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  1. “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
  2. “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
  3. Not even YOU... Mark Jackson! ~lw3
  4. Womp Womp Womp Womp Wooooooooooommmp... ~lw3
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  7. “Coach tells us they’re sending you to Cleveland!... Not to play, though, just for a weekend vacation. All expenses paid!” Afternoon Delight! At least, that’s what the New York Knicks are hoping for with the Atlanta Hawks in town for an early Super Bowl Sunday tipoff (12:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC) at the so-called Mecca. I’ve long been a bit presumptuous about Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, stemming from his years quietly toiling away in Phoenix and Philly, and then his latter years in Utah, rubbing his face before free throws to say hello to his kids watching from home. He seems like a swell guy! At worst, he looks like an actuarial scientist! I, for one, cannot imagine what magic words Coach Horny could ever utter that would prompt me to loft a towel over his face. Nevermind saying whatever unkind words the banished Joakim Noah laid in his direction. The Oscars are getting dished out about a month from now, and Noah has been wasting his time not earning any statuettes. C’mon, Lenny Cooke was a classic! Even Spike’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was underrated! Like latter-day Lenny, I would love for Oscar-winning producer Noah to come in from the future, letting Joakim know his true full-time, Hall-of-Fame professional career is right around the corner. Go ahead and retire, then make your tens of millions per year doing something way more productive than standing around and cussing out Hornacek for “only” getting five minutes against the Warriors. Fans of the Knicks would greatly appreciate Noah exiting stage left soon, so they can more fully turn their attention to another uncomfortable contract. A back-to-back pair of power outages from the perimeter (combined 0-for-12 3FGs) has ex-Hawk Tim Hardaway, Jr. entering today with the worst three-point shooting percentage (32.6 3FG%) of his five-year career. At least he’s young, though. Junior has ample time to turn it around, and try as he might today against his former team, it will take more than one afternoon to do so. With $70.95 million coming his way over this and the next three seasons, it’s not like he’ll be singing “Goodbye, Manhattan”, anytime soon. Some sports fans from his prior NBA home will be cheering, in hopes that Hardaway is the most successful product of the Michigan Wolverines’ athletic department today. Hardaway’s three-point attempt as time expired went long on Friday night, leaving him unable to salvage a 92-90 loss at Milwaukee, sealed when Enes Kanter was left Holding That L after the Greek Freak’s game-winning layup sailed over his head. While Kanter has been an offensive rebounding revelation for New York (15.7 O-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) in a featured role, his contract represents the most realistic means by which the Knicks can create some cap flexibility, if they’re not stuck picking up the tab on his $18.6 million player option this summer. As for franchise-face Kristaps Porzingis (career-high 23.0 PPG, NBA-high 2.3 BPG, 58 points in two games vs. the Hawks), his veteran extension is right around the corner. So, with the Knicks already saddled with Timmy’s deal, it’s essential for them find a way to move on from Kanter and Noah, soon. One challenge lottery-dwelling seller-teams have as the trade deadline approaches: their players know this may be their final time playing together. They want to look good in case they are on their way out the door, if in part hoping that Golden State or some top-flight title contender is somewhere marinating over acquiring them. This applies to Knicks like Courtney Lee, the Knicks’ minutes-leader whose 42.6 3FG% and former defensive reputation may seem appetizing to opposing GMs, and Willy Hernangomez, the once-exiled All-Rookie 1st Teamer who is suddenly getting playing time. The conundrum also applies to most members of the Hawks, particularly age-28-plus veterans like Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Babbitt, Miles Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon and Kent Bazemore, as management expressed their objective to get younger in preparation for the future. All except the then-injured Dedmon appeared in the Hawks 111-107 loss at MSG on December 10. Plumlee’s point-blank bucket giving Atlanta a brief lead late in the third quarter before Doug McDermott surged the Knicks ahead for good. Dennis Schröder was benched for the final eight minutes of that game, in favor of Isaiah Taylor. But with Belinelli, Ilyasova, and Bazemore combining for the Hawks’ final 13 points in the last two-and-a-half minutes, Atlanta closed the gap to two with seconds to go before Porzingis’ free throws iced the game. It was good to see Schröder playing well in the opening half of the Hawks’ 119-110 loss in Boston on Friday (25 points for the game, 8-for-8 FTs), along with Taurean Prince at least momentarily shaking off his cobwebs (31 points and 8 rebounds). It took a Kyrie-less Celtics team to break through with 41 third-quarter points to turn the tide, and a fuller defensive effort today could once again make this game a close-to-the-vest affair. If Noah wants to troll hard, he’d be smart to spend Super Bowl Sunday with Jimmy Dolan’s pal Charles Oakley. Closer to home, perhaps we’ll see Matt Ryan and Julio Jones prepping for a party together. Hey, Julio, catch this jumbo bag of Tostito’s… oops! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “Say, let’s run an iso for Melo… just kidding!” My evil plans were dashed last night by Courtney Lee! While the Atlanta Hawks were BazeGazing and getting ready to head for the airport, their hosts tonight, the New York Knicks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC), were in Chicago and just seconds away from having to play overtime with the Bulls. Lee would have none of it, fouling and sending Kris Dunn to the free throw line for what would become the Bulls’ tank-busting baskets. The loss in regulation got the Knicks (12-13, 9th in the East, but NBA-worst 1-8 on the road) back in Manhattan earlier than I’d hoped, but they’ll arrive tonight at The World’s Most (In)Famous Arena a little weary, and very surly. No one comes into today’s affair saltier than Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, who was peeved about falling behind to the now 5-20 Bulls by double digits in the opening quarter. “The game was lost way in the beginning,” Coach Horny told the New York Post and postgame media. Kristaps Porzingis concurred. “We and I can’t start the game like that and I take full responsibility for the loss.” Hornacek added, “We come out at the start not ready to play and let them get out to a big lead. There’s no excuse for that. We talked about that – to hit them hard at the beginning of the game. Instead, we were floating out there.” That wasn’t the case in ATL back on November 24, went New York swam laps around the Hawks with a 39-24 opening frame, led by Lee’s 13 first-quarter points. Yet the Knicks still lost, 116-104, despite the best efforts of former Hawk Tim Hardaway, Jr. (22 points, 10 in the fourth quarter). As demonstrated in last night’s shockingly thrilling 117-110 win and in the last victory over the Knicks, the Hawks (6-19) are satisfied allowing two or three players to go off in hopes they can throttle the rest of the opposing cast. While THJ, Kristaps Porzingis and Lee combined for 76 of New York’s 110 points in Atlanta, the other six Knicks combined to shoot 12-for-31 while shooting just one free throw. Junior has missed the past four games while rehabbing a stress-fracture injury in his tibia, and won’t be around to save the Knicks if they fall behind late again tonight. The Knicks want to again pounce on the Hawks early, and this time, they’ll make heavy use out of Enes Kanter (NBA-high 16.7 O-Reb%, point+rebound double-doubles in four of his last five games), who missed the last Hawks-Knicks matchup and is hoped to wear down Atlanta, the league’s worst defensive rebounding team (NBA-low 73.8 team D-Reb%). The Hawks’ reliance on wings like last night’s late-game heroes, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, to secure opponent’s missed shots leave capable bigs like Nikola Vucevic (4-for-6 3FGs yesterday) and the Porzstar (4-for-8 3FGs @ ATL on Nov. 24), to camp around the top of the key for open jumpers. However, that often tends to neutralize backcourt teammates who are on the floor to take those same shots, especially when those players (Doug McDermott, for example) aren’t rebounding or defending to supplement the big men’s offensive contributions. Jarrett Jack was the box score beneficiary of the Knicks’ stars going bombs-away in Atlanta, tying his career-high with 14 assists. He remains slow-of-foot, however, and on the back end of a back-to-back, he’ll have a hard time trying to keep Dennis Schröder (last 5 games: 22.8 PPG, 5.8 APG, 1.4 TOs/game) from compiling video-game numbers up in MSG. Schröder had 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting, plus eight dimes and two TOs against the Knicks in Atlanta last month. Lotto-rookie Frank Ntilikina had perhaps his best NBA outing last night in a reserve role (10 points, 2-for-3 3FGs, 7 assists but 4 TOs in 21 minutes), and Knicks fans truly hope Hornacek noticed that. Also a bit on the surly side today will be backup bigs Joakim Noah, the 2014 All-NBAer who was DNP-CD’d in his old stomping grounds last night, and Willy Hernangomez, who was DNP-CD’d two days after compiling double-double numbers in just 17 minutes, during an 18-point loss in Indiana. Can the Knicks’ frontcourt players establish enough of a gap, early and often, to keep the more-upbeat yet depleted Hawks at bay? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. "He's more like. 'uni-CORNY', amirite?" Phew, this shopping-day traffic is a trip! I'll try to be back in time for the game, but not in time for a full-blown pregame thread, as our Atlanta Hawks try to make today a Bleak Friday for Tim Hardaway, Jr. and his New York Knicks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC). The Knicks are back to smelling themselves a bit, checking in at 10-7 and in the thick of the race to return to the playoffs for the first time since coach Mike Woodson ran the show back in 2013. But they haven't really had a chance to take their show on the road, having played just five away games (every other NBA team has played at least seven to this point) and going just 1-4 in those contests. Hardaway scored 34 points, and Kristaps Porzingis 32, in their sole road win to date over Cleveland nearly a month ago. Jeff Hornacek's troopers have to show up for a game against CP3 and Harden in red-hot Houston tomorrow night, so this is one win they certainly want under their cap. At MSG, New York used a 28-0 third-quarter run to blitz past the Hawks' Saturday night visitors, Toronto, in the second half of Wednesday's 108-100 win. Shaking off the early-season rust that made him a easy target of the New York tabloid media, Hardaway returns to the ATL after scoring a career-high 38 points during Wednesday's game. The Hawks (3-15) floundered offensively in the second-half on Wednesday, allowing the Clippers to escape The Highlight Factory with a 116-103 victory. To avoid a fourth-consecutive defeat in front of what is likely to be another Knicks-friendly Philips Arena crowd, coach Mike Budenholzer's bunch must hit outside shots, particularly the bench (2-for-12 3FGs vs. LAC). The starters won't get any help today from Luke Babbitt (43.3 3FG%), who also missed the Clippers game and all but seven minutes of Monday's Spurs game due to nagging back problems. With super-rook John Collins starting in Babbitt's place, Coach Bud will hope to get a little more usage and effectiveness out of Ersan Ilyasova, who has been brought along slowly while recovering from a bone bruise. The Hawks cannot simply hope the Knicks will be trippin' off the tryptophan tonight. Dennis Schröder (career-low 7.1 D-Reb%) and Atlanta's swingmen must mix it up inside to help the NBA's least-effective defensive rebounding team (74.0 D-Reb%, lowest in NBA) seal off Enes Kanter (5.3 O-Rebs per-36, 6th in NBA), Porzingis, Kyle O'Quinn and the league's most proficient offensive rebounding team (27.8 O-Reb%). If they do limit New York to one-and-done possessions, the Hawks should be capable of creating plenty of quick transition scoring opportunities against a Knicks starting backcourt guided by Hardaway and Jarrett Jack, Jack, a 34-year-old former Yellow Jacket who is holding the fort for apprenticing rookie Frank Ntilikina, is excited to be playing his most significant minutes in the NBA since getting shelved with knee injuries in January 2016. Let's Go Hawks! ~lw3
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  12. “I’ve had my Phil.” “Orange N Blue Flock Gotta Show Up In ATL Tonight. Turn Phillips Into Madison Square Garden South.” Remember back when Atlanta native and Morehouse Man Spike Lee used to care, really care, about his New York Knicks, like he did with this 2013 tweet? He Had Ta Have It: a Knicks team that strode into the Highlight Factory looking for ten wins in a row, rolling toward the playoffs with Mike Woodson coaching and minty-fresh superstar Carmelo Anthony running the show. Roll the calendar ahead nearly four years, and you can’t get Spike to give a tweet, much less find a seat. The closest we’ve seen to Spike recently is a dude in Houston dressed as his look-alike, when the Knicks visited the Rockets a few weeks ago. Down 29 last month against the Cavs, Spike pulled a Lethal, and bailed before the game’s end. He’s a busy man these days, I’m sure. It’s not likely he’ll be hyping up his Knicks as they waltz into Philips Arena this afternoon, outwardly hoping for the Atlanta Hawks (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC) give his favorite team the same breaks Atlanta endowed upon the Wizards on Friday night, the Clippers earlier in the week, and the Bulls last weekend in the fourth quarter. Maybe the Hawks will lay down and allow Melo to pump up his trade value. Or, maybe the Hawks will bother to show up, and stop New York (21-27, 2.0 games behind the 8-seed) from winning two in a row for the first time since December 22. Either way, Knicks fans, go ahead and fill up Philips, and do those insipid chants you do… or not. Either way, Spike no longer seems to care. Truth be told, Melo isn’t all that thrilled himself these days. Anthony was booed mercilessly on Wednesday as he struggled through an 8-for-26 shooting night, by a Madison Square Garden crowd that didn’t seem to know how to react when he plopped a nine-foot shot that sealed the 110-107 victory for the hometown Knicks against Charlotte. Carmelo’s reaction toward the fans at the final horn was equally bewildering. The numbness is all part of the subterfuge crafted by Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ management, to poison-pill Anthony’s tenure in hopes he’ll begrudgingly accept a trade-clause waiver. For Jackson, this appears to be the last arrow in his quiver; he knows must ride-or-die with Kristaps Porzingis going forward if he is to salvage his tenure as a Knicks executive. Thus, just about every team is getting a phone call from the Zen Master. He’d trade Anthony crosstown to the Harlem Globetrotters, without taking back Meadowlark Lemon or Curly Neal, if he could get away with it. Porzingis continues to produce (last 10 games: 14.5 PPG, 44.8 FG%) as he has worked through Achilles issues. Yet he looks lost as far as understanding his role on either end of the floor. And Jackson realizes he cannot build a team around the Unicorn until Anthony is lofting 20-30 shots per game for somebody, anybody, else. Who else might not be feeling their team right now? How about the entire Hawks’ graphics department? Some poor souls spend endless hours on pixels and 3-D rotating characters for players who shot a collective 36.1 FG% at home on a Friday night, including All-Star Paul Millsap’s 1-for-7 atrocity as Atlanta flopped 112-86. Reverting to MS Paint intros would be perfectly understandable at this point. After making social media headlines on Wednesday night, the Hawks (27-20) forgot to bring The D to the proceedings. Dwight Howard and Millsap allowing counterparts Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat (11 combined offensive rebounds) to feast on the glass. No one bothered to read the scouting report on Otto Porter, Jr. (5-for-7 3FGs), either. Uncontested shots were available all over the floor for the Wizards (41.9 team 3FG%, 18-10 on fast break points, 40-30 on paint points), who extended Atlanta’s miserable run to ten first-quarter deficits/ties in their last 11 home games, the Hawks spotting Washington 37-25 in the opening frame and losing every quarter thereafter. The Wizards’ tape will be encouraging for Knickstape producer Jeff Hornacek, who has given up on The Ron Baker Experiment and returned Courtney Lee (16 points and 3 steals vs. CHA on Wednesday) to his place in New York’s starting lineup. Lee’s backcourt mate, Derrick Rose, hopes to exact a measure of revenge after coming up short late in Atlanta’s 108-107 escape from the Garden two weeks ago. Porzingis (8-for-11 FGs vs. CHA) did not play in that January 16 game, and hopes Atlanta will be as gracious as the Hornets in helping him shake off the rust. Tricking Millsap and Howard into a halfcourt tempo would allow Melo and KP to pick their offensive spots while not having to pay for loafing on the other end. Unleash the rookies! Be it either DeAndre’ Bembry or Taurean Prince, Atlanta needs to find some fresh legs to relieve Thabo Sefolosha (out with a groin strain), who presently seems too worn down to defend at the level he is capable of acheiving. Whoever the swingmen are, Coach Mike Budenholzer has to find a starting unit (alongside Howard, Millsap, and Dennis Schröder), and an early bench rotation, that is active with deflections, winning loose balls, and committing to perimeter closeouts. This afternoon, there is no excuse for summoning the ghost of Spike Lee. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. “Excuse me, sir? Hi! By chance, have you seen Derrick Rose anywhere around here?” The arc of the regular season is long, but it bends toward playoffs for the Atlanta Hawks. Aiming for their ninth victory in their past ten games, they swoop into Madison Square Garden on the observed MLK Day holiday to take on the New York Knicks (1:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in Gotham, NBATV everywhere else). At least, the ones that bother to show up. Whatever you do, don’t look down! The tier below the Hawks (23-17) in the Eastern Conference has morphed from a Crab Barrel to a Musical Chairs show. From 2.5-3.0 games below Atlanta, you’ll find five teams, including division rivals Washington and Charlotte, within a half-game of one another. If the East’s Top 4 hold firm, one of those playoff hopefuls will find themselves watching the postseason from home. Atlanta can stay above the fray if they continue pulling off wins on the road. A win today in Manhattan would move the Hawks into a tie with those annoying Celtics for the Eastern Conference lead, with 13 away-game victories. Below the “Musical Chairs” tier has formed the “Look Out, Here Come the Sixers” tier, and the Knicks (18-23) have taken up residence there. New York has lost ten of its last 12, including a 102-98 overtime defeat at Philips Arena back on December 28. They flew back home after getting waylaid in Toronto, the Raptors building up a 38-point third-quarter lead before letting off the gas pedal and winning 116-101. Derrick Rose going AWOL last week has taken over almost all the headlines (Mama Rose has relocated to NYC, so all’s well on that front). Following a hit-piece blog post from Phil Jackson ally Charley Rosen, Carmelo Anthony is offering hints that he’s willing to revisit his no-trade clause if the Zen Master (who has himself taken an odd vow of silence) wants him gone. And coach Jeff Hornacek is threatening to rearrange some more deck chairs on the Knicks’ ship. But an even more press-stopping issue for the Knicks is the problematic Achilles of the team’s future headliner. Kristaps Porzingis began feeling soreness during the Christmas Day loss to Boston. After struggling with his interior play in Atlanta (3-for-9 2FGs, 5 TOs on Dec. 28) and New Orleans, the lanky Latvian was held inactive for three games. Four games after that, his hampered mobility suffered a recurrence, and he was DNP’d in the Knicks’ past two contests. “They (the medical staff) want to make sure I’m good, 100 percent healed before I step on the court,” Porzingis said, as reported by the New York Post, “We don’t want this to happen again.” Allowing his heel more time to heal would be ideal. Unfortunately, the Unicorn’s replacement in the lineup, Lance Thomas, caught the business end of Jonas Valanciunas’ elbow yesterday, suffering an orbital bone fracture and concussion symptoms. Still, Porzingis will sit out today, making things even tougher for the Knicks up against Atlanta’s formidable frontline of Dwight Howard (17.0 PPG, 20.0 RPG, incl. 7.5 O-Rebs/game, vs. NYK this season) and Paul Millsap (Hawks-high 11 combined assists, zero TOs vs. NYK in 78 minutes). Joakim Noah (14 points and 16 boards @ ATL) is similarly soldiering on, despite a sore right shoulder (left-shoulder surgery ended his last season with the Bulls, around this same time). If Noah also cannot go, Hornacek will rely more heavily upon space-eater Kyle O’Quinn and up to four rookies: Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Maurice Ndour, Marshall Plumlee, and the turnover-prone Willy Hernangomez (NBA-high 54.3 FG% among rookies). No matter the combination, the Hawks’ bigs (without Mike Muscala, who is back home healing an injured hoof from Sunday’s game) are capable of exploiting a Knicks team that focuses on the offensive boards (4th in O-Reb%, largely due to ranking 27th in 2FG%) much more than the defensive ones (29th in D-Reb%). In Moose’s absence, coach Mike Budenholzer needs to look more toward not only Kris Humphries, but the underutilized Mike Scott. Both players will need to be present around the defensive glass to help limit the wayward-shooting Knicks to one-shot possessions. Anthony (42.6 FG%, lowest since his 2003-04 rookie season) will try to show he’s playing inspired ball on MLK Day in MSG. But the Knicks could use more than the one-dimensional offering provided by Melo yesterday afternoon: 18 points, one rebound, one assist, one block, one free throw. If only to showcase him to potential trade-deadline suitors (pending the clause waiver), Melo remains a lock in the starting lineup, no matter how bad things get. The more likely shakeup among the starters would involve supplanting Courtney Lee (2-for-9 FGs @ TOR on Sunday) with former Hawk Justin Holiday (17 points, 3-for-5 3FGs in 26 bench minutes @ TOR). Rose (45.2 FG%, best since his first All-Star season in 2009-10) is not only back in the locker room, but is trying to feign leadership by puppeteering his head coach. “I told (Hornacek) he has to be on us hard about defense,” Rose told the Post this weekend after practicing for the Toronto game. “Like, beat it in our heads where we get tired of hearing him talk about it.” While it’s nice for Rose to encourage his coach to find his inner Thibodeau, the point guard struggles to lead by example on the floor, and his primary backup Brandon Jennings isn’t doing any better. New York is surrendering the most points per game (108.3, 6th-worst in NBA) since 1988-89; the only Eastern Conference team allowing more resides one borough to the south. Ron Baker helped resuscitate the Knicks in the final quarter yesterday, and the rookie guard may be eating into both Rose’s and Jennings’ floor time in the near future. Nonetheless, Rose has returned, so now all that’s left is for Atlanta to figure out where Dennis Schröder’s game has gone. Dennis struggled in his last appearance at MSG (0-for-8 FGs, 3 assists in 21 minutes of the Hawks’ 104-94 loss on Nov. 20), but lit up the Knicks with 27 points on 11-for-21 FGs back home in December. Struggling mightily in the past two games (5-for-19 combined FGs, 9 assists, 6 TOs) after a solid road trip, Schröder could use a dominant performance today to shake off the cobwebs. With the Knicks’ injury-saddled frontcourt overly focused on the offensive side of the ball, Schröder should be able to break out in transition to break out of his slump. Hawks fans enjoyed a cameo appearance yesterday from Kent Bazemore, whose 24 points (4-for-7 3FGs) fell one short of his season-high. Baze’s confidence can remain high today if he’s focused defensively on the Knicks’ guards, and not switched onto lengthier forwards like Anthony and Kuzminskas. Expecting consistently-good performances out of Bazemore and the Force MDs – backup guard Malcolm Delaney (9 assists, 2 TOs in 26 minutes vs. MIL on Sunday), and newcomer sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy, Jr. (20 points, 4-for-5 3FGs vs. MIL) – may be a bit too much to ask at this stage. Thus, it’s crucial for Atlanta to get Schröder and former Knick Tim Hardaway, Jr. (0-for-3 3FGs vs. MIL; 0-for-7 FGs vs. NYK on Dec. 28) going strong from the outset. A solid first half from the Hawks’ starters and a spirited second half from the bench crew would go a long way toward keeping the Knicks (3-19 when losing after three quarters) submerged, and have their fans looking to find ways to enjoy the remainder of the holiday. For everyone on and off the floor, it’s a day on, not a day off. Have a Wonderful MLK Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. “Who? George Karl? Man, he’s Old Hat…” After a disappointing finish on Christmas Day versus the Celtics at Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks fly into A-Town to face the visiting Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG in NYC). No, that’s not a typo. The way they’ve performed over much of the past forty days, the Hawks are the “road team” in 30 NBA arenas, until further notice. Rue to Atlantans who have stayed True To Atlanta throughout this month-plus-long funk, their Hawks (15-16) coming back to Philips Arena with their tailfeathers between their legs after getting walloped once again. Their latest furball was coughed up in lowly Minnesota, falling behind the Wolves by 28 in the third quarter, 29 in the fourth, after their hosts had just returned on a cross-country red-eye from a loss in OKC the night before. Just five days prior to that game, those same Wolves sprinted out to a 12-2 start before the Hawks decided to take the Philips Arena floor. The “home” game before that, with a chance to take over the top spot in the Southeast Division, Atlanta watched Charlotte zip to a 16-point third-quarter lead. The “home” game before that one, the Hawks let one of the NBA’s worst offenses score 30+ points in three different quarters, watching Orlando go up 12 near the end of the half, then up 13 midway through the final quarter. The “home” game before that, down 15 at “home” in the third quarter versus OKC, while Russ Westbrook is resting. Before that, they go down in the 30s against Kyle Lowry in Toronto, then slipping down into the 40s once Fred VanVleet subs in. Before that, a “home” game against a Pistons team that’s today on the verge of implosion, yet Detroit’s up by 24 before the clock could reach halftime, up 33 at the end of the third, 36 by the end of the game. Losing by 15 in the Lakers’ house, by 27 in Utah, by 18 at home against New Orleans, down 20 in Milwaukee. Inexcusable double-digit deficits leading to inexplicable L’s, with some crawl-back W’s sprinkled into the mix every now and then. That is no way to live. What’s that? We’ve won five of our last nine? “Oh, good for you!” [/christianbalevoice] “True” as we may seem, Hawks fans won’t be coming downtown to offer up Citizen Kane applause for bad, lifeless, uncompetitive “pro” basketball. What’s “True”? We’re just fine with leaving the empty seats for the wannabe Jesse Itzlers of the world to fill tonight. Carmelo Anthony has no time to worry about his wife’s teen-era NBA squad. He’s got his own set of problems to deal with. His Zen Master boss is less concerned about tying the knot with Jeanie Buss than he is about reminding people that Melo holds the ball too long. His former coach is peddling a tell-all book at Christmastime, leaking snippets to entice the anti-Melo contingent to get in their pre-orders while they still can. Anthony called Phil Jackson’s critique “negativity,” and a “temporary black cloud”. Then along comes George Karl to rain on his parade even more. Karl cites Melo’s “low demand of himself on defense… no commitment to the hard, dirty work of stopping the other guy,” and comparing the Knicks star to a “blister” that offered a “sweet release” (ick.) once his trade demand went heeded by Denver. Karl also offered up a side heaping of shade when he pinned Carmelo’s shortcomings on a non-existent father; in his case, a father that died from cancer when Melo was 2 years old. Would ya like to hear more about Melo? Why, Karl will be very happy to tell you, for just $19.99, plus shipping and handling. Anthony understandably wants to steer the subject away from the self-satisfied Grumpy Old Men, and back toward his contributions toward a Knicks team that, at 16-14, is 5th in the duck soup called the Eastern Conference. Off the court, before the Christmas Day game, he and his foundation delivered a new car to the family of a teen struggling with a rare form of cancer. On the court, a give-and-go layup from Carmelo assisted by Joakim Noah helped New York tie the Celts with just 1:06 to play, a sign of the work coach Jeff Hornacek has been putting into the revamped Knicks offense. But then, with 40 seconds to go and Boston back in front by 3, Melo lapsed into the type of Melo-ball that must have had Phil running to reporters screaming, “See?”, while warming the cockles of wherever Karl’s heart resides. Melo, in the space of 20 seconds: a missed 3, but gets the ball back after a rebound by Noah; ball-stopping iso dribble in the far corner, fumbling the ball while trying to get a contested shot up on Avery Bradley, who strips and steals the ball away. Now, Anthony’s got much more than bitter coaching legends straying from his corner. Relying so heavily on isolation plays from him plus guard Derrick Rose, New York’s 41 made baskets featured just 11 assists. The Knicks’ comeback march from 13 points down with under 5 minutes to go in the game was made possible by 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis, whose 3-pointer (assisted, ironically, by Melo) and And-1 basket in the space of 15 seconds whittled an 8-point deficit down to 2. The Porzstar also had 7 of his 12 rebounds in the final quarter, plus four blocks, a pair of threes and a pair of steals in the game. No player in NBA history has averaged more than two triples and two swats over the course of a season, but Porzingis (2.1 3FGs per game, on 40.3 3FG%; 1.9 BPG) is right on the cusp. Nobody wants to hear about Carmelo’s 29 points (on 33 shots; 9-for-24 FGs; 9-for-9 FTs) versus the Celtics. No one wants to hear about KP’s five turnovers against Boston, either. But everyone seems eager to talk about one of Anthony’s two turnovers, the one that mattered when the game’s outcome still hung in the balance. Melo was once paraded about as the toast of Gotham, but now, it’s Porzingis who’s the Big Apple of Knicks fans’ eyes. No more transitioning: fans want Kris P Kreme to be the top billing, right now. Once again tonight, Anthony will do all he can to steer the narrative away, from the growing urge to steer him away from Manhattan. The Hawks had no answers for him (31 points, 12-for-22 FGs) back on November 20, Atlanta shooting just 6-for-21 as a team from the perimeter while Melo casually sunk four of his eight attempts from deep. Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap were at wit’s end. But perhaps Atlanta will have defensive help tonight in the form of Thabo Sefolosha (3 blocks, 3-for-4 3FGs @ MIN), who had missed the game at MSG and two games prior to it to rest a sprained knee. If he bothers to pass the ball, Anthony could find Courtney Lee waiting in the wing. Lee’s 46.7 3FG% ranks 2nd in the NBA, and it’s even better from the corners (54.3 3FG%). Rose, Porzingis, and Melo aren’t exactly creating looks for Lee, so Hornacek is encouraging him to take more shots when he receives the ball, even when contested, rather than waiting for someone to find him wide open for catch-and-shoot attempts. Lee has been dealing with a sore wrist and sat out of practice yesterday, but he is listed as probable to play tonight. Your ex-Hawk killer for the evening is Justin Holiday, now on his fifth team in four NBA seasons. J-Ho ranks second to Brandon Jennings with 6.7 PPG coming off the Knicks’ bench, while also shooting 38.2 3FG% and 85.3 FT%. If Thabo is occupied helping contain Carmelo, then Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince are going to have a busy day trying to keep Knicks like Lee and Holiday cool from outside. Former Knick Tim Hardaway, Jr. will test his groin during warmups before it’s decided whether he’ll play. Your leading dime-dropper on the Knicks? It’s not Rose (4.4 APG), it’s Jennings, whose 5.4 APG are mostly delivered while coming off the bench. Jennings has been beneficial to New York so long as he’s not expected to do much more than distribute (37.2 FG%; career-low 30.8 3FG%) when he’s in the game. With Rose and Jennings being such poor on-ball defenders, today’s game is another test to see if Malcolm Delaney (1-for-4 FGs and 4 TOs @ NYK on Nov. 20; 1-for-6 FGs and 4 TOs @ MIN on Monday) has reached the floor. Dennis Schröder went 0-for-8 shooting the ball in MSG last month, and will again be counted upon to bounce back quickly after a subpar game in Minnesota. It will begin by pressuring Rose out of his comfort zones, and forcing turnovers, before Rose initiates his fantastical forays toward the hoop. 36.5 percent of Rose’s attempts are at the rim, the highest proportion since his rookie season in Chicago, and his 55.7 2FG% drops off precipitously as he settles for shots further out. Paul Millsap was shooting 2-for-13 in Minnesota, a game interrupted by an inadvertent third-quarter elbow that has his eye swollen even today. “I didn’t play any worse than before I got elbowed,” he told the AJC after the game. The All-Star forward insists his vision isn’t obscured by his swollen eye, and it won’t be further obscured tonight by the 7-foot-3 Knick defending him. Besides, Sap can probably do better than 2-for-13 with his eyes closed. Defensively, look for Millsap to switch out to defend Noah, who is more dangerous as a post passer and a pick setter than as a scoring threat, and for Dwight Howard (18 points, 18 rebounds, 3 blocks vs. NYK in November; 20&12, 9-for-9 FGs @ MIN on Monday) to use his size to keep Porzingis’ paint scoring down. On Monday night, Dwight could only watch as Karl-Anthony Towns matched Howard’s perfect shooting day with an 8-for-8 display of his own (incl. a Porzingian 3-for-3 3FGs), while also getting almost anything else he wanted (11 boards, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 1 TO). Howard will try to make amends tonight, but to help keep him anchored in the middle, Millsap will need to stay on Porzingis when the lanky Latvian hangs around the three-point line. It shouldn’t take injuries and ailments for Mike Budenholzer to recognize there are other players down on the bench at his disposal. Yet there sat Minnesotan Kris Humphries, who finally entered in the final quarter with Atlanta losing by 24, promptly dropping 12&5 on the T’Wolves. Even with Hardaway unavailable, Taurean Prince subs in for the first time during that quarter for Kyle Korver with Atlanta down 94-66, and together with Humphries the Hawks begin cutting the Wolves’ deficit in half, even while Towns and Zach LaVine were still in the game. Budenholzer is supposed to know his personnel well enough to pull the plug and switch things up, well before games like this get out of hand. He certainly can’t hide behind the team president for building him a 15-man roster on the cheap. Whether at “home” or abroad, double-digit deficits only seem to encourage Coach Bud to double-down on what hasn’t worked. The Hawks coach’s persistence in not adjusting game plans and personnel is eroding consumer confidence in not only his product, but his means of production. If (when) the Hawks on the floor revert to that head-buried-in-sand mode again tonight, we’ll see whether Coach Bud has learned anything from the fourth quarter in Minnesota. Sure, the Hawks need more time to recalibrate and gel and whatnot. But it doesn’t mean fans should expect to endure collective flops on the floor against mediocre competition, especially whenever Atlanta’s only guaranteed All-Star Weekend participant is on the 1s and 2s. Dig another double-digit-deep hole in front of a Knicks-friendly crowd tonight, and Hawks’ fans shouldn’t be surprised if Itzler fills in for Sir Foster (DNP-he’s in Paris for France’s All-Star Game) and plays some “Go NY, Go NY Go!”, just for old time’s sake. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. “Dolan’s posse on my tail, ‘cause I’m in demand!” It’s Breakfast at Madison Square Garden! The Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks are taking Centre Court a little early this Sunday (12:00 noon Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC). I’ve got a busy week ahead myself, so rather than a full spread, in these game threads I’ll provide some tidbits for the upcoming games, including some strawberries-and-cream for this mid-day matchup. What is up, schedule gods? Only two games so far this season involved the Hawks (9-3) facing an opponent coming off a back-to-back. The Hornets had two full days off before nipping Atlanta’s six-game winning streak in the bud on Friday night. Recent Hawks opponents included the Bucks (three days off), and the Rockets (two days off), and the Cavs (two days off). When Atlanta returns home, they’ll take on a Pelicans team that had two days of rest. Today, they visit a Knicks squad that has been off since Thursday, although that team has spent much of its time stewing. The Knicks (5-7) thought they were climbing out of an early-season rut after home wins over Dallas and Detroit this past week, but they were sent reeling once again when they were tripped up in Washington by another reeling team. Before toppling New York, the Wizards (now 3-9) had just dropped their third-straight game one night before in Philadelphia (now 3-10), where’s it’s not always sunny. “On the road you should be 10 times [as focused], it should be 10 times more important to go in somebody’s house and win,” lamented sixth-man guard Brandon Jennings to Newsday following the loss to the Zards. “This is a team that was desperate for a win and they got one. They just lost to Philly and they come and beat us? Nah… We definitely need to be more desperate. Every game, from here on out we need to be desperate. We play for the New York Knicks. Everybody wants to beat us. It’s a known national team.” The Knicks have been running in different directions on offense, at times trying to execute Jeff Hornacek’s new schemes, at times looking over their shoulder as the Zen Master implores the team to run more Triangle sets, at times getting iso-happy and doing their own things. They ended their night in D.C. on the losing side of a 119-112 score, but things were much worse when they found themselves with just 42 halftime points and down 87-65 through three quarters. New York is at their best when they key in on post-up plays, using the crafty maneuvering of Carmelo Anthony (22.3 PPG, 53.1 2FG%) and the height and length of Kristaps Porzingis (20.3 PPG, 54.4 FG%) to their advantage. The Knicks are one of two teams (joined by their borough mates in Brooklyn) that have made more than half of their shots on post-up plays, scoring at least one point league-high 53.1 percent of the time. Counter-intuitive to the offensive mindsets of Jennings and Derrick Rose, New York takes just 22.0 drives per game (2nd-lowest in NBA), scoring just 15.8 PPG (2nd lowest in East) off drives toward the hoop. Until recently, Anthony and Rose have been playing too much of a two-man game to the exclusion of their teammates, including the prodigious Porzingis. While each have started to produce more plays for Kristaps (40.0 3FG%, 35 points vs. DET on Wednesday), they need to get others involved along the perimeter, including swingmen Courtney Lee and Mindaugas Kuzminskas (each 40.0 3FG%) and ex-Hawk Justin Holiday (42.3 3FG%). The Knicks’ real problem, to few people’s surprise, is on the other end of the floor. New York allows 108.8 points per 100 possessions to opponents, a shade ahead of Portland (108.9) for the worst mark in the NBA. With all of his height, Porzingis is often deployed to help defensively deficient guards patrol the three-point line (37.0 opponent 3FG%, 4th-highest in NBA), the Knicks find themselves springing a leak around the rim. They allow 15.4 second-chance PPG (3rd-worst in NBA) as opponents’ 26.3 O-Reb% ranks as the 4th-most in the league. The Knicks also board-crash a lot on the offensive end (27.3 O-Reb%, 5th in NBA), but that doesn’t help them get back in transition as well as they’d like. Center Joakim Noah remains admittedly slowed by past injuries, and Hornacek has turned more often to Porzingis as a “small”-ball 5 than to reserve big man Kyle O’Quinn (career-low 10.2 minutes per game). For the Hawks’ frontline, the head-to-head matchups with the Knicks will seem transitive relative to the opponents in Charlotte. Paul Millsap goes from facing ample backside to ample upside with Porzingis. Dwight Howard got the Ashton Kutcher treatment from Charlotte’s Cody Zeller, and now the seasoned Noah will pull whatever tricks he can out of his bag, in his limited time on the floor, to distract and dissuade Howard from getting the job done. (EDIT: Noah sits today, see details a few posts down) Whether it’s due to foul trouble or an injury or an ejection, Millsap (team-high 17.3 PPG) has willingly covered for Howard’s absences on the floor to the best of his ability, as has the improved Mike Muscala. But as demonstrated in the closing minutes in Charlotte, going into crunch-time without Howard on the floor is not sustainable. Kent Bazemore will have his hands full with Anthony and will need to help force tough mid-range jumpers without fouling. Bazemore has struggled defensively against taller opponents, especially when they’re granted touches in the paint. Including his need to make Anthony work on the defensive end, Bazemore’s floor time will be integral to Atlanta’s success today, especially if Thabo Sefolosha (knee sprain) remains unavailable. The Knicks are pressed to begin the process of shifting from Melo to Porzingis as a first-option in their offense. Similarly, the Hawks also some transitioning to consider. If starting guard Kyle Korver is on the floor for nearly 30 minutes, as was the case versus the Hornets, it’s likely not with the intention that he get three three-point attempts up. His 4.7 3FG attempts per game are the lowest since his years as a reserve in Chicago and Utah. It is important for coach Mike Budenholzer to direct more of the ball from the point guards and bigs out to get Kyle (40.4 3FG%, career-high 55.6 2FG%) more touches. But as Korver becomes less effective as a decoy on offense and a helper on defense (no rebounds, steals or blocks @ CHA on Friday), it is time to other options starting at the 2-spot, including a guy that was once the lead scorer for a banged-up Knicks team. In exchange for a one-year rental of rookie Jerian Grant, the Knicks disposed of Tim Hardaway, Jr., who now resides in Atlanta. He does have a ways to go with perimeter shots (32.8 3FG%) and passing, and his free throw shooting has momentarily regressed (65.6 FT%). But he is attacking the rim with authority (66.0 2FG%, 3rd in NBA; Muscala’s 73.6% ranks 1st), and is building rapport with Atlanta’s first and second units. Baze (34.8 3FG%, 7-for-10 2FGs but 4 TOs @ CHA) as the starting 2-guard is the better long-term play. But the Hawks’ bench may be better served in the interim by a pairing of Korver with the eventually returning Sefolosha at the wing. Among Atlanta’s top-20 2-man combos, either of Hardaway or Sefolosha are part of six of the Hawks’ seven-best lineup tandems, in terms of net points per 100 possessions (the sole starter in that septet being Millsap). Baze-and-Kyle are at minus-3.4 net points per-100 (201 minutes together), while Baze-and-Timmy are a positive +7.2 (71 minutes). The not-so-grumpy, not-so-old men Kyle-and-Thabo have been +32.4 points per-100 net scoring, but have only shared the floor for 21 minutes this season. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  16. ~lw3
  17. “Who He Play For???” There’s nowhere to hide, Atlanta Hawks! It’s January. The Bravos aren’t out on the diamond immolating themselves, and the Failcons aren’t on the gridiron getting in their own way. No Dream and no Dawgs playing with annually outsized expectations, no Jackets with already low bars to crawl under. Before winter meetings and spring trainings, the Atlanta sports fan’s attention will be undividedly directed toward the Hawks, who will try to keep the New York Knicks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, MSG Network) from evening up the season series at the Highlight Factory. A major factor in the brilliance of Atlanta’s campaign last January was the timing. Despite ongoing concerns as to whether Dan Quinn would ride into town on a white horse, the Hawks’ ascension to the top of the NBA East became increasingly harder to keep off the front-page headlines. Add in a tradition unlike any other (individual Hawks making runs for non-fan All-Star Game bids) and January becomes a great time to annually build up the Believer base. It cuts both ways, though. Stories of the Hawks getting crop-dusted by Arron Afflalo and the Knicks, as was the case in Sunday’s 111-97 defeat up in Manhattan, can no longer be obscured by Matt Ryan’s weekly insistence on remaking himself into Vinny Testaverde. The quality of Atlanta’s nightly performance on the hardwood, flaws and all, will be laid bare, along with the Hawks’ ability to at least remain a solid contender in a much more competitive Eastern Conference. All eyes are on thee; what shall we see? To achieve significant levitation toward a permanent spot at the top of the East, Atlanta (21-14) must recommit itself to a primarily defensive identity. At the moment, they look like a team more focused on creating good shots, not so much making them. With a spry DeMarre Carroll bringing it as a starter last season, the Hawks established themselves as a team capable of getting stops and, with the help of crisp offensive ball movement, taking (and making) more advantageous shots than their opponents. Kent Bazemore (4-for-7 3FGs but 2-for-6 2FGs @ NYK on Jan. 3) and Thabo Sefolosha have stepped up their play in DMC’s departure, but perhaps not enough defensively to compensate for a slower-reacting Kyle Korver and a occasionally checked-out performances by Jeff Teague (3-for-12 FGs, 3 assists, 1 steal in 29.5 minutes @ NYK) and Al Horford (3 rebounds in 28.5 minutes @NYK). Last season’s record-breaking edition of the Hawks finished 7th in the NBA in defensive rating (100.7 opponent points per 100 possessions). As it stands this season, they’re 7th in the East (101.2 D-Rating), although 11th overall in the league doesn’t look so bad, now that almost the entire West is going full 1980s. Many of the Hawks’ conference contemporaries spent their past couple offseasons retooling their defensive strategies and reorienting personnel. Now, Atlanta’s the sole team among the East’s Top-9 allowing triple digits per game. Coincidentally, New York (16-19) is the sole bottom-five team in the East allowing under 100 PPG. Poor perimeter defense is among the eye-poppers, and Atlanta’s 36.0 opponent 3FG% above-the-break is 7th worst in the NBA, but the worst in the East, while the 42.4 opponent 3FG% in right corners is the 5th-worst mark in the league. If you’re looking for the number of the truck that ran us over on Sunday, try #4. Afflalo exploited Atlanta’s underwhelming closeout efforts by sinking his first seven threes, all of them above the break, all of them buttressing New York’s double-digit leads even as Carmelo Anthony (4-for-10 FGs, 11 points, fewest shot attempts in complete game since 2012) was largely bottled up. The Knicks’ 11-for-26 three-point shooting followed the Rockets sinking 11-of-20 five days before, which produced another hole for the Hawks to try climbing out from. Atlanta, by comparison, has shot 35% or more on treys four times since December 1, compared to 12 occasions back in October/November. Rather than jacking up a franchise-record 41 attempts (as was the case in Houston) just to try keeping up, tightening up the perimeter closeouts (especially after opponents’ second-chance and broken plays) without fouling will produce more desirable results. Tack on a league-high 44.1 opponent 2FG% in-the-paint (outside the restricted area) and you can see that Atlanta’s defense is, as Mike Budenholzer is wont to say, “not where it needs to be.” Keyed by Paul Millsap (team-high 4 TOs but 5 steals @ NYK on Sunday), the Hawks’ defensive strategy has been Steal or Bust (9.6 steals per 100 possessions, 2nd in NBA, tops in East). Opponents wise enough not to put the ball on the floor, keep the ball stuck on one side of the floor, or mindlessly hold the ball at waist-level are most likely to recoup the benefits. New York connected on 9 of their 17 attempts in the paint beyond 5 feet on Sunday. Millsap and Horford have to bring more to the table than strips against Robin Lopez, whose stat line on Sunday (5 TOs, 4 via Hawk steals, but 7-for-10 FGs and 5 O-Rebs, plus 5 assists) well-encapsulates how one-dimensional Atlanta’s defense can be. Jose Calderon and rookie Jerian Grant (combined 7-for-13 FGs; Grant 7 assists and 1 TO in 18 minutes) should not experience such little resistance getting to the interior and making plays. It’s on Teague, and whomever Budenholzer graces with minutes behind him, to limit penetration. We’ll await to find out whether Dennis Schröder continues “developing” from the pine. If Coach Bud is intending to showcase Shelvin Mack (5-for-10 FGs, 5 assists, 3 TOs in 18.5 mins. @ NYK), he won’t want other GMs to know that Hawk opponents have scored 17.9 points per-36 off turnovers with Mack on the floor, the most by any non-76er who has logged 100+ minutes this season. While Smooving Schröder, Bud has also sung the praises of rookie Lamar Patterson (last ten games: 50.0 FG%)at every opportunity, particularly as a short-term ballhandler and on-ball defender. With his and Mike Muscala’s contracts becoming fully guaranteed this week, Patterson will get even more opportunity to demonstrate his worth in the coming days. But at whose expense? We’ll have to wait-and-see. It’s January, Atlanta Hawks. The whole town is watching! No pressure, though! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  18. “Could’ve done this with my own arm, but okay!” It’s the first day after Christmas. Did your true love give to thee -- a Kristaps Porzingis jersey? Hands down, Kris P. Kreme is the hottest, freshest thing flying out of the Big Apple’s ovens these days. Children trained by their fathers to thumb-down the selection of the 7-foot-3 Latvian-a-leaping over the past summer are now, in what is purported to be wintertime, begging Santa, the NBA Store, and anyone who’ll listen for his jersey. That has a lot to do with the 20-year-old’s highlight-reel talents. It also has an awful lot more to do with the name of the city on the front of the jersey. Porzingis’ New York Knicks are in town to face the Atlanta Hawks (EARLY START: 7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, MSG Network), and dormant Knicks fans around the ATL could not be more pleased. You have to keep this all in context. The Knicks have exactly one 50-plus win season, and one playoff series victory, in the past 16 NBA seasons, including this one. That season had Mike Woodson, of all people, running the show. At this point, as the calendar turns toward 2016, Knick fans around the globe could not possibly care less about title contention. Winning always sounds great. But failing that, they simply want to be entertained. Linsanity, Imandemonium, Zingsanity, whatever it’s called these days, just make the darn games interesting. Do fans fret over whether Derek Fisher and this concocted New York (14-16) roster are mediocre, at best? Does Spike Lee care if Chi-Raq or whatever he cranks out breaks even at the box office, or gets three stars from critics, anymore? All that matters, for now, is give Knicks fans a decent reason to watch. The Porzstar (23 points, 13 rebounds @ CLE on Dec. 23) is doing all of that, and more. Judging from the reactions of the Gotham populace, one would think he was doing much more than averaging 13.3 PPG while shooting 42.5% from the floor (making roughly a third of his threes). But on a team that’s spent multiple seasons with players merely going through the motions, Porzingis’ 8.2 RPG (2.2 offensive) and 2.0 BPG shows he is putting forward the effort, and has the attitude to kick any mistaken aspersions of cottony Euro-softness to the proverbial curb. He’ll see to it that this ain’t Frederic Weis Redux, or Andrea Bargnani Junior. Carmelo Anthony has to feel like it’s Christmas morning each time he steps onto the floor. He’s scoring the fewest points per game (21.8 PPG) since his sophomore campaign in Denver, while shooting a career low 42.1 FG%. But nobody cares. All eyes aren’t on him anymore. There’s no need to be Manhattan’s LeBron. Plus, he doesn’t have to wear himself out at the 4-spot anymore, so long as Porzingis and Robin Lopez (7.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG, and 48.5 FG%, lowest in past four seasons) are hanging around. The Knicks’ leading scorer injured his ankle on Monday in the Knicks’ loss to New York, sat out Wednesday’s loss in Cleveland, and might rest again as the Knicks embark on a 3-games-in-4-nights swing. But who cares, really? Nobody’s freaking out about the 31-year-old’s salary pushing $25-million over the next two seasons, or questioning if he deserves to be an All-Star starter, or an All-Star at all, or whether he wants to be traded, or the missus’ Twitter-pinions about anything. If he can contribute tonight, tomorrow, or next season, that’s really swell. If not, oh, well! The Bright Lights of the Bigger City now shine on Porzingis, and Melo couldn’t be happier. After a lost first season at the helm, Fisher has his future star here with Melo, Jose Calderon, Arron Afflalo, and Lopez, and all of them are sorting out this whole Triangle thingie together. They are quite content with keeping the pace low (24th in NBA) and finding the best long-range shot they can get near the end of the shot clock, so it’s not much of a surprise that despite Porzingis and Lopez’s talents the Knicks rank last in the league with 33.6 PPG in-the-paint. Being out-scored by over 10 PPG in-the-paint won’t help against the Hawks, who oppose the Knicks three times over the next five games and whose 52.4 PPG in-the-paint since starting their five-game win streak on Dec. 16 ranks 3rd in the league. That’s unless Atlanta (19-12) suffers once again from the post-holiday blahs. Spirits were merry and bright for the Hawks last year at this same time, riding a five game win streak and a spiffy 21-7 record into a post-Christmas home game against Milwaukee. That was before Jared Dudley put some coal in their stockings, Atlanta disappointing upbeat fans with a 30-point letdown. At that time, though, there was no sense that a 19-game win streak and heightened expectations would follow. A year later, Atlanta has to come out tonight playing strong perimeter defense, versus everyone from Melo and Porzingis to Sasha Vujacic and Lance Thomas, and keeping the Knicks from a bunch of extra-chances. The struggle for New York is greater without Kyle O’Quinn, perhaps their top-performing defensive big man, who remains questionable with an ankle injury. If you’re Kyle Korver (3-for-5 3FGs @ NYK on Oct. 29), chances are Arron Afflalo and the Knicks’ opposing guards will Forget You are open for jumpers, and you have to take advantage when the ball comes your way. Jeff Teague (team-high 23 points, 9-for-10 FTs @ NYK on Oct. 29) bounced back with a magnificent game against the Pistons (team-high 23 points, 9 assists, 4 steals, 2 TOs) on Wednesday. Teague has to bring the same level of energy, and when on the occasions when they are bottled up in the paint, they have to be mindful of open shooters like Korver and Kent Bazemore, and not force interior shots. They’re the flagship NBA team of America’s biggest market, and have not one NBA title in the past 40 years to show for their trouble. At this point, the Knicks’ fans simply don’t worry about winning the next game or the next ring, so long as their team shows some competitive fire from night to night. Does that make them Crazy? Possibly. But who cares? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  19. “I’m talkin’ ‘bout what they call these days, ‘open marriage’, Al! I’m talkin’ ‘bout… ((WAP!))... I was only trying to help!” On travel today (suffered through the Hornets game last night, gonna kiss the ground when I get back to Ball Movement City), so no running my mouth ahead of today's matinee in MSG between our Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, MSG Network). How many points will the Hawks give up (63 vs. NYK on Dec. 26, 71 at HOU on Dec. 29) before coming back this time? And who shows up in the boxscore first, Dennis Schröder, or Kyle Korver? In any case, these teams will be good and sick of each other by the time Tuesday night's game concludes! Let's Go Hawks! ~lw3
  20. Did Fisher flop when Barnes faked a punch at him? Inquiring minds want to know! **cue soap opera organ** ~lw3
  21. "If they can go from 7 straight playoff seasons to 60 wins and an ECF, then why can't weeeeeee..." ~lw3
  22. Ain't even time for this move... ~lw3