyasova, one of the few subs who struggled to score against Cleveland (last two games: 1-for-11 3FGs), to the reserves. It helps if Atlanta can establish rotations ideal for not only Ersan’s skillset, but those of backup point guard Jose Calderon. It will also be important for the Hawks to glean whatever knowledge they can from the rookies’ production over the next couple of games. Prince has only shined once in his past six starts (36.8 FG%, 1.8 APG), while DeAndre’ Bembry and Malcolm Delaney will be challenged to show what they could contribute defensively, in case they’re needed for short spells during a long playoff series. Finally, these dress rehearsals could be a final chance for Dennis Schröder and Dwight Howard to flesh out their roles and responsibilities on the floor together. The starting pillars enjoyed Atlanta’s huge comeback against Cleveland’s best players from a towel-waving position on the bench. Dwight has been Budballed (17.0 RPG in three games vs. CHA) by Zeller (15.7 PPG vs ATL, most vs. any team this season; 70.0 FG%) and the Hornets, and needs to display a different dimension to his game if he is to be useful against smaller and stretchier lineups. Atlanta is only 4-0 this season, but 3-0 in March, when Howard moves the ball and collects four assists in a game. Dennis has averaged 20.7 PPG and 6.5 APG (4.7 TOs per game) while shooting 39.5 percent on threes in his past ten games, which includes 20 points and 6 assists in Charlotte on March 20. His aversion to making poor decisions with the ball may factor into his inability to draw contact and make opponents pay at the free throw line, where he has been deadly (last 10 games: 95.7 FT%) but infrequent of late (four FTAs in past five games). His ability to dictate the pace and the action at both ends of the court may not be as essential today, however, as it could be tomorrow, against Jeff Teague in a potential elimination game for the Pacers. It’s hard to call the Hawks’ final two games a case of “fine-tuning” when very little of Atlanta’s play has been consistently “fine,” whether from minute-to-minute or game-to-game. But a hopefully healthy and spirited run could be just the momentum this team needs, no matter which opponent they might draw this weekend. The Hawks fans who repeatedly show up to cheer at Philips Arena, whether or not a major draw is in town, sure deserve a feel-good send-off tonight. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. “This is what it sounds like… when Ducks fly!” Two water-treading division rivals, the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets, tip-off tonight at Spectrum Center (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast; 92.9 FM in ATL), and only one burning question remains. Does Purple Shirt Guy have anybody left worth heckling? You all remember the Hornets, right? It’s been a minute. Back in mid-November, the Hawks were cruising right along at 9-2 to start the year and, thanks to some Paul Millsap baskets, spread their lead to ten points on the host Hornets, on the verge of putting Charlotte in their rearview mirror in the race for the Southeast Division lead. Then Cody Zeller smartly sold a high Dwight Howard elbow, leading to a premature exit for Atlanta’s center. Kent Bazemore and then the whole Hawks team started Bazemoring on offense. And, suddenly, no Hawk defenders could plug the leak around the rim, much to the joy of Hornets star guard Kemba Walker. While their fourth-quarter lead in Charlotte wasn’t definitively the high-water-mark of the beleaguered Hawks’ season, it’s clear that whatever mojo Atlanta (37-32; 5-9 last 14 games) had at the point When Elbow Met Cody, it was never fully regained. That fact was reflected well during Saturday night’s 113-97 washout against visiting Portland. The Hawks were doing their itsy-bitsy-spider thing in the third quarter, trying to mask the stink of yet another embarrassing first-quarter start, this one 40-18 against the Blazers (props to the fine folks at Dad’s Garage for the improv lulz, btw). Unfortunately, center Jusuf Nurkic did his homework, film-studying Howard’s historical histrionics and the tried-and-true antics of referee Marc Davis (side Q: was the ref ever reprimanded for cussing at the hawks’ bench back in January?). Davis T’d up Dwight for essentially air-traffic-controlling in the vicinity of Nurkic’s schnoz during a rebound attempt. Howard can rant and fume all he likes, but his team will remain behind the 8-ball until he, Dennis Schröder (2-for-14 FGs, minus-25 plus/minus vs. POR), and coach Mike Budenholzer figure out how to avoid getting picked-apart-and-steamrolled by guards executing pick-and-roll plays. Atlanta’s opponents have a 49.6 eFG% on P&R ballhandler plays (3rd-highest in NBA; good news? Only the Cavs and Raps do worse), as per NBA.com stats. Howard sags as the trailing defensive guard goes over screens, creating a nice little bubble for opposing guards to work with. The issue becomes all the more pressing with the Hawks down two starters in the foreseeable future, Bazemore (knee bone bruise) and All-Star Millsap (knee tightness), plus a third starter in Thabo Sefolosha (0-for-6 FGs in 19 minutes) who seems as lost in the sauce as anybody else. The Hawks will have plenty of practice covering P&R tonight against Walker, who leads the NBA with 12.5 possessions per game, his 11.8 PPG second only to Harden on these plays. Despite all the losing and injuries and listless play, the silver lining is that it will take a flop of Falconian proportions for the Hawks to find themselves not only behind the 8-ball, but the 8-seed as well. Aside from, arguably, the heat and the Bucks, the entire Eastern Conference has been slipping around in oil, unable to gain traction as the postseason nears. It’s not just the bottom half of the East, either. Since the All-Star Break, the Cavs have struggled defensively. The Raps have had a hard time finding their bearings without Lowry; same for the Celts without Thomas. And just when you think the Wizards finally have their stuff together, they drop three of four, including a 98-93 loss on the road to these Hornets last Saturday. Zeller (8-for-10 FGs, 4 steals vs. WAS), who has enjoyed a career season, and Marvin Williams, who has very much not, carried the day as the Hornets made things tough for John Wall (5-for-16 FGs) around the rim and held Washington to 5-for-20 3FGs through the first three quarters. Hornets coach Steve Clifford can only hope that the return of Nicolas Batum (migraines) to the starting lineup, plus an uptick from Marvin (last 10 games: 14.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 52.6 FG%, 86.7 FT%, 2.7 APG, 0.8 TOs per game) and the addition of hungry G-League talents Briante Weber and Johnny O’Bryant, will help stabilize his rotations for a final playoff push. Still, Clifford surely believes that the sins of the managerial staff are being visited upon the coach. Let’s not forget that Charlotte finished with 48 wins last season, just like Atlanta. If not for Purple Shirt Guy’s incessant lip, it stands to reason the Hornets would have joined the Hawks in the East’s second round. But then the summer came, and the team allowed free agents Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson to walk. Replacing the guards with Ramon Sessions (out since early February, meniscus tear), Brian Roberts and Marco Belinelli, predictably, hasn’t panned out. Parting ways with Jefferson and then extending and promoting Zeller were logical moves. But no one should have surmised that replacing Jefferson with the even less useful Roy Hibbert, since shipped to Milwaukee with Spencer Hawes for the ghost of Miles Plumlee, was ever going to work. Charlotte enjoyed the strong All-Star-caliber start to the season by Walker (career-highs of 22.8 PPG, 40.1 3FG%, 84.9 FT%), and the emergence of Zeller (career-high 10.5 PPG, 57.3 2FG%, 6.6 RPG; season-high 23 points, 9-for-10 FGs vs. ATL on Nov. 18) as one of the East’s most efficient pivot men (+7.3 net rating, best among East starting centers). But the lack of reliable depth and the shooting struggles (49.8 eFG%, 24th in NBA) among the wings and forwards have conspired to derail Charlotte’s march toward respectability. Most emblematic of the Hornets’ problems has been second-year forward Frank Kaminsky, who has a nickname that parallels the interests of some Hornets fans plus the game to match it (39.8 FG%, 31.3 3FG%). The mirror-image of the Hawks’ season, Charlotte (30-39; 1-3 last 4 games) has outscored their competition by 37 points over the course of the season, but are mired with a losing record, 3.5 games behind the 8-seed Pistons with 15 games remaining. The buzzkill really kicked in when Zeller exited with a thigh injury in late January, causing Charlotte to collapse like an ACC team in the third round. The Hornets went through a full month with just one game (1-13) in the win column (a four-point home win over the Nets). As for the Hawks, Ersan Ilyasova (team-high 23 points vs. POR on Saturday) and Junior Hardaway (21-game Threak; 22 points, 8-for-9 FTs vs. POR) have moved up to the top line, in Bazemore and Millsap’s absence. For the Hawks to pull off any victories while Baze and Sap are out, Coach Bud has little choice but to lean on his rookie corps to produce. That includes not only Taurean Prince and Malcolm Delaney, the latter in for defensive purposes when needed ahead of Jose Calderon, but also DeAndre’ Bembry, who returns from his G-League stint in Salt Lake City. Fumigating the Hornets today involves not only finding some offensive punch off the bench, but Schröder making wise decisions at both ends versus a Hornets team, led by Walker, that doesn’t willingly turn the ball over (10.9 TO%, 2nd-lowest in NBA) and doesn’t allow unwise trips to the foul line (NBA-low 17.0 personal fouls and 18.8 opponent FTAs per game). As was the case for All-Star Wall here over the weekend, Dennis will need to have productive shooters on the floor if he hopes to find any daylight on drives toward the rim. Charlotte allows just 58.7 FG% in the restricted area, third-lowest in the East behind the heat and Hawks (57.4 opponent FG%). Kaminsky possesses at least one thing Atlanta doesn’t have. The Hawks haven’t interested NBA fans enough to send out any of those inspirational potatoes that are all the rage these days. Atlanta’s starters and bench players alike have to step up, overcome adversity and prevail soon, preferably beginning tonight, if they ever hope to go from duds to spuds. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. Doing African American Studies in Chapel Hill "The Right Way!" http://www.basketballinsiders.com/nba-am-marvin-williams-and-the-10-year-degree/ We'd have preferred a Demon Deacon back in '05, but that's neither here nor there. Congrats again, Marv! ~lw3
  15. “I GOT MY SUIT AT SPENCER’S GIFTS! HO-HO-HO!” Recent games against Milwaukee, Orlando, and Toronto serving as a representative sample, the Atlanta Hawks have struggled to string together a consistent series of quarters, starts, or games. Yet, nobody in the Eastern Conference has time to play the violin for them, least of all the visiting Charlotte Hornets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in CLT and ATL; 92.9 FM in ATL). The Southeast Division leader by default, Charlotte (14-13) concludes its five-game road trip at the Strobelight Factory tonight. They’re trying to salvage this wreck of a trek after dropping all of the previous four games, including last night’s 96-88 loss in Boston. If they wanted to (they won’t), Atlanta could empathize with a Hornets team that led 50-41 at halftime before running out of gas, losing 55-38 in the second half. With Kemba Walker absent for personal reasons (active for tonight), the Hornets had no answer for the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas. Also awakening in that second half was our old amigo, Al Horford (18 points, 8 boards, 5 blocks), and his comfort in and out of the paint surely continued to peeve coach Steve Clifford. The Hornets coach might enjoy mincemeat over the holidays, but he rarely minces words. Not since Olivia Newton-John rocked neon leotards has anyone uttered “The P word” so ardently. "The game came down to Physical play. If guys aren’t willing to be more Physical, we’ll be an up-and-down team, we’ll struggle to make the playoffs," Clifford told the Charlotte Observer. This, after the Hornets dropped their third-straight game in Washington on Wednesday, casually watching Marcin Gortat transform into Ivan Putski around the boards. Coach Cliff wasn’t done. "If we want to play with the Physicality we choose to at times, we have a chance to be a good team…”, he conveyed to the Observer. Any other Observations, coach? “It’s our greatest weakness. “It’s evident (against) teams that aren’t even Physical off the ball. I’ve been telling them for three weeks now: (Other teams are saying) ‘Make it hard on them. Bump them off every cut, bump them off every screen.’ Sooner or later, we have to respond." The return of Walker (career-bests of 46.6 FG%, 41.2 3FG%, 22.6 PPG) will be the wind beneath the Hornets’ wings tonight. But to keep Clifford from seeking out the number for the phone booth closest to Ivan Johnson, Charlotte’s players need the combination of girth and guile from Cody Zeller that successfully befuddled Atlanta’s Dwight Howard in the third quarter of the Hawks’ 100-96 loss in the Queen City on November 18. Fans can literally mark the moment differentiating a Hawks team that was cruising toward a 10-2 record (5-1 on the road) and the team we have now, one that sits at 13-13 and is often left wondering if anyone caught the tag number on the truck that ran them over. Having successfully fended off a fourth-quarter rally, the Hawks were up 89-86 in Charlotte when Zeller (9-for-10 FGs vs. ATL on Nov. 18) took the proximity of Dwight Howard’s pointy elbow and responded with a sell job that would have made Charlotte’s own Ric Flair proud. Dwight got ejected, Kemba got to the rim unimpeded, the Hornets turned the tables and won, and the Hawks haven’t been quite the same since. We know better than to suggest that the Hawks’ surprising 125-121 win in Toronto was the indication that the team is finally turning a corner, on some uptick after bottoming out several times in recent weeks. But a juxtaposition of the last Hawks-Hornets matchup with last night’s Raptors game suggests there may be some comforting signs. First and foremost, Dennis Schröder isn’t second-guessing himself and playing tentatively. Hardly a factor with 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting (0-for-5 3FGs) in Charlotte, Atlanta’s point guard went toe-to-toe with Kyle Lowry last night and came away with 24 points (8-for-12 FGs, 2-for-4 3FGs) plus a team-high six assists. He is taking more initiative to ensure that offensive plays are executed all the way through, not stifled by the team’s own lack of motion. Also creating hardly any impact as a starter in Charlotte (5 points, 2-for-6 FGs in 29 minutes) one month ago, Kyle Korver seems to be growing more at-ease, as he returns to a familiar career-long role as an off-the-bench sniper. Kyle confidently nailed six triples last night, and had close calls on several more attempts, as his 19 points helped create just the cushion the Hawks needed before, and during, Toronto’s inevitable second-half rallies. Charlotte’s defensive ace Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was slightly used yesterday in Boston, so expect extended minutes by MKG to alleviate Nicolas Batum (22 points, 6-for-19 FGs @ BOS on Friday) and try cooling off Korver tonight. This time around, Howard won’t be duped by Zeller (1-for-7 FGs @ BOS) and the Hornets’ antics in their desperation to play Physical and somehow throw the Hawks’ center off his game. We were treated to a surlier, more assertive Dwight on offense last night (27 points, incl. 7-for-10 FTs; 17 rebounds, incl. 7 O-Rebs) and his activity kept the Raptors on their heels literally from the jump. He has seen a good sample of what referees will and won’t tolerate, and is adjusting his game accordingly. Charlotte has averaged a league-low 31.0 paint points per 48 minutes since their losing streak began, and it will be incumbent upon Walker, Batum, and Ramon Sessions to not only find avenues to penetrate, but also to draw Paul Millsap and Howard’s attention and feed Charlotte’s big men (including Spencer Hawes) for assisted interior shots. Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, and Hawes all have inclinations to run to the perimeter, especially if they used tape of Orlando’s visit to Philips Arena for scouting purposes. But their direction under Clifford is to force more action around the rim, in hopes of getting Atlanta’s bigs in foul trouble and once again opening things up late in the game. Clifford wants to see their body talk. Promptly after beating the Hawks in Charlotte, the Hornets’ fortunes took a dip with a four-game slide. They recovered enough to move up to 3rd in the East, but now they are anxious that their losing skid will extend to a season-long five games, relinquishing the gains they made on Atlanta just one month ago. Hawks fans, though, have heard a similar sob story from incoming visitors in recent weeks. And they’d really like to see a different ending. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  16. “We don’t give a d*mn about no d*mn Gucci Night!” As the twin-engine aircrafts approach for landing, they catch Rich Cho’s knowing eye. Cho races to the bell tower, alerting his boss from the belfry that it is time. The guests are arriving! “This gentleman seeks to reverse the downward story arc of his career.” Cho whispers to his manager the deepest-held desires of his visitors, as each subject disembarks. “This enterprising fellow wishes for his dyed hairstyle to become the viral rage of his foreign land.” The manager who runs the whole place is attired in a dashing white suit and Hanes T-shirt, and equally white sneakers, a silhouette of his likeness from sprier times affixed to their tongues and heels. At the reception area, he greets his newest lei-adorned arrivals at once: “My dear guests, I am Mr. Jordan, your host. Welcome… to Kemba Island!” Teams like the visiting Atlanta Hawks are finding it harder to meet up with the host Charlotte Hornets (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast,92.9 FM in ATL) and come away with a W. To do so, at some point, you are compelled to deal with this isle’s namesake. You could almost name a nice salad dressing after the number of islands sitting all alone in the NBA Sea. Cousins Island, Davis Island, Harden Island, Lopez Island. But Kemba Island is among the few isolated locales where its inhabitants have been legitimately prospering. Entering the pros with a collegiate championship in hand and a winning All-American persona, in recent years, Kemba Walker was left to the Bermuda Triangle of basketball’s collective consciousness. A predictable ballhandler, limited mid-range shooter, a modest defender, situated in a small NBA market. “Dime-a-dozen,” became the read, especially in a star-guard-loaded league where one Charlotte-based NBA guard was emerging to take the world by storm. In days long before the Dab arrived, the Kemba Walker Dance was the craze that kept Uptown heads bobbing. But by the time of Walker’s fourth season, the excitement had grown stale, and NBA eyes were shifting elsewhere. And that’s a shame because Walker, now in his sixth pro season, has only just begun ascending into the All-NBA atmosphere. Walker joins Charlotte-raised Stephen Curry as the only NBA hoop stars averaging 25 points and 5 assists while exceeding shooting splits of 45/45/80, his career-best 25.8 scoring average buttressed by career-best shooting of 50.0 2FG% and 47.8 3FG%. Kemba’s assist-turnover ratio of 2.75 ranks 6th among point guard starters, assisting on 32.4% of his team field goals to rank 8th (just behind Dennis Schröder’s 32.5%). Notably, unlike many of the Carolina Ranger’s do-it-all cohorts, his Hornets (7-3) are winning ballgames, victors in five of their last seven contests, with three losses to Toronto, Cleveland, and Boston by only single digits. Despite their early success, the Hornets have just one victory in their cap against a team currently above-.500 (Utah, who has lost two straight). They’re looking for an impressive win at the rebranded Spectrum Center, and they hope Atlanta (9-2), one of the few Eastern Conference teams whose opponents have held a worse winning percentage (44%), will be just the quality opponent to come to the island bearing gifts. Charlotte mimics latter-day Atlanta in forgoing offensive rebounds (27th in O-Reb%), in hopes they’ll get back in decent position to force tough shots and make defensive stops. So far, that’s working well. The Hornets rank 5th in the league with 79.3 D-Reb%, contributing to their 99.4 D-Rating ranking 4th in the NBA, two spots behind second-place Atlanta (95.1). A healthy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, plus Nic Batum, beloved ex-Hawk Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller, are defensive-oriented role players on the top line, easing pressure off Walker (1.9 SPG, 10th in NBA) to adhere to his opposing guard assignment. The supporting cast of starters, and bench players, also know their roles when they get to the other end of the floor. Specifically, keep moving while Walker (30 points, 5 steals @ MIN on Tuesday) is setting things up, and when a teammate gets the ball from Kemba, find your shot or make the assist, but don’t waste time hesitating and risk losing the ball. Charlotte’s 6.7 secondary assists per game ranks third behind Golden State (9.7) and Atlanta (7.1), and their total 24.2 team APG ranks 5th. Offensive ball control is at the core of the Hornets’ gameplan (league-low 5.1 team SPG), which is bad news for a Hawks team that thrives off opponent goofs (10.0 SPG and 17.1 opponent TOs per 100 possessions, 2nd in NBA). Kemba has been credited with just 4 bad passes (via Basketball Reference) in his ten games so far, compared to over one per game last season, which wasn’t bad, either. Backup players Ramon Sessions, Marco Belinelli, Frank Kaminsky (20 bench points, 5 assists @ MIN) and Spencer Hawes have little interest in passing the ball. It’s catch-and-shoot city for the Hornets (5th with 28.5 catch-and-shoot PPG, 0.1 PPG more than 6th-place Atlanta), at least until the fourth quarter, when it comes time for Kemba (7-for-7 2FGs in clutch situations, 86.7 fourth-quarter FT%) to don the cape. In his pregame commentary, Hornets coach Steve Clifford cited “offensive energy, and we can’t turn the ball over,” as keys to victory tonight. As FanSided’s The Step Back noted yesterday about Charlotte: “They’ve built their identity on not making mistakes, which forces you to beat them straight up.” Atlanta will find takeaways even more scarce without Thabo Sefolosha (NBA-high 5.2 steals per 100 possessions) around to pester Hornets all across the floor. But playing Charlotte “straight up” will be much simpler tonight with the return of Dwight Howard (early career-highs of 62.2 FG%, 1.8 SPG and 5.9 offensive RPG), who sat out Atlanta’s 107-100 win against Milwaukee after bruising his thigh one night before. The Hornets don’t gamble for steals much, an indication that the passing lanes to Howard should be clearer for Schröder and the Hawks’ passing game. Similar to Walker, the lion’s share of Dennis’ turnovers (just 8 bad passes in 11 games, a departure from past seasons as a backup) derive from going full-bore on drives and losing the ball. When the driving lanes are clogged, Schröder should be able to find Kyle Korver (1-for-1 3FGs shooting from Dahlonega, 5 assists vs. MIL) and Kent Bazemore (3-for-5 3FGs vs, MIL) at the wings to let it fly. He’s had ample time scouting Walker while watching from the sidelines as Jeff Teague’s second-in-command. There should therefore be little trouble for Dennis to run the offense on this particular island, as he continues his transformation from Gilligan to the Skipper. But Schröder’s on-ball defense will also be needed to deny Walker his preferred spots (like the top of the key, and the left-corner 3-point zone) and keep him out of the lane, considering Clifford has expressed great interest in raising the Hornets’ paint points. Atlanta has benefitted from a weak strength-of-schedule, but now the challenge steepens as they embark on a stretch of 7-of-8 games on the road to conclude the month. Including the Hawks (3-1) and the Hornets (4-1), the league’s top six teams presently in the standings have a stellar 26-4 collective record in away games. Sustaining their position atop the Eastern Conference standings will necessitate full court production that is as sound away from home (league-best 88.5 D-Rating in away games, but 23rd-ranked O-Rating) as it has been at the Highlight Factory. While the Hornets don’t force many live-ball turnovers, they will press in transition to catch opponents off-guard and out of position (17.9 PPG off turnovers, 7th in NBA; Atlanta’s 20.5 PPG ranks 2nd). Bazemore and rookie Taurean Prince will have critical roles in slowing and thwarting the Hornets in transition. If Atlanta is successful with minimizing unforced errors, and stopping Charlotte from churning Hawk mistakes into points, their stay will feel a lot more like Fantasy Island, and a lot less like LOST. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  17. More post-draft Buzzkill for the Bugs. It probably ought to heal up well before the Hornets' season starts, though. Besides, minestrone in the summertime is underrated! ~lw3
  18. “Wow, kids, look how high Al Jefferson is!” Can the Atlanta Hawks cool off the hottest team in the East? To close the homestand on a decent note, they’ll have to fumigate the Charlotte Hornets (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports South in CHA), who have become quite the pests lately. When the Hawks last ran into coach Steve Clifford’s not-so-merry band of bugs, on January 13, Charlotte was mired in a losing skid, including seven losses in a row that turned a promising 14-10 record into 17-20. Thanks to injuries and a drug suspension, gravity-pulling star center Al Jefferson was nowhere to be found. But a sound 23-point drubbing of the Hawks broke their fall. Now, despite suffering another setback when defensive stalwart Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned early only to get shelved for the season, for good this time, with another shoulder injury, the Hornets are flying high again. Their 8-2 mark since January 31 has been the best in the conference, and it includes a split of games against the top-seeded Cavaliers. Clifford has remade Charlotte’s offense from one that hovers around the mid-range, and dumps into Jefferson in the post, to one that’s much more comfortable hoisting shots from 3-point territory. Last season’s edition of the Hornets ranked 24th in three-point attempts, and dead-last in making them. This season, they’re 3rd in the NBA for threes attempted. And while they’re not the best at hitting them (35.3 team 3FG%, 14th in NBA), at least they’re doing better than division-rival Atlanta (34.3 team 3FG%, 21st in NBA; 23.9 3FG% last three games). The most notable difference is in Charlotte’s leading scorer. Kemba Walker (career-high 20.7 PPG) is enjoying the best of his five NBA seasons, thanks to career-best shooting beyond the arc (37.3 3FG%, up from a career-low 30.4% last season) and at the charity stripe (5.2 FTAs/game, 84.9 FT%). Walker’s got help in the passing game. The team’s leading assist maker also happens to be the team’s top defensive rebounder. Jack-of-all-trades Nicolas Batum (career-highs 14.5 PPG and 5.6 APG, 10 assists vs. ATL on Jan. 13) handles his point-forward niche with aplomb, serving also as the third-leading three-point maker on the team, behind Walker and ex-Hawk power forward Marvin Williams. Finding his comfort zone back in Carolina, Marvin is no longer just wingin’ it. His 69.6 February TS% ranks just behind Stephen Curry’s 71.6%. He provided maybe his best game this season with 26 points (5-for-9 3FGs) and 13 rebounds, setting the stage for Walker’s last-minute heroics as the Hornets outlasted the Pacers in Indy on Friday night. He’s also 10-for-18 from Uptown in three games against the Hawks this season. Batum has struggled lately as the Hornets are striving to work Trade Deadline acquisition Courtney Lee into the mix. But his integral presence as a passer and perimeter defender keeps guards Jeremy Lin (15.9 points per-36, best since Linsanity season) and Troy Daniels (50.7 3FG%) from coming into games trying to be something they’re not. It’s a similar deal for big men like rookie Frank Kaminsky, who would be pressed into more defensive-rebounding duties on teams without a player like Batum. The team approach to defensive rebounding works well in Charlotte, whose lead assistant happens to be Patrick Ewing. They rank 1st in defensive rebounding percentage (79.7%) for the third consecutive season, even with the prolonged absences of Jefferson. Coming off of meniscus surgery, Big Al is, for now, a sixth-man. The former All-Star center comes off the bench in favor of Cody Zeller (19 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks vs. ATL on Jan. 13), who has emerged as a plus-defender ever since getting tossed into the starting lineup back in December. The third-year center’s offense has improved by similar measure (career-high 9.2 PPG, 52.4 2FG%). Today’s matinee concludes a successful six-game road trip for Charlotte, who hasn’t played back at the Cable Box since February 8. This is the one chance the Hawks will have to trip up the momentum for the playoff-hungry Hornets, who are about to enjoy a very favorable schedule as the calendar turns. While the Hawks head west, up next for Charlotte is a home game at Charlotte and a road game in Philly. After that are seven straight games back home against mostly mediocre opponents. If the Hawks are rocking white this Sunday, it’s not in recognition of the OscarsTM tonight. Yet it’s likely fans will be able to get home well in advance of the celebrities hitting the red carpet. Both the Hawks and Hornets rank at the bottom of the league in personal fouls drawn this month. The team that forces tougher shots and produces points in transition (by way of defensive rebounds, in Charlotte’s case, or steals and blocks, in Atlanta’s) will have the upper hand. For the month of February, the Hawks rank second in the league for per-game D-Rebs, 3rd for steals, and 3rd for blocked shots, while committing the fourth-fewest fouls. Al Horford was a dud in the January 13 loss in Charlotte, but has nailed 18 of his last 31 shots this past week while blocking nine shots and snaring 21 rebounds in the past two games. He’ll have a chance to make amends by pushing the pace on Zeller and Jefferson. Mike Muscala will have his hands full at times with Jefferson, as was the case against Chicago’s Pau Gasol on Friday, but must also make the effort to beat his man down the court. Charlotte backup big Spencer Hawes is out with a sore lower back, so expect a busy day from Kaminsky whenever Williams needs a breather. Hawks reserve wing Thabo Sefolosha played a solid role in chasing Bulls guards off the perimeter on Friday and sparking the Hawks’ fast break. Offensively, he and Kent Bazemore (1-for-8 3FGs, 0 assists vs. CHI) have to keep shooting practice to practice, and look to keep the ball moving for better shot options. Defensively, they’ve got to deny passes into Batum early in the shot clock. The Hawks’ guards need to minimize dribble penetration by Walker and Lin, and make judicious use of double-teams along the sidelines and baselines, forcing Charlotte’s guards into doing the thing they’d rather not do: pass the ball (21.0 guard assists per 100 possessions, 24th in NBA). Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  19. Looks like our fellow southern teams are making moves! ~lw3
  20. Someone's back a little early, no? Good for him. ~lw3
  21. “It’s time that we have That Talk, lil’ Hooper!” Familiar with a kid that confidently pedals down the street as he’s learning to ride a bike, only to wobble and crash once he looks over their shoulder to discover there’s no parent guiding them from the rear? That’s been the season to date for the Charlotte Hornets, who host the Atlanta Hawks tonight (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports South in CLT) at the Cable Box while trying to avoid extending their losing streak to 8 games. With Panthers Mania (and Clemson Clamoring) going on, there hasn’t been much buzz for the Hornets in the Carolinas these days, anyway. But for a minute there, things were looking up for the Purple and Teal. After getting edged by the Hawks on back-to-back games to fall to 0-3, a mini-roll had Charlotte rising to 10-7 by the end of November. Kemba Walker was red-hot that month (48.3 FG%, 42.4 3FG%, 5.0 APG, 2.1 TO/game). Walker had two catalysts in Nicolas Batum (Nov.: 43.0 3FG%, 17.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 4.7 APG) and Marvin Williams (Nov.: 42.6 3FG%, 6.5 RPG) working the forward spots and providing solid wing defense in the absence of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Plus, he had a nice change-up to his fastball, with Jeremy Lin coming off the bench. Surging into the upper echelon of the wild-and-woolly Eastern Conference, there was the sense that Kemba was finally turning the corner, and carrying the Hornets with him. Then, Al Jefferson had to go and screw up all the mojo. The Hornets’ gravitational force at the pivot strained his calf early in a game on November 29, and was sitting it out when he got popped for violating the NBA’s don’t-get-caught-smoking-weed-three-times rule, resulting in a five-game suspension once he healed. Al Jefe was brought back slowly off the bench for a couple games after Christmas. But then, Charlotte received another lump of coal when he announced he’d need arthroscopic surgery and another six weeks off after tearing the meniscus in his right knee. Jefferson has never been accused of being a defensive stalwart (58.3 opponent at-rim FG% when he’s defending, highest this season among players with opponents taking 5+ at-rim shots). But his space-clogging, his time-eating, and his ability to tenderize opposing bigs at the other end of the floor tended to give the Hornets a leg up over the course of 48 minutes. Now, what is Plan B? More than two weeks later, they’re still sorting it out. In past seasons, the Hornets could turn to the oven-mitted prospect Bismack Biyombo to patrol the rim, but the Hornets’ brass did not want to risk going over the cap to grant him a qualifying offer over the summer, and now he’s charming fans and teammates up in Toronto. These days, the Hornets have to turn to a Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes, Tyler Hansbrough and rookie Frank Kaminsky up front, a frontcourt platoon that brings all the pizzazz of Miracle Whip on Wonder Bread. After being told he’d likely miss the entire regular season, MKG has been cleared to return to practice. His return to the gameday floor can’t arrive soon enough, though, as both Batum and Marvin regressed defensively after starting off so well. “Moar offense!” was the selected defensive approach by the Hornets to compensate, leading to a brief 4-game win streak in December buoyed by Batum, Walker and the Jeremies (Lin and Lamb). Then the bottom dropped out, especially after Kemba cooled and Batum started missing games with a sprained toe. The Hornets (17-20) have lost to some hot teams during this 7-game skid, but during their recent West Coast swing they also stopped the 9-game-slide of the throwing-in-the-towel Suns (Phoenix’s only win without Eric Bledsoe) and made the Kenneth Faried-less Nuggets look competent. They’re like Wile E. Coyote running full speed after the Road Runner, before forlornly noticing they’ve run right off a cliff. Did somebody say Cliff? “We don’t think about defense to start the game. We think about scoring.” That’s not Steve Clifford’s game plan, that’s just the Hornets’ coach’s observation about what has been going wrong. Referring to the sieve around the perimeter, Clifford noted to the Charlotte Observer after his team flamed out in Phoenix, “A lot of it is just one-on-one. You don’t have to make a stop, but you have to make it hard (to score) so we can help.” During this slide only the Suns have posted a worse defensive efficiency than these helpless Hornets (112.1 opponent points per 100 possessions, 29th in NBA since Dec. 30), while their own wayward shooting has proven inadequate as cover (45.1 eFG%, 26th in NBA since Dec. 30). What’s wild is the Bug Bigs are doing their job on the interior (since Dec. 30: league-low 29.4 opponent points in the paint; 46.2 opponent FG% in-the-paint, lowest in NBA). Yet opponents have taken a league-high 22.9 threes above-the-break, with good reason (league-high 46.9 opponent 3FG% above-the-break since Dec. 30; Cleveland’s 39.6% is second-worst). Five of Charlotte’s last seven foes sunk at least 44% of their three-point attempts, a mark that the Hornets themselves surpassed just once in their last 20 contests. Having received a multi-year contract from Michael Jordan (perhaps a tad too hastily) just last month, Clifford’s job seems safe despite the downturn. But while he’s got his finger on the pulse of the problems, he can’t seem to find the elixir to cure them. P.J. Hairston’s puts up his best fights with teenagers at the Y, but Clifford has little choice but to rely on him (34 starts, 121.2 D-Rating), Walker, and the Jeremies to figure out how to stop getting burned on opponents’ screens and dribble hand-off plays. Hairston provides height but perhaps not the know-how at this point, so Clifford may start turning more to third-year guard Troy Daniels (48.1 3FG%) for better two-way production at the 2-spot. All is not lost yet for the Hornets, who remain just 3 games below .500, are 13-7 at home, and sit just 2.5 games behind the 8th-seed in the East. They have eight at-or-below-.500 opponents on the docket before the end of the month, and a victory at home tonight can springboard a quick turnaround back toward the middle of the East’s postseason pack. Al-ite has gone from Al-Lite to Al-ive! Key to the Hawks’ bounceback in the past two games has been the mastery of Al Horford (25.5 PPG, 66.7 FG%, 4.5 O-Rebs per game, 9.5 RPG vs. PHI and CHI), a sight for many Hawk fans’ sore eyes. Atlanta’s ballhandlers are finally figuring out you have to feed a cold and have been looking him on the low block. Atlanta (23-15) is a stout 14-1 this season (including 2-0 against Charlotte) when Sorta Big Al gets at least 12 shots up and hits at least half of them. Meanwhile, Horford is realizing he enjoys a speed-and/or-smarts-advantage against most opposing centers. In accordance with the Hawks’ perimeter shooting woes, Horford has been crashing the offensive boards lately (21 O-Rebs in last six games; 20 in prior 15 games) and still getting back in position to make defensive plays (4 steals, 7 blocks in last two games). Horf contributed a season-high 10 defensive rebounds on Nov. 1 in his last trip to Charlotte, plus 3 blocks. The Hawks are 9-2 this season when Horford secures 7 or more defensive rebounds, and 6-1 when he returns at least three opponent shots to sender. An active Horford on both ends takes so much pressure off of Paul Millsap (20.0 PPG, 3.5 O-Rebs/game, 3.8 APG, 2.4 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 48.8 FG% last 8 games), producing a tandem that leaves opposing bigs unsure whether they’re coming or going. While Zeller will start and attack the rim as often as possible, Clifford will try countering more with Kaminsky and Hawes, who can similarly stretch the floor when they’re shooting well outside the paint. Tiago Splitter continues to struggle with finishing around the rim (2-for-10 FGs last 2 games) in his return from injury, but Atlanta needs him to improve as a defender and continue drawing extra points from the free throw line (83.9 FT%). The Bazemore clan is likely to be front-and-center once again at Time Warner Cable Arena, and Batum and Marvin will be tasked with keeping Kent Bazemore from producing even more heroics in front of his fellow Carolinians. Baze’s fourth-quarter baskets (among his team-high 19 points) stemmed the visiting Hornets’ rally from 14 points down back on October 30. Two nights later in Charlotte, his triple and free throws in the closing minutes (among his team-high 20 points) secured a fourth-quarter Hawks comeback. Defensively, Bazemore and the returning Thabo Sefolosha (wrist) will have to keep Marvin (8-for-13 3FGs vs. ATL) and Batum from offsetting Atlanta’s perimeter production. Jeff Teague (5-for-9 FGs vs. CHI on Saturday; 45.5 3FG% on the road) and Kyle Korver (3-for-6 3FGs vs. CHI on Saturday) are each dealing with nagging ankles, but they and Dennis Schröder (combined 2-for-17 3FGs vs. CHA) have to find and make open three-point shots in order to get the Hornets unglued early. Walker goes from Texas Ranger to Carolina Gunner whenever he finds his team playing from behind, so the Hawks’ perimeter defenders must deny Batum the ball early in the clock while pressuring Walker into premature hero-ball decisions. While Kemba and Lin keep their ballhandling turnovers down, their questionable forced-shot volumes will create ample transition opportunities for Atlanta. Exploit Charlotte's shortcomings early and often, and it won't take long for the Hornets to wonder where the training wheels went. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  22. “I Got Canned Heat in My Heels Tonight, Baby!” SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! Rev up your engines for some matinee hoops action! The Atlanta Hawks kick off a crazy week with a second-straight meeting with the Hornets, this time in Charlotte (2:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast). After dropping their season debut at Philips Arena on Tuesday, the Hawks (2-1) have an opportunity to take an early move to the top spot in the Southeast Division, by spoiling the Hornets’ (0-2) home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena. As @Jody23 recently noted, the Hawks won’t have the same amount of time, calendar-wise, to hit their stride as they did last season. Game #20 last season tipped off on December 8, while this season’s Hawks will be finished before the calendar turns to December. This week’s slate of games, five in one week, will test the depth of the entire roster. After this afternoon’s game, Atlanta plays two more road-home back-to-back pairs: at Miami and versus Brooklyn on Tuesday and Wednesday, then at New Orleans and versus Washington on Friday and Saturday. The good news is, the Hawks have already passed their first road-home test. Coach Mike Budenholzer’s plans to rest Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver on alternate days of back-to-back games worked well in victories at New York and versus Charlotte, the latter a 97-94 winning margin on Halloween Eve that was frightfully closer than necessary. Both Korver and Sefolosha are probable to be active for today’s game. Key to Atlanta’s success, while rehabbing their veteran wings, was the versatility and improved offensive play of Kent Bazemore, who nailed four of his five three-point attempts while adding 9 rebounds to his 19 points. The inability to sag off Bazemore made it tougher on Charlotte wings Nic Batum (14 points, 11 rebounds, 7 turnovers) and Jeremy Lamb to help Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson with their defensive assignments. Jefferson (10 points, 11 rebounds) got his obligatory offensive rebounds (4 of Charlotte’s 13) in the losing effort on Friday night, but Al Horford (18 points, 6 rebounds) and Tiago Splitter provided sound man defense while the Hawks turned Charlotte’s fixation for putbacks into offense of their own in transition. Atlanta outscored the Hornets 21-13 on fast breaks, and 42-32 in the paint, leaving Charlotte to rely on long-range shooting (12-for-30 3FGs; 30+ 3FGAs just three times last season), tough shots and second- and third-chances to get back in the game. Horford joined Paul Millsap (18 points, 10 boards, 6-for-7 FTs, 4 assists on Friday) in showing he won’t be shy about expanding his range to the perimeter, hitting two of his five three-point shots. But Horford must also diversify his scoring by drawing fouls in the paint and getting to the free throw line. He took no shots from the charity stripe on Friday, and his three made free throws make up less than six percent of his offense through the first three games. It’s on Atlanta’s guards (combined 0-for-9 3FGs on Friday) to utilize Horford as a roll man and get him productive post touches. Backup guard Jeremy Lin’s only made field goals, a pair of three-pointers, came with under five minutes to go as the Hornets made their last stand on Friday. Yet his assertiveness in getting to the free throw line (team-high 6-for-6 FTs, nearly half of Charlotte’s attempts) has started the bubbling clamor from Hornets fans (not just the usual-suspect Lin fans) to call for him to be elevated to the top line alongside Walker. Second-year guard P.J. Hairston has played well defensively but has brought little else to the table in his two games so far as a starter. It’s more likely he’ll be replaced by Lamb, who connected on three triples while defending well in limited minutes. With his contract expiring next summer, Marvin Williams is serving notice that 2015-16 isn’t going to be his Swan song. He showed off a Feathery touch from the perimeter (3-for-5 3FGs) and also led the Hornets with 12 rebounds (3 offensive) in a team-high 35 minutes. Coach Steve Clifford will continue to take a Flyer on Marvin at the 4-spot, as youngsters Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky continue to get lost on the floor. Mike Muscala (ankle sprain) is questionable to return to the floor today, but it will work out well for Atlanta today if they can get more touches for forward Mike Scott, in the same way they sought out Tiago Spiltter (2-for-7 FGs) in the post on Friday. Scott was 0-for-3 but contributed 3 assists in just 13 minutes on Friday. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record